Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Praying to Our Father in Secret

"And when ye pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, that love to stand and pray in the synagogues and corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men: Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee."  Thus says Our Lord, as passed down to us in Matthew 6:5,6 (Douay Rheims). 

In her popular Catholic blog, "The Path Less Taken," Mary O'Regan offers a meditation on these words, and the difficulties and obstacles to praying in secret in today's busy world.  She writes: Taking a very literal approach, my mind came up with scenarios which prevent one from fulfilling Our Lord's call, and I fixed upon Our Lord's fatherly directive, "go to your room," which would be peculiar sounding to many millennials I've known who move out of home, congregate in big cities, and cannot find or afford a room of their own." 

To Mary, the idea of praying the Rosary in secret seemed "far-fetched."  That is, until she read the book How to Pray the Secret Rosary, which I recently published.  She explains clearly, probably more clearly that I do in my book, how one can pray the Rosary without using the beads, and without counting the Hail Mary's. In fact, I think I should have titled the book How to Pray the Rosary Secretly

Click Here to check out her excellent article. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

He Wanted to Give Padre Pio a Good Kick!

Alfredo was a practicing Catholic, but he did not give any special credence to the saintliness of Padre Pio. And he felt it was not a sin to feel that way since for him a saint was someone that the church had proclaimed as such, and that could not happen for a very long time. After all, it was 1950 and Padre Pio was still alive and well. But Alfredo did want to make a visit to San Giovanni Rotondo to find out more about this friar, if for no other reason than to satisfy his curiosity.

He carefully planned his trip to occur at a time when he thought there would be few visitors to the friary, so that he would have more time to observe the priest that everyone was talking about. Unfortunately for him, he reasoned that a good time to visit would be on November 2, All Souls Day, in Italian il Giorno dei Morti, the Day of the Dead. Alfredo had no idea that Padre Pio was already famous for his intercession for the souls in Purgatory, and that crowds of visitors and petitioners would converge on the tiny friary that day.

He took the train from his home in Potenza to Foggia, and the bus from there to San Giovanni was so packed that he was forced to stand in the aisle for the entire trip up the Gargano mountain. Then after he finally reached the church, he learned that he needed to make a reservation to confess to Padre Pio, and had to wait a week for his turn to arrive. In the meantime Alfredo, being resourceful, decided to at least be present in the sacristy when Padre Pio confessed the men, and also when the priest returned to the sacristy in the early evening to prepare for Vespers – evening prayer.

An hour after confessions were over, Padre Pio descended from his cell to enter the sacristy prior to the Vespers service. By that time, only a few men were present and Alfredo had a good opportunity to get close to the friar and observe him clearly. Yet, even after he came to know Padre Pio well in the years to come, he still does not really know how to describe him. “He was a figure, I would dare say, who was indefinable. One could attribute to him all possible adjectives: he was paternal, he was austere; he was frowning, he was cheerful; he was sarcastic, he was ironic. His eyes scrutinized a person as if he were piercing into their flesh, and forced you to look down.”

St. Mary of the Graces - the original church
After he entered the sacristy, Padre Pio cordially greeted and spoke with a certain gentleman who was standing near Alfredo. This man, as soon he saw the priest approach, went down on his knees and proceeded to kiss the friar's hand. Then Padre Pio, as part of his preparation for leading the Vespers ceremony, made use of a little water basin that was nearby, and washed his fingers which extended from the half-gloves of wool he wore over his stigmatized hands. As he finished, that same gentleman hastily retrieved a white handkerchief from his pocket and gave it to Padre Pio so he could dry his hands. Padre Pio returned it to him, and he put it back in his pocket. But as the priest was exiting the sacristy to enter the church, the gentleman again took out the handkerchief, carefully folded it, and placed it in his attaché case.

Alfredo was watching all this happen, and the man, seeing his curiosity, told him that he would explain everything when Vespers was over. They introduced themselves, and went into the church for the ceremony. Afterwards, they went out into the piazza in front of the church, and the mysterious gentleman said to Alfredo, “Now, I will satisfy your curiosity about the handkerchief, by telling you my story.”

