Thursday, September 20, 2012

Pio Pays the Price for a Soul

Every September 23rd, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of St. Padre Pio. This holy Capuchin priest from Pietrelcina, Italy was widely known for his supernatural gifts of bi-location, reading souls and the bodily marks of Christ, better known as stigmata’s. What may be less known, however, was the debt he willing to pay in order to save souls.

As one being baptized in Christ’s death, he willingly suffered as a victim priest for sinners. Indeed, Jesus did not die on the Cross to exempt us from redemptive suffering; on the contrary, His Passion enabled us to participate in it. This truth is confirmed by St. Peter who wrote: “Love covers a multitude of sins” and that “for whoever suffers in the flesh has broken with sin.” (I Peter 4:1,8) It was this kind of love and sacrifice that made St. Pio’s ministry so fruitful. His biography contains a long litany of stories which convey profound lessons for life’s spiritual journey.

One such story took place before St. Pio became a priest in 1905. At the time he was a divinity student at Sant’ Elia a Piansi. While in a choir at church, at 11:00pm at night, he was mystically transported to an enormous house looking much like a mansion. In this house was Giovanni Battista Rizzani, a man who was on his deathbed. His wife, Leonilde Rizzani, who was eight months pregnant, was at his bedside but was unaware that she was about to give birth prematurely to a baby girl. As a committed Mason and opponent of Christianity, Giovanni had his friends stationed outside his house so as to prevent any priest from coming in. He knew that his wife, a devout Catholic, wanted him to receive Last Rites. Sure enough, a priest soon arrived at the house but was unable to get in thanks to the efforts of Giovanni’s friends. Matters went from bad to worse when Leonilde went into labor and gave birth to a baby girl named, Giovanna.

It was during this time the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Padre Pio (miles away from the mansion) in order to brief him about his mission in this regard. She said: “I am entrusting this child to you. Now she is a diamond in the rough, but I want you to work with her, polish her, and make her as shinning as possible, because one day I wish to adorn myself with her.”

St. Pio simply asked, “How is this possible?” He reasoned that he was not a priest yet (out of his humility, he did not presume he would be a priest). Also, at the time, the Rizzani family lived some 350 miles away. Needless to say, the young Pio couldn’t see how he could possibly carry out this mission. Nevertheless, the Madonna simply replied, “Do not doubt. She will come to you at St. Peter’s Basilica.”

"Do not doubt!" St. Pio would have to learn this lesson time and time again- as we all do. The circumstances which daily press upon us and the difficult circumstances which demand recognition may seem meaningless and even an obstacle to what God has called us to. Still, heaven bids us “not to doubt.” We are to trust that Divine Providence brings order out of disorder, meaning from what seems meaningless and interior joy out of painful circumstances. St. Padre Pio would later say we are like little children who, while sitting on the floor, look up at the bottom of the embroider our mother is working on. From the bottom view, the embroider is full of uneven threads and knots. But from the top view, however, a beautiful design is emerging; one that is pleasing to the eye.

Back to the mansion: The priest waiting outside managed to convince Giovanni’s friends that he should at least be able to baptize the newly born Giovanna. As the priest entered the home, Giovanni, the unbelieving Mason, was breathing his last. But before he died he asked God for forgiveness. Several years later, St. Pio would tell Giovanna that her father’s soul was saved through the intercession of Mary.

Fast forward to 1922. Leonilde had moved to Rome with her children. Giovanna was seventeen or eighteen at the time. In high school, Giovanna’s teachers had sown some seeds of doubt in her mind about the Holy Trinity. She was troubled by this, so she went to confession at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. However, confessions had just ended and the security personnel were trying to usher the people out of the basilica. Giovanna was told to go home. Nonetheless, a voice from within one of the confessional's said that he would hear her confession. She then confessed her sins and the doubts she entertained about the Trinity were dispelled by the confessor.

Giovanna, inspired by the good counsel she received, wanted to wait for the priest who, she throught, was still in the confessional so she could have a word with him. At this point, the security personnel were growing more irritated with Giovanni because she had not left yet. After expressing her wish to talk with the confessor, one of the guards opened the confessional curtain and said to her, “See, no one is there.” Indeed, it was true. The confessional was empty.

A year later in 1923, Giovanna, her aunt, and several friends of hers wanted to go see St. Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo. At this point, Giovanna did not know much about the holy priest. The following account is taken from the book, "Padre Pio: The
True Story" by C. Bernard Ruffin:

It was late afternoon when, standing in the crowd of people in the sacristy of the church, Giovanna caught her first glimpse of Padre Pio. To her amazement, he came right up to her and extended his hand for her to kiss, exclaiming, “Why, Giovanna! I know you! You were born the day your father died.” She did not know what to say. The next day, after hearing her confession, Padre Pio said to her, "At last you have come to me, my dear child. I have been waiting for you for so many years." Giovanna replied, "Perhaps you’re mistaken and have confused me with some other girl.”

Padre Pio assured her by saying, “No, I am not mistaken. I knew you before…Last summer, one summer afternoon, you went with a friend to St. Peter’s Basilica and you made your confession before a Capuchin priest. Do you remember?”

“Yes, Father I do.” “Well," Padre Pio replied, "I was that Capuchin!”

Padre Pio went on to explain, “Dear child, listen to me. When you were about to come into the world, the Madonna carried me away to Udine to your mansion. She had me assist at the death of your father, telling me: ‘See, in this very room a man is dying. He is the head of a family. He is saved through the tears and prayers [italics added] of his wife and through my intercession. The wife of the dying man is about to give birth to a child. I entrust this child to you.’ Padre Pio concluded my insisting, ‘And now let me take care of your soul, as the heavenly Lady desires.’”

Giovanna burst into tears and asked Padre Pio, “Tell me, what I must do? Shall I become a nun?” “By no means,” he said. “You will come often to San Giovanni Rotondo. I will take charge of your soul, and you will know the will of God.” (The end of quote from the book, "Padre Pio: The True Story")

This story is important because it says a lot about how indispensible we are in carrying out the mission that God has given us. The Blessed Virgin could have ministered to Giovanna herself; the young girl was a diamond the Blessed Virgin easily could have shined herself. Nevertheless, Divine Providence had preordained from all eternity that St. Pio should take under his wing his spiritual daughter who was about to be born. At the time, St. Pio couldn’t even imagine how such a thing could be done, given the distance and all the imagined obstacles. But the crosses he carried and the sufferings he offered up was precisely the thing Jesus Christ wanted to use to ransom the soul of Giovanna. We cannot forget her father either. Giovanni, a penitent at death but a Mason during his life, was rescued from eternal darkness through the tears of his wife, Leonilde, and the intercession of the Madonna.

Another point to consider is this: The story of Giovanni and St. Pio reveals at what lengths the Lord and the Blessed Virgin will go to save a soul. As for us, the sheer number of people in this world overwhelms the human mind. As such, we see ourselves as one soul out of six or seven billion. But for God- as well as for the Angels and the Saints in heaven (which is beyond time and space) -gazing upon the multitude in no way subtracts from the love and knowledge they have of each and every individual.

A dying father and a fatherless girl needed help. Heaven took notice and sent St. Padre Pio. We too are called to provide the kind of help to people no one else can provide. God may even send you in what seems like an impossible situation. Nonetheless, we should have faith and be resolved to help carry our neighbor's cross, to offer spiritual sacrifices and to pay their debts. To every soul who owes a moral and spiritual debt, our Lord says, "I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny." (Lk 12:59) The life of St. Padre Pio teaches us that we can free our neighbors from their spiritual and moral prisons by helping them pay back those pennies.