A big thank you to Catholicity, the group that put this image on the Internet for us to enjoy. And how I'm enjoying it! I had a question from a reader: "Are you sure Padre Pio is kind? I have this impression he was quite scary - but did he really say that about waiting for his spiritual children to enter Heaven first?"
Not to be naive, but there the answer is, white on black, clear as day. I found it on the Internet, so it must be true, eh? No but really, this time we've got visual confirmation: take a good look at the friar leaning on Padre Pio's shoulder. How could he get away with that affectionate comradery if Padre Pio was a meanie? And the other friars, the ones standing in front of their brother Pio (or to the right of him, from our view) - can you believe how happy they look, and how they're clearly smiling at some joke or prank Padre Pio is about to pull on the besotted friar who leans on him with such abandon? I can't quite see Padre Pio's gloved hands behind the quote, but I bet he's holding a rubber chicken with which he's about to whack the young friar who's mugging for the camera!
Marcel (in cahoots with St. Anthony) must've been the one to find this photo, practically instantly, the moment I went looking for something to reassure our readers that Padre Pio is an absolute teddy bear. Okay, an unusual giant teddy bear (with the stigmata, bilocation, and a thick Italian accent), but chock full of tender compassion, and believe it or not that's why he sometimes had to act gruff.
It's no secret that I'm the mom of a really big family. Big in time, if not in numbers. My two sons were born 12 years apart, with no babies in between, so you can imagine how eager we were to welcome the second little fellow. To add to the joy, this second boy had been prayed into existence from Lisieux, where my mom and my Aunt Joan had gone and asked St. Therese to ask God to give us another child. There had certainly been a lot of prayers said for us over the years. One of my favorites was uttered by friends who'd visited a Marian shrine during the summer, and when the start of school (Christendom, where my husband taught) brought us together again, they greeted me with an exuberant, "ARE YOU PREGNANT?" I had to disappoint them, and they were disappointed indeed, but so darling as they explained that they'd prayed for me to our Blessed Mother and were sure she'd answer their prayer.
She did, but not until Therese got involved in the exuberance. And there was no doubt the Little Flower was involved in the miracle because baby boy #2 was due, to our delight, on October 1st, her feast day!
When the time came near, we knew a C-section would be necessary, so the great Dr. John Bruchalski of Tepayac/Divine Mercy Care asked when I'd like to schedule it - I could go in up to a week before the due date.
In an instant I knew two things. First, there was no way I wanted to spend every St. Therese day for the next 18 years giving a birthday party for a houseful of boys (my own and the ones we'd invite). And second, if I had a way to get out of that last week of pregnancy, the most uncomfortable of the lot, I'd gladly take it.
Providentially, one week before Therese's feastday is September 23rd, Padre Pio's feastday, and that year, 2002, it was going to be his first feast as an officially canonized Saint. Just what the doctor ordered, after I convinced him of the day's merits.
I recall Dr. John smiling as he said, "I don't know if I'm working that day, but what a great day! You'll have Padre Pio to help out!" I quickly explained that I wanted and needed both of them. Luckily Dr. John did have hospital duties that day, and it went like a dream. Especially the part when my just born baby boy started crying and then I cried, in awe that he truly was a baby and not a basketball. (What can I say? I kinda knew he was a baby, but something inside me couldn't believe God had given us another miracle, and somehow this was actually my first grateful thought when I heard his cry.)
All of which is to say that I've been a huge fan of Padre Pio's for more than 15 years, and I've read lots about him. Call me a Padre Pio expert, if you will - and isn't it funny that he's been surrounded by experts ever since he was a young priest with that crazy stigmata and his many other extraordinary charisms? Some of the experts were there to attack him, others to defend him, and as you might guess, I'm a defender. I don't know how many times I've heard an objection like my dear reader's, but I can't blame her. Padre Pio's gotten a bad rap over the years, and he's rather like cilantro - you either love him or you hate him. Now that he's canonized, hating him isn't much of an alternative, but let's say you either love him or you'd rather keep your distance. The middle ground is uninhabited.
(For the record, I used to hate cilantro but made my peace because I love Mexican food, live in Mexican food-land, and while you can scrape off surface cilantro, it's fairly impossible to pick out if it's been mixed in. Besides, by the time I've picked out the raw onions, I'm starving.)
So now that we've reviewed my credentials as an expert, I need to tell you what I've discovered about Padre Pio.
