The Rector writes …
Padre Pio (Saint Pio of Pietrelcina) is not the most obvious exemplar of sanctity for our own times. Although loved by so many, his formation was in a very different age and his whole spirituality reflects the certainties of his upbringing in rural Italy at the end of the 19th century. Entering a Franciscan monastery at a young age this disciple of Saint Francis (who like him was to be graced with the signs of stigmata later in life) was to become famous for his insight into the hearts and souls that came to him in huge numbers for help and direction. Padre Pio knew when to be gentle with those who were frail (“he will not break the crushed reed, nor put out the smouldering wick till he has led the truth to victory”: Matthew 12.30) but he could be cursory, even rough, with those he thought were deluding themselves or making excuses. Saint Francis’ own vocation had been clarified when, looking at the sad ruins of a church building, he heard Jesus tell him “rebuild my Church”. While initially the Poor Man of Assisi saw this as a commission to reconstruct the broken stones in front of him, the Lord’s words were asking for something much more radical – nothing less than the renewal of his Mystical Body. “It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church” (Colossians 1:24).
Therese of Lisieux understood her own calling to be love at the heart of the Church: for her, reconstruction and renewal could only really take root through the conversion of the heart. If enough of the faithful love the Church enough it will be changed by the depth of their commitment. Padre Pio – who shared Therese’s desire to provide the Church with a strong and sound heart – offers a different insight and perhaps one that does have a particular relevance for our own times. This Franciscan dealt day after day, hour upon hour, with the cancer of sin which corrupts and spoils: as with the present Pope, he saw more clearly than most Satan’s destructive ways and was never afraid to recognise and call out the demonic wherever he perceived its damaging effects. Padre Pio’s way was to offer healing through penitence: he knew the effectiveness of sacramental reconciliation which, with a firm purpose of amendment, takes human failure seriously and goes on to map out fresh directions. For the Christian, penitence always opens the way to new hope.
“There is only one tragedy in the end, not to have been a saint”. Leon Bloy’s words express the crisis of the Church now – and as it ever has been. Not enough of us are really trying to live like Jesus. Not enough of us truly love the Church as we should. “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know that they are just one thing, and we should not complicate the matter” (Joan of Arc). In the 2nd century, Saint Clement of Alexandria expressed it this way: “Just as God’s will in creation is called ‘the world’, so his intention is the salvation of all, and it is called ‘the Church’”. Love of Christ and love of his Church are inseparable realities, but we have also to recognise the wounded nature of both constituents (imposed on one, of course, while at least partly self-inflicted on the other). Padre Pio shows us a way forward by pointing out that we should all hear Christ saying to us “rebuild my Church”, and that this process has to begin on our knees.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta issues a challenge: “holiness is not the luxury of a few people, but a simple duty for you and me”. Especially at this time when the wounds in the Church are so painfully obvious, each Catholic needs to be renewed in penitence so that grace may be allowed to flow and renew. We ought to start by reflecting on our own use of the sacrament of reconciliation. When did I last go to confession? Do I take for granted this opportunity of encountering God’s mercy – is it a part of the normal rhythm of my Christian life, or only reserved for a crisis? The means to sanctification are close by – but do we really lay hold on them? Do we truly believe that, in the words of the old Penny Catechism: “God made me in his own image and likeness, to know him, to love him and to serve him in this world and be happy with him forever in the next”? Saint Peter sums it up in his First Letter (1:15-16): “as he who called you is holy, be yourselves holy in all your conduct; since it is written, ‘you shall be holy, for I am holy’”