Saints: September 2011 Archives

Thérèse and Hope

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About twenty-five years ago, I was on a quest to deepen my capacity for living the theological virtue of hope. More honestly . . . I was battling persistent temptations to hopelessness bordering on despair. I read everything on hope that I could find. One of the books that marked me was L'Espérance by Père Gustave Desbuquois, S.J. (Yes, I even read Jesuit authors!) The book, it appears, also exists in English translation under the title, Hope. What I didn't know at the time was that Père Desbuquois was one of the first advocates of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face being declared a Doctor of the Church. In a letter written in 1997, Father Camilo Maccise, O.C.D., and Father Joseph Chalmers, O.Carm., the Priors General of the Discalced Carmelites and of the Ancient Order of Carmel, traced the history of the doctorate of Saint Thérèse:

Already from the time of her canonization, there was no lack of bishops, preachers, theologians, and faithful from different countries who sought to have our sister Thérèse of Lisieux declared a Doctor of the Church. This flow of petitions in favor of the doctorate became official in 1932 on the occasion of the inauguration of the crypt of the Basilica at Lisieux, which was accompanied by a congress at which five cardinals, fifty bishops, and a great number of faithful participated.

On June 30, Father Gustave Desbuquois, SJ, with clear and precise theological argument, spoke of Thérèse of Lisieux as Doctor of the Church. Surprisingly, his proposal had the support of many of the participants, bishops, and theologians. This positive reaction to the suggestion of Father Desbuquois spread universally. Monseigneur Clouthier, Bishop of Trois Rivières, Canada, wrote to all the bishops of the world in order to prepare a petition to the Holy See. By 1933 he had already received 342 positive replies from bishops who supported the proposal to have Thérèse of Lisieux declared a Doctor of the Church.

The petition of Father Desbuquois was presented to Pope Pius XI, along with a letter of Mother Agnes of Jesus, sister of Therese and prioress of the Lisieux Carmel. She informed the Pope about the great success of the Theresian Congress. On 31 August 1932, Cardinal Pacelli, Secretary of State, replied to Mother Agnes' letter on behalf of the Pope. He was very pleased about the positive results of the congress, but added that it would be better not to speak of Thérèse's doctorate yet, even though, "Her doctrine never ceased to be for him a sure light for souls searching to know the spirit of the Gospel."

Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, the Doctor of Hope? But, of course.

Patri munus et hostiam

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The Office hymn given for Lauds and Vespers in the Liber Hymnarius and in the Liturgia Horarum for today's feast of Saint Jerome, Doctor of the Church, was composed by the Benedictine hymnographer Dom Anselmo Lentini (+1989). It offers an enchanting portrait of the saint of Rome and Bethlehem. My translation makes no pretense of attempting to be literal; I sought only to give the sense of the hymn, and then reflect on each strophe.

1. Festiva canimus laude Hieronymum,
qui nobis radiat sidus ut eminens
doctrinae meritis ac simul actibus
vitae fortis et asperae.

With festive praise we sing of Jerome;
radiant as a star he shines forth
by the merits of his teaching as well as by
the fortitude and austerity of his life.

The first strophe encapsulates all that one really needs to know about Saint Jerome: he is deserving of a festal day of gladsome praise; he is a light in the Church, not only by his incomparable teaching, but also by his resolute and rigorous monastic life. Sacred learning and asceticism go hand in hand, or as Dom Jean Leclercq put it, "the love of letters and the desire for God."

2. Hic verbum fdei sanctaque dogmata
scrutando studuit pandere lucide,
aut hostes, vehemens ut leo, concitus
acri voce refellere.

Scrutinizing the Word and the holy dogmas of the faith,
he strove to cast them into light;
terrible as a lion to his enemies,
with the roar of his voice he refuted them without delay.

I love the word scrutando here. One can picture Saint Jerome bent over his precious manuscripts, attentive to every jot and tittle of the sacred text. More often than not, when he lifts his head from his work, it is to roar like a lion, ready to rip apart the errors of the enemies of the Word. Saint Jerome knew where to invest his passions!

3. Insudans alacer prata virentia
Scripturae coluit caelitus editae;
ex his et locuples dulcia protulit
cunctus pabula gratiae.

By the sweat of his brow, he cultivated
the green meadows of the heaven-inspired Scriptures;
enriched by them, he brought forth for all
the sweet nourishment of grace.

Dom Lentini is a genius. The "sweat of the brow" is an allusion to Genesis 3,19: "In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread" or, as Msgr. Knox puts it, "thou shalt earn thy bread with the sweat of thy brow." The "green meadows" allude, of course, to Psalm 22, 2: "He makes me lie down in green pastures." Nourished by the Word of God, Saint Jerome offers all Christians the food of grace, that is, Christ Himself in the Scriptures.