It's true he was sometimes gruff and sometimes scary - but only in two circumstances:
He was gruff when he saw people suffering and was afraid he'd break down in tears of compassion. I'm not kidding or exaggerating - that's what the friars close to him said and what he himself admitted. Padre Pio was so tenderhearted, so loving, so merciful, so much like Jesus, that when he passed by the multitudes on his way to the confessional, he sometimes had to look (and act) gruff lest he lose it completely and break down weeping. Besides the suffering he'd see on people's faces or in their handicaps (many having come in search of healing and miracles), he could also read souls - so he knew in the depths of his own soul the deep distress of many of these penitents.
Then there were the times he'd yell at people. He did, there's no denying it, but this he would do when he knew someone was being insincere - purposely leaving out grave sins in confession, unrepentant but seeking absolution anyhow, making a mockery of the Mercy of God and the passion and death of Christ. Pio had no patience with this intended mockery, and by reacting strongly, he was an instance of the violent taking the the kingdom of heaven by force, as Jesus told us so enigmatically that they do. Not the violent ones who abuse others and then try to force a holy priest into giving them absolution, but the holy priest who knows the power of holy anger in rebuking them. Because the result, frequently, was these same insincere sinners becoming quite sincere in a newfound repentance - if not immediately, then after going away publicly humiliated and having a chance to think about what they'd done (before their meeting with Padre Pio and during it). I think too that Pio was so charismatic (in the more colloquial meaning of the word), so attractive in his holiness, so like Jesus Himself in the supernatural beauty shining out of his handsome face, that those he rebuked couldn't stand his rejection. They wanted to come back and earn his praise and love, and they often did!
Marcel is taking a nap today and wants me to keep talking about Padre Pio. I don't want to disappoint those of you who come over here knowing you'll find Marcel himself, but the poor lad is tired from his frequent appearances these days of our novena, so let's humor him (and Jesus) by going to Pio for our spiritual nourishment today. The cool thing about Padre Pio's wisdom is that it is plentiful and so sweet EVEN THOUGH he was forbidden to write (answer letters and so on) in the early 1920's and when the other restrictions the Vatican imposed on him were lifted in 1933, this one never was! Consequently his writings are confined to the early years of his life and priesthood, but what he wrote then is a treasure trove, and on top of that, in later years people loved to record their experiences, encounters, and edifying exchanges with him.
Some of these are hilarious - like the lady who kept silently praying to him during his long Mass, calling out to him in her mind, begging him repeatedly for his help with whatever her great need was. Afterward when he passed her in the crowd at church, he singled her out and addressed her, saying, "Why did you keep calling out to me like that? I was trying to say Mass! Once would have been enough!" When you add to this the troubles he had with many people wanting to snip off pieces of his habit for a relic (I surely would've been one of them!), you can understand there may have been a third reason he was sometimes gruff and scary, namely self-defense!
.....................Well! So much for my plan. That imp Marcel woke up and hid my set of Padre Pio quotes. Sure I could continue searching or look in one of my many books for the very words you've been waiting to hear, but let's be honest - this blog isn't Pondering Padre Pio, it's Miss Marcel's Musings, and it isn't only Marcel whose heart isn't in the Pio quotes. Miss Marcel is missing the second Therese, and even the Padre is wondering what Marcel will say next. So to humor the lovable Pio and get our daily dose of sanity and silliness (in equal measure), let's turn to the star of our show. Marcel, come on down!
[We interrupt our regular programming for a news flash. Conversations just begs to be shared - the dialogue is inimitable and, shall we say, beyond laughter into absolute nuttiness. That's why I'm forever sharing it here, but my family, too, gets their doses. I was on my bed a few minutes ago, smiling as I read aloud, "What have you to moan about? You have only one thing to do, to wear your socks until I tell you to take them off." At that moment my husband walked into the room and looked at me like I was the crazy one. "What are you reading?" he asked, completely perplexed. I simply held up the book so he could see our little brother on the cover. "Oh," he said, and started laughing. No more explanation needed. And now, back to our regularly scheduled program.]
Marcel's been keeping it real - I've heard about answers to our novena prayers raining down from heaven even at this early juncture, so don't stop believin', and do continue throwing those glances and pleas heavenward. We prayed together yesterday for a friend to get the right house for her family and within an hour she called to report Mission Accomplished.
We're working with something more powerful than dynamite in this novena, something more reactive than - well I'd know what was reactive if I'd been paying attention when the boys watch Myth Busters, but that's my quiet time with things exploding as kind of a background soundtrack, so let's just say more reactive than one of Wile E. Coyote's more regrettable ACME products!
