Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Padre Pio Against Abortion

His words are surprisingly harsh: “I would like to strew these parents with the ashes of their destroyed fetuses” “Those ashes should be thrown in the brazen faces of murderous parents.” “Those who practice abortion and who turn to subterfuge and sophisms in order to remain within the limits of the Catholic Church, are poor people who are deceiving themselves, and are very similar to the remains of Pompeii . . . I pity nobody more than these.”

From the memoirs of Padre Pellegrino, who lived with the saint from 1950 and was present at his death in 1968.

Padre Pio and Padre Pellegrino entered into a discussion of abortion one day, with Padre Pellegrino playing a sort of “devil's advocate” as if to somehow justify his rather shaky stance at that time on the issue. That very morning, in fact, a woman had gone into the “booking” office where Pellegrino was assigned, in order to secure a slot for her confession to Padre Pio. She was pregnant, and the mother of two children. She desired to have an abortion, and for more than an hour she unloaded all of her problems and her reasons for procuring it on the poor friar. He wrote, “With her calm words and obstinate proposals, she made me weak-minded. I became irritated to such a point that she obliged me to say: 'Oh do whatever you like!” Exasperated, he left her in the office and went for a breath of air.

Unknown to Padre Pellegrino, Padre Pio had found out about the incident, which is why that afternoon he invited his confrere to his cell. He made him take a seat, saying: “Sit down and tell me how you behave as a confessor where abortion is concerned.” Beginning to feel ill at ease, in an attempt to turn the tables Pellegrino directed a quick question at Padre Pio: “Padre, this morning you refused a lady absolution because of an abortion she obtained. Why were you so harsh with that poor unfortunate person?” Padre Pio did not hesitate to give an explanation.

“I am harsh when I must be, not when I find it opportune and convenient for myself. . . it will be a terrible day for humanity when men, frightened by – how do you say – the demographic boom, the damage of physics and economic sacrifices, lose their horror of abortion, because it is precisely that day when they should reveal their horror of it.” Continuing, he said: “Abortion is not only murder, but it is also suicide. We should have the courage to show our faith to those whom we see on the threshold of committing, with one blow, both these crimes. Do we want to win them back? Yes, or no?”
Padre Pio with Padre Pellegrino
Padre Pellegrino responded by asking, “Why suicide?” His opinion at that time was that by eliminating a fetus, a woman saved and didn't kill herself. Padre Pio, assailed by one of those divine furies, replied: “You would understand this suicide of the race if, with the eye of reason, you could see the 'beauty and joy' of the earth populated by dribbling and toothless old people, devoid of children and burnt like a desert. If you reflected, you then would surely understand the double gravity of abortion. By limiting our offspring, the lives of the parents are also mutilated.”

Gathering momentum, Padre Pio continued: “I would like to strew these parents with the ashes of their destroyed fetuses; to nail them to their responsibilities and to deny them the possibility of appealing because of ignorance. The remains of a procured abortion cannot be buried with false care and piety; it would be an abominable hypocrisy. Those ashes should be thrown in the brazen faces of murderous parents. If I were to leave them be, I myself would feel involved in their crimes. Look, I am not a saint, but even so, I never feel so close to holiness as I do when I use words which are perhaps a little harsh, but just and necessary, to those criminals.”

Shaken by nervous agitation at the liberty he was about to take, Padre Pellegrino responded: “Now look Padre. You flee from sympathizing with criminals. But at the same time, whilst admitting the existence of a collective madness in the world, you don't flee from recognizing the legitimacy of compassion, if not respect, for those poor unfortunates.” Padre Pio answered: “And you know well you can discuss things with the enemies of God, our neighbors, in the vague hope of obtaining the goal, but you cannot find any point of contact with those who are their own enemies, like those who obtain abortion. What a pity! Desiring to force the exact concept of procreation into men's brains is like wanting to give a piece of Paradise as a gift to beasts. These are poor, impaired people; victims of an obsession which obliges them to damage themselves even more for eternity.”

