Believers seek his intercession for freedom from pain, illness, and suffering, but Padre Pio suffered with heroic virtue seeking Heaven by the imitation of Christ.
This story happened just weeks ago. It may not at first glance point to Padre Pio, the subject of this post, but bear with me for a moment. Newer readers to these pages may not know that I am not able to actually see my own blog. My posts are typed on an old Smith Corona typewriter and mailed to Western North Carolina where they are scanned. Then they are emailed to New South Wales, Australia from where These Stone Walls is published.
Among the many millions of blogs and many thousands of Catholic blogs, this one probably goes through the most arduous process before showing up on your screen or device. One of our obstacles to overcome is time. I must write a post and mail it ten days before its post date to assure that it is posted on time.
A number of readers became concerned when we did not have a post on our usual Wednesday post day on August 23. There are lots of things here that can stand in the way of writing – some of them terrible things – so some readers worry when I fall into silence. The simple truth is that my August 23 post got lost in the mail. I typed it, then placed it in the outgoing mailbox on Sunday, August 13. Then it simply disappeared, never to be seen again.
Because I usually finish typing a post on Saturday or Sunday afternoon for mailing on the weekend, I have no way to make a photocopy. So I would have had to retype that lost post from memory for posting on the following Wednesday, August 30. But then I realized that it was the Wednesday before Labor Day in the U.S. so I scrapped the lost post entirely and started over.
I had just a few hours to write with no real topic so I just typed what came to mind, and what came to mind was “Labor Day Weekend Behind These Stone Walls.” In that post, I mentioned that since These Stone Walls began in 2009, I had a quote from Padre Pio on a small card attached to my typewriter, but it became lost when we recently moved. The Padre Pio quote was:
“Pray, hope and don’t worry.
Prayer is the key to God’s heart.”
I wrote in that Labor Day weekend post that I don’t think I can ever envision a time when I would pray and hope, but also not worry. People who lose power and authority over their lives worry about that. We pray. We hope. But we still worry. So I gave up searching for the card with the Padre Pio quote that was once attached to my typewriter.
I typed the August 30 post all day on Saturday, August 19 and dropped it in the outgoing prison mailbox. I said a silent prayer that this time it would actually get to where it was going. That Saturday evening just hours after I mailed it, the incoming mail arrived. I was a little put out that there was nothing for me, but there were three items for Pornchai Moontri.
As Pornchai looked at his mail, one piece was from Mike Fazzino, a friend and TSW reader in Connecticut. Pornchai pulled a nicely printed insert out of his letter and said, “I’m supposed to give this to you.” It was a photograph of Padre Pio with the quote,
“Pray, hope and don’t worry.
Prayer is the key to God’s heart.”
THE PATRON SAINT OF HEAVY HEARTS
Such things are easily chalked up to mere coincidence – and I am often among the first to do just that – but sometimes we should see friendship with our patron saints in the same way we see friendship. The people who seem to always know what’s going on in our lives are either stalking us or they are true friends. Those who show up to console our losses and broken hearts, or to be catalysts for our spiritual growth, are the very best of our friends. These are the measures of friendship.
When saints do it, my first inclination is to dismiss their gestures as mere chance. But over time, that no longer works as a plausible explanation. Our patron saints will pursue us, revealing their presence in our minds and hearts if we can open ourselves to them. They seek entry into our hearts and souls and place themselves before us to accept their invitation.
If you have never visited the “About” page on These Stone Walls, there is a lot that you may find interesting there. It presents a brief description of how I landed in the place from which I write and how I came to write at all. If you scroll far enough down the page, you will also find this brief passage:
“These Stone Walls is dedicated in memory of Avery Cardinal Dulles and Father Richard John Neuhaus, and published under the spiritual patronage of Saint Maximilian Kolbe and Saint Pio of Pietrelcina. All were champions of truth, justice, and fidelity.”
Some time ago, a TSW reader wrote to me with a query: “Why you chose St. Maximilian as a patron saint seems evident, but why Padre Pio?” The clearest explanation is that I did not choose either one. They each established a presence here. How and why I came to believe this was explored in an All Saints Day post, “Patron Saints: Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”
During this ongoing cross of unjust imprisonment, I today believe that three figures have insinuated themselves into my life here. The first of them is clear in my recent post, “Saint Maximilian Kolbe and the Gift of Noble Defiance.”
