Venerating the Relics of Padre Pio: Renewing our Call to Holiness
Homily for Thursday of the Thirty First Week in Ordinary Time, Year Two
Romans 14:7-12; Luke 15:1-10
Most Reverend Joseph J. Tyson, Bishop of Yakima
Peace be with you! Welcome to this liturgy opening our day of venerating the relics of St. Padre Pio. Permit me to begin this homily by thanking Father César Vega who very much wanted to be here today. But his good friend and his spiritual director from his seminary days, Father James Lothamer died November 1st appropriately enough on the Feast of All Saints. Fr. César believes his former priest mentor wanted to die in appropriate liturgical fashion. So he died on a feast day! Fr. César flew back for the funeral and he will be back next week. But I wanted to take a moment to remember Fr. James Lothamer who I met a number of times during his visits here and in Mexico. I also want to thank Fr. César as well as his team of staff and volunteers who planned this Mass as well as our day of reflection here at Holy Family where we can celebrate Sacrament of Penance as well as venerate the relics of St. Padre Pio until 7:00 p.m. So, let’s begin by remembering Fr. James Lothamer: Eternal rest grant on to him O Lord…
Peace be with you! What makes Saint Padre Pio such a compelling figure for us today? First, his utter and total confidence in Jesus Christ. Second his seriousness about sin. Third, his sense of mission in the world. Permit me to open up each of these points.
In preaching, his total confidence of God was summarized in one of his many sayings: “Pray, hope and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayers.” With a little tongue in cheek humor, back in 2007 the Catholic Enquiry Office in London declared Saint Pio as the patron saint of stress and relief. Based on clinical research from Cardiff University in Wales that suggested that January 22 was the single most depressing day of the year, this group of Catholics declared January 22 to be “Don’t Worry. Be Happy” Day.
Yet when Saint Padre Pio advised “Pray, hope and don’t worry,” he had a much richer understanding of the spiritual life than just psychological well-being. This simple and unlettered priest had a profound understanding that the basis of the spiritual life is trust in God. The basis of prayer is trust. When we trust in God, we have hope. When we have hope there is no worry. During this time before the relics of Saint Padre Pio we might want to ask ourselves what our level of trust is in God. Do we trust him only when things go well? Or do we have trust in the dark times? When we face suffering in its many forms can we ask God in prayer with trust and confidence: “What lesson can I learn from this suffering?” “Pray, hope and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayers.”
That final phrase, “God is merciful” leads to what I consider to be a second reason that makes Saint Padre Pio such a compelling figure for us today. Because Saint Padre Pio had such confidence and trust that “God is merciful” he had the spiritual basis to take sin seriously. Somewhat akin to St. John Vianney, during his life Saint Padre Pio spent hours in the confessional. People flocked to him to receive absolution from their sins through his celebration of penance. Some penitents suggested he could read their hearts. Many felt a freedom to unburden the darkest corners of their lives before him.
This is not quite the same, but this summer during the retreat with our Yakima seminarians, one of the men said to me he appreciated that with regards to their issues of sin and human growth I was serious but not severe. I took that comment as a compliment. This is even more the case with Saint Padre Pio, who captured in another one of his famous quotes: “If you should fail, be humble, make a resolution to be submissive to God’s will and then get up and carry on.”
Like Saint Pio, we want to take sin seriously. But then we need to get up and carry on with our day. Serious. Not severe. Permit me to add this. One of the real struggles that many of us have as confessors is that we get drowsy listening to confessions. There are a number of factors. A long day. A darkened room. The afternoon hour. The silent whispering voices. The repetitive nature of hearing the same sins over and over again. I used to feel bad for the drowsiness that would set in when hearing confessions on Saturday afternoon. But then it struck me. Maybe God is the same way. God actually does not give a rip about your past. But Satan does! That’s why he keeps reminding us of past sins. That’s why we keep committing the same sins over and over again. But God! God cares – not about our past – but about our future. Yes, we should take seriously our sin. Yes, we should confess our sin. But then we need to pick ourselves up. We need to keep moving. Hence the carefully crafted advice of Saint Padre Pio: “If you should fail, be humble, make a resolution to be submissive to God’s will and then get up and carry on.”
Underscoring this very point in a letter to Maria Gargani, (August 26, 1916) Padre Pio wrote: “Any mental picture of your life that focuses on past sins is a lie and thus comes from the devil. Jesus loves you and has forgiven you your sins, so there is no room for having a downcast spirit. Whatever persuades you otherwise is truly a waste of time. It is also something that offends the heart of our very tender Lover. On the other hand, if the mental picture of your life consists in what you can be or could be, then it comes from God.”
Thus, my final point in what makes Saint Padre Pio such a compelling figure for our spiritual life. He suggests we pay attention to the mental picture we have of ourselves and of our mission in life. What are the components of that picture? Most important is the fact that God loves us. God has a plan for each of us. God has a mission. He wants us to flourish. He wants to remain with us in this life and in eternal life. Do we believe this about ourselves?
If we find ourselves unsure of our mission in life, we might want to ask ourselves: What is the mental picture of my life? What makes my heart sing? What gifts and talents has God given me? What am I good at? What do those closest to me see in me? As we examine our lives, we might want to note where we feel closest to God. Why?
Confidence in Christ. Seriousness about sin. A focus on our call and mission. These are three areas where the witness of Saint Padre Pio can speak to us today. Permit me to close with the Church’s prayer on his feast day: “God our Father, by Your Spirit You raised up St. Pio of Pietrelcina to show Your people the way to perfection. You made him a pastor of the Church to feed Your sheep with his words, and to teach them by example. Help us by his prayers to keep the faith he taught, and to follow the way of life he showed us. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
St. Pio of Pietrelcina! Pray for us! Peace be with you!