If you guessed that today is the 2nd day in the Octave of good St. Joseph, you are right!!! If, instead or in addition, you guessed that today is the day that if you hear the voice of the Lord, you should harden not your heart, you're right again, mustard seed!! And if you guessed, or are thinking you ought to guess, that today is something to do with St. Padre Pio (else why would he be grinning so broadly in the handsome photo above?), well you're really on to the truth!
First off, Padre Pio is not just grinning - he's breaking into laughter and it's because he can't believe how mathematically challenged I am. I just looked up "octave" in the dictionary to figure out if this was the 2nd day of St. Joseph's. (It is. Phew!) But earlier today was when I really got Il Padre started (that means "The Father" and is what his dear friends used to call him, and I suppose still do, so I've decided to adopt the expression to show him just where I fit in, even if he loves laughing at me).
It actually started yesterday, I think. . .
I picked up a book I've had around here for a few years, a book written about Brother Andre Bessette just after he left exile in 1937 - now he's St. Andre Bessette! - that great Canadian apostle of St. Joseph responsible for St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal. Since one good book deserves another, I looked on my kindle to see what else was available on St. Andre, and came up with something I hadn't seen before: a book featuring "3 of God's doorkeepers" as it advertised itself: Blessed Solanus Casey, St. Andre, and St. Padre Pio. I was so concerned that Padre Pio wasn't a doorkeeper at all, that it didn't occur to me until today that I love Padre Pio, and I might be interested in this book since I do love all three of those the author is (rightly or wrongly) calling doorkeepers. (I'm sure the author is aware of what doors Padre Pio did and didn't open and is calling him a doorkeeper in a metaphorical sense.)
Today, though, I found myself reading something else on Padre Pio - from an old book on those who had the stigmata, in the back of which were interviews with two priests who knew Padre Pio very well in the last years of his life. One of them was Fr. Alessio Parente. That name was familiar. . . I looked in my library and found not only one of my favorite books - which turned out to be by Fr. Parente - "Send me your Guardian Angel" - but also another book which had, to my utter surprise, an inscription from Fr. Parente handwritten inside! I popped back onto my kindle and searched the names of the two priests (Fr. Parente and Fr. Joseph Martin), but alas, no books by them were available digitally.
Nonetheless, as I said, one good book leads to another, so I searched "Padre Pio" and next thing I knew, I'd hit gold. I came upon a Padre Pio book I hadn't seen before - and no wonder as it was only published (digitally, in English) a month ago. It's called "Padre Pio and I" and is the spiritual memoir of one of the Saint's spiritual sons.
Since Padre Pio has invited everyone to become his spiritual children, I wasn't entirely convinced of the originality of this book or its importance - until I read in the free sample that this particular spiritual son was called by name by Padre Pio at San Giovanni Rotondo the first time the man (then a 16 year old boy) visited there. Before he had any acquaintance with Il Padre. Before, that is, Padre Pio (had he been anyone else!) could have been in a position to call out across a crowd: "Adolfo, come here!" (In Italian, actually, but this was nicely translated.) Being Padre Pio, naturally (or rather supernaturally), not having met or seen or heard of this boy previously was no impediment to our hero (and the Holy Spirit so active within him).
Further, it turns out that Adolfo and his bride (she came into the picture a few years later but happily was mentioned, too, in the opening pages) were the last couple to be married by Padre Pio at his friary. Wow! This was no ordinary set of reminiscences! This was the real thing!
The beauty of my discovering the book turned out to be twofold.
First, and this was what set Padre Pio off in gales of laughter, the beginning of the book gives an excellent chronology of Pio - I love these timelines because I'm always looking for "special days." Why settle for anything less than a special anniversary every day? So I was keeping my eye out for anything March-ish as I read through the chronology, and then I hit upon it - tomorrow, it said, was the anniversary of the opening of "The official inquiry into the cause of Padre Pio's canonization" (1983). I was thrilled, though of course it would have been even more fun (and special) if it had been today, the very day Padre Pio dropped this new and wonderful book into my lap. . . which, actually, it was. Today, I mean. Not just that today was today (how could it be otherwise!?) but rather that the date in the chronology actually matched today's date! Because the date in the timeline was "March 20, 1983," and I wonder if you heard Heaven (in the persons of Marcel and Padre Pio) roaring with laughter as I realized that, yes, amazing and nearly miraculous as it seems, March 20th is the day after March 19th - and since yesterday was St. Joseph's Day, March 19th, then today must be March 20th!