The second is Saint Padre Pio but you may have to read a few posts about him to understand it. My own understanding of it is still evolving. (I’ll reveal the third figure here next week).
In 2005, The Wall Street Journal began a series of articles by Dorothy Rabinowitz that examined the case against me and declared it to be a perversion of justice. The series continued in 2013 with publication of “The Trials of Father MacRae.”
After the 2005 articles, I was contacted by Pierre Matthews, a Belgian citizen who began a long-standing friendship with me. Five years later, when Pornchai Moontri announced his decision to become a Catholic on Divine Mercy Sunday, Pierre asked to be Pornchai’s Godfather, establishing a spiritual bond between them.
Later in 2010, I mentioned to Pierre in a letter that I was writing a post about Padre Pio who had in my mind become a patron saint of These Stone Walls. I was surprised to learn from Pierre’s reply that he once met Padre Pio and was blessed by him through the imposition of those wounded hands.
Pierre wished to impart that same blessing to Pornchai and me deepening that spiritual bond to include Saint Padre Pio. I told this story in a 2010 post, “Saints Alive’ Padre Pio and the Stigmata: Sanctity on Trial.”
SEPTEMBER 23, 1968 AND SEPTEMBER 23, 1994
After a few good quotes and a photograph, the “About” page on These Stone Walls begins with a statement of fact:
“On September 23, 1994, Father Gordon MacRae, a priest of the Diocese of Manchester, was confined to a prison cell to begin a sentence of sixty-seven years in the New Hampshire State Prison.”
I was always aware, but for so long it seemed inconsequential, that on that same date 26 years earlier, Padre Pio died. It is this date that the Church established to honor him. I knew this in the back of my mind, but it was only when we later appeared in the same place that it really registered.
In 2005, I was asked by Catholic League President, Bill Donohue to write the first of two articles for Catalyst, the Catholic League journal. My first article, “Sex Abuse and Signs of Fraud,” was published in the September 2005 issue. When a copy arrived, my own article about false witness and slander was dwarfed by a front-page account of how The New York Times resurfaced a long ago discredited slander against Padre Pio.
I always knew about this, but I had never really let it sink in. Padre Pio was himself accused, and right up until 2005 some in the mainstream news media continued that slander even long after the Church had determined it to be entirely false and contrived. It was from that account that it first struck me that I was unjustly sent to prison on the feast day of Padre Pio, and that meant something. But what?
There was something else striking about that brief article. Pope (now Saint) John Paul II elevated Padre Pio to the Communion of Saints on June 16, 2002. I was eight years in prison then, and not at all aware that it had even happened. I was unaware of it because June of 2002 was the height of the clergy sex abuse scandal in the United States, and the news media used that event to repeat its slanderous case against me.
Even some among my brother priests chose that moment in time to once again denounce me. As I read the Catalyst account of what happened to Padre Pio, I saw that he also suffered the wounds of slander and false witness, wounds that, like mine, were not on his hands or feet or his side, but in his heart.
It would have been sad enough if his detractors and accusers had been enemies of the Church – as seems the case with The New York Times – but they were not. They were respected priests and bishops who brought to the ears of Rome a contrived, highly prejudiced and distorted view of Padre Pio. When the distortions failed to turn the heart of the Church against him, the weapons of mass destruction were hauled out.
He was falsely accused of vague improprieties with women. It’s that story that The New York Times repeated in 2005, but the far more damaging stories were those that slandered the wounds that he bore. Father Agostino Gemelli, a pre-eminent psychologist, and university professor, told the Holy See that he had a close and well-studied acquaintance with Padre Pio.
Gemelli, in official papers to Rome, dismissed Padre Pio as a charlatan whose wounds were psychologically induced by religious fanaticism. For full disclosure for the sake of my own soul, I once did the same thing. Most TSW readers know that I began religious life as a Capuchin in the New York Province, the same province in which Father Benedict Groeschel was a member before founding the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.