4. Deserti cupiens grata silentia
ad cunas Domini pervigil astitit,
ut carnem crucians se daret intime
Patri munus et hostiam.

Yearning for the desert's refreshing silence,
he kept watch close to the manger-cradle of the Lord,
that by crucifying his flesh, he might become deep within
an offering and a sacrificial victim to the Father.

This is my favourite strophe. Jerome yearns for the tranquil stillness of the desert, far from "the strife of tongues" (Psalm 30, 20). Close to the manger of the Infant Christ, he discovers the humility and poverty of spiritual childhood and, as crèche and cross are fashioned from the same wood, he enters into the mystery of the suffering and crucified Jesus, and so identifies with Him, that Jerome's whole life becomes a Eucharistic oblation. With Jesus, he becomes an offering (munus) and a sacrificial (victim) to the Father.

The youngest Doctor of the Church, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, of the crèche and of the cross, died on the evening of the feast of Saint Jerome, September 30, 1897; she also shared the older Doctor's love for the Word of God. On October 19, 1997, declaring Saint Thérèse a Doctor of the Church, Pope John Paul II wrote:

Despite her inadequate training and lack of resources for studying and interpreting the sacred books, Thérèse immersed herself in meditation on the Word of God with exceptional faith and spontaneity. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit she attained a profound knowledged of Revelation for herself and for others. By her loving concentration on Scripture - she even wanted to learn Hebrew and Greek to understand better the spirit and letter of the sacred books - she showed the importance of the biblical sources in the spiritual life, she emphasized the originality and freshness of the Gospel, she cultivated with moderation the spiritual exegesis of the Word of God in both the Old and New Testaments. Thus she discovered hidden treasures, appropriating words and episodes, sometimes with supernatural boldness, as when, in reading the texts of St Paul (cf. 1 Cor 12-13), she realized her vocation to love (cf. Ms B, 3r-3v). Enlightened by the revealed Word, Thérèse wrote brilliant pages on the unity between love of God and love of neighbour (cf. Ms C, 11v-19r); and she identified with Jesus' prayer at the Last Supper as the expression of her intercession for the salvation of all (cf. Ms C, 34r-35r).

5. Tanti nos, petimus te, Deus optime,
doctoris precibus dirige, confove,
ut laetas liceat nos tibi in omnia
laudes pangere saecula.

We pray you, O God of all goodness,
by the prayers of so great a doctor, direct us and surround us with your tender care,
so that we might be given leave to pour forth your joyful praises
unto the ages of ages.

The hymn ends, as do nearly all the hymns of the Church, with a doxological élan. We pray to walk in the path of righteousness and of doctrinal rectitude and ask, at the same time, that the warmth of the Father's tenderness envelop us so that one day in heaven, our lips might be opened to sing His praises eternally.


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September 29, Saints Michael and All Angels

Angels Everywhere

One of the most striking things about Rome's churches -- and about Italian churches in general -- is that they are full of representations of the angels. American churches in contrast, especially those built in the last fifty years, are strangely devoid of angelic imagery. In Italian churches there are angels everywhere: all sorts of angels. There are majestic angels of graceful athletic appearance, angels in splendid apparel playing musical instruments, and playful little angels with fat cheeks and chubby legs. In Italian churches, one is always conscious of praising God in conspectu angelorum, “in the sight of the angels” (Ps 137:1).

Angels in the Family

Whenever I have the good fortune to be in Italy, I travel two hours south of Rome to visit my mother’s cousins at my great-grandmother Donna Emma Onoratelli Barbato's ancestral home in the little village of Sepicciano. My grandfather Angelo Barbato spent time there as an infant with his mother, his brother Vincenzo, and his sister Filomena.

The Palazzo Onoratelli

Baroque in style, the palazzo was built in the early 1700s. Amazingly, there too, angels are depicted everywhere! Over the imposing front door, the family stemma, or coat of arms, bears the sword of Saint Michael the Archangel, patron saint of the house and of the family. Appropriately, the motto of the Onoratelli family is that of the Archangel Saint Michael, Quis ut Deus? Quis resistet Sancti Michaelis gladio? (Who is like unto God? Who can withstand the sword of Saint Michael?)

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The shield of the coat of arms, surmounted by the strawberry-leaved diadem of a marchese, is held aloft by two chubby angels -- both of them blissfully naked -- and smiling broadly over the street below! To the right of the front door is a gallery of arches and, over each arch, is a smiling cherubic face. Not two of them are alike. Clearly, this house was built by Christians conscious of the presence of the angels and of their involvement in everyday life.