What we're dealing with here is, to name names, Jesus, and judging by the kind of conversations He has with Marcel, I'd say Jesus is crazy. As usual, I've got a Doctor of the Church to back me up, and this time it's St. Catherine of Siena. I open my nook copy of Mother Teresa's Secret Fire (nook for the bedroom, hard copy for the living room - if you want to picture me in my ideal state, I'm like one of those happy people in the 2nd half of Wall-E, set up comfortably in a recliner for life, but it moves fairly swiftly, so I need my books waiting for me in every room), and there is the beautiful Dr. Catherine waiting for us to quote her in Italian. She says Jesus is "pazzo d'amore; ebbro d'amore" - "crazed with love, drunk with love." That's it, He's so in love with us, He'll do anything to get us and keep us, including answering our prayers right and left.
One of my prayers is (always, always) to find the books I'm supposed to find. This prayer has had amazing, comical, joyful-tear inducing, and head-shaking provoking answers from heaven, and Marcel has lately joined the bandwagon of those angels whose full time job seems to be orchestrating my book-life.
Take last night, for instance. Not to whine, but I have a limited book budget and I was saving it this month to use in a particular raid I had planned for the end of June. My husband likes to quote the magnificent Russian whose name is even more impossible to spell than the other Russian names one occasionally wants to spell - let's do it phonetically or so: Alexander Soltzinetzin - to remind me in the kindest possible way that self-limitation is the key to happiness. I can only respond that if so, Marcel certainly wants me to be happy. Because last night we stopped by (Marcel and I) at a friend's house-she's-moving-out-of (another friend than the answered-novena friend, but God bless this friend and her dear family too!) to peruse the books-they-are-not-keeping. Her husband and I have run into each other over the years at local libraries and bookstores; he's as enamored of books as I am, and to have the pick of his cast-offs made me fill like a cat in a roomful of uncaged canaries with clipped wings (sorry, Tweety)!
Ah, but what to do when I'd filled my several bags (some for our parish school library, some for hubby, some for son #2, and a few books for me) and it was time to make a choose-your-own-donation? I want to publicly apologize here (to my friend and her husband) that I didn't put more in the basket, and yet the pittance I did drop in, while not quite the widow's mite, took out 2/3rds of my monthly book allowance. (Think small numbers, remembering the great Russian and my wise husband's claim that self-limitation is the key to happiness. And I might add that I am a very happy woman.) Naturally I spent time afterward working on my justification for shifting the expense to another envelope. (Yes, the envelope system is the only way I can keep myself in line - and I have a lot of fun doing so, month by long month.) Alas, there was no way out. Clearly this re-allocation of funds from later in the month to last night (rather than from one envelope, say the uninteresting "boys' activities" envelope, to another, i.e. the book envelope) was entirely Marcel's idea of a joke - never at another's expense (haha, except literally, right?), and completely in the service of love.
Because sure enough I found the perfect quotes to use for Day 5 of our novena, right smack inside two of my new books. Quotes that replace the Padre Pio ones Marcel hid from me, with the further advantage that the new ones will lead us to the page in Conversations that Marcel wants us to read today. His smile is wide - whether it's the rubber chicken in Padre Pio's hand or the re-adjustment of my book purchases he's grinning at, I don't know, but it's clear he's having a good time, so let's smile back and see what he has for us . . .
First, from Thoughts for Book Lovers (compiled by Harry S. Lumsden, God rest his soul, 3rd edition, 1904):
"Books let us into the souls of men, and lay open the secrets of our own." --William Hazlitt
Hazlitt was a favorite essayist of many great essayists, Chesterton among them (God rest all their souls - I told you this novena would keep getting bigger!), and I've tried to read a volume of his in the past, but leave it to Marcel to steer me back to the Little Way. Apparently I just needed one quote from good W.H. because, right there, can't you tell he's so right and true? For myself, I find his quotation applies perfectly to Conversations, which lets us into the souls of Marcel, Therese, Mary, and Jesus our Love. As if that isn't enough, this book reveals to us beautiful secrets of our own souls as well. The most important secrets of any I've ever known, secrets about my littleness, weakness, powerlessness, forgetfulness - but all bathed in the light of Jesus' infinitely tender and solicitous love. Wow, what a happy examination of conscience Marcel leads us through. It's more of a picnic on the perfect day (clear skies, a slight breeze - that would be the Holy Spirit joining us - and let's not forget the recliner out there in the open air) than the scary scrupulous walk among shadows we may have taken in the past when entering our soul without Marcel and his trusty Divine Light.
Now that he's with us, though, no more scruples, no more darkness. He's even poetic, giving us next a quote from Robert Frost, God rest his soul too, along with the souls of all poets. What would we do without them? Talk about revealing souls and secrets, not to mention beauty like we'd never see without them. Take Bob, here, for instance. Do you know his poem "The Tuft of Flowers"? It's worth reading from start to finish, but *SPOILER ALERT* Marcel wants to give us the ending, so we'll have a kind of Cliff Notes or Reader's Digest Condensed Version.