Pellegrino was not used to talking about abortion, and tried to end the discussion hastily with some evasive words. “But if we realize we cannot uproot these obsessive fixations from the minds of those who procure an abortion, to whom we attribute a certain irresponsibility and above all the incapacity to act reasonably, why then do we want to morally qualify these actions and therefore treat them badly with our useless harshness?” But Padre Pio knew how to defend his convictions: “As I am not able to expel certain obsessions from the hearts of men, this harshness of mine might even appear to be completely useless and out of place. But it is not useless, on the contrary it is our duty, to point out and carry out our responsibilities.”
Padre Pelligrino Funicelli, OFM Cap.
“Furthermore,” he continued, “in so far as it defends the arrival of babies in the world, my harshness is always an act of faith and hope in our encounters with God on earth. Unfortunately, as time goes on, the battle becomes greater than our strength but it must equally be fought, because, from the certainty of failure 'on paper,” our battle draws the guarantee of true victory: that of the new Earth and new Heavens. Brotherly harshness is of greater value than all the sentiment in the world put together.”

“Unfortunately, these 'half-men,' apostles of mud who want to justify abortion, are filling the world. They themselves are 'abortions' made of base actions and ignorance. And when, in order to excuse themselves, they say: 'But in the long run, we don't desire these children,' they show themselves to be inept, incapable; contemptible before God and society.” Later in the discussion with his fellow friar, Padre Pio added: “ The race that does not accept respect for man from the time of his conception, is destined to an ignominious end, because it distorts the concept of love of neighbor, mistakes it with egoism and cannot conceive the love of God at all. Those who practice abortion and who turn to subterfuge and sophisms in order to remain within the limits of the Catholic Church, are poor people who are deceiving themselves, and are very similar to the remains of Pompeii . . . I pity nobody more than these.”

These are only a few excerpts from the long conversation of that afternoon as reported in Padre Pellegrino's book of memoirs. With their talk ended, Padre Pio opened the door of his cell, and as Pellegrino exited, Padre Pio said to him in a sudden outburst: “Now go. Run to that lady whom you know very well and tell her you take back the words you pronounced in the booking office with regard to abortion.”

Pellegrino writes: “I immediately ran to the hotel and begged the lady's pardon for the words I had used that morning, confessing that I had been been reprimanded by Padre Pio. She had been taken slightly ill. When she felt better, she also confessed to me that, shaken by my ill manners, she had already made arrangements to have an abortion. She immediately changed her mind and promised Padre Pio she would save her child. And she did! A few months later, she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. . . Seven or eight years passed and the flower of a little baby girl, saved by the tempestuous intervention of Padre Pio, came to receive Jesus for the first time, from the hand of the holy and venerable old man, who was, by this time, on the point of death. Like all children on the day of their First Holy Communion, she had a heavenly smile on her lips.”

These slightly-edited excerpts are from Padre Pio's Jack of All Trades, by Padre Pellegrino Funicelli, pp. 204–229, Our Lady of Grace Capuchin Friary, 1991.

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Friday, June 19, 2020

Padre Pio on denying absolution.

From the memoirs of Padre Pellegrino, who lived with the saint from 1950 and was present at his death in 1968.

One afternoon, I took the opportunity of objecting once again at the ease with which Padre Pio postponed or denied absolution. I said, “Padre, with the help of Brother Costantino and many other devout souls, you work hard to bring back wayward children to the bosom of the Church, but at the same time, you leave them without absolution for months. Doesn't this mean that you leave them still outside the Church?” He replied, It is not enough to enter; one must enter in the correct manner. For you it is enough to see a mass entry, but I want to see them well prepared. The months spent in preparation for entry into the Church are months well spent. To enter unprepared is the same as not entering.” Padre Pio's reply didn't surprise me; it simply confirmed, once gain, his holy severity.

Once a little girl of nine or ten left Padre Pio's confessional in tears. As she passed by, she told me that she had not been given absolution for having missed Mass on Sundays. I was speechless. The child's mother was beginning to inveigh against the excessive rigor of Padre Pio's methods. The child interrupted her mother, saying, “No, mother. Padre Pio was right. I will never again miss Sunday Mass!” On hearing the child's words I left aside my fury and I became enthusiastic to the point that I could have run to kiss that terrible confessor on the forehead. However, I was still a little concerned. The doubt that the system was a little Machiavellian persisted.