Saint Michael Delivers Don Clemente

Across from the palazzo adorned with images of the angels stands the family’s private chapel, a church constructed in honour of Saint Michael the Archangel by my ancestor, the Marchese Clemente Onoratelli (1669-1729), and consecrated in 1743. Over the altar hangs a large painting of Saint Michael defeating the devil. According to family legend, Clemente Onoratelli, beset with the vice of gambling (as were so many of the Neapolitan nobility under the Borboni dynasty), had made a pact with the devil so as always to win. After this pact, he found himself anxious, unhappy, and unable to sleep. One night, Saint Michael the Archangel visited him in a dream, saying, “Don Clemente, build a church in my honour, and I will undo this evil pact, and become your protector and the protector of all your family.” Don Clemente rose the next morning and ordered the building of the church of Saint Michael on the slope facing his palace.

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In the Sight of Angels

The church was bombed and very nearly destroyed on October 15, 1943. After the War, it was restored at great cost. Apart from the majestic Saint Michael over the altar, the vaulting of the church’s nave is marked by a series of cherubic heads, all of them smiling, made in the same Baroque style as those of the palazzo. Again, the presence of the angels is something believed, something celebrated, an invisible reality depicted outwardly.

I cannot help but question the absence of an angelic iconography in today’s churches. And very rare indeed are homes and even monasteries graced with images of the angels! Out of sight, out of mind? The angels are as present today to us as they were to my Onoratelli ancestors in the village of Sepicciano, but we, sadly, may not be present to them.

Angels at the Liturgy

Are we in danger of forgetting the angels? While the liturgy mentions them repeatedly, all too often we assist at the Sacred Mysteries as if the angels were not there, joining in our praises, observing our attitudes, grieving over lack of zeal, and rejoicing to see us recollected and reverent. Saint Benedict speaks explicitly of the presence of the angels in Chapter 19 of the Rule: “We must therefore consider how we should behave in the sight of the Divine Majesty and his Angels, and as we sing our Psalms let us see to it that our mind is in harmony with our voice” (RB 19:6-7).

From Heaven Sent

One thing is certain. We need the angels. God created the angels for the praise of his glory and for our salvation, that is, to participate in his work of bringing us to wholeness, to peace, and to life everlasting in his presence. The angels are sent to us to comfort us in the hour of trial and affliction. Saint Luke, the evangelist most sensitive to angelic interventions, relates that an angel was sent to console Jesus during His agony in the garden (cf. Lk 22:43).

The angels are sent to bring us the healing of heavenly medicine, and the brightness of God’s deifying light. The angels are sent before every advent of the Word, to dispose our hearts and unstop our ears. The angels are sent before Christ, our Priest and our Victim, present in the offering of His Body and of His Blood. The angels are sent to bear our prayers up to heaven, and to descend to us, laden with heavenly blessings. The angels protect us in all our ways. They do all of these things gladly, joyfully, and unhesitatingly in obedience to the command of God.

Under the Protection of the Angels

We are in great need of angelic assistance. We need the comfort of their presence, the healing ministry of their hands, and the beauty of the praise that ceaselessly they offer God. While we may not have smiling angelic faces on the outer walls of our homes, we do have today’s feast and the daily celebration of the Sacred Liturgy to remind us that angels, unlike us, never forget. May they hold us in their prayer today and cover us with their protection. Who, indeed, can withstand the sword of Saint Michael?

Saint Pio, Priest and Victim

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Besides being the Ember Friday, today is the feast of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina. I regret that I wasn't able to post this earlier today.

By Monsignor Arthur Burton Calkins


I. The Crisis of Identity in the Priesthood

Almost immediately after the Second Vatican Council, a terrible identity crisis of enormous proportions began to overtake the Catholic priesthood and thousands of priests left the active ministry with or without the requisite permission. Still others became genuinely confused about the nature of their priesthood. Unfortunately, the disorientation still remains in many ways. Its causes, no doubt, are quite complex and ultimately we must confess that "An enemy has done this" (Mt. 13:28).

But recognizing a Satanic onslaught against the Lord's anointed ones does not prevent us from also seeking to discover some of the immediate contributing causes of this tragic state of affairs. In this regard Father André Feuillet makes what I believe to be some very astute observations:

Some writers claim that Vatican II is itself partly responsible. As they see it, Vatican II, in its desire to act against Roman centralization and an overemphasis on papal primacy, glossed over the problem of priesthood. In any case, it certainly intended to highlight the role of the college of bishops as successors of the Apostles. Moreover, on the basis of Scripture, it proclaimed a truth that had hitherto been too often overlooked: the sharing of all the baptized in the priesthood of Christ. By these two emphases, the Council seems to have spoken as if the bishop and the people of God were the only necessary elements of a priestly Church. In so doing, it somewhat neglected the place of the simple priest (or presbyter).

