Much of what I knew about Padre Pio before reading this book came through stories that seemed apocryphal. They seemed too good to be true. They seemed to be part of the saccharine hagiography that characterizes so much of what is out there. This book changed all that.
Fr. Francesco Napolitano knew Padre Pio, worked with him, cared for him. The story of Padre Pio told through this lens provides a whole different view of his life and work. It’s just as amazing as those original stories I heard, but this time it was real. It was a human portrait of a super-human figure.
Padre Pio was a “victim of love,” as he said in a letter to his spiritual director. (19) That love inspired Padre Pio to give himself over totally to the service of God, in particular to the apostolate of the confessional. People came from other countries to meet him and confess their sins to him. And he was not a confessor that would let penitents get by with quickly stating their sins. “He never compromised with evil, no matter who the sinner was. He was as harsh with superficial, insincere, hypocritical penitents as he was kind and affable toward those who were sincere and firmly resolute.” (37) As Padre Pio said with his usual sense of humor, “I don’t give candy to someone who needs a purgative.” (37)
His insight into sinner’s souls was remarkable. “God would often permit him to see, in a flash, that which was hidden from other confessors.” (38) This seemed harsh to some people at times. The confessions
were uncomfortable and difficult for anyone who lacked sincerity, who was not truly penitent, or who refused to change his way of living. In that confessional of his, God’s mercy existed only for those who accepted the light, agreed to the penalty for their sins, and were willing to die in order to be reborn. (43)
One memorable story recounted Padre Pio’s immediate insight into the souls of those who came to him. There was
a young man who was planning to murder his wife and make it look like suicide, in order to freely throw himself into an illicit relationship. To avoid suspicion, he had consented to accompany his wife to see Padre Pio. No sooner had he set foot in the church than he felt himself attracted to the sacristy, as if by a magnetic force. . . . The Padre looked at him severely with those scrutinizing, penetrating eyes, grabbed him by the arm, shoved him forcibly, and shouted: “Get out of here! Get out of here! You shameless creature, your hands stink of blood, yet you have the temerity to go to confession.!” (45)
After several days of agony, the man came back to Padre Pio to ask him to hear his confession. On this occasion, Padre Pio “welcomed him as Jesus had welcomed the great sinners.” (45)
Padre Pio was famous for having received the stigmata, the first priest according to the book. (26) This supernatural gift was also a tremendous burden. He suffered immensely as a result of the stigmata. He was sought after for this gift and people reported smelling “a fine, delicate aroma.” (98) It was a mixture of violets and roses, people claimed. It was inexplicable by medical science. These wounds remained until his death when they vanished as miraculously as they had appeared. The marks that united him with Christ in life were no longer needed in his mortal flesh after he was united with Him in heaven. Padre Pio’s wounds were subsumed into Christ’s in heaven and made perfect.
From heaven, Padre Pio has showered his graces upon many devoted followers. He knew during his life of the power of prayer and now intercedes for us after his death. While he lived, he considered the rosary his “weapon,” used to fight a spiritual battle that has been raging since the creation of the world. That weapon still works today and his life provides an example of how powerful a weapon it is. Let us turn to Our Lady as he did and imitate his great devotion. Let us also love souls as he did–loving souls as he loved God.
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