Padre Pio was huddled inside a dark bookcase of the Church library when I first noticed him. His picture was a on a stack of old VHS tapes that no one was interested in viewing. Over time, I checked out the unloved VHS tapes and dog-eared books of the saint. (Luckily we had an old VHS that still worked.) The Italian Capuchin monk is a saint to respect …and also one who intimidates.
I wasn’t so much intrigued by St. Pio’s stigmata (ouch!), as I was interested at reports that he’d had heavenly visions, bi-located or used the services of guardian angels regularly. “Send me your guardian angel,” he used to tell his followers who couldn't come to visit him personally. He also made me chuckle when as a child he vowed to become a monk because he was attracted to a Franciscan’s beard. Mainly though, I was impressed at St. Pio’s devotion to the Eucharist, his attention to the confessional and the care he offered to the souls of his regular clientele.
“I have made a pact with the Lord,” St. Pio said, “when my soul has been purified in the flames of purgatory and deemed worthy to be admitted to the presence of God, I will take my place at the gate to paradise, but I shall not enter until I have seen the last of my spiritual children enter.”
Soon after St. Pio made my acquaintance, a pretty Italian woman introduced herself to me and instantly become one of my spiritual sisters. She often spoke of Padre Pio, and I was drawn to (and secretly envious) of the way she took his advice on many matters. My friend confided that she’d asked him to be her spiritual father and specifically asked for a sign that he had accepted her request. St. Pio did send her a picture of himself in the mail, and guided her life’s most major decisions.
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Though my friend encouraged me to do the same, I still hemmed and hawed in asking St. Pio the same favor to take me on as his spiritual daughter because I didn’t feel quite as connected to him as I did, for instance, with the childlike little flower, St. Therese of Liseux. St. Pio’s personality seemed too strong, direct and no-nonsense for me to be confortable unburdening my most trivial issues. I feared our conversations would into an embarrassing scolding:
“St. Pio, you said I need to wear skirts several inches past my knees to Mass. What if I wore knee-length skirts and tall boots, would that make up for the lost inches of coverage?”
“Silenzio,” he’d say. “You need to be paying attention to Mass instead of your fashion statement.”
Soon after, my in-laws took a trip to San Giovanni Rotunda and my mother-in-law happened to mention that long before I was born, my husband’s great grandparents, had travelled to Italy to see Padre Pio. For some reason, an intimate connection was established and I warmed up to him. Maybe it was the fact that I shared great-grandmother-in-law Anne’s name but I strongly felt St. Pio extending his arms in invitation, daring me with a twinkle in his eye, to approach him.
So I did. I solemnly asked St. Pio to be my spiritual father and to show me a sign that he’d accepted. The day’s readings held my answer: “I will be a father to you, and you will be a son to me.” And I received a picture of his incorrupt body.
When I saw the Facebook page “Become a spiritual child of St. Pio,” I clicked on the like button to receive quotes from St. Pio daily. I cannot count the times when my questions, whether on trivial blogging or daunting parenting, were answered by the padre’s mouth some fifty years ago, sometimes in a meme or even a short Pinterest quote. I constantly marvel at the timelessness of St. Pio’s many remarks. So very like his incorrupt body, it never gets old, and I have learned to appreciate both his gentle advice and bold, on-the-spot corrections.
Recently, I’ve been concerned with someone I love and prayed a novena to St. Pio for his spiritual guidance. Before the nine days were over, St. Pio was quick to reassure me in another direct quote:
“I love my spiritual children as much as my own soul, and once I take a soul on, I also take on their family as my spiritual children.”
Recalling how my spiritual sister paved the relationship, I grin confidently that in due time, St. Pio will also reach out and pull my loved ones in his embrace.