He continues by quoting from a book from D. Olivier, Les deux visages du prêtre: Les chances d'une crise:

The Council indeed maintains the special character of presbyteral priesthood as differing in essence from that of the baptized. But whereas it refers to a half dozen Scriptural texts to confirm the reality of the common priesthood, it cannot adduce a single text in favor of the famous essential difference. The contrast between the two successive passages of the Constitution on the Church is striking: the first, and very welcome one, on the priesthood of the faithful, is based on Scripture, the second is nothing but a theological development based on some texts of Pius XI and Pius XII. The bishop, who continues the mission of the Apostles, easily finds in Scripture the justification for his existence. But the priest can base his own special character only on papal statements.

Father Patrick J. Dunn, writing almost twenty years after Feuillet, comments in a remarkably similar vein:

Although the Second Vatican Council emphasizes that the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood "differ from one another in essence and not only in degree" (Lumen Gentium 10), the nature of this distinction has not always been clearly perceived.

It may well be argued that subsequent documents of the magisterium have continued to make the necessary clarifications. The new Catechism of the Catholic Church, for instance, presents an appropriate elucidation with the following statement:

The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, 'each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ'. While being 'ordered one to another', they differ essentially. In what sense? While the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace -- a life of faith, hope and charity, a life according to the Spirit, the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders.

While fully accepting the explanation proffered by the Catechism that "the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood", that "it is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians" and that it "is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church", I am inclined to believe, with Fulton Sheen and Father Feuillet, that the concept that we have already begun to explore of the ordained minister as called to be "priest and victim" provides an insight and challenge far richer and deeper which has yet to be assimilated in the postconciliar Church's teaching and praxis.

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II. Padre Pio: A Model Priest and Victim

What I would like to propose further is that God has set his own seal on this explanation in the person of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. Is it not significant that even before the great disruption of priestly life in the twentieth century was underway the Lord had already chosen Francesco Forgione to illustrate in a dramatic and extraordinary way the call to embrace victimhood in order to realize fully his vocation to the priesthood? While it is true that no one should aspire to imitate the extraordinary ways of Padre Pio without an explicit call from the Lord confirmed through wise spiritual direction and the appropriate permission when necessary, I believe that the Padre's life nonetheless constitutes a model of what it means to live as "priest and victim", a model that all Christians, but priests in particular, should strive to emulate.

Interestingly, the Trappist Father Augustine McGregor already pointed to Padre Pio as a model of priestly life over twenty years ago. In his book, The Spirituality of Padre Pio, he declared:

We shall refer constantly to the priesthood of Padre Pio discovering in his life a rare model of the priestly ideal, an exemplar who revealed in a unique and simple way all the essential features of the priesthood. In short, in an age undergoing transformation in social, cultural and religious spheres we shall look for and find in Padre Pio's priesthood characteristics of permanent value, unmarked by many of today's changing values.

Even more striking, however, and totally supportive of my thesis is the testimony of Father Vincenzo Frezza with regard to the paradigmatic value of Padre Pio's priesthood. Considering how Padre Pio continually spent himself unflinchingly for souls propels him to state:

Now all of this brings us still another time to the conclusion that his vocation to the priesthood, that the fulfillment of his priestly ministry was in relation to his mission to "co-redeem." I mean that if Padre Pio had not been a priest, he could not have fulfilled his mission: priesthood and mission are identified with each other in Padre Pio. According to a poor interpretation of mine, God did not only want a new victim, but he wanted this victim to be a priest and as such placed in a priestly state like the Incarnate Word.

Here I would simply add that the last one hundred fifty years have seen the Church benefiting from what seems an unparalleled profusion of victim souls, no doubt a gift that God has given in view of the crisis which the Church is now passing through. By far almost all of these have been women and here the Lord shows us how complementary their vocation to be "co-redeemers" is to the priesthood. But, without in any way wishing to take anything away from their greatness, I would underscore with Father Frezza that in Padre Pio the Lord has done a new thing. Let us listen to him again:

Padre Pio, carrying in himself the unification of the priesthood and the mission to co-redeem, thus demonstrated that the exercise of the priestly ministry goes beyond the sacramental signs. That is, it tends to make a man "like Christ the priest" in every moment and every attitude of his existence. In simple words this means that he must become a victim, an unceasing offering. ...

Therefore, it is this state of priest-victim that colors Padre Pio's priesthood, that makes him exceptional -- I will go even further -- that makes him unique in the Church up to now. Because we meet many victim-souls in Christian spiritual history. We also know many holy priests, holy priests who took more time to say Mass and shed more tears in doing so than Padre Pio did (e.g. St. Laurence of Brindisi). We know holy priests who have made the confessional their chief ministry. We know holy priests gifted with privileged charisms. We know saints who had marked in their bodies, both in their internal and external organs, the signs of the Passion of Christ. We are astonished when faced with mystical souls who have reached the highest degree of union with God, that which we call the "mystical marriage." However, a man that summed up, that both lived and suffered all these charisms, a man that could call himself another Jesus Christ with stronger reason than that for which St. Francis was called such, up to now, only Padre Pio is such a man.

