Last year, I gave a lecture at Stony Brook University. I gave it on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in October with brilliant blue skies. More than 100 people showed up too! But, alas, they were not drawn to the event because I was the speaker; they were in attendance because of the subject matter. I spoke on Padre Pio.
In the question and answer period that followed my lecture, a good many of the queries were about the miracles attributed to the pious Capuchin friar who died in 1968. And a few of the probes were specifically related to the saint’s reported bilocations. A source for this phenomenon were pilots of the US Army Air Force who recounted seeing the holy man of God thousands of feet in the air while on bombing raids in Italy during World War II. According to testimonies given, Padre Pio’s bilocation caused these pilots to avert their missions and thus there wasn’t any loss of life or destruction of property. An astonishing feature like a bilocation no doubt adds to a saint’s reputation, but it’s hardly the most important facet in the overall sanctity of one so dedicated to God. That a man or woman gives evidence of an extraordinary cooperation with God’s will in all circumstances is far more significant, we would have to say in judging holiness.
In June of 2002, when Padre Pio was canonized and declared a saint of the Catholic Church, Blessed John Paul II in his homily for the occasion never made a single reference to the miracles attributed to Padre Pio or to his bilocations. Instead, the Holy Father referred to Padre Pio as a man of suffering, a man of the Cross. From his physical infirmities to his internal agonies – all of them offered up for the Church – Padre Pio carried within himself the dying of the Lord. (cf. 2 Cor. 4:10) And that Saint Paul not be misunderstood in this matter, Padre Pio’s suffering in union with Christ was also that the life of Jesus be manifested in our bodies. (cf. 2 Cor. 4:10)
In Luke’s gospel, we find Peter’s confession of faith. (cf. Lk 9:18-22) It is a rather sparse account, especially when it is compared with parallel passages in Saint Mark and Saint Matthew. (cf. Mk 8:27-33 and Matt 16:13-20) For instance, this text does not include any reference to Caesarea Philippi, the location for Jesus to pose the question about his identity. And unlike Saint Matthew’s account, there is no conferral of authority on Peter in this text. What it does include of course is Jesus’ promise that the Son of Man must suffer greatly. (cf. Lk 9:22)
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), the great English author once said: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” It’s a stretch, thinking of our world as a deaf place. There’s noise all the time, everywhere we go. There is the noise of heavy equipment on the nearby interstate, the noise of cell phones ringing in elevators and the noise of blasting car stereos while we’re stopped at red lights. It’s ubiquitous. You can’t escape it!
In one of our liturgy’s opening collects, we pray: “In a world filled with lights contrary to God’s . . . .” We might paraphrase these words and say: In a world filled with sounds contrary to God’s. But just what is the sound of God?
The sound of God is intelligible because it is a word, the Word, in fact. Jesus, the Word made flesh, loves his own in the world and loves them to the end. (cf. Jn 13:1) In love, Jesus endures his suffering, making it redemptive for us. But there is always the possibility that suffering can be rejected. Even Jesus could have chosen this path himself when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane. He could have let the cup pass him by then; instead, he drank of it as the will of the One Who sent him. (cf. Lk 22:42)
All of us must come to terms with suffering and its place in our lives. We have to decide if we are going to flee from it or accept it on the model of Christ. Let us return then to Jesus and the words on his lips as he hangs upon the Cross. Saint Luke records Jesus saying at that moment, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Lk 23:46)
These words of Jesus show his complete surrender to the will of the One Who sent him (Jn 5:30) and confirm him as one committed to the divine plan irrevocably. The Son does not hold anything back in doubt or uncertainty; he gives it all away not counting the cost. This is indeed the essence of love. But, as Saint Paul reminds us in his First Letter to the Corinthians, we see now as if through a glass darkly. (cf. 1 Cor. 13:12) Yet, remarkably, our ability to see is improved if only temporarily by figures like Saint Pio of Pietrelcina. He who bore the stigmata showing the depth of his acceptance of the Cross brings the light of Christ to our lives, encouraging us to bear all things with the love of Christ.
The light and love of Christ – more powerful than darkness and suffering – are never far from us. We experience them in every Eucharist we celebrate together. Through the Eucharist, may we confess Jesus as the Messiah the way Peter does in Luke’s gospel. (cf. Lk 9:20) We have a Messiah Who takes no shortcuts, carrying his own Cross to Calvary and then being nailed to it. As great as the Resurrection is, it cannot remove those nail marks from Jesus’ glorified body and from history. We have been purchased at a great price. Therefore, let us glorify God in our bodies! (cf. 1 Cor. 6:20)