Several years ago I received my first prayer book on Padre Pio. People in my parish love this guy. I knew very little about him except that he was given the stigmata. I struggled with this idea and as I prayed the prayers in the book, I kept thinking that if he lived during my time, I would ask to see his feet, hands, and side. I know I sound like Thomas, but this isn’t Jesus we are talking about. This is a Franciscan friar.
Why are we in competition?
One Sunday afternoon, I decided that I would watch the Padre Pio movie on the Formed channel. But before getting settled with popcorn and PJs, I decided to call my sister. We had a great conversation, as always. Then she told me about an old friend that was seeking God. My brother-in-law was raised in a Pentecostal church. My sister, like me, was raised Catholic. But also like me, she drifted. About five years ago she decided to go back to church but instead of the Catholic Church, she decided to go to the Assembly of God church where her husband grew up. She boasts about the fact that there are so many former Catholics that go to her church. Even the pastor, who is my brother-in-law’s cousin, was a cradle Catholic, but then around age 12, his entire family switched to the Assembly of God church. I listened as she complained about the rules of the Catholic Church and how she didn’t really understand what was going on in Mass. She is now convinced that if it is not in the bible, it is not truth, but doesn’t mention anything about which interpretation should be followed. On and on she talked about how welcoming her church was to everyone and how she felt like she had an extended family. Because of her strong feelings for her church, she invited her seeking friend to a church service. Her friend is now so blown away by the love and openness of her newfound church community.
As I listened to my sister, I found myself getting very offended. Yes, I too drifted and learned so much from my Protestant brothers and sisters, but there came a time when I realized something was missing. It was the Eucharist. When I shared this with my sister, she said that because her pastor was a former Catholic that he insists on Communion once a month. But when I told her it wasn’t the same Communion, she was silent. Is it possible that she has forgotten her Catholic school teaching?
Don’t be Afraid to Dig for Answers
When I returned to my Catholic faith, I didn’t understand much about the Mass, so I rolled up my sleeves and started researching about the Mass, about the sacraments, about the Blessed Mother, and all things Catholic. I walked away early in adulthood, not to go to another church, but to be free. I hated the rules of Mass every Sunday and holy days. I hated the obligation. But the Catholic Church doesn’t teach obligation. We do that to ourselves. The Church teaches relationships, with each other and most importantly with the Trinity. I am now in a Catholic church that has the same loving family environment that my sister talks about. But it is approached differently. In my sister’s church, there are greeters at each door that acknowledge you as you enter the church. At our church, we also have greeters. Most importantly, the Catholic Church has a tabernacle where the presence of God resides in a very intimate way. We go to church to worship God and our Mass is a sacrifice to God through Jesus. From the moment we enter church, we are focused on our Lord. We bless ourselves with holy water to remind us of our Baptism. We genuflect or bow before entering the pew as recognition for who is present in the tabernacle. We then kneel and pray to the One who is present. Our connection with others in our church family happens outside the church before Mass or immediately after Mass. A women’s retreat was posted in our bulletin shortly after I began attending my parish. I signed up for the retreat and a bible study and several other programs. It was during these events that connections with fellow Catholics were being made.
The Stigmata brings Controversy
What does all this have to do with Saint Padre Pio? The movie on the Formed channel, shared Saint Pio’s story beginning with his childhood. He was called by God as a child and experienced things that led him to the priesthood. The stigmata was one of many things about Padre Pio that intrigued so many. He had a huge following that concerned his superiors. The movie also showed how people exploited him by selling prayer cards and statutes of him which he adamantly frowned upon.
Toward the end of his life, a monsignor was given the assignment to visit Padre Pio to get him to tell the truth about the stigmata. It seems that Padre Pio was told by God not to show the stigmata to anyone and that the stigmata would be with him for 50 years. Padre Pio’s stigmata was seen by a small inner circle including his physician; however, it was the belief of this monsignor that Padre Pio was a hoax and he was determined to get the Padre to confess.
Here we have two priests in the Catholic Church arguing about what God is doing. This monsignor has a little more rank than a regular friar so it seems quite intimidating at times. The monsignor states throughout the movie that God is not in Padre Pio’s charade and yet Padre Pio insists that there is no one else but God in control of his life. As it turns out, the monsignor comes full circle as Padre Pio reveals to him an incident in his life known only to him.
We really are on the same team!
Why do we argue with each other about Christianity? I’m happy that my sister found a place to worship God. She is closer to God now then she ever has been. But I resent the inclination that her church is better than the Catholic Church because so many former Catholics now worship there. I remember the movie in the early 1970’s titled, The Poseidon Adventure. It wasn’t a true story, but I recall a moment in the movie after the ship encountered a tsunami and was capsized when a small group of characters were heading in one direction while the remaining survivors were convinced that they needed to go the opposite way. Of course, the small group at the end of the movie was the only survivors. I wonder if this will happen to us as we choose our church of preference. We are all Christians and, therefore, God is in this. Why try and prove ourselves? The monsignor was so determined to prove Padre Pio’s masquerade while Padre Pio was speaking truth about his experience with God. I believe our role is to encourage each other. And I further believe that it is each of our responsibility to do our homework, to research, to seek God in all ways. Choosing where we are to be should not be decided solely on feelings. Truth sometimes does not feel good.
I’m grateful to know a little more about Saint Padre Pio. My skepticism is somewhat calmed. I find this to be no different than the Marian apparitions of St. Bernadette and the children at Fatima. I believe that God will do whatever is necessary to get our attention. I pray that I will cooperate with Him in all things.