This coming Thursday, September 23rd we will celebrate the feast of one of the saints who was given a truly extraordinary grace that carried with it a very heavy cross.  It will be the feast of St. Pio of Pietracslina, more commonly known as Padre Pio.  He was born in the small village of Pietraclina and was named Francisco Forgione.  He later entered the order of Capuchin Franciscans in the monastery of San Giovanni Rotando and spent the next fifty years or so in that monastery.

It was his great desire to live a quiet life spending his days in prayer and quiet reflection.  The Lord obviously had another plan for him.  He became known, even in the restrictive life of the monastery a well known spiritual advisor and confessor.  Over the years thousands of people sought him out, seeking his spiritual guidance.  He still wanted to live the quiet life that the monastery could afford him but the grace that the Lord had given him as a spiritual advisor and confessor kept him more and more in the demand of the faithful.

Added to all this Padre Pio was given the special grace of experiencing the wounds that Jesus endured in his passion and death on the cross.  Padre Pio did not ask for this grace but the Lord had chosen him to be one of the several holy people to experience such signs of God’s love.  As people came to know about the ‘stigmata’ that Padre Pio had received, his notoriety spread.  Again it was not by his choosing.  In fact he came to view it as an added form of penance.

In the course of the years that he showed the mark of the wounds on his hands and feet some people thought he was a neurotic and a charlatan.  For many years it became necessary for him to remain in seclusion in the monastery.  It was only in his later years that the church came to see that the stigmata was not a self inflicted thing but truly a sign of God’s special grace.

There are very rigid steps that are demanded by the church before anyone displaying the signs of the stigmata, can be approved as having received this special grace and cross.  Among some of the other saints who have received the stigmata are St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Gemma Galgani and St. Rita of Cassia.  Like Padre Pio, none of them sought to receive the stigmata or wanted it in any way.  It came to them by God’s design.

St. Pio of Pietralcina was born in 1887 and died in 1968.  In 2002, thirty four years after his death he was canonized by Pope John Paul II.  Very often after a saint is canonized he or she is proclaimed the patron of some special cause, sometimes they are named patron of a special place, even patron saint of a country.  Very fittingly Padre Pio has been proclaimed the patron saints of Catholic adolescents.

Perhaps, in reading over this column you might want to give it to a teenager in your family.  It would prove not only informative but who knows it might encourage devotion  to a wonderful saint.

Autumn is upon us, enjoy the beautiful colors of this season, they are a gift from God.