Influenced by Father Groeschel – though he never shared my prejudice toward Padre Pio – I studied toward a graduate degree in psychology. Padre Pio was always the center of a sort of spiritual hero worship among my friends in formation with the Capuchins then, but I dismissed his wounds as psychologically induced. Lord, forgive me the idiocy of my youthful arrogance!
The difference was that Father Gemelli never came to admit his arrogance or his prejudice. It turned out that his “well-studied acquaintance” with Padre Pio was but one 20-minute interview in which he set his mind and heart against Padre Pio and dismissed him as a fraud. In a rare instance of exasperated self-defense, Padre Pio reacted to a charge that his wounds were psychosomatic and induced by looking too intently upon the passion of Christ:
“Go out to the fields and look very closely at a bull. Concentrate on him with all your might. Do this and see if horns grow on your head.”
From 1923 to 1926, the Holy Office received a steady stream of slanderous declarations against Padre Pio from Mons. Pasquali Gagliardi, Archbishop of the diocese in which San Giovanni Rotondo is located. The accusations turned out to have no merit when investigated, but – as happens today when Catholic priests are falsely accused in the USA – the investigations were either long delayed or did not take place at all.
In 1923, the Holy Office declared that supernatural phenomena ascribed to Padre Pio by many of the faithful do not hold true. Padre Pio was suspended from hearing confessions and offering Mass in public. He was deeply grieved. After three years the suspensions were lifted only to be imposed again in 1931 and again in 1961. Each suspension was lifted after investigation.
BEFORE THE FACE OF CHRIST
In my post, “Opus Bono Sacerdotii: Heroic Witness for a Heroic Vocation,” I mentioned Michael, a TSW reader from Washington, DC who is in the process of discerning a vocation to priesthood or religious life. Michael is not the only TSW reader exploring priesthood. Ben Feuerborn in Lincoln, Nebraska is entering the seminary of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) this month. I ask for your prayers for both Michael and Ben.
Both men have found in these pages some inspiration from Saint Padre Pio. Michael, a Catholic convert, first discovered These Stone Walls through my post, “‘I Am a Mystery to Myself!’ The Last Days of Padre Pio.” It is one of my favorite posts, and one that has a special place of both mystery and hope in my heart.
In his last days while his body was in the twilight of death at San Giovanni Rotondo, Padre Pio was seen 200 kilometers away kneeling in deep prayer before the Holy Face of Jesus at the Shrine of Manoppello. My post, “I Am a Mystery to Myself” describes that haunting and deeply mystical, scene. But reading Michael’s recent letter shed light on why this happened:
“I started to write an online reply to your post, “I Am a Mystery to Myself,” but quickly my comment became too long and personal… As a recent convert, I visited Europe for the first time as a Catholic this summer… I traveled in Europe to Rome, and then to Manoppello. From the terrace of the Sanctuario del Volto Santo, one can see the hills turn into mountains further north. Inside, a Polish sister encouraged her parish group to kneel before the Holy Face on the raised steps before the high altar.
“I wish I had more time there – It’s a marvel to me that I could get so close to this treasure of Christendom. The Face of Christ there is so arresting and mysterious, half-lidded as if looking up from the ground to continue to carry His cross forward, calm and beautiful despite the disfigurement of blows, and gazing straight into your soul with a love that I cannot fathom. I don’t really understand it but I want to keep gazing back.”
This beautiful reflection before the Shrine of Manoppello helped me to understand why Padre Pio was seen there in his final hours. After 50 years bearing the visible wounds of Christ, where else could he possibly gaze as he completed his journey?
“Stay with me, Lord, for it is getting late, the days are coming to a close and life is passing. Death, judgment and eternity are drawing near.” Padre Pio
Editor’s Note: Honor Saint Padre Pio this week with these posts:
- I Am a Mystery to Myself! The Last Days of Padre Pio
- Saints Alive! Padre Pio and the Stigmata: Sanctity on Trial
- A Priest and His Wounds: Padre Pio Under Investigation
- The Wounds of Padre Pio, Cyrenian Priest
- The Sacrifice of the Mass: Part II