Recently, I received a couple of questions from Luminas, a great follower of this blog, through the “Ask Medieval” page. The first will be answered in this post and the second in a later one. After that, I have high hopes of answering my next dear reader and hope for many more questions to follow!
This question concerns why I am so devoted to Padre Pio over other saints who are similar in many ways. First, let me start by describing Catholic worship and devotion for those who might not be so familiar with it. It consists of three levels denoted by their Greek names: latria, hyperdulia, and dulia. Latria refers to worship giving to God alone as Author of the Universe, Savior of the Human Race, and Source of All Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. Hyperdulia refers specifically to the reverence paid to the Blessed Virgin Mary for being the Mother of God, the human being whose cooperation was most essential for humanity’s salvation, and the most graced human being in all of history. Dulia refers to the reverence paid to the saints and angels for being devout servants of God and dear friends of God deserving of imitation. Latria is absolutely necessary for salvation, hyperdulia morally necessary, and dulia necessary to practice when obligated by one’s diocese (as in a saint’s feast day being declared a holy day of obligation) but mostly subject to personal taste. Having said that, many spiritual authors strongly recommend devotion to St. Michael, St. Joseph, and the holy angels as a group. Be sure to thank your guardian angel for putting up with you so patiently since your days in the cradle!
Having clarified that my devotion to Padre Pio has been determined by personal choice, whence did I develop this devotion? To start, let me say that I lapsed from the Sacrament of Reconciliation during high school. The silly opinion existed in my mind that only the most horrible of sins were mortal and required confession. How could I possibly even be placed in such a situation to commit them? Maybe when I was married, I might be tempted to commit adultery; but, all other conceivable sins were venial.
This ignorance of mine stood not entirely guiltless, but none in my family or among my friends frequented confession or encouraged the reception of this sacrament. I am thankful to my mother and grandparents for endowing me with a respect for the Faith and the need to attend mass on all holy days of obligation. In grade school, confession was mandatory twice a year, and, not understanding it, I did not have much love for this sacrament. Similarly, I viewed the Eucharist in a purely ritualistic fashion.
At the end of grade school, my interest in fantasy led to a budding interest in Medieval Europe. I devoured Viking sagas and knightly epics. This interest rapidly exploded until my interests included the theology and philosophy of the Medieval Church in high school. I read St. Augustine’s City of God and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics during sophomore year. From the theology and philosophy, I began reading more secondary sources on the Medieval Church and studying Catholic literature, which infallibly lead me to hagiography and spiritual works. Through some happenstance, I stumbled across a book about St. Pio of Pietrelcina.
Padre Pio was fascinating for many reasons, not in the lest for being a thaumaturgist in the modern age. I instantly dubbed him “the last medieval saint.” The miraculous nature of his life was confirmed by everyone from humble farmers, fellow religious, and doctors to American servicemen fighting in Italy during World War II.
In the kind of supernatural story common around Padre Pio, one American bomber pilot recalls seeing Padre Pio in the sky during a bombing run near the area of San Giovanni Rotondo, the city adjacent to Padre Pio’s monastery. The target of the raid was near some civilian buildings, and the pilot claims that Padre Pio guided the bombers such that civilian casualties were avoided. Later, this pilot visited Padre Pio’s monastery and instantly recognized the monk. Pio also recognized the American, and said to him: “So, you’re the one who wanted to destroy everything.” The American pilot understood him in English, though the Italians around him heard Pio speaking his native tongue. This story would be unbelievable except that it is one of tens of thousands. Compiling Padre Pio’s life and miracles into a coherent case file delayed his beatification for thirty-one years until after his death.
However, the most striking things about Padre Pio’s life are his refusal to compromise with evil, his devotion to prayer, his deep sacramental life, countless hours staying in the confessional to offer absolution to sinners, and the countless myriads of lost souls he converted.
I number myself among those happy souls converted by Padre Pio. Indeed, not by direct contact but by the example of his words and actions. Despite all my religious classes and belief in the Catholic Faith, I was not living the full sacramental life of the Church. I had already developed a discipline of prayer, but Padre Pio made me realize the value of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and my dire need of it. After five long years of neglecting this sacrament, I received it with many tears and began to try to live according to a higher standard. My conscience became more sensitive to right and wrong, and both my love for God and perception of His reality increased. These blessings I owe in large part to the witness of Padre Pio.
The Eastern Orthodox have a common expression that the saints are icons pointing to Christ as Christ is an icon pointing to the Father. When reading about Padre Pio, one cannot help but marvel at how closely Pio united himself to Christ. One Italian priest was so impressed by this that, when asked by the pope what Padre Pio did at San Giovanni Rotondo, the priest replied: “He forgives the sins of the world.” An understandable exaggeration, since the number of confessions heard by Padre Pio can only be numbered in the millions! (Pio himself marveled at why so many people wanted to see him, because, as he put it, his celebration of confession is the same as confession done at Rome!) I wish that all of my dear readers could learn about Padre Pio, because I am sure that in discovering the friendship Padre Pio had for Christ, their own friendship with God will grow also!