One of the beautiful things about Catholicism is the reality that as a faith, much of what we believe has been rationally, logically, reasonably explored. We have intellectual heavy weights from the earliest days of the Church (around the year 100 A.D.) Like St. Ignatius of Antioch to more well-known names throughout the centuries like St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas – to our times like St. John Paul II – who would use their incredible intellect to argue the truths of our faith. To debate and define and explain complex topics from how God is a trinity – one God and three persons; to the fact that the bread and wine at Mass becomes the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ; to the beauty of human sexuality as being a gift from God and with a meaning and purpose that is like Jesus himself – human and divine -all with a brilliance and a complexity that could refute (and has refuted) the greatest of scholarly, academic skeptics. That “reason” part of our belief oftentimes surprises unbelievers as well as fellow Christians who aren’t Catholic and might be characterized as “biblical fundamentalists.”
But I think we often defer to this intellectual part of our belief, what our faith is in almost a self-defensive kind of way. Without thinking about it, we can almost develop a snooty intellectualism streak deferring to that while – forgetting the “faith” part of the equation. Yes, we can come to appreciate and understand many things about our Catholic faith through the intellect. But that faith part is just as, if not even more, important. The faith part – where no explanation is possible and for the true believer no explanation is necessary. It’s the faith part where God Amazes us… It’s the faith part where miracles take place – where we can’t find a reasonable understanding and explanation of things. Jesus performing outright miracles where thousands are fed with a couple of loaves of bread and fish; that people are healed of debilitating illnesses, that people are brought back from the dead – those didn’t just happen, they continue to happen.
Which is why today’s feast day is an important one. We remember St. Pius of Pietrelcina or more belovedly known as “Padre Pio.” He was a Franciscan priest – meaning he was called to be a priest but had a further calling to follow St. Francis of Assisi’s example – which entailed living simply, humbly, taking care of the poor, as a part of a community of other Franciscan friars. The man wanted to be a humble, quiet, prayerful priest. He wasn’t an intellectual heavy weight – he was a simple guy who described himself as “a poor Franciscan who prays.”
Yet this holy, simple, humble priest – who lived in the previous century in Southern Italy became renowned because God chose to use him to wow and disturb our intellectual snooty world. People experienced healings through Padre Pio’s prayers. Padre Pio was able to read people’s hearts (especially in confession… which I get you, would probably freak most of us out, but if we approach that sacrament as it’s intended – a place where we encounter the loving face of Jesus who wants to pour out his mercy on us, the fact that he could read deep into a persons heart and make sure they fully unburdened themselves of the deepest sins that they were too embarrassed or ashamed to admit… Then reading of hearts is a tremendously good thing and was one of the reasons that he would have lines for hours upon hours everyday for confession, people so sought him out). God’s favor was so poured out on this priest’s ministry that he bi located – he was actually in two places at the same time – and then later in life, the wounds of Jesus Christ – the nail marks of Jesus’ hands, feet – miraculously appeared on Padre Pio (in receiving the stigmata). Those things happened. Those things left people with their jaws dropped (like they do today). And remind us of the beauty of God – that He can act how he wants to. That yes there’s much we can learn and contemplate and understand about Him – and we should use our brains and intellect to do just that. But we also have to remember He’s God and we’re not. And He still wants to shock and surprise and astound us to remind us He’s an awesome God. He still wants to delight us as His children with His miraculous hand at work in our day to day.
May Padre Pio pray for us that we would be humble, be prayerful, be attentive, be docile to the Lord so that He can do just that – that He can work miracles and defy explanation and just leave us awe struck in our day and age. When He does – may we not hesitate to share the wonders of our God, as Jesus calls us to in today’s Gospel – not hiding the light, but setting it in a lampstand so the world will see and hear and come to know the greatness of our God. – Feast of St. Padre Pio – Sept 23, 2019