It turns out that the man was a medical doctor, whose name Alfredo can not recall. He had been coming to San Giovanni every week for the past six months. He intended to keep returning until Padre Pio's hospital was finished, and then he would remain at San Giovanni to dedicate his life to the sick and suffering. His home was at Rome, where he practiced his medical profession. He was a confirmed atheist, as was his late father before him, who also had been a doctor. But his father, although an unbeliever, was a person of great humanity. “The first thing that he taught me as soon as I had reached the age of reason, was that I must always and unconditionally help and assist those who suffered in any way, materially or morally.”

He was single, and lived in the same apartment complex where his older sister lived with her husband and son. His sister and brother-in-law were both practicing Catholics, but he admired their discretion in never trying to involve him in a discussion of religion. In point of fact, he did not even know what the inside of a church looked like! Their 21 year old son, Massimo, was a third year medical student, following in the footsteps of the family tradition.

About eight months ago Massimo began complaining about severe headaches. As a doctor, the gentleman attributed his nephew's headaches to exhaustion due to his intensive studies in order to excel in his tests and exams. He prescribed analgesic painkillers for him, but the headaches continued. Then he had Massimo undergo a series of blood tests, which proved to be normal, except for anemia, which was attributed to the fact that his appetite was poor, causing him to eat little. Since there was still no improvement in his condition, recourse was had to an electroencephalogram. The EEG revealed, to the terror of the family, that Massimo was suffering from a brain tumor!

It was hard for them to accept this frightening conclusion, and he personally took his nephew to a famous clinic in Switzerland, which unfortunately confirmed the diagnosis. Not convinced, his uncle took him to an illustrious medical doctor based in London, who subjected Massimo to a barrage of tests and radiographs. After careful analysis of the results, this doctor determined that Massimo only had three or four months to live. What was worse, there was no hope for a surgical intervention, since the location of the tumor in his brain was such that an operation to remove it would result in total paralysis of the patient, or even death. 

Padre Pio's Hospital - Home for the Relief of Suffering

When he returned to Rome from England with Massimo, the gentleman told his brother-in-law the full truth of the situation, but to his sister, Massimo's mother, he told the “pitiful lie” that with time and the proper treatment, her son would improve. The London doctor had prescribed extra-strong painkillers, since with the passage of time the sufferings would become atrocious. With these analgesics, it almost seemed as if Massimo were improving for a time, but the destructive force of the cancer was inexorable. He was forced to abandon all of his studies, and then his general physical wasting and malnutrition confined him to bed. The tumor attacked his optic nerves, and little by little he became blind.

Massimo's mother was altogether desperate, and turned her prayers to all the saints of Paradise! His uncle visited the bedside daily, trying to inspire hope and courage in the young man. Then he was constrained to leave his patient behind for a few days in order to attend an important medical conference in Milan. While he was gone, Massimo began to experience shooting pains that were so bad that he could not stand them, and his mother was forced to have recourse to another doctor, who was highly qualified, and also very religious. This new doctor, after seeing Massimo and the results of the x-rays and tests, realized the situation had become grave. He told his mother that the medicines prescribed by the London physician were the best available, but that in Massimo's situation, science was impotent. “A miracle was the only hope, and they still happen even today, although most people are unaware of it.” She must pray, continued the doctor, because Massimo has need of prayers more than of medicine. Massimo's mother had a special devotion to St. Gemma Galgani, and taking a little statue of the saint, she placed it under the pillow of her son, who had now become a mere specter.

When the uncle returned from the conference in Milan the next morning, he was rather upset that another doctor had been called in to see Massimo, but he refrained from saying anything to his sister. However, when he discovered the figurine of St. Gemma under the pillow of his patient, the confirmed atheist behaved like a beast and raged against his sister for believing in such things, and left the house infuriated.

