Profusions of written and oral accounts exist about the signs and wonders in the life of St. Padre Pio. Three times I visited San Giovanni Rotundo in Foggia, Italy to venerate the tomb of the Italian mystic. These unforgettable visitations made a lasting impact on my spiritual life.
On my first visit to the shrine in the early 1990’s, I was leading a pilgrimage group along with a priest and religious sister. We were very fortunate to meet Fr. Alessio Parente, O.F.M., Cap, a faithful friend and assistant to the saint. Fr. Alessio joyfully and methodically told us of the wonders of grace that he witnessed in Padre Pio—stories that elicit awe and wonder at the mystery of Providence. Pio’s life was lived in communion with Christ’s as he experienced occasions of glory such as Peter, James and John at Mount Tabor, but he more often experienced Christ’s sacrificial suffering as at Gethsemane and Calvary.
For this reflection, I’d like to consider how Padre Pio was victorious over persistent diabolical attacks. He imitated his Lord Jesus Christ in resisting the devil’s cunning temptations, mockery, and persecution within and without. We can learn from his example some helpful lessons for our daily battle with the ancient enemy of our soul.
At the St. Pio shrine in Foggia, I purchased three volumes of the Saint’s writings that are not readily available in English as I understand. The following Padre Pio quotes are as stated in his written correspondence to his spiritual director. They give us a glimpse into the saint’s interior life. Following the quote, I attempt to draw forth a practical lesson.
December 20, 1910
“I am in the hands of the devil who is trying to snatch me from the arms of Jesus. Dear God! What a war he is waging against me! There are moments in which I am on the point of losing my reason through the continual violence I must do myself. How many tears and groans, dear Father, I send up to heaven in order to be set free. But no matter, I will never tire of praying to Jesus.”
- The aim of the devil is to take us from the arms of Jesus, to isolate us from God. In writing to his spiritual director, he brings the struggle into the light and receives prayers.
- It is necessary to do violence to our self, to engage our free will in resisting diabolical temptations.
- Amidst tears and groans, we must turn to God, not away from God to be set free.
- Perseverance is necessary to pray until the trial ends.
August 17, 1910
“I laugh at all this as being of no account, following your advice. It sometimes worries me, though, that I am not quite sure if I have been ready to put up a fight at the enemy’s very first attack”.
- Following the advice of his spiritual director, St. Pio is attempting to keep things in perspective, not to give too much credit to the demons.
- Pio reminds us that we must immediately fight off the devil’s first attack that will be aimed at our most vulnerable area (illicit relationships, sin-patterns, vices, etc.)
May 18, 1913
“Now, my dear Father, who could tell you all that I had to bear! I have been alone by night and alone by day! From that day I became involved in a bitter strife with those ugly wretches. They tried to make me believe that I had been rejected by God for ever”.
- The temptation that God has completely rejected us is a common diabolical tactic. We should cling to the truth of God’s covenant of love even in the darkness of spiritual warfare.
- The spiritual director notes, “Padre Pio does not retreat nor admit defeat. He declares sincerely and firmly that he willingly accepts every kind of torment and tribulation, if only he may remain steadfast and faithful to his promises and ensure his salvation” (Padre Peio of Pietrelcina, Letters, 1, published by Our Lady of Grace Capuchin Friary, Italy, 1984, p 153)
- We should remain faithful to our obligation to God and keep our eyes fixed on eternal salvation—the bigger context of life.
June 25, 1911
“My dear Father, what is God’s purpose in allowing the devil so much freedom? Despair is trying to take hold of me, yet, believe me, Father, I have no intention of displeasing God. I cannot account for and much less understand how it can ever be possible that such a resolute will prepared to do good can be combined with all these human miseries. If you perceive, then, that my soul is in danger, help me, for I want at all costs to save my soul and to offend God no more.”
- During times of spiritual attacks, God usually provides someone such as a spiritual director, or confessor, or spiritual friend to help us resist despair or discouragement that are never of God.
- We can train our will to be resolute and prepared to do good despite our human misery.
- We may feel confounded by spiritual attacks but as Pio writes we must want at all costs to save our soul and not to offend God.
May 9, 1915
“The enemies are continually rising up, Father, against the ship of my spirit and they cry out in unison: “Let us knock him down, let us crush him, since he is weak and cannot hold out much longer”. Alas, my dear Father, who will set me free from those roaring lions all ready to devour me?”
- Though we pass through moments of extreme trial when the crushing power of the enemy is felt and our weakness is all too apparent, trust in God wins the day.
- The devil crushes the soul. The Lord lifts up the soul. If the Lord reprimands, He does so with gentleness and utmost charity, never crushing the soul. But the devil’s aim is soul crushing. Know your enemy. Know yourself. Know the Almighty One. Christ and you proclaim victory over all evil.
August 4, 1917
“Satan with his malignant wiles never tires of waging war on me and attacking my little citadel, besieging it on all sides. In a word, Satan is for me like a powerful foe who, when he resolves to capture a fortress is not content to attack one wall or one rampart, but surrounds it entirely, attacks and torments it on every side. My dear Father, the malignant wiles of Satan strike terror into my heart, but from God alone through Jesus Christ I hope for the grace to obtain the victory continually and never to be defeated.”
- In spiritual warfare, by acknowledging our weakness, we depend upon God’s mercy that is always
- Satan is not interested in half measures against us. Therefore, he attacks from all sides. We must be battle ready in the state of grace, walking with the Church Militant.
- Satan may strike fear in us but we are able to turn that fear trigger into the virtue of faith because God provides grace.
Letter of Padre Benedetto, spiritual director to Padre Pio
“…Don’t worry about the darkness however much it afflicts you. It is useful, however, to make the Sign of the Cross every now and then on your forehead while saying these words, “May the Holy Spirit enlighten our senses and our hearts with his grace”, or else, “Seat of Wisdom, pray for us.” In temptations against faith, invoke St. Michael and Sts. Peter and Paul.
You want the dawn to break while you are sometimes enjoying midday, but your soul, which wants to have the light continually, feels when it passes into the shadow, that it has never enjoyed the light. On this earth it is mainly winter, and darkness lasts longer than the splendors of light. The time of eternal light will come and then you’ll enjoy the reward of the darkness endured. I earnestly hope and I am convinced that for you this light will begin already in the present life. I bless you and wish you an everlasting noon.”
- Don’t worry. Trust does more to strengthen the soul.
- Make the sign of the cross on your forehead and pray to the Holy Spirit and/or to Mary, Seat of Wisdom.
- When in the darkness of spiritual desolation or spiritual warfare, we may forget that we ever experienced the consolation of love and light. A spiritual diary helps us to remember.
- Great is God’s reward for the persevering, believing person –starting on earth and climaxing in Paradise.
- No creature is greater than the Master. Christ’s life on earth is lived in us who believe. We suffer, die and rise in Him.
St. Padre Pio, pray for us please.