No priest who is conscious of his duty can give absolution to penitents who are openly insincere. It would be foolish of him to believe that, due to the possession of a license as a confessor, he can reconcile the spirit of good with that of evil. What are over-indulgent priests doing in the confessional? They are worse than ill-disposed penitents, to say the least. Padre Pio was in complete agreement with the severest Catholic moralists concerning undeserving, relapsed or in one way or another unprepared penitents. Disconsolately, he said, “How can you give absolution to these penitents?” He prayed a lot for their conversion and, whenever he could, he harshly criticized them, but he never, ever, pretended to place the sign of absolution on their foreheads. 

However, he was one of the few priests who postponed giving absolution even to those penitents, who, because of their sincerity and repentance and the earnestness of their purpose, were, as he himself knew, sufficiently prepared. On some occasions it appeared to me that he abused the power he had received from the Church by putting off giving absolution to well-prepared penitents; penitents who were often a lot better prepared than others. And, at the same time, those who had been thrown out by him were received and absolved by other learned and severe priests. However, Padre Pio never criticized those “reserve priests.” On the contrary, he sometimes said to those whom he had left without absolution: “Now go and confess to another priest.” It seemed that he wanted, in that manner, to emphasize the gaping difference which existed between his own behavior and that of other priests. He was convinced he had not harmed any of these penitents.

I once said to him: “In the case of death, these people whom you refused absolution run the risk of damnation.” He replied: “Who told you these souls were not in the grace of God?” I objected: “If they are in the grace of God why can't they receive Holy Communion? And he: “Because they must do a particular penance.” The Padre believed that those penitents who are well-prepared and who had not been absolved, were not in God's disfavor as a result of the fact that they hadn't been given absolution, and even though they were at the door of the Church, they were already part of the ecclesiastical circle. This period of waiting at the door of the Church was a rather “refined” penance, and precisely for this reason, it was probably reserved for those souls who were capable of understanding its importance and efficacy.

Some people from Tuscany, on returning from San Giovanni Rotondo and passing through Rome, were received in a general audience by Pope Pius XII. “Your Holiness, we have come from San Giovanni Rotondo,” they shouted to the Pope. His holiness approached them and asked how Padre Pio was. “Very well your Holiness, they replied, and then added, “We went to confession to him but none of us received absolution.” The pope showed some interest: “I have been told that this holy man sometimes denies absolution. But tell me this, do those who don't receive absolution return afterwards?” “Almost all,” came the reply of the people of Tuscany. So the Holy Father concluded: “Well then, when you return, tell him, in my name, to continue in this manner.”

A friend of mine who had helped with some words of advice and comfort, told me in confidence about the last phase of his own conversion, which had come about some months previously thanks to Padre Pio. He told me that, after having suffered the bitterness of being thrown out of Padre Pio's confessional many times, one bright day he was finally absolved and was so happy that immediately after the absolution, he asked the confessor to kiss him. And Padre Pio embraced him. But shortly after the confession, the Padre was passing through the sacristy on his way into the friary and seeing my friend near the door wanting to kiss his hand, he said to him severely, “I don't want to see certain faces twice in the same day,” and he closed the door in his face, leaving him extremely upset.

In tears, my friend went for a walk in the square in front of the church. And there, even though he didn't know him, Dr. Sanguinetti approached him and on discovering the reason for his tears, proposed that he go to Padre Pio's cell to ask for an explanation. The poor unfortunate was a little doubtful, but he accepted.

Then, in cell no. 5, Padre Pio, as if to excuse himself, said to him: “I treated you in that manner as a penance for myself. I was enjoying your return to the Church too much, as if I had been responsible.” Padre Pio's reply, which convinced my friend, did not please me. One afternoon, in the presence of Padre Pio and Dr. Sanguinetti, my friend jokingly hinted at the day of his first absolution. I took advantage of this and immediately asked Padre Pio, “With the excuse of mortifying your self-love, you made this poor unfortunate cry. Why?” And then, having read in my eyes my doubts on the legitimacy of his behavior, Padre Pio finished the explanation. “That day he also had to understand that he was more of a son of the Church than a son of mine. He was not to run after me, whilst in the church there is Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.”