I would supplement this testimony by simply referring to the fact that Padre Pio is the first priest in the history of the Church to bear the stigmata, which, it seems, constitutes a kind of divine seal on his vocation to be a "priest-victim". Father Gerardo Di Flumeri is of the same conviction. He argues that if Padre Pio

hadn't been a priest, he would never have become a victim; priesthood and victimization in him were identical. God did not want just another victim; He wanted, instead, a new victim who was a priest, who was established in the priestly state like the Word Incarnate.8

Hence I am in full accord with Father Frezza's final conclusion in this regard: "From today on, therefore, we cannot reasonably think of imagining what a priest should be if we do not compare and contrast him with Padre Pio as the model."

III. Padre Pio's Vocation to Priest-Victimhood

Within the limits of this presentation we can only touch briefly on some of the most obvious testimony which highlights Padre Pio's vocation to priest-victimhood. Already as a young Capuchin he was beset with a host of physical afflictions which defied diagnosis. Later these would be coupled with demonic assaults.11 In the midst of all this it is to be noted that the young Pio was conscious of his calling to be a victim. There is clear evidence that he had fully embraced this vocation from at least the time of his priestly ordination on 10 August 1910 in Benevento. A remarkable confirmation of this is the fact that he had written for his own personal use the following souvenir of his priestly ordination on the day of his first solemn Mass, 14 August 1910:

O rex, dona mihi animam meam pro qua rogo et populum meum pro quo obsecro [O King, let my life be given me at my petition and my people at my request] (Esther 7:3). Souvenir of my first Mass. Jesus, my heart's desire and my life, today as I raise you up in trembling hands, in a mystery of love, may I be, with you, for the world, Way, Truth and Life, and for you a holy priest, a perfect victim. ( P. Pio, Capuchin.)

The next evidence that we shall take into consideration is that of his letter of 29 November 1910 to his spiritual director, Padre Benedetto of San Marco in Lamis:

Now, my dear Father, I want to ask your permission for something. For some time past I have felt the need to offer myself to the Lord as a victim for poor sinners and for the souls in Purgatory. This desire has been growing continually in my heart so that it has now become what I would call a strong passion. I have in fact made this offering to the Lord several times, beseeching him to pour out upon me the punishments prepared for sinners and for the souls in a state of purgation, even increasing them a hundredfold for me, as long as he converts and saves sinners and quickly admits to paradise the souls in Purgatory, but I should now like to make this offering to the Lord in obedience to you. It seems to me that Jesus really wants this. I am sure that you will have no difficulty in granting me this permission.

The permission was duly communicated by Padre Benedetto in a letter of 1 December 1910. It was also evidently prior to this time that Padre Pio first experienced the marks of the stigmata. He does not give us the exact date, but confesses in his letter to Padre Benedetto of 8 September 1911 that "this phenomenon has been repeated several times for almost a year, but for some time past it had not occurred." C. Bernard Ruffin indicates that already on 7 September 1910 the young Padre, ordained less than a month, went to see his parish priest in Pietrelcina and "showed him what appeared to be puncture wounds in the middle of his hands."

In his old age Padre Pio had all but entirely forgotten about what Ruffin calls the "proto-stigmata" and then was eventually able to recall these first manifestations of the Lord's passion in his flesh. What I wish to underscore here is that almost immediately upon his priestly ordination Padre Pio had his first experience of the stigmata, eight years before the stigmatization of 20 September 1918 which would remain permanently imprinted upon him for fifty years. Obviously, the Lord who inspired the prayer of the young Capuchin on the day of his first solemn Mass found the petition an extremely pleasing one to which he would not delay in responding. This is also the conclusion of Father Gerardo Di Flumeri who comments on the petition which the newly ordained Padre Pio had written on the holy card on the day of his first solemn Mass:

We believe that the juxtaposition of the two words "priest" and "victim" clearly indicates that Padre Pio's offering of himself as a victim originates with his ordination to the priesthood. We believe, too, that his having received the gift of the "invisible" stigmata only a month later (Sept. 1910), indicates God's acceptance (Letters I:264f).

Hence we can say that Padre Pio's priesthood is sealed from the very beginning with the sign of victimhood. And, indeed, it is not only a sign that he willingly accepted, but even had asked for.

