As the Church celebrates the feast of Padre Pio today, we should note that his twentieth-century life can help us develop our understanding of Christian holiness.
First of all, we have pictures of the famous Capuchin friar. What’s more, we have audio and video of his Masses and other activities. This electronic access to Padre Pio’s life helps us contextualize his sanctity in terms of a human life actually lived. We can see that he looked like we do. He also moved like we do. He laughed, cried, and growled like we do. He even prayed like we do. In other words, seeing and hearing Padre Pio helps us to imagine better sanctity in the flesh. This is because for us moderns pictures and video portray reality in ways that texts, paintings, and statues no longer can (which is somewhat lamentable).
(A little experiment: which image of Padre Pio conveys to you better his graced humanity? The one above, or the one below?)
Secondly, the proximity of Padre Pio’s life to ours gives us greater historical access to his personality. Famous are the stories of his short fuse and excitable passions. ”And this is to be equated with holiness?,” scoff the more puritanical among us. Well, yes and no. No in the sense that clinging to moral imperfections reveals a lack of abandonment to the transformative power of Christ. One cannot love Christ and cling to sin at the same time. Yes, however, in the sense that the transformation of the passions by grace is not immediate, for what is involved here is something more delicate (and more real) than simply hammering the passions into submission by reason, as if this is what the Gospel requires. Instead, Padre Pio’s life, with all of its blemishes, reveals to us the authentic way of holiness, which is friendship with Christ. Like all the saints, Padre Pio lived boldly within this friendship. He allowed Christ to transform him. And if his love for Christ included momentary failures, we should not be scandalized. These failures reveal nothing more than Padre Pio’s continued need for repentance, conversion, and the further deepening of his friendship with Christ. In the end, he surrendered himself to these salvific realities perfectly.
When it comes to evaluating our own lives in terms of holiness, Padre Pio teaches us an important lesson. When looking for guides to sanctity, we do better cozying up to hot-blooded saints than by standing stoically next to icy puritans.
God our Father, in Saint Pio of Pietrelcina you gave a light to your faithful people. You made him a pastor of the Church to feed your sheep wit his word and to teach them by his example. Help us by his prayers to keep the faith he taught and follow the way of life he showed us.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.