These slightly-edited excerpts are from Padre Pio's Jack of All Trades, by Padre Pellegrino Funicelli, pp. 107-114, Our Lady of Grace Capuchin Friary, 1991. 

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Saturday, June 13, 2020

St. Alphonsus on the Victories of the Martyrs

From the patience which the martyrs evinced during their tortures, we should learn to suffer with holy resignation the crosses and afflictions of this life; poverty, sickness, persecution, contumely, injustice, and all other evils, are but trifling when compared with their sufferings. We also in our tribulations . . . calling to mind the more grievous sufferings of the martyrs, should blush to complain.

If the reading of the Lives of the Saints is a great means to preserve piety, as is said by St. Philip Neri and as is taught by all the masters of spiritual life, we shall find it yet more useful to read about the victories that the holy martyrs gained by sacrificing their lives amid torments. There is no doubt that the martyrs are indebted for their crown to the power of the grace which they received from Jesus Christ; for he it is that gave them the strength to despise all the promises and all the threats of tyrants, and to endure all the torments till they had made an entire sacrifice of their lives. The martyrs, therefore, acquired great merits, because the virtues of which they gave proofs in their combats were great and heroic.

The martyrs received great courage in their sufferings from the desire of quickly arriving at the fruition of the promises made by Jesus Christ to his followers: Blessed are ye when they shall revile you and persecute you. . . . Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven [Matt. 5:11]. Every one therefore that shall confess me before men I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven [Matt. 10:32].

Fyodor Bronnikov, Martyr on a Circus Ring
But what above all filled the martyrs with courage and ardor and made them wish to die was their great love for their divine Master, whom St. Augustine calls the King of Martyrs, who wished to die on the Cross in pain and in desolation for the love of us, as St. Paul says: He loveth us, and hath delivered himself for us [Eph. 5:2]. Actuated by this love, they went with joy to suffer and to die for Jesus Christ; so that, not content to endure the pains that were inflicted upon them, they besought, they provoked the executioners and the tyrants, to obtain from them an increase of torture, in order that they might show themselves more grateful to God who died for love of them. Hence it came to pass, according to St. Justin, that in the course of three centuries the whole earth was filled with Christians and martyrs.

The number of Christians, far from having been diminished by the slaughter of the saints, became so wonderfully increased, that Tertullian said: “Our number grows in the same measure that you decimate us; the blood of the Christians is a sort of seed.” He used the word seed because the blood of the martyrs was that which multiplied the faithful. Tertullian, indeed, boasted of this, and upbraided the tyrants with their impotency; since, notwithstanding all their endeavors to exterminate the followers of the Gospel, the streets, the forum, and even the senate, were filled with Christians.

Thus we see that, after the ten persecutions of the Roman emperors, which lasted for more than two hundred years, beginning from the first under Nero, the greater part of the human race, having abandoned the worship of false deities, had embraced the doctrines of Christianity. Finally, after so many struggles, it pleased the Almighty Disposer of events to grant peace to his Church under Constantine. Many authors calculate the number of those who had laid down their lives for the faith to have been nearly eleven million!

From an earnest consideration of the illustrious examples of virtue which the saints have given us during their martyrdom, oh, how much is to be learned! By beholding, in devout meditation, the utter contempt in which they held the world and all the allurements of its pompous vanities, we are taught to despise the fleeting and unsubstantial pleasures which it offers to its deluded votaries.

From the example of the martyrs we learn also to place our confidence only in God, and to become daily more enamored of the excellence of our faith: since in their constancy we cannot help admiring the wonderful power of God which enabled them to encounter torments and death with heroic fortitude and ecstatic joy. For without the interposition of the most powerful assistance from heaven, how could the delicate constitution of nervous persons, the tottering decrepitude of age, the timorous disposition of tender virgins, the recklessness of adolescent manhood, or the inconsideration of boyhood years, be equal to tortures, the bare recital of which fills us with horror? Cauldrons of boiling oil and liquid pitch, red-hot coats of mail, hooks to pull out the eyes and teeth, iron combs to tear off the flesh; fires quickly to consume, or tediously to torture; scourging until bones and bowels appeared; beheading, quartering, lacerating, impaling—these were only some of the ingredients of the martyr’s cup.

