Saturday, January 12, 2013

Padre Pio and the Dark Night - Part XI

Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, mystic


     In a letter dated just one week later (March 17, 1916), Pio again questions the condition that he finds himself encountering interiorly. In referring to his present condition of soul and the perplexity of spirit he feels, Padre Pio writes: “…my belief is a total exercise of my poor will against all by human inclinations. Perhaps it is for this reason that my faith never receives nourishment – neither in the senses nor the intellect.”[1] His spiritual bewilderment is articulated in this and other letters he writes to his spiritual director.

     This stage in Pio’s life is reflective of the divine movement of soul described by John of the Cross. Pio’s ‘dark night’ describes the inability to name the experience for what it really is – the action of the Holy Spirit setting the mystic’s interior life on fire with love. John of the Cross cautions: “…individuals generally do not perceive this love in the beginning, but they experience rather the dryness and void we are speaking of…they harbor in the midst of the dryness and emptiness of their faculties, a habitual care and solicitude for God accompanied by grief or fear about not serving him.”[2]

     The commentary provided by John of the Cross on the Dark Night is descriptive of the agony of Pio’s dark night of the soul. In the same letter Pio continues: “The night grows ever darker…When will the moment come when the mists of my soul fall away? When will the sun rise within me? Can I hope for it in this world? I believe that it will never come to pass.”[3] At this point the spirit is in a spiritual tug-of-war between perseverance and despair, nonetheless John of the Cross emphasizes the positive value of this state: “It is a sacrifice most pleasing to God – that of a spirit in distress and solicitude for his love.”[4] Pio wrote about the importance of persevering in faith and remaining steadfast in the ‘dark night’: “The most important Credo is the one we pronounce when we are in darkness, in the hour of sacrifice and sorrow, in the supreme effort of an inflexible will for what is good.”[5]

     On November 20, 1921 Pio wrote again to his spiritual director, providing a sort of synopsis of his spiritual life up to this point. He was immersed in the love of God. Padre Pio sums up his spiritual life in the following manner:
     I am devoured by the love of God and by the love of my neighbor. For me God is ever fixed in my mind and imprinted on my heart. I never lose sight of Him…Do believe, however, that this moment my inner self is not in any way shaken or upset in the least. I feel only to have and to want what God wants…My father, pray that a deluge of water might come to cool me a little from these devouring flames that ceaselessly burn in my heart.[6]

The awesomeness of this reality is instrumental for understanding the mysticism of the Capuchin friar, Padre Pio. Like the Crucified Christ, Pio embodied the visible sign of God’s love; love which is the characteristic preeminent in Bonaventure’s mysticism and the height of contemplation.[7]

     The interior effect of Bonaventure’s work is evident in the life of Padre Pio the mystic. The Franciscan charism was alive in the spirituality of Padre Pio. The Passion of Christ Crucified was an interior blaze that enveloped Padre Pio’s soul, so much so that in its externalization it imprinted itself on his very body. Pio was transformed and branded into the compassionate Crucified Christ. Bonaventure’s advice to a Poor Clare regarding the spiritual life, demonstrates the influence of Bonaventure’s spirituality on Padre Pio:

     Your heart is the altar of God. It is here that the fire of intense love must burn always. You are to feed it everyday with the wood of the cross of Christ and the commemoration of his passion…Let your love lead your steps to Jesus wounded, to Jesus crowned with thorns…there transformed into Christ by your burning love for the Crucified, transfixed by the sword of infinite compassion, seek nothing, desire nothing, wish for no consolation other than to be able to die with Christ on the cross. Then you may cry out with the Apostle Paul: With Christ I am nailed to the cross. It is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me.[8]
     Padre Pio’s spirituality rooted him in the reality of this life, and this was evident in his genuine concern for the poor and suffering. The fruit of Padre Pio’s life is evident today in the lives of so many people who have been touched by him, and most obvious in the establishment of the House of the Relief of the Suffering in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy. In the words of St. Bonaventure: “Ardent love is a quality of the heart and the stronger this love burns in a person’s heart, the more heroic and virtuous are his deeds.”[9]

[1] Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, “When will the sun rise within me,” Secrets of a Soul, 121.
[2] John of the Cross,  The Dark Night, 1:11:2.
[3] Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, “When will the sun rise within me,” Secrets of the Soul, 121.
[4] The Dark Night, 1:11:2.
[5] Pascal P. Parente, Padre Pio: A City on a Mountain (Washington: Ave Maria Institute, 1968) 112.
[6] Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, “ In Him I always feel rested,” Secrets of a Soul,193.
[7] Dunstan Dobbins, O.M. Cap., “Franciscan Mysticism” in Franciscan Studies (New York: Joseph F. Wagner, Inc., September 1927) 201.
[8]Bonaventure, De Perfectione de Vitae ad Sorores, 6.2 (VIII, 120). “On the Perfection of Life, Addressed to the Sisters,” trans. by Jose de Vinck, in Simply Bonaventure (New York: New York City Press, 2001) 122.
[9] Bonaventure, The Disciple and the Master: St. Bonaventure’s Sermons on St. Francis of Assisi, trans. by Eric Doyle (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1983) 108.

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