Laura Dittus is a Theology Advisor at EWTN. She holds a Masters in Theology from Ave Maria University and has contributed to study guides for Jesus of Nazareth Volumes I and II (Ignatius Press). She writes from Irondale, Alabama.
Earlier this year, I was looking to do some reading in Spanish to improve language skills and thought it might be nice to read an inspirational biography at the same time. Little did I know how providential this little project would be for this year, particularly since the volume I picked up was one about Saint Pio of Pietrelcina.
Padre Pio is not only a saint who bore the stigmata, and exhibited miraculous gifts in both hearing confessions and beyond, but he also lived through the Spanish Flu, a devastating pandemic during the early 20th century. It is comforting in this present time to have saints who have lived through times of disease to turn to for intercession, inspiring words, and the example of a virtuous life. Padre Pio is one of these.
While Padre Pio is an impressive figure in his own right, he bears a special relation to this time of pandemic since he both contracted and survived the Spanish Flu, not long after having received the stigmata. While there are other saints who contracted the Spanish Flu and died, such as Saints Francisco and Jacinta Marto, Padre Pio recovered and continued to live a very fruitful priestly life after that episode of his life.
After learning a bit about Padre Pio’s life, I wanted to delve a bit more deeply into his writings. Reading from a collection of Padre Pio’s writings, I came across some words of wisdom that are encouraging in light of what is happening in our world today, though I read them in February before “social distancing” was common American parlance. One of the excerpts of the letters of Padre Pio that I read back in February of this year was written in 1917 to one of his spiritual daughters, Antonietta Vona. In that letter, he writes the following:
Have no fear at all about any future harm that could happen to you in this world, because perhaps it might not happen to you at all, but in any event if it were to come upon you, God would give you the strength to bear it ... If God lets you walk on the stormy waters of adversity, do not doubt ... do not be afraid. God is with you. Have courage and you will be delivered. (Letters III, p. 833)
This passage offers much by way of consolation. We are told not to “fear ... any future harm” since it may never come to pass. We are also told to “have courage.” One can also keep in mind here that the words Padre Pio gives, while likely unrelated to the pandemic that would later come to Italy (1918-1919), are given before that event and so could have been consoling to his spiritual daughter at that time, as well as, when the letter was received in 1917.
In the same letter, Padre Pio also provides to Antonietta certain words to imprint on her soul: This is what I feel I must tell you today in the Lord: In order to live a devout life constantly, there is no need to do anything except imprint some excellent and generous maxims in your soul.” (Letters III, p. 830)
The five maxims he gives her in this letter are the following:
- “We know in everything God works for good, with those who love Him” (Romans 8:28)
- “God is our Father”
- “Did you lack anything?” (Luke 22:35)
- “I glory myself only in the cross of my Jesus.” (Galatians 6:14