Feast day: September 23rd
A few weeks ago I wrote an article for our Catholic Times diocesan newspaper on patron saints for grandparents. In some ways it gave me the thought of telling the stories of the saints that led to this weekly column for our bulletin here at the Cathedral. As it turns out, that article gave me in a roundabout way the specific saint that I want to write on this week: Fr. Pio of Pietrelcina. One grandfather who read my selection of six patron saints for grandparents called me up and asked why I hadn’t said a word about Padre Pio. I was a bit perplexed since he was not a grandfather, nor a particular patron for grandparents, but as the man explained the story of this great saint, and then told me about his own personal encounter with the saintly capuchin priest while he served in World War II, I was convinced I needed to do some more digging.
Francesco, his baptismal name, was born in 1887 in the insignificant town of Pietrelcina, Italy. He had one brother and three sisters (and two siblings who died as infants). He grew up working on the family farm, but early in his life found his call from the Lord as a Capuchin, entering the novitiate at the age of 15. Struggling through bouts of sickness, he made it through the years of preparation for his vows and then on to priesthood ordination, but by then was given permission to return home with the hopes that he would recover. After some months at home, he was assigned to the little friary at San Giovanni Rotondo where he would remain for most of the rest of his life, and become famous for his holiness, piety, insight in the confessional, and numerous miracles.
I do not mean here though to focus on the marvels God’s grace worked in his life. Nor the crowds that grew over the decades, flocking to a man widely known for his closeness to Christ, manifested even by a visible stigmata, bearing in his own body the wounds of Christ. Nor even his suffering-humility when the Church asked him to cease all his public ministry for years, asking his obedience more than his miracles.
No, today I want to focus on what allowed all of that to happen through him and in him. It started very simply: his family was devoted in their attendance at Mass and recited the rosary daily, meditating on their own participation in the mysteries of Christ’s life. And, because they were generous in having kids, and limited in their earthly means, they lived simply. Prayer, and poverty, combined in the all-too-normal life of a family. There is nothing magical about it. But those are the normal, humble, ways that God has sanctified His world since the beginning. It was those basic realities that marked the passing on of His covenant and blessings through so much of the Old Testament, and it was precisely those things that marked the life of Joseph and Mary as the were entrusted for their own child the Son of God.
What has Padre Pio to do with raising our children Catholic? Well, if you need a miracle, or a spiritual father, you know who to talk to. And, if you’re looking for a simple way to holiness, look to the foundations of his sanctity: generous parents, humble means, simple prayers, and God did the rest.
– Fr. Dominic Rankin has a twin sister and a younger brother. A threesome was not as exciting as his cousins, who were from a family of 12, but it was the perfect number to say the family rosary. Dad led the opening bits, each member of the family got one decade, and then it was a battle to see who could lead the concluding prayers. Mystical contemplation did not happen every time, but the seeds of God’s Word were sown little by little, and He did the rest.