This Thursday 23 September is the liturgical feast day of St Pio of Pietrelcina. It was also twenty eight years ago that Jesus, through Padre Pio, showed me what he wanted from my life.
For me the vocation to be a Franciscan Capuchin, following Jesus in the footsteps of St Francis, like Padre Pio did before me, was not an easy thing at all. I perfectly remember how much I struggled with my vocation. “What? Become a Capuchin? A Dominican yes! Or perhaps a Jesuit or a Redemptorist (even though in Malta this religious institute of consecrated life does not exist). But a Capuchin? It is too hard for me!” And the struggle went on and on ….
Amid this turmoil I remember having a nap in the afternoon of 23 September 1993. I woke up at 6.20 pm, went into the kitchen and asked my beloved mum to prepare tea for me. The TV was open and I started going from a channel to another until, on RAI DUE, there was a Mass going on, of the twenty-fifth anniversary of Padre Pio’s death. Something within me told me to keep following the Mass. And that was what I did. After some minutes I started feeling deep peace descending on me. Then, all of a sudden, I felt myself being embraced by a deep warmth that practically left me speechless. At that point my heart literally exploded with emotion and I wept from the bottom of my heart. After some minutes of weeping all became clear to me. The Lord Jesus wanted me to be a Capuchin thanks to the powerful intercession of Padre Pio.
From that moment on I never looked back. I entered the Capuchin Convent of Kalkara on October 12, 1993, the feast day of St Seraphim of Montegranaro. This was also the day when my beloved grandmother, Marianna, died in 1986. Furthermore, it was the day when Johann, a six year old boy of my home parish whom I had the grace of preparing for Holy Communion, went to Heaven. How beautiful and powerful is this magnificent tapestry of God at work!
Padre Pio kept taking care of me in my Capuchin vocation, especially when the snares of the evil one tried to destroy me. But, as a good brother, friend and confidant, I have always found him on my way to guide me till where I am today. It is with this great spirit of gratitude to Jesus, Mary and, yes, to my great friend Padre Pio, that I gladly want to present to you a taste of his Spirit-given wisdom.
St Pio teaches me to humble myself before God and others. He says: Always humble yourself lovingly before God and man, because God speaks to those who are truly humble of heart, and enriches them with His gifts. But with what gifts does he enrich them? First, meditation. On the latter Padre Pio says: Whoever does not meditate, is like someone who never looks in the mirror before going out, doesn’t bother to see if he’s tidy, and may go out dirty without knowing it. The person who meditates and turns his mind to God, who is the mirror of his soul, seeks to know his faults, tries to correct them, moderates his impulses, and puts his conscience in order.
The second gift God gives to us, if we are open to his working within us, is the grace of not complaining. He says: You complain because the same trials are constantly returning. But look here, what have you to fear? Are you afraid of the divine craftsman who wants to perfect His masterpiece in this way? Would you like to come from the hands of such a magnificent Artist as a mere sketch and no more? Another grace which follows those who really love or want to love God from the deepest recesses of their heart is that of not losing time. On this very important point Padre Pio has this to say: Oh, how precious time is! Blessed are those who know how to make good use of it. Oh, if only all could understand how precious time is, undoubtedly everyone would do his best to spend it in a praiseworthy manner!
The fourth gift with which God embellishes our souls is, certainly, hardships. Here Padre Pio says: In order to attract us, the Lord grants us many graces that we believe can easily obtain Heaven for us. We do not know, however, that in order to grow, we need hard bread: the cross, humiliation, trials and denials. On this point Pope Francis was so clear when, in his apostolic exhortation on the call to holiness in todays’ world, Gaudete et Exsultate, he tells us: Humility can only take root in the heart through humiliations. Without them, there is no humility or holiness. If you are unable to suffer and offer up a few humiliations, you are not humble and you are not on the path to holiness. The holiness that God bestows on his Church comes through the humiliation of his Son. He is the way. Humiliation makes you resemble Jesus; it is an unavoidable aspect of the imitation of Christ. For “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Pet 2:21). In turn, he reveals the humility of the Father, who condescends to journey with his people, enduring their infidelities and complaints (cf. Ex 34:6-9; Wis 11:23-12:2; Lk 6:36). For this reason, the Apostles, after suffering humiliation, rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for [Jesus’] name” (Acts 5:41) (no.118).
Courage naturally follows upon humility. Padre Pio, who knew very well what it means to combat evil and the devil, always encouraged his hearers to have courage when they are attacked or annoyed by the evil one. He says: Have courage and do not fear the assaults of the Devil. Remember this forever; it is a healthy sign if the devil shouts and roars around your conscience, since this shows that he is not inside your will. Being himself subject to many attacks of the devil both personally as well as through other people, Padre Pio started realizing that life is worthwhile when lived with joy. He said: Joy, with peace, is the sister of charity. Serve the Lord with laughter.
The sixth gift which God gives us as we approach him with a humble heart is that of tranquility. Even when, because we are weak, we sin. In fact, and as Pope Francis rightly teaches us, that moment should be for us a wake up call to raise up and walk again. Padre Pio teaches us: The spirit of God is a spirit of peace, and also in the case of grave sin, it makes us feel tranquil sorrow, humble, confident, and this is due precisely to His mercy. The spirit of the demon, on the contrary, excites, exasperates, and makes us in our sorrow feel something like anger against ourselves, whereas our first charity must be to ourselves, and so if certain thoughts agitate you, this agitation never comes from God, who gives tranquillity, being the Spirit of Peace. Such agitation comes from the devil. How much we presently need this tranquil, humble, and confident sorrow, which is the result of God’s mercy which is calling us back to the Father’s House!
Padre Pio, whose name reminds us of his utmost dedication to God up to the point of offering himself as a loving victim for the salvation of souls, is more busy now than when he was living amongst us. He himself admits: After my death I will do more. My real mission will begin after my death.
St Pio of Pietrelcina, the devoted man of God, pray for us!