“Saint Padre Pio and the Battle Against the Flesh, World, and Devil” (9/23/10)

Rev. Br. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP

            There’s a friar in our province who bears a certain resemblance to Padre Pio. Fr Clem Burns himself is aware of such a resemblance. So one time he sought to capitalize on it, in what we might call a “pious prank.”

            I’ve heard the story that some years ago Fr Clem was visiting Lourdes and came across one of these religious articles stores for tourists. This shop was especially dedicated to Padre Pio.  So Fr Clem, feeling a little mischievous, entered the store. And as everyone turned to look at him, he proclaimed, “I’m back!” Thoroughly enjoying their amazement for a few moments, Fr Clem assured them he was really not Padre Pio.

            In our Gospel today, Herod also wonders if someone has been raised from the dead. For, some were saying of Jesus that “John has been raised from the dead.”   Herod was especially desirous of such spectacles. As we know from the Passion account, Herod hoped to see Jesus perform a sign, but our Lord refused to satisfy his craving for a spectacle.

 Devotees of Padre Pio can sometimes share this Herod-like craving for a spectacle. Yet Pio himself wanted nothing more than to be—as he puts it—“a poor friar who prays.” This evening, then, rather than the spectacle, I wish rather to focus on one virtue that St Pio exemplifies, namely an unwavering perseverance. St Pio’s perseverance in face of the flesh, the world, and the devil, is a model for us.

 First, the flesh. We know of the flesh’s selfish tendency to cry out, “Non serviam!” “I will not serve!”   Well, in one letter, Padre Pio expresses his own frustration with the burden of ministry. He writes, “You must know that a free moment is never afforded me; a throng of souls, who thirst for Jesus, so besiege me as to make me want to pull my hair out.”  Now this frank admission is in a letter from 1916, just six years into his priesthood. So this battle with the flesh surely must have intensified as larger and larger crowds would be knocking at his door. Yet his time in the confessional bears witness to his heroic perseverance against the flesh.

 Second, perseverance against the allure of the world. In one of his counsels, Padre Pio says, “He who attaches himself to the earth remains attached to it. It is by violence that we must leave it. It is better to detach oneself a little at a time, rather than all at once. Let us always think of heaven.” Pio insists that tremendous effort is needed to overcome unhelpful attachments—he speaks of violence. Yet he puts this within a prudent discretion. He says detaching oneself a little at a time is better than attempting it all at once. A whole lifetime of effort and unwavering perseverance is needed, not just one burst of zeal.

 Third, perseverance against the attacks of the devil. At age 14, as Pio was reflecting on joining the Franciscans, he had a vision. He sees a large plain with many beautiful people dressed in white on one side and on the other side, many repulsive and evil-looking people. The ugliest and most powerful one comes forward, namely the devil. Christ tells Pio, “You must fight with this man. Take heart. Enter the combat with confidence. Go forth courageously. I shall be with you. In reward for your victory over him, I will give you a shining crown to adorn your brow.”

By his perseverance, Padre Pio did win this glorious crown 67 years later, at age 81. So today we celebrate what God has done in and through St Pio. And we entrust ourselves to his intercession, that we too may persevere in face of the flesh, the world, and the devil.

 I leave you with a final thought from St Pio: “It is difficult to become a saint. Difficult, but not impossible. The road to perfection is long, as long as one’s lifetime. Along the way, consolation becomes rest; but as soon as your strength is restored, you must diligently get up and resume the journey.”

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