When he returned to see his patient that afternoon, he witnessed what he considered to be an incident of alarming fanaticism. At his sister's home a group of about ten family members and friends, people that he personally respected, even though they were all fervent Catholics, had made a circle in the bedroom of Massimo. They had placed him him the center of the group, having him kneel on a cushion and leaning him on a chair for support, while they all recited the Rosary for his healing. Among them, perhaps the most fanatical but also the man the doctor most revered, was an elderly, retired ex-colonel, who was a spiritual child of Padre Pio.

At the sight of this dreadful gathering, the doctor left the room, complaining loudly about his sister and brother-in-law. Because of their religious fantasies, they could not even allow their son Massimo the joy of dying in peace in his bed! He continued to vilify the group, who could hear his imprecations, but they continued to faithfully pray the Rosary. At its conclusion, the retired military man said to them, “Now let us offer a particular prayer to Padre Pio, asking him to intercede with the Lord and to assist me in what I am about to do. I have a handkerchief that the saintly friar had used some time ago to wipe his stigmatized hands. With this cloth, I will cover the head of Massimo, and God will do the rest.”

Upon hearing these words, the doctor stormed back into the room like a madman. Seeing the ex-colonel place the handkerchief upon Massimo's head, the doctor turned towards the retired soldier, angrily shouting that although he had the utmost respect for him, he would like give both him and his Padre Pio a good kick!

He had barely finished pronouncing this threat when Massimo suddenly yelled out, “Mama, Papa, I can see you!” Staggering, he tried to get to his feet. His uncle grasped him under the armpits so that he would not fall, and placed him on his bed. Then the bewildered doctor, feeling pale and drained like an old rag, and stripped of his anger, cast himself down on a chair. Minutes later, Massimo, who was being fed intravenously, asked his mother for something to eat. Crying tears of joy, she hurried to prepare him a bit of pastina, which he eagerly consumed, without bringing it back up as usually occurred.

Padre Pio Heals a Possessed Woman - by Antonio Ciccone

As the days passed, Massimo grew better before their very eyes. After about three weeks, he was given all the x-rays and tests as before, but this time the result was different. The tumor in his brain had completely disappeared! Another disappearance was the atheism of his uncle, the doctor. “My transition to Christianity was so rapid that I did not even notice it. It seemed to me that I had always been Catholic.”

Soon after, he was awakened one evening by someone calling out his name. Startled, he thought it was the voice of Massimo's father. Now wide awake, he again heard that same voice. But this time it said, “Don't forget that I am waiting for you, because you promised to give me a good kick!” Immediately aware of who it was, he got dressed and packed a suitcase, even though it was only 2:00 am. Taking a taxi, he was rushed to the Termini station in Rome, where he boarded the 3:30 am train for Foggia. He arrived at San Giovanni Rotondo around noon and went to the friary church of St. Mary of the Graces.

In the afternoon, Padre Pio came down from his cell to hear the confessions of the men. As he walked past Massimo's uncle, even though he had never seen him before, Padre Pio grabbed the doctor by the arm and took him to confession. The man went down on his knees, and Padre Pio said to him, “Here I am, I am all yours!” He cried for a long time, as Padre Pio talked to him: “Do not torment yourself because you have time ahead of you to make amends. Be calm because you are neither the worst nor the last. You were confounded because you were not meant to be as you were. Now that you are here I can tell you some beautiful news: your father, who was an atheist as you were, is saved and is with your mother. So now you can see that the mercy of God is great, and he abandons no one.”

Padre Pio continued, “At this place we are in the process of constructing a hospital for the relief of the suffering of so many poor people, and since you are a medical doctor, I would like you to come to work in this hospital.” The doctor replied, “Padre, there is nothing in the world that will make me leave this place. I will stay here until and I die, and you can do with me as you will.”

And that is the story that the gentleman with the handkerchief related to Alfredo.

“And God wrought by the hand of Paul more than common miracles. So that even there were brought from his body to the sick, handkerchiefs and aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the wicked spirits went out of them.” [Acts 19: 11, 12.]

Based on a two-part article from the “Voce di Padre Pio” magazine issued by the friary in San Giovanni Rotondo, February 1995 (pp. 23-25) and March 1995 (pp. 27-29).

View all my Catholic books on Padre Pio, St. Francis, and many others Here.