Pontiff's Homily at St. Pio of Pietrelcina Church
"God Never Annuls That Which Is Human, but He Transforms It"
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Dear brothers and sisters!
In the heart of my pilgrimage to this place, where everything speaks of the life and the holiness of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, I have the joy of celebrating for you and with you the Eucharist, the mystery that was the center of his whole existence: the origin of his vocation, the strength of his testimony, the consecration of his sacrifice. With great affection I greet all of you, those who have gathered here in such numbers, and those connected with us through radio and television. I greet, first of all, Archbishop Domenico Umberto D'Ambrosio, who, after years of faithful service to the diocesan community, is preparing to take on the care of the Archdiocese of Lecce. I thank him warmly also because he has made himself the spokesman of your affections. I greet the other bishop concelebrants. A special greeting goes to the Capuchin friars with the minister general, Fra Mauro Jöhri, the definitor general, the provincial minister, the father guardian of the convent, the rector of the shrine and the Capuchin fraternity of San Giovanni Rotondo. I also greet with great gratitude those who give their contribution in the service of the sanctuary and adjoining works; I greet the civil and military authorities; I greet the priests, deacons, male and female religious and all the faithful. I dedicate an affectionate thought to those in the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, to the lonely and to all the inhabitants of your city.
We have just heard the Gospel of the calmed storm, which was preceded by a short but incisive text of the Book of Job, where God reveals himself as the Lord of the sea. Jesus threatened the wind and ordered the sea to calm itself; he addresses it as if it was identified with the diabolical power. Indeed, according to what we hear from the first reading and Psalm 106/107, the sea in the Bible is regarded as a threatening, chaotic, and potentially destructive element, that only God, the Creator, can dominate, govern and silence.
But there is another force -- a positive force -- that moves the world, able to transform and renew creation: the strength of the "love of Christ," ἀγάπη τοῦ Χριστοῦ (2 Cor 5:14 ) -- as St. Paul calls it in the Second Letter to the Corinthians -- not essentially a cosmic force, but divine, transcendent. It acts on the universe but also, in itself, the love of Christ is a power that is "other," and this, his transcendent otherness, the Lord has manifested in his Passover, the "sanctity" of the "way" chosen by him to liberate us from the domination of evil, as was done by the exodus from Egypt, when he brought the Jews out through the waters of the Red Sea. "O God -- says the Psalmist -- holy is your way ... On the sea your way, / your paths over the great waters" (Psalms 77/76, 14:20). In the paschal mystery, Jesus has passed through the abyss of death, since God so willed to renew the world: through the death and resurrection of his Son "slain for all," so that all may live for him who has died and risen for them" (2 Cor 5, 16).
The solemn gesture of calming the stormy sea is clearly a sign of the lordship of Christ over the negative powers and leads us to think of his divinity: "Who is this -- the disciples ask stupefied and terrified -- that even the wind and the sea obey him?" (Mk 4:41). Theirs is not yet a strong faith; it is taking shape; it is a mixture of fear and trust; Jesus' trusting abandonment to the Father is, on the contrary, total and pure. Because of this he sleeps during the storm, completely safe in the arms of God. But a time will come when even Jesus will taste anxiety and fear: When his hour comes, he will feel upon himself the entire burden of the sins of humanity, like a gigantic wave that is about to crash down upon him. That will truly be a terrible storm, not cosmic, but spiritual. It will be the last, extreme assault of evil against the Son of God.
But in that hour Jesus did not doubt the power and presence of God the Father, even if he had to experience the full distance of hatred from love, of lies from truth, of sin from grace. He experienced this tragedy in himself in a lacerating way, especially in the Garden of Gethsemane, before the arrest, and then during the entire Passion, until his death on the cross. In that hour, Jesus was, on the one hand, one with the Father, fully abandoned to him, and on the other, in as much as he was in solidarity with sinners, he was as one separated from him and felt abandoned by him.