Christians suffer growing persecution in Nigeria from Islamist groups such as Boko Haram.  Reuters
St. Barlaam, a poor laborer of a village in Antioch, having evinced extraordinary fortitude during his sufferings, and having been scourged until the executioners had exhausted their strength, was obliged by the tyrant to hold his hand over the flame that burned before the shrine of an idol. At the same time burning coals and incense were placed upon his hand, in the hope that he might be obliged by the pain to let them fall upon the altar, and thus afford them the opportunity of asserting that he had sacrificed to the idols; but the constancy of the saint was greater than their malice—he allowed his flesh to be burned to the bone, and expired in the effort.

From the patience which the martyrs evinced during their tortures, we should learn to suffer with holy resignation the crosses and afflictions of this life; poverty, sickness, persecution, contumely, injustice, and all other evils, are but trifling when compared with their sufferings. The reflection that it was the will of God that they should suffer for his love, was their only solace. We also in our tribulations should remember the necessity of resignation to the divine will; and, calling to mind the more grievous sufferings of the martyrs, should blush to complain. St. Vincent de Paul used to say: “Conformity to the divine will is a sovereign remedy for all evils.” It may be useful here to remark, with St. Augustine, that it is not the torture but the cause which maketh the martyr.

But the most important lesson which we learn from the martyrs is the necessity of the love of God: He who loveth not, abideth in death [1 Jn. 3:14]. We cannot manifest our love of God so well by a multitude of actions performed for his glory, as by a willingness to suffer for his sake. St. Gordianus replied to the tyrant, who threatened to put him to death if he did not deny the name of Jesus: “You threaten death! but my greatest regret is, that I can die but once for Jesus Christ.” This ardent love of God is certainly the greatest spiritual advantage to be derived from the perusal of the acts of the martyrs; the recollection of their conduct will make us ashamed to lament under the tribulations which divine Providence sends us, and will strengthen us to receive them with resignation.

The following is the way in which we acquire the glory of martyrdom: It is by accepting death to please God and to conform to his will; for, as we have remarked above with St. Augustine, not the pain, but the cause of death, or the end for which one submits to it, is that which makes martyrs. It follows that he who dies, in courageously accepting death and all the pains that accompany it, to accomplish the divine will, though he does not receive death by the hands of the executioner, dies, however, with the merit of martyrdom, or at least with a very similar merit. It also follows that as often as any one offers himself to undergo martyrdom for the love of God, so often he gains the merit of martyrdom. Mark the example of St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi, who when she inclined the head at the Glory be to the Father, imagined that at the same moment she was receiving the stroke of the executioner. Hence we shall see in heaven a great number of saints doubly crowned with the merit of martyrdom without having been martyred.

The martyrdom of St. Alban by Matthew Paris.

A prayer to the Holy Martyrs to obtain their protection: O ye blessed Princes of the heavenly kingdom! ye who sacrificed to the Almighty God the honors, the riches, and possessions of this life, and have received in return the unfading glory and never-ending joys of heaven! ye who are secure in the everlasting possession of the brilliant crown of glory which your sufferings have obtained!—look with compassionate regards upon our wretched state in this valley of tears, where we groan in the uncertainty of what may be our eternal destiny. And from that divine Savior, for whom you suffered so many torments, and who now repays you with so unspeakable glory, obtain for us that we may love him with all our heart, and receive in return the grace of perfect resignation under the trials of this life, fortitude under the temptations of the enemy, and perseverance to the end. May your powerful intercession obtain for us that we may one day in your blessed company sing the praises of the Eternal, and, even as you now do, face to face, enjoy the beatitude of his vision!

Excerpts from the Introduction to Victories of the Martyrs, by St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church and Founder of the Redemptorist Order.

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