A. For Love of Jesus and for Souls

From this point onwards Padre Pio renews his self-offering as victim frequently and with great generosity. This offering simultaneously serves a twofold purpose; it is a fulfillment of Saint Paul's words "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church" (Col. 1:24) and it is also an act of reparation to the Lord himself. Here is how he describes it in a letter to his spiritual director, Padre Agostino of San Marco in Lamis, dated 20 September 1912:

We must hide our tears from the One who sends them, from the One who has shed tears himself and continues to shed them every day because of man's ingratitude. He chooses souls and despite my unworthiness, he has chosen mine also to help him in the tremendous task of men's salvation. The more these souls suffer without the slightest consolation, the more the sufferings of our good Jesus are alleviated.

Less than a month later he writes to Padre Agostino once again emphasizing this double objective i.e., that his victimhood is for souls and as an act of reparation to the Lord:

"Believe me, dear Father, I find happiness in my afflictions. Jesus himself wants these sufferings from me, as he needs them for souls. But I ask myself what relief can I give him by my suffering?! What a destiny! Oh, to what heights has our most sweet Jesus raised my soul!"

1. Victimhood for Sinners.

Perhaps one of the most striking testimonies about his acceptance of victimhood for sinners is the following transcription of words taken down by Padre Agostino during an ecstasy on 3 December 1911 while the young Padre Pio was having a vision of Christ badly wounded:

"My Jesus, forgive and put down that sword ... but if it must fall, let it be only on my head ... Yes, I want to be the victim ... punish me and not the others ... send me even to hell provided that I love you, and that everyone, yes everyone, be saved."

Several years later, on 17 October 1915, he writes to Father Agostino: "You exhort me to offer myself as a victim to the Lord for poor sinners. I made this offering once and I renew it several times a day." From this statement it would seem reasonable to conclude that Padre Pio's acceptance of his manifold sufferings always included intercession for sinners.

2. Victimhood as consolation to Jesus.

Secondly, there is the note of reparation or consolation offered to Jesus. Padre Pio writes of "alleviating the sufferings of our good Jesus". This is the motive for reparation found especially in the revelations of the Lord to St. Margaret Mary who tells us that he asks for the communion of reparation to his Sacred Heart on the First Friday of the month. Pope Pius XI also deals with this concept in his magisterial Encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor on the theology of reparation.

The first and obvious question that comes to mind is this: "Since Jesus is now in glory at the right hand of the Father, how can we offer him 'consolation'?" Pius XI first cited a very apposite quotation from St. Augustine: "Give me one who loves, and he will understand what I say," and then gave the following reply:

If, in view of our future sins, foreseen by him, the soul of Jesus became sad unto death, there can be no doubt that by his prevision at the same time of our acts of reparation, he was in some way comforted when "there appeared to him an angel from Heaven" (Lk. 22:43) to console that Heart of his bowed down with sorrow and anguish.

In other words, as Jesus saw the sins of the world in his agony in Gethsemane by virtue of the beatific vision, so He also saw in advance every act of consolation offered to him until the end of time. In effect, the act of reparation which we offer now he could see then.

This second dimension, too, is notably present in Padre Pio's understanding of the reason for his sufferings. Here is an instance where he develops this motivation in a meditation on the words of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, "Could you not watch one hour with me?" It is fully in line with the theology of Miserentissimus Redemptor which we have just sketched above.

O Jesus, how many generous souls wounded by this complaint have kept Thee company in the Garden, sharing Thy bitterness and Thy mortal anguish ... How many hearts in the course of the centuries have responded generously to Thy invitation ... May this multitude of souls, then, in this supreme hour be a comfort to Thee, who, better than the disciples, share with Thee the distress of Thy heart, and cooperate with Thee for their own salvation and that of others. And grant that I also may be of their number, that I also may offer Thee some relief.

Not surprisingly, even in this meditation which is oriented to consoling Jesus, a reference to cooperating in our own salvation and that of others is not lacking. The two are intertwined in Padre Pio.

B. Specific Applications of Victimhood

Without taking away from the fact that he has already offered himself as a victim for sinners, for the souls in Purgatory, and in reparation, he willingly offers his innumerable physical, mental, emotional and spiritual sufferings together with the demonic assaults which he suffers for specific intentions and persons who are particularly dear to him. Thus we find him writing to his dear Padre Benedetto that

"It grieves me very much to learn that you are unwell and I am praying the Lord for your recovery. As there is nothing else I can do for you, I offered myself some time ago to the Lord as a victim for you. Now that I know you are ill, I renew my offering to Jesus very often and with great fervour."

There are at least two other occasions when he reassures Padre Benedetto that he renews this offering frequently. He makes the same offering for his second spiritual father, Padre Agostino, with a kind of loving audacity:

"Apart from everything else, you belong to me and I have every right to bargain with Jesus even unknown to you. I have offered myself to him as a victim for you and hence my behaviour cannot but be justified. What is the use of making a sacrifice if its purpose is to be frustrated?"