But that was just the first reason my discovering the book was so timely and lovely. The second is even better!!
The second reason was this: just before I started looking at the book, I'd had one of Oprah's "Aha!" moments (not that she has the trademark on them, but I think she made them famous. We can simply call it a spiritual awakening). I'd suddenly realized why it is that I love the Saints that I love!
In reading about St. Andre, I'd come upon the author's reflections on the beautiful relationship St. Andre had with St. Joseph, and the interesting remark that too many biographers of saints forget the importance of personality. Yes, that made sense to me. God has given each of us particular and distinctive personalities, and we are alike or differ, too, according to our temperaments. Just as in our natural friendships we're often attracted to those like us (not to mention those who like us!) - as well as, interestingly, being attracted at times to those quite different from us (perhaps we admire qualities in them that we lack or that complement ours), so too in our supernatural relationships there are attractions, whether due to similarities or differences, that have to do with personalities and temperaments.
What struck me like a migration of butterflies (I was going to say "like a ton of bricks," but not at all, really, and we've been seeing lots of gorgeous butterflies around here lately, which is much more like it) was The Quality that stands out in my favorite Saints and attracts me to them like a moth to a flame. It's The Quality that shines out (to me at least) in all of them! Are you ready?
I like my Saints to be affectionate, and their affection - whether to their contemporaries, to little Jesus and the Blessed Mother, to St. Joseph and their own favorite Saints, to their guardian angels, to their fans and clients, or, very best of all, to me! - is what wins my heart and gives them pride of place there-in.
To take an example, think of St. Anthony of Padua. He's definitely one of my very faves, and yet here's the funny part. You know how I love books? I never seem to find a book on him that satisfies me. There was the book on him that I read when a child, that made me want him for my confirmation saint (and thankfully my best friend's mom explained that since my middle name was Antoinette, the girl form of Anthony, he already was my patron and I could choose another) - I loved that book, as well as the book about St. Anthony that I read, and my husband Tony (Anthony) read at my request when we were expecting Son #1. It sealed the deal on our putting "Anthony" in this son's name as well as in the name of our #2 Son later - and we would've put Anthony into any other sons' or daughters' names also (boy or girl derivative, respectively), had God blessed us with more children. But why? Because what an affectionate Saint!
While I can't seem to find a book that moves me with his own words (though he is a Doctor of the Church), who can resist a Saint whom little Jesus found so irresistible? The charming scene of the child Jesus embracing St. Anthony - the affectionate greetings of each to the other - they didn't even need words: they had hugs and kisses!
St. Anthony continues to be affectionate to all the frends of little Jesus. If you lived in our neighborhood, you'd often hear our home ring out with the refrain "Anto!" and the response "Padua!" as we are searching for this, that, or the other thing, and again when we (always) find the lost object. It's as if St. Anthony wants me to know that there are others (like our dear friend St. Thomas Aquinas, who did become my confirmation saint and brought me to the college named for him that changed my life) whose words will help us when we need them. But who is there to help when we lose everything?
Interestingly, he didn't respond promptly when #2 Son recently lost his glasses. Yesterday, though, we found out why he was delaying. We'd promised a Rosary in his honor when we found the glasses. St. Joseph's Day came and my son and I said a Rosary which I quietly designated in St. Joseph's honor. I wasn't thinking about the glasses, but apparently St. Anthony wanted to confirm St. Andre's experience that St. Joseph is really your go-to man for all occasions. Suddenly, the glasses turned up! Affection - from both St. Anthony and St. Joseph. And if St. Anthony had the privilege of sometimes embracing and being embraced by little Jesus, how much more often (30 years or so worth) St. Joseph had that joy and honor!