Some saints have lived intensely and personally this experience of Jesus. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina is one of them. A simple man of humble origins, "seized by Christ" (Phil. 3:12) -- as the Apostle Paul writes of himself -- to make of him an instrument chosen by the perennial power of his cross: power of love for souls, of forgiveness and of reconciliation, of spiritual paternity, of effective solidarity with those who suffer. The stigmata, which marked his body, united him closely to the Crucified and Risen One. A true follower of St. Francis of Assisi, he made his own, like the Poverello, the experience of the Apostle Paul which he describes in his letters: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2:20), or: "in us death is at work, but in you life" (2 Cor 5, 12). This does not mean alienation, loss of personality: God never annuls that which is human, but he transforms it with his Spirit and he ordains it to the service of his plan of salvation. Padre Pio kept his natural gifts, and even his own temperament, but he offered everything to God, who has been able to freely use them to extend the work of Christ: to proclaim the Gospel, forgive sins and heal the sick in body and spirit.
As it was for Jesus, the real struggle, the radical combat Padre Pio had to sustain, was not against earthly enemies, but against the spirit of evil (cf. Ephesians 6, 12). The biggest "storms" that threatened him were the assaults of the devil, against which he defended himself with "the armor of God" with "the shield of faith" and "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:11,16,17). Remaining united to Jesus, he always kept in mind the depths of the human drama, and because of this he offered himself and offered his many sufferings, and he knew how to spend himself in the care and relief of the sick, a privileged sign of God's mercy, of his kingdom which is coming, indeed, which is already in the world, of the victory of love and life over sin and death. Guide souls and relieve suffering: thus we can sum up the mission of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, as the servant of God, Pope Paul VI said about him: "He was a man of prayer and suffering" (To the Capuchin Chapter Fathers, 20 February 1971).
Dear friends, Capuchin Friars Minor, members of prayer groups and all the faithful of San Giovanni Rotondo, you are the heirs of Padre Pio, and the inheritance that he left for you is holiness. In one of his letters he writes: "It seems that Jesus has no need for your hands other than to sanctify your soul" (Epist. II, p. 155). That was always his first concern, his priestly and fatherly concern: that people return to God, that they would experience his mercy, and, inwardly renewed, that they would rediscover the beauty and joy of being a Christian, of living in communion with Jesus, of belonging to his Church and of practicing the Gospel. Padre Pio attracted others to the path of holiness by his own testimony, showing by example the "track" that leads to it: prayer and charity.
First of all prayer. Like all great men of God, Padre Pio had himself become prayer, soul and body. His days were a living rosary, that is, a continuous meditation and assimilation of the mysteries of Christ in spiritual union with the Virgin Mary. This explains the unusual presence within him of supernatural gifts and of human existence. And everything had its climax in the celebration of Holy Mass: there he joined himself fully to the crucified and risen Lord. From prayer, as from an ever-living source, love flowed. The love that he bore in his heart and transmitted to others was full of tenderness, always attentive to the real situations of individuals and families. Especially towards the sick and suffering, he cultivated the predilection of the Heart of Christ, and precisely from this origin the form of a great work dedicated to the "relief of suffering" took shape. One cannot understand or properly interpret this institution divorced from its inspirational source, which is evangelical charity, which in turn, is inspired by prayer.
All this, my beloved brothers and sisters, Padre Pio today puts before our eyes. The risks of activism and secularization are always present; because of this my visit has also the purpose of confirming you in your fidelity to the mission you inherited from your beloved father. Many of you, men and women religious and laity, are so taken by the complex duties required by the service to pilgrims, or to the sick in the hospital, that you run the risk of neglecting that which is truly needed: to listen to Christ to do the will of God. When you see that you are close to running this risk, look to Padre Pio: to his example, to his sufferings; and invoke his intercession, so that he obtain from the Lord the light and strength that you need to continue his mission permeated with love for God and fraternal love. And from heaven may he continue to pursue the exquisite spiritual fatherhood that has distinguished his earthly existence; may he continue to accompany his confreres, his spiritual children and the entire work that he has begun. Along with St. Francis, and the Blessed Virgin, who he loved so much and made others love in this world, may he watch over you all and protect you always. And then, even in the storms that can suddenly rise up, you can experience the breath of the Holy Spirit that is stronger than any contrary wind and which pushes the boat of the Church and each of us. That is why we must always live in serenity and cultivate joy in our hearts, giving thanks to the Lord. "His love is forever" (Psalm resp.). Amen!
[Translation by ZENIT]