Likewise he reassures Padre Agostino on another occasion that "I never cease, either, to present to Jesus the offering I once made to him for you."

He makes the offering of himself in the state of victim similarly for his Capuchin Province, and asks Padre Benedetto for permission to do the same on behalf of aspirants for the Province. He also informs Padre Benedetto that he has made an offering of himself for the intention which Pope Benedict XV had recommended to the whole Church. It is interesting to note that all of these acts of self-oblation were made before the definitive experience of the stigmata which he received on 20 September 1918 and which marked his body for fifty years.

IV. Source of Padre Pio's Priest-Victimhood: Union with Christ

Perhaps it is not inappropriate here to ask some questions about all of these acts of making himself a victim for particular individuals or intentions. How could Padre Pio offer himself totally for more than one person or intention? In a human manner of speaking, would he not lessen the amount of merit available for a particular person or intention the more he multiplied the dedications of his victimhood? How could he multiply virtually to infinity the various purposes for which he suffered? Mathematically speaking, would he not have been reducing the effects of his suffering with every new intention which he took on?

In a real sense, of course, these questions all dissolve into mystery, but a mystery which, in effect, is based upon the infinite merits won by Christ on Calvary. Padre Pio as one man, even an extraordinarily holy man, dwindles into insignificance in the face of the woes of the world and the mystery of evil. But as priest and victim, he is united with the Eternal Priest and Victim and shares in the infinity of Jesus' merits. Let us consider Padre Pio's description of an experience which took place on 16 April 1912 after a fearful assault by the enemy:

I was hardly able to get to the divine Prisoner to say Mass. When Mass was over I remained with Jesus in thanksgiving. Oh, how sweet was the colloquy with paradise that morning! It was such that, although I want to tell you all about it, I cannot. There were things which cannot be translated into human language without losing their deep and heavenly meaning. The heart of Jesus and my own -- allow me to use the expression -- were fused. No longer were two hearts beating but only one. My own heart had disappeared, as a drop of water is lost in the ocean. Jesus was its paradise, its king. My joy was so intense and deep that I could bear no more and tears of happiness poured down my cheeks. Yes, dear Father, man cannot understand that when paradise is poured into a heart, this afflicted, exiled, weak and mortal heart cannot bear it without weeping. I repeat that it was the joy that filled my heart which caused me to weep for so long.

This mystical experience which Padre Pio manages to describe as the "fusion" of his heart with the Sacred Heart of Jesus helps us to begin to grasp that Padre Pio's total identification with the victimhood of Jesus made him a sharer and, in a certain sense, a dispenser of those infinite merits."

V. Padre Pio's Priest-Victimhood in the Mass

While the entire earthly life of Jesus constituted a continuous offering of himself to the Father, "nevertheless the victim state of the Lord reaches the sacrificial apex at the immolation at Calvary." In an analogous manner we way say that, while the entire priestly life of Padre Pio was lived as a victim, nevertheless his victim state reaches the sacrificial apex at the celebration of the Mass. Let us consider these statements of Padre Pio about his Mass.

"I never tire of standing so long, and could not become tired, because I am not standing, but am on the cross with Christ, suffering with Him."

"The holy Mass is a sacred union of Jesus and myself. I suffer unworthily all that was suffered by Jesus who deigned to allow me to share in His great enterprise of human redemption."

"Everything that Jesus suffered in His passion I suffer also, inadequately, as much as it is possible for a human being. And through no merit of mine but just out of His goodness.This is my only comfort, that of being associated with Jesus in the Divine Sacrifice and in the redemption of souls."

Not only did Padre Pio experience his greatest suffering during the celebration of the Mass, but it was also for him the time of his most intense intercession. As on the cross Jesus could see all of us in the beatific vision, so Padre Pio seems to have had a similar gift. According to Father Schug, the Padre once said that in this absorption in God, especially at the Consecration of the Mass, he saw everyone who had asked his prayers. He told his friends that they could always reach him when he was at the altar. He saw them, actually, in his gaze on God.

Again, once asked "Padre, are all the souls assisting at your Mass present to your spirit?", he answered "I see all my children at the altar, as in a looking glass."Indeed, because the priest is a mediator, it is his responsibility to pray for the people of God. Padre Pio took this as a solemn obligation and, even though the petitions pouring into the friary of San Giovanni Rotondo were countless, he faithfully honored every request for prayer. His intercession was -- and is still -- so powerful precisely because of his priest-victimhood. The seriousness with which he took his role as intercessor should be an admonition to every priest.

VI. Padre Pio and Priests

This brings us to a subject of capital importance: Padre Pio and priests. The Lord has confided to many victim-souls that his priests are "the apple of his eye", yet so often they are so far from fulfilling what he expects of them. Not surprisingly, very early in his state of victimhood, Padre Pio was called to make reparation for priests. Here is an account which he made to Padre Agostino, his spiritual father, on 7 April 1913.

