Today is the feast of St Pio of Pietrelcina, more commonly known as Padre Pio. If ever there was a saint to represent the 20th century, this holy Capuchin friar must be it. He is certainly the most popular saint of that century and his popularity is far from waning.
Pio represents that century more than anyone else because in his life, and indeed physically on his body, as he bore witness to the timeless truths of the Catholic faith, he was very much at odds with the prevailing fashions of the time. A man many dismissed as a medieval oddity, he reminded the brave new world of post modernism that God does exist, miracles do happen and the supernatural is real. As many called him a fake, Pio, in his obedience to God and the Church, manifested a humility through which God spoke a resounding word to the world. For one thing he called the world's attention to the mystery of suffering, reminding us that we are redeemed by a suffering Christ as opposed to a radical hippy. It was on the cross that justice and peace were won for the world, not by means of arms and Marxist ideology. When many dismissed Christ as a myth, Pio revealed the true Christ by becoming an icon of Jesus in his own flesh. In his ministry in the confession he taught us that we are sinners and need the sacrament of mercy. In his mystical offering of the Holy Mass, he revealed the mysteries of the Eucharist and called us to a greater devotion.
St Pio has had an important place in my life and in my family's life for some time. Our next door neighbours had devotion to him as their little son struggled with cancer. We were all praying to Padre Pio for the child and he got better - through successful medical intervention, but the assistance of St Pio was obvious. Pio entered our home, and he helped us in various things. There was a lovely man from just outside the town, John Joe, who had tremendous devotion to Pio and he became a friend of the family. He used to visit and tell us all about San Giovanni Rotondo and the other places associated with the friar. He was the one who informed us that a lady in a town a few miles away from us had been miraculously cured of cancer by him, and that she had seen the friar standing at the foot of her bed: a common phenomenon in healings obtained through Pio's intercession. These stories were good for us - they deepened our faith and opened up the world of Christianity for us. Our children should be told such stories, and come to know the saints well. John Joe has since gone to God - he never saw his beloved Pio canonised - but I'm sure he didn't mind - he is probably up in heaven with the holy friar.
Some day I hope to be able to bring my parents to San Giovanni. In all our travels we have not got there yet. My dad has a particular love for Pio. I remember when in Fatima a few years back I bought a wooden statue of the saint for him: he was thrilled - "That was the best present you ever bought me", he said. That was worth a few brownie points! Thanks Pio!
Today at Mass in Rathkenny we will celebrate the feast day: we have a special relic - a first class relic of the holy friar - cloth soaked in his blood - and by the looks of it there is a lot of blood on it. What a wonderful relic for us: the sacred blood of a holy man who shed that blood in union with his crucified Lord, bearing the stigmata for love of his Lord. He has many lessons to teach us, I pray we will have the grace to open our hearts to hear and live them.
Happy feast day to all of you.