Archbishop Gregory Aymond preached at a Mass in honor of St. Pio of Pietrelcina Oct. 4 at St. Rita Church in New Orleans. Here is his homily:
What are famous people known for? What makes them unique, different from others?
Those are questions we could certainly ask about St. Pio. We know some of the ways in which he was unique, the gifts he had that were very different from others. He had unique spiritual gifts given to him by God.
He was able to heal people. He had the ability to read hearts and souls, especially in confession. He did radical fasting. He had angelic visions. And, he was most known for his stigmata, the wounds of Christ that appeared on his body. From those wounds flowed St. Pio’s blood, especially during Mass, and this caused him great physical pain.
He received the stigmata from God at the age of 31 and bore this spiritual gift, which was very painful, for 50 years. He died at 81.
In those ways, we will never be like Padre Pio – or at least I don’t think so. But there are many ways in which you and I are like Padre Pio. Like him, we have been called to follow the Lord Jesus and to be his disciples. Like St. Pio, we are called to holiness.
First, St. Pio always wanted to know God’s will. He always asked for the courage to be able to live it out in a faithful way. So often, from both his lips and his heart, came this prayer: “Lord, thy will be done; not mine, but thy will be done.”
He regularly asked God to show him his will. He wanted to know what was God’s plan and dreams for his life and for how he would live out his call to discipleship, to holiness and to priestly ministry. Being alone with Jesus in prayer led him to know and accept God’s will, even though there were many times he did not understand it, including the gift of the stigmata.
Recognize and do God’s will
Padre Pio said, “In all of the events of life, you must recognize the will of God, not your will, especially in the things that are the hardest to bear.”
Padre Pio must have reflected and pondered very often on those words in today’s Gospel because he wanted to remain closely attached to Jesus, the vine. He knew what that image of the vine and the branches really meant in his life. He knew he must be closely attached to Jesus, and he certainly knew that without Jesus, he could do nothing.
We can learn from St. Pio that we must seek God’s will, his plan for us. We must come to know it, and then we must do our very best to live God’s will for us.
This is so in contrast to what we hear in the world today: “I want it my way. My way is the only way to happiness.” And Padre Pio says, “No, it is the will of God, coming to know it and to accept it, even in the hardest things.”
A man of humility
Secondly, Padre Pio was a humble man. He never sought the spiritual gifts that God gave him, and he saw them as extraordinary. He did not like the attention given to him because of those spiritual gifts. Thousands upon thousands sought him for counsel and for confession. He said very clearly that he never felt worthy of the spiritual gifts that God gave him, and he even prayed that they would go away, because at times he felt them to be heavy.
St. Pio said, “You must always humble yourself before God and before others. God speaks to those who are truly humble, and he gives them his gifts.”
The words of St. Paul in today’s first reading were words that Padre Pio knew and embraced: “It is not I who live, but it is Christ who lives within me.” And he must have thought of that very often as he experienced the bleeding and the stigmata. But, like Padre Pio, you and I are called to humility, recognizing that every gift that we have and the very essence of who we are gifts from God. Therefore, we don’t need to compare ourselves to others or be jealous of another’s gifts. Humility is knowing and accepting the giftedness that God gives to us. We don’t have to be better than another. We simply must pray and practice to be humble and to be who God formed us to be, accepting the gifts he gave us in a unique way.
Showed God’s mercy
Thirdly, St. Pio was a servant of mercy. It is clear in his life that he knew God’s mercy. He knew himself as a sinner, and he accepted God’s mercy and forgiveness for his sins. In a particular way in his own life, he appreciated confession, the sacrament of reconciliation. He felt so embraced by God’s mercy in that sacrament that he became a powerful and wonderful confessor himself.
We know there were thousands upon thousands who sought him for confession. The story is told that sometimes even before someone could actually tell him their weakness and sin, he would tell them! I don’t think I would want my confessor to do that!
But Padre Pio knew that God’s mercy was beyond his understanding, and he knew that God did not want us to be paralyzed by our sins and by our past. He knew there is always a healing time, now and in the future.
As we honor today this servant of mercy, you and I are invited to once again acknowledge, appreciate and accept God’s mercy to us in the past and in the present. We are invited once again to forgive ourselves and to let go of shame and guilt, as Padre Pio did. Padre Pio encourages us to accept God’s mercy and to forgive others, to let go of a grudge that sometimes we carry for a long time.
Never tire of asking God
Pope Francis has told us that God never gets tired of forgiving us, but we may get tired of asking for forgiveness. But, God never gets tired. He is the God of the second chance – and the third chance. He’s always ready to forgive.
This prayer of Padre Pio summarizes his life: “Stay with me, Lord. It is you alone I look for. I look for your love, your grace. I look for your will. I look for your heart. And I look for your spirit.”
Like Padre Pio, you and I are called to seek God’s will every day, even when that will is unclear and seems so obscure. Like him, we are called to be humble women and men, boys and girls. And, like him, we are to accept God’s mercy – not a gift that we deserve, but a gift that God freely and generously gives to us.
Yes, perhaps none of us will ever have the stigmata or the spiritual gifts that St. Pio experienced. But, like him, we do have a Jesus who said to you and to me, “Come, follow me. Be my disciple.” It is the same Jesus who was in the life of Padre Pio who says to us as he calls us by name, “I call you to holiness.”
Sometimes, in our weakness and sin, we say, “Oh, that’s not for me.” But it is, for each and every one of us. It is the journey of life. Pope Francis tells us that every saint has a past that embraces sin, and every sinner has a future that can embrace sainthood.
Padre Pio, you are indeed “padre” – father – to us. Please pray for us.