St. Padre Pio
A common trait in the lives of the saints is that of suffering. In the mystery of God, part of the purification process on the road to sanctity involves participating in the afflictions of Christ in one way or another. St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians wrote, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church.” One of the great mystics and a doctor of the Church, St. John of the Cross, put it this way: “The soul cannot enter into these treasures, nor attain them, unless it first crosses into and enters the thicket of suffering, enduring interior and exterior labors, and unless it first receives from God very many blessings in the intellect and in the senses, and has undergone long spiritual training.”
Looking at the life of today’s saint, commonly known as Padre Pio, one can see very clearly the embodiment of this reality. Padre Pio is known to have suffered from poor health for much of his life, beginning as early as the age of nine. Even though the cause of his prolonged and debilitating illnesses remained a mystery to his doctors, Padre Pio did not become discouraged. Rather, like many saints before him (and as we are all called to do), he offered up his sufferings in union with Christ’s sacrifice.
It must be said here that suffering for suffering’s sake is not in and of itself a good. However, Christ himself transformed for all of us the meaning of suffering by his saving passion and death. When suffering comes, as it inevitably will for all of us, we can unite that suffering with the Cross of Christ for some greater good.
In the case of St. Padre Pio, he is known to have intentionally asked for the grace to suffer for the sake of souls. Early on in his life as a priest, he wrote a letter to his spiritual director asking for permission to offer his life as a victim for sinners. He wrote, “For a long time I have felt in myself a need to offer myself to the Lord as a victim for poor sinners and for the souls in Purgatory. This desire has been growing continually in my heart so that it has now become what I would call a strong passion…It seems to me that Jesus wants this.”
Indeed, this desire was granted to him by God. St. Padre Pio is one of a number of select souls over the course of the centuries who received the stigmata, in which the wounds of Christ were manifested visibly on his body. He first received the stigmata when he was thirty-one years old and became the first stigmatized priest in the history of the Church. With resignation and serenity, he bore the painful wounds in his hands, feet, and side for fifty years.
St. Padre Pio was known also for his many God-given and extraordinary spiritual gifts and charisms. To list just a few, he had the gift of healing, bilocation, prophecy, miracles, discernment of spirits, and the ability to read hearts. He spent long hours in the confessional and multitudes of people were drawn to him.
As his fame grew, it brought with it an additional layer of suffering in the form of scrutiny and skepticism, especially on the part of the Church.
In the end, though, this remarkable soul was officially proclaimed a saint by someone who had visited him years earlier as a young priest named Karoly Wojtyla, whom Padre Pio prophesied would one day rise to the highest post in the Church. This poor, humble, and suffering servant, Padre Pio, was canonized by Pope John Paul II on June 16, 2002.