Or what about St. Therese? Besides the super fun passages in her letters where she says things like, "Give so-and-so a huge kiss for me - one that really makes a lot of noise!", there is her promise to spend her Heaven doing good on earth by showering roses upon us. I was truly delighted, recently, to discover in many who promoted Therese's cause (from Fr. Thomas Taylor, the Scottish priest who first suggested a cause, to Pope Pius XI who both beatified and canonized little Therese) the argument that Therese ought to be canonized because she was such a great intercessor and had so much interest in helping us here below - so much affection, we might say. How awesome and how delicate! Not that she was so high above us, so perfect, that we needed to spend our lives admiring her virtues, but simply that she wanted to help us and was successful in this, so the Church should make it official that even more might call upon her and receive her aid. I may have mentioned it before, but the Vatican (I think it was Pope Benedict XV) made an exception in Therese's case and allowed medals of her to be struck before she was even venerable because so many soldiers in World War I were begging for this, and so many had already received her help on the battlefields.
So, too, with Marcel - he's such a love because he's so very loving. And talk about affection! Not only is he affectionate, but he draws affection out of Jesus (and Mary and Therese) like there's no tomorrow! Here is what I read in Conversations this morning that I'd not noticed before (because, let's face it, while there are many good books, there is only one best book!). See if it isn't the most adorable thing you've ever read too!
Jesus is speaking, and this is noteworthy because the date is April 3rd, 1946. Poor Marcel has been without Jesus' voice for some very long months! Finally, on April 2nd, we read Marcel saying, "Little Jesus, the thought has come to me that you are not very just . . . Without reason, you left me alone for nearly three months . . . but you do not cease to repeat that you love me a lot, etc." (350; and the "etc." is Marcel's.) Then Jesus speaks to Marcel for a paragraph's worth of words, explaining Himself.
I have a sneaking suspicion these words of Jesus that Marcel writes down for us on April 2nd are not the very first words Jesus said to break His long silence. Even the way Marcel says, "But you do not cease to repeat that you love me a lot, etc." implies that Jesus had been speaking to him for some time already - I'm thinking maybe He broke His Divine silence the day before, on April 1st. Like Jesus' first appearance to Our Blessed Mother on Easter, some reunions are kept from us, at least for now. Their beauty would no doubt soften even our hard hearts so much that we might find ourselves too eager for that very reunion ourselves!
No, Marcel contents himself (no doubt with Jesus' permission) in only giving us a paragraph of his and a paragraph of His for April 2nd, but on April 3rd they are more merciful to us. At the end of that day's entry, which covers a nice long few pages, here is the passage that set my heart aflame and invited me to kiss the page:
Jesus: Little Marcel, be happy to write the following, so that children also can understand the love which their Father in heaven has for them. Marcel, even write the words which seem to have no importance and I will place my lips on them as I do on your forehead . . . Yes, little bird, sing out loud, so that other little birds know that the nest where you now rest is a very sweet nest (359).
Can you see what it is that so thrilled me? Here it is, the sentence that jumped out at me:
Marcel, even write the words which seem to have no importance and I will place my lips on them as I do on your forehead!
Talk about affection! Kisses, kisses, and more kisses! But not just kisses that Jesus and Marcel share. Jesus has kissed the very words Marcel doesn't understand (fortunately, that's very many words!) but has written for us anyhow. Thank you, Marcel, you little pencil you! Thank You, dear Jesus, author of all affection! Most affectionate among men, most affectionate Creator and Spouse of our souls, we thank You with all our hearts!