On Friday morning [28 March 1913] while I was still in bed, Jesus appeared to me. He was in a sorry state and quite disfigured. He showed me a great multitude of priests, regular and secular, among whom were several high ecclesiastical dignitaries. Some were celebrating Mass, while others were vesting or taking off the sacred vestments. The sight of Jesus in distress was very painful to me, so I asked him why he was suffering so much. There was no reply, but his gaze turned on those priests. Shortly afterwards, as if terrified and weary of looking at them, he withdrew his gaze. Then he raised his eyes and looked at me and to my great horror I observed two tears coursing down his cheeks. He drew back from that crowd of priests with an expression of great disgust on his face and cried out: "Butchers!" Then turning to me he said: "My son, do not think that my agony lasted three hours. No, on account of the souls who have received most from me, I shall be in agony until the end of the world. During my agony, my son, nobody should sleep. My soul goes in search of a drop of human compassion but alas, I am left alone beneath the weight of indifference. The ingratitude and the sleep of my ministers makes my agony all the more grievous.
Alas, how little they correspond to my love! What afflicts me most is that they add contempt and unbelief to their indifference. Many times I have been on the point of annihilating them, had I not been held back by the Angels and by souls who are filled with love for me. Write to your (spiritual) father and tell him what you have seen and heard from me this morning. Tell him to show your letter to Father Provincial ...

In the annals of the mystics there are no few such plaints recorded as coming from the lips of our Redeemer. The ones from whom Christ looks most of all for consolation, particularly priests, are often precisely the ones who are the most indifferent to his loving plea for reparation. Tragically, some add contempt and unbelief to their indifference.

I believe that this vision which Padre Pio had in the early days of his priesthood was highly prophetic. If it was true in 1913, it can be verified, I believe, much more readily today. Indifference, contempt and unbelief have ravaged tens of thousands of priestly souls, unleashing an extraordinary tide of devastation upon the Church. Have we reached "high tide" yet? Only God knows and only he can respond. What is needed to turn the tide? More than anything else, I believe, are priest-victims.

When one considers the growing impact which the humble friar of the Gargano continues to have even twenty-seven years after his death, can one doubt that a legion of priests who willingly embraced victimhood, as he did, could change the face of the Church? I am convinced that there is no greater need facing the Church today.

VII. Padre Pio and Victims

You may say that I should be talking to priests and, no doubt, I should. But, I speak to you because you are here and because there is also a great need of victim-intercessors for the Church and for priests. Let us listen to a final excerpt from another letter which Padre Pio addressed to Padre Agostino just a short time before the previous letter:

Listen, my dear Father, to the justified complaints of our most sweet Jesus:
With what ingratitude is my love for men repaid! I should be less offended by them if I had loved them less. My Father does not want to bear with them any longer. I myself want to stop loving them, but ... (and here Jesus paused, sighed, then continued) but, alas! My heart is made to love! Weak and cowardly men make no effort to overcome temptation and indeed they take delight in their wickedness. The souls for whom I have a special predilection fail me when put to the test, the weak give way to discouragement and despair, while the strong are relaxing by degrees.
'They leave me alone by night, alone by day in the churches. They no longer care about the Sacrament of the altar. Hardly anyone ever speaks of this sacrament and even those who do, speak alas, with great indifference and coldness.
My heart is forgotten. Nobody thinks any more of my love and I am continually grieved. For many people my house has become an amusement centre. Even my ministers, whom I have loved as the apple of my eye, who ought to console my heart brimming over with sorrow, who ought to assist me in the redemption of souls -- who would believe it? -- even by my ministers I must be treated with ingratitude and slighted. I behold, my son (here he remained silent, sobs contracted his throat and he wept secretly) many people who act hypocritically and betray me by sacrilegious communions, trampling under foot the light and strength which I give them continually ...'
Jesus continues to complain. 'Dear Father, how bad I feel when I see Jesus weeping! Have you experienced this too? 'My son,' Jesus went on, 'I need victims to calm my Father's just divine anger; renew the sacrifice of your whole self and do so without any reserve.'
I have renewed the sacrifice of my life, dear Father, and if I experience some feeling of sadness, it is in the contemplation of the God of Sorrows. If you can, try to find souls who will offer themselves to the Lord as victims for sinners. Jesus will help you."

I would compare this loving complaint of Jesus to the "great revelation" of his Heart which he made to Saint Margaret Mary in 1675,47 but what I wish to underscore here is simply the immediacy, the urgency of the call which Padre Pio heard. He answered with the sacrifice of his life. Let us take to heart these final words: "If you can, try to find souls who will offer themselves to the Lord as victims for sinners. Jesus will help you."

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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