“He was a man of prayer and suffering.”
– Pope St Paul VI
There is no doubt that Saint Pio of Pietrelcina – popularly called Padre Pio – is one of the great Saints of our era.
At the mention of his name, perhaps the first word we associate with him is ‘stigmata’ – for Padre Pio bore the wounds of Christ upon his own body. And yet, the stigmata – and other such mystical phenomena – are external and observable and while they may suggest some clues about the person who experiences them, they are not in themselves proof of sanctity.
Of course, for Padre Pio, his sanctity is now far beyond question. But it was not always so.
Padre Pio suffered terribly – while many revered him as a saint even during his life, there were also a great many more who called him a fraud and a charlatan, who said his stigmata were hysterical or self-induced, and his other mystical phenomena were equally mistrusted. Indeed, Padre Pio himself, in the early days, mistrusted these experiences and – aware of their very visible nature and all this would bring him – he asked the Lord to remove them, or at least to allow him to suffer them invisibly.
For various reasons, the Vatican also greatly mistrusted Padre Pio and placed stringent sanctions on him – he was not allowed to publicly celebrate Mass or the Sacraments, nor to show his stigmata to others; and he was even forbidden from communicating with his spiritual director.
And in response to all of this mistrust from the very Church he loved so deeply, how did he respond? He did precisely what he was asked to do, without so much as a murmur or a complaint, even though he knew perfectly well that his experiences were authentic. Without murmur or complaint.
And this fidelity and obedience to the Church, the authentic voice of Christ in the world is – I would suggest – the real mark of Saint Pio’s deep sanctity, not his stigmata.
It is interesting that in the present day, there are many self-proclaimed visionaries who do not follow his example. Their very claim to be visionaries should generally be enough to set alarm bells ringing for any good Catholic; but where there is the least murmuring or lack of obedience to the Church, to the local Bishop or to the Holy Father, then you can be fairly certain that what they claim does not come from Heaven and is the product of delusion, self deception of the activity of the Deceiver.
In these days when we protest our rights very loudly, when we decide what we accept from the Church and what we do not, and when we lack humility and obedience to those the Church places in lawful authority over us – the example of Padre Pio stands as a testament to what real sanctity looks like.