And what's more, some of us now have the best reason ever for kissing a book! It seems to me - it occurred to me this morning and even hours later it still sounds like a brilliant idea - that if Jesus kissed these words that Marcel wrote for us so that we can understand the love which our Father in heaven has for us (oh and how this book of Conversations so clearly and sweetly conveys that love!), He has given us too the motive to lower our own lips and kiss these divine pages, to kiss these very words He has blessed with His kiss. He was not being metaphorical! He promised to kiss these words just as He kissed Marcel, His beloved little child: "to place My lips on them [the words Marcel wrote for us] as I do on your forehead." What condescension, I want to say, but that doesn't quite capture the case, not after He's given us so many pages of the adorable intimacy of friendship that He happily shares with Marcel (and us). What affection! That's the only proper word for it!
That passage was the start of my day and my "aha" moment, and it linked me to Padre Pio because in the interview with Padre Pio's friends (which I began reading not too long after I'd been kissing my copy of Conversations), there was mention of birds too, just like there was in Marcel's book.
Jesus had said to Marcel: Yes, little bird, sing out loud, so that other little birds know that the nest where you now rest is a very sweet nest.
I agreed! What a sweet nest! And then I read a story about Padre Pio, comparing him to St. Francis. Fr. Alessio told it, I think, and it went like this:
There were some birds which sang a great deal and made a lot of noise near where Padre Pio was talking with some visitors. In the middle of the conversation, they began making the same noises, and he told them, "Stop it this minute!" and they did. This happened on other occasions as well.
Well here is when I actually got Padre Pio laughing hard. I read this anecdote and thought our dear Padre had been a bit harsh. Were the visitors mocking the birds? Were they scaring the birds? Why did Padre Pio tell them to be quiet, and tell them so harshly?
I was happy to have come upon the anecdote because it reminded me of Marcel and made me think Marcel was enjoying it over my shoulder, but whatever Marcel made of it, I didn't get it until the third time I read it.
Oh! It was the birds that Padre Pio asked to be silent, not the visitors, and he asked the birds to be quiet so that he and the guests could converse without interruption! OH!
I can't really say Padre Pio was laughing at me. I think at least now he must be laughing with me, because I'm laughing too!
But our laughter isn't quite the end of it. Here is what I found in the book "Padre Pio and I" right after my realization that affection is the gold standard for my friendship with the Saints.
First, from the couple who became the instruments of God in bringing Adolfo's book into the English language (they did not translate it themselves, but found a translator, and a wonderful one like our own Jack Keogan!) -
"We later asked him [Adolfo] why he asked us to publish the book in America."
They had met Adolfo seemingly randomly on a train from San Giovanni Rotondo - their first visit there - to Rome, and had found a man on the train who knew both English and Italian and so could help them hear Adolfo's stories, for indeed, he was a spiritual son of one of their favorite saints, the very Saint whom they'd just visited! Within two or three hours of beginning to talk to each other on that train, Adolfo was suggesting to the married couple that they might help him get his newly published book into English to reach a wider audience with Padre Pio's message of God's love. Here is what Adolfo responded when they later asked him why he'd so quickly turned to them with his suggestion, trusting them with his book:
"He said sometimes his heart beats fast as a sign from Padre Pio and he also said 'Padre Pio speaks to me.'"
That's what I'm talkin bout! How can you not love a Saint that is so very close?
A bit later, though still in the introductory pages, the actual translator of the book mentions, "Although I specialize in translating books on spirituality and the saints, my experience with this one has been different. Any time you translate a book, you have to try to get to know the author - to get inside his head and understand how he thinks. And during this process, I had several occasions to meet with Adolfo Affatato to learn how he reasons and how he lives his life. And doing so has enriched my life tremendously."
This reminds me of our good Jack Keogan's relationship with little Marcel and even little Jesus. Yes, Conversations is surely a book one doesn't even have to translate in order to find oneself "in the head" or rather in the hearts of those who wrote it - Jesus, Mary, Therese, and our dear Marcel!
But there is more . . . the translator tells us that five million people come to San Giovanni Rotondo each year, and they come for the same reasons now as they did when Padre Pio was living there. "People have heeded Padre Pio's words when he said, 'After my death I will do more. My real mission will begin after my death.'"
How can you not love a Saint who makes himself so very present? Who promises his aid? Who says:
"You know, I get it. You live in an age of celebrities, and even back in the day, way, way back, human nature was the same. When there is an extraordinary person, you want to feel you are special to that person. You want to see that person, to meet him (or her), and beyond your wildest dreams (yet not quite beyond them, for you do dream of this) is that deep desire to be special to this person who is so special.
"Do not be afraid! Jesus makes all things possible and new, and you don't need to worry if you never met me, Padre Pio, when I walked this earth. I'm more accessible to you now than ever before, as are all the Saints, your brothers and sisters.
"Do you remember what little Therese wrote to her spiritual brother the seminarian Maurice Belliere? If you are like your little brother Marcel, you've forgotten already, but I am like Jesus and I will never tire of repeating the truth to you, no matter how often you forget!
"Maurice was worried Therese would not love him so much when she got to Heaven, once she saw him with all his flaws. But she laughed at him and told him that they surely didn't understand the Blessed in the same way, and then - this is why Jesus made the Church proclaim her a Doctor! - then she told him how it really is: The Blessed in Heaven have even more compassion on us once they have reached the goal! They know what it's like to suffer and be weak on earth, and it makes them all the more merciful and interested in helping us when they know that we (or rather you, who are still on earth) continue to share this suffering and weakness that they (we) once experienced!"
+ + +
The affection of the Saints! Is there anything more marvelous? Well, yes, the affection of God - which is in fact what we see reflected in their endearing affection!
Here is what Padre Pio told Adolfo in particular. He said this to Adolfo when they both walked the earth that Adolfo still (as I write) walks as a man in his late 70's or early 80's:
"Give the love that I have put into your heart to those to whom you draw near, because in this is the meaning of life."
I can only hear these words coming from Padre Pio as an echo of Jesus' own words to us all, and this is the affection that melts my heart.
This is why, too, where others mistakenly see Padre Pio as harsh, I know him as the most darling softie the world has ever seen. I've said it before but I'll repeat it now: one of the main reasons Padre Pio would occasionally look or act gruff was that he was trying hard not to break down sobbing at all the misery he saw in people's hearts - their sorrows, which instantly became his sorrows, and which (like Jesus Himself) he could not completely alleviate this side of Heaven!
Finally, here is what I found in Adolfo's Padre Pio book:
"Just before his death, Padre Pio said, 'I belong to everyone. Now everyone can say: 'Padre Pio is mine.'"
It doesn't hurt that he also promised to take on everyone (everyone who asked him) as his spiritual children (and all their loved ones automatically, along with them), and then said that he would not enter Heaven - he would stand outside the gate near St. Peter! - until all of his spiritual children had entered first! What absolute love! Do you mind if I say it again? What a glorious excess of affection!!
This blog is not, contrary to what may appear, about to morph into Padre Pio's Ponderings (or even Padre Pio's Progeny's Ponderings) - but rather Marcel has so much fun teasing Padre Pio in Heaven, so much fun spending time with one who, like himself, laughed with little Jesus while stuck in exile on this earth, that he wanted another "guest post" or rather post in honor of a beloved guest, today. It's no small thing to have one's cause for canonization opened, and Marcel needed to use me as his little pencil to celebrate Padre Pio's anniversary today. Once they could get me to realize it was today! Once they could stop laughing long enough to show me my mistake!
I've been mentioning a lot of books here lately, so I think it merits a mention, a little reminder, that really I only suggest the purchase of one book by you if you don't already own a copy (or two) - that would be Conversations! It's the cat's meow, still only $25 and free shipping for a real live physical actual pages to turn (and pictures inside too) copy. Think of it as a Lenten alms for yourself, or if you already have two copies (one for downstairs, one for upstairs), buy one as an alms for a friend! I've put a link into the title that came before the cat's meow, and I invite you to open the book when you have it in hand, and kiss those words that Jesus kissed!
And now, so as to leave room on the internet for another post, another day, let's close with our prayer (which, incidentally, comes not only from little Therese but originally from the Song of Songs in the Bible which begins - not incidentally! - with a kiss!) -
Draw me, we will run!!!
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