Bob was feeling lonely, walking through a field freshly mowed (with a scythe, mind you, because the best poets don't usually wax eloquent about rider-mowers), but with the scythe swinging fellow nowhere to be seen. (This is starting to sound like a horror movie, but Scythe Man doesn't make an appearance, so we're all good.) Bob is sinking fast into the abyss of poetic melancholy, when a butterfly shows up, sent by Jesus to cheer him. (Bob doesn't mention Jesus, but clearly behind every lovely creature is a Loving Creator.) The butterfly meanders about and leads the poet to "A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared, beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared," so that he realizes he's not alone after all. The man who spared the tall tuft of flowers left them for Bob to enjoy. After some more deep thoughts, and relishing his communion with the mowing man he hasn't seen, the poet concludes (this is the part Marcel loves):
But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;
And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.
"Men work together," I told him from the heart,
"Whether they work together or apart."
+ + +
Marcel and I feel strongly about those last lines. We love seeking the shade at noon, dreaming, holding brotherly speech (as it were), and we are totally on board with the heart-felt reality that men work together, whether they work together or apart. And as Jesus is responsible for the butterfly, so Therese is the one responsible (with Jesus, always with Jesus) for Marcel's and my musings. If we are all three of us chatterboxes (my sister and brother and I), it's because we can't stop singing God's praises, wherever we see them. And what a world of glory He's set us in - full of Padre Pio and poetry, butterflies and brooks, pranksters and books! There's no end to His beauty, and yet it is almost eclipsed by His goodness and merciful love for us. Marcel and I would quote you the whole of Pied Beauty by our favorite, Gerard Manley Hopkins (Fra Angelico in verse), but it's enough to sing the finale:
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change;
Ah, Love! With tears in our eyes at His beauty past change and yet so visible and lovely even in the changeable, Marcel and I rejoice. Rejoice with us!
And now that we are rejoicing, I can tell you that I absolutely love and rejoice in the parts of their conversations where Marcel and Jesus accuse each other of talking too much. It soothes my Chatty Cathy conscience (which shouldn't bother me, but sometimes does) to know I'm in good company; really, the best. But it's our brother's turn to talk now, and here is what he said to Our Blessed Mother on 31 March 1946, which he and Jesus and Mary delight to give us today:
My Mother, in past times, little Jesus did not have the slightest defect; there is nothing astonishing in that, since He is true God. However, He also knows one thing: that the natural defects of children never sadden Him, since we, the children, are all descendants of Adam.
Dear Mother, how is it that I understand these things? Truly it is the work of my sister little Therese. Because, Mother, she did not have enough time to speak to children about you, she wishes to make use of me now to do it in her place. If I speak in this way, it is not at all with the intention of making it known to all men, but because Jesus has made these things clearly known to me . . .
Dear Mother, I recognize further that I have no talent that makes me worthy of being the apostle to this group of pure souls. But because I am part of this same group and perhaps because I have a sensitive ear, I can grasp more clearly the words of my sister Therese . . .
Oh Therese . . . I beg you to remember what you asked of God in favour of children, since that is your work and not mine. However, since you asked Jesus to make use of me to accomplish this work, you must watch over it yourself; as for me, I am simply like the humble pen of Jesus . . . If you wish to make use of me to write something, I can only follow the impulse that is communicated to me by you . . .
+ + +
I couldn't agree more. And now, as Jesus would say, time is up. I hope you get to go rest, but if you have work to do, know that Marcel is happy to work with you. As Robert Frost discovered, "Men work together, whether they work together or apart." So even if you don't see him, may our brother Marcel accompany you today and every day until he leads you right past our father Pio into Heaven. But watch out for that rubber chicken - our Padre's as mischievous as Marcel, and I suspect he may give us a loving thwack as we skip ahead of him into Jesus' loving arms!
+ + +
My gracious! Talk about working together - Marcel and I both almost forgot to give you a novena prayer for today! Padre Pio sent us back with this one, in honor of Jesus' gentleness which, he says, may yet keep him from bonking us with Freda. Yes, his chicken has a name . . . which leads me to believe it's not just a figment of my imagination, so don't say I didn't warn you!
This prayer comes to us from St. John of the Cross, and you can find it any time, day or night, by clicking way, way up at the top above the typewriter on "Prayers." It's short, but sweet, and if you don't have Bach's Cantata 140, chorale # 4 (Sleepers Awake) readily available, this is the next best thing.
O blessed Jesus, give me stillness of soul in You.
Let Your mighty calmness reign in me.
Rule me, O You, King of Gentleness, King of Peace.
There. Now you can go rest or work, as the Spirit leads you and the Fates allow. See you tomorrow, same bat time, same bat(ty) channel!
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