Do not let temptations frighten you; they are the trials of the soul whom God wants to test when He knows that he is strong enough to sustain the battle and weave his garland of glory with his own hands.
— Saint Padre Pio da Pietrelcina (1887-1968)
Of the many inspiring words spoken or written by Saint Padre Pio da Pietrelcina, a Franciscan Capuchin priest whose feast was last Friday, the above quotation is among the most surprising. After all, Jesus Christ Himself taught us to pray for God our Father, “Lead us not into temptation.”
But then, if our first commandment is to love God above all, then the temptation of having to choose between His will and some enticing transgression is among the instances when we can show that love.
Sadly, however, for many people in our often godless world, temptation hardly happens, not because our devotion blocks out many sinful tendencies, but because many no longer believe in God, let alone hear and heed His commandments. Not unlike the unbelievers spoken of in today’s mass readings.
“Woe to the complacent in Zion! Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches, they eat lambs taken from the flock, and calves from the stall. … now they shall be first to go into exile, and their wanton revelry shall be done away with,” from Amos 6:1a, 4-7.
And the rich man in the parable about the destitute Lazarus. The former went to hell and asked Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, for “if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.”
To which Abraham replied: “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”
Back from the dead
Padre Pio, one might say, is one to listen to both as prophet and as one from the dead. The life and words of the Italian priest known for receiving the Lord’s crucifixion wounds or stigmata, deliver Christ’s message of faith, hope, charity, and salvation. And so does his deceased body, incorrupt for nearly half a century now. It gives added meaning to the saint’s prediction: “My true mission will begin after my death.”
In 2008, it was exhumed intact 40 years after the saint’s death. In February this year, the relic was on display in Rome, along with another incorrupt corpus of a Capucchin priest, St. Leopold Mandić (1866-1942). One can see on YouTube their arrival in St. Peter’s Basilica for an event marking the Jubilee Year of Mercy <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMhIEkIRIos >.
For those like the Apostle Thomas needing to see before believing, St. Pio’s miraculously preserved body may stir and strengthen faith in the Almighty able to suspend the laws of nature, as only the Author of those laws can.
And if two incorrupt friars aren’t enough, there are many other Catholic holies whose bodies were preserved without human intervention. Not to mention other astounding events, like the Eucharistic miracle of Buenos Aires, where a host transformed into human flesh and blood < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RUvrSu6_CQ >.
Despite such events, however, so many still disbelieve, affirming Abraham’s admonition in the parable that even someone back from the dead would not convince if the prophets and other saintly souls could not.
The Divine and the devil
If his incorrupt body may not be enough to turn some doubt into faith, perhaps Padre Pio’s wisdoms and devotions can turn a good number of doubters into believers.
To a man who said he does not believe in God, the priest said: “But God, my son, believes in you.” He also declared: “God loves man with an infinite love. God goes in search of obstinate souls.”
So if we find ourselves yet unable to believe or obey as we should, just remember that God is right there never giving up on us, and always blessing us with every grace if we open our heart, mind and soul to it.
And those who think that such trust in the Lord is just for the saintly, should ponder Padre Pio’s prayer after communion: “Stay with me, Lord … so I do not forget You. You know how easily I abandon You. Stay with me, Lord, if You wish me to be faithful to You.”
Being close to God and constantly communing with Him, St. Pio also had encounters with devils. In a November 1913 letter, he recounted:
“Now, 22 days have passed, since Jesus allowed the devils to vent their anger on me. My Father, my whole body is bruised from the beatings that I have received to the present time by our enemies.”
Few of us have suffered such diabolical attacks. But we may all have encountered the devil in the way Padre Pio did in the confessional, as he recounted:
“One day, while I was hearing confessions, a man came to the confessional where I was. He was tall, handsome, dressed with some refinement and he was kind and polite. He started to confess his sins, which were of every kind: against God, against man and against the morals. … He excused all the sinful actions, making them sound quite normal and natural, even comprehensible on the human level. …
“I concentrated on every word he spoke, trying to discover any clue to his identity. But suddenly; through a vivid, radiant and internal light I clearly recognized who he was. With a sound and imperial tone I told him: ‘Say long live Jesus, long live Mary!’ As soon as I pronounced these sweet and powerful names, Satan instantly disappeared in a trickle of fire, leaving behind him an unbearable stench.”
Today, prominent people, entities, and even nations justify all manner of sin. And our defense is the same as Padre Pio’s: praying to Jesus and Mary.
Or as he said in his communion prayer, “Stay with me tonight, Jesus, in life with all its dangers, I need You.”
As we all do. Amen.