A CHARISMATIC IN THE CHURCH: PADRE PIO
By Augustin McGregor
When we say that Padre Pio was a charismatic figure we immediately place him in a certain category of persons who in some way are outstanding by reason of supernatural powers and gifts which they possess through the Holy Spirit. This is not to say that the gifts or "charismata" as they are called are primarily extraordinary or, in any exclusive sense, limited to a special group of persons in the Church. Indeed the gifts of God are of infinite variety and their distribution in the Church is unlimited according as the Spirit "blows wherever he pleases" (Jn 3:8). But at the same time, the Church as always held that besides the gifts and graces received by the faithful for the living of the Christian life there are others of a manifestly more supernatural nature bestowed by God on certain specially chosen individuals. In the life of a charismatic like Padre Pio undoubtedly there were "signs and wonders" (Acts 2:43) such as the sacred stigmata or the inspiring dawn celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Many — lost in modern man’s complex search for light and meaning — came out of curiosity, and little realizing that the mercy of a loving God operates even through curiosity. They came to witness these signs and wonders for themselves. In his wounds they saw once more the "blood of Jesus" which since the days of Calvary has been purifying us from all sin (1 Jn 1:7); in hi Mass they saw man and God in unspeakable communication.
How often during this Mass did it seem as if some vehement argument were being thrashed out as he bargained and pleaded with God for the souls of men! And after all this, the return, or perhaps even the beginnings of new life! Surprised, astonished, tearstained, crushed beneath the unbearable sorrow of repentance, they saw in this victim soul a glimpse of the Eternal Shepherd going after his lost sheep. In his voice they heard and echo of the Lord reaching down the ages, calling out to men... inviting them: "Come to me...". Padre Pio was a prophet of the times. He discerned the massive shift away from God as well as the deliberate effort by many so-called Christians to drop the whole idea of the Cross. And being a prophet he spoke out boldly against these false trends. Not of course in so many words but by his "lived" proclamation of the Word: in season and out, he was telling us how Jesus not only loved us but did so by the supreme sacrifice of suffering and dying for us; he was telling us that this agony and sacrifice did not cease at the historical moment of Calvary but reaches far beyond it to embrace all the centuries and all the ages of man. He proclaimed in his person how Christ Jesus in mystical manner continues to suffer in souls of his choosing. Man so easily forgets what was accomplished so long ago on the Cross and it seems that in the providence of God there should always be men and women of the same claim as Padre Pio to be forceful reminders of this event.
Documented accounts of cures and miracles, of healings, both bodily and spiritually, clearly attest to the presence to other unusual gifts in Padre Pio. The instances of bi-location, the fragrance which signified his presence, foreknowledge, the reading of hearts and consciences — all these are too well known by now to be seriously denied. All was given by God and exercised by his servant on behalf of all who had come to know the surpassing love to be found in Christ Jesus. But besides these extraordinary gifts of Padre Pio let us not forget the many others, less discernible perhaps to the unobservant eye yet no less remarkable for all that. For instance, the sublime gift to bear heavy suffering day in and day out for prolonged periods; or the willingness to spend oneself for long hours cramped in the physically restricted area of a tiny confessional; or, again, his utterances of wisdom and knowledge (cf. 1 Cor 12:8), his sayings etc. Which were an inspiration for so many; or, yet again, his words of exhortation and consolation (Rm 12:8). All of these, too, must be viewed from a charismatic perspective for they are in the order of gifts received from the Holy Spirit. There is, however, one charism which has not received the attention it merits and that is the gift of "spiritual father".
Padre Pio was indeed, truly a father, exercising rights, duties and responsibilities similar to those of fathers in the temporal order. Once he said to one of his spiritual children: "You think you know my love for you. But you don’t know that it is much greater than you can imagine. I follow you with my prayer, with my suffering and with my tears". For when all is said and done, beyond all the rare charismata and extraordinary spiritual phenomena, it was love that was the essence of Padre Pio’s life and activity, the very foundation of all he taught. Let the love which he demonstrated in his life and taught to his children be the monument by which he will always be remembered. He would desire nothing else. On the fiftieth anniversary of his first Mass he said: "I desire nothing other than to love, to suffer another fifty years for my brothers; to burn for all with Thee, Lord; with Thee on the Cross". We may certainly implore Padre Pio in Heaven to teach us this love for it is the "bond which makes us perfect" (Col 3:14)
Used with permission from the April/May1995 issue of the ICCRS Newsletter