My Memoir of St. Padre Pio: Price of Suffering and Beatification by the Brush of Grace
enough to ignite my curiosity.
A book that cost about $10 was enough to act as a launching pad into a world of a man I read to be just what the title claimed--a wonder worker. I need not delve into the countless miracles Pio performed in his lifetime (there are numerous books devoted to such happenings), but the simple notion that a man of this earth could be blessed with a portion of Jesus' gifts was astounding to me. In catholic school I read about St. Francis of Assisi and people just like him. But to such a young boy, they all seemed so far removed from the 1980 catholic school system I grew up in--the insignificant life of another rambunctious 20th century child. At 18-years-old I read that book and got a big glimpse of just how alive Jesus' ministry is today, not just 500 years ago.
My prayers to Pio started out rather humbling; I simply asked for his holy intercession. Since Pio was known to be an amazing healer, I figured it couldn't hurt to ask him to pray to Jesus for my healing too. All I could think about was the beggar-woman who pulled at Jesus' robe, in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus, after realizing a portion of His power had left Him, said: "Who touched my clothes?" The woman, afraid at this point, began to tremble. But surely enough, compassionate as always, Jesus told her that it was her faith that healed her. This poor woman of the street was granted Jesus' attention and healing love not because Jesus wanted to heal her or because she was the only one who needed healing, but rather because she had faith. So I too figured that, at the very minimum, I would work (trying to mirror Pio's astounding life's example) to develop a colossal faith, and maybe Jesus would respond in kind to me too.
The stigmata is something that I'd briefly heard of and became very enthused about after first seeing Pio's statue. How could any man be scorned with the very wounds of Christ? Like the athlete in me, I became fascinated by a man that endeared his entire verve to something much bigger than himself. How often do you find someone like that in today's time? I've always been captivated by a good success story. What better example can be found than a man who not only suffered Christ's wounds but also possessed the remarkable spiritual gifts of transverberation, bilocation, reading of the souls, odour of sanctity and the healing of the sick? Padre Pio, as many other saintly figures have done when they moved closer to God, served as a unique example of what it truly means to be a disciple of Christ.
I knew Padre Pio had a special relationship with Jesus. I knew that his prayers, due to the supernaturally holy life that he led, were held in high esteem. I figured that if I could get Pio's attention, then maybe he could pray for me. The more prayers, the better, I thought. Pio is often quoted as saying that prayer is our best weapon of defense.
The powerfully prominent paradigm of Pio's life was such a huge inspiration at that particular time in my life. I've always tried to develop a role model in gymnastics, watching the great Olympic Champions and trying to pattern myself after them. Now I saw my spiritual life in equal need of such a potent mentor. I chose Pio. I chose him not because he was better than Jesus (a sad misconception of non-Catholics) but rather because he is a fulfillment and stunning facilitator of Jesus himself. Padre Pio would pray as if it were akin to waking up and making breakfast for the rest of us. His modern revolutionary example of prayer and living according to Jesus' teachings were at the very heart of why I chose him. If figured that if I could be even a fragment of the kind of man he was, I'd be doing pretty well. And anyway, I don't think I chose him as much as he chose me. I think Jesus spoke to me through Pio to show me that such a holy life, even in today's time, is very much attainable.
Suffering from any ailment, be it physical or mental, is no day in the park. God teaches us to suffer with dignity and to offer it up to Him. It was in the fall of 2001 that I began to understand just a sliver of what it really meant to suffer. Be we rich or poor, strong or weak; suffering will find its way to each and every door. I learned from Pio's example of a life filled with compassion for others, despite choosing to suffer with poverty and his own physical ailments. I linked his pain with mine, having the epiphany that it's not in what we suffer from, but rather how we suffer that makes us who we are--God's children.
For almost a solid year I languished, wandering in aimless back pain. I was cast and set immobile, wading chest-deep through the uncertain waters of frustration. I knew God had granted me athletic gifts in my gymnastic endeavors, but why this setback of pain and immobility? My inexperienced eyes failed to see what would later be revealed to me. Upon meeting Pio as I did, I began to think that if I'm going to suffer, and can do nothing much about it, then I may as well suffer properly. Suffering properly became a whole new concept to me. Since that athletic injury all those years ago, I'm now better at enduring. Padre Pio became my spiritual director, so to speak, and I had regular prayer-conversations with him about how to go about this extended stay of strain. After nine months, three in a casted back brace, my spine specialist doctor was quite amazed at the healing that took place...nothing short of a miracle. Eternally grateful, but not surprised, I was cleared and returned to an even more active life than I had led before.
In 2001 I not only suffered, I was blessed to suffer. As I look back with the wiser eyes of experience through trial, that traumatic event of pain and physical inaction happened just when it should have, exactly as it should have. Of course, hindsight revealed this truth after long reflection. However, it was the process of going through that hardship that made me stronger, more aware and confident of my own abilities. After learning to develop a better relationship with Mary, I prayed the rosary daily--another Pio suggestion. I began to go to daily mass and felt a sense of connection with the church. Wherever I go on this planet, somewhere there is a Catholic church just like mine back home, waiting to welcome me.
How could I have known the big plans that little statue had for me? Jesus entered my soul in a most unusual way and made his home. How often does he beckon us in such strange ways to hear his call, I wonder?
Matt Hicks is a 27-year-old Catholic from Baton Rouge, LA who is also an elite-level gymnast, training for the 2012 Olympics. This is his first article for Catholic Online.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: saints, padrepio, St.Pio, holiness, suffering, healing, St.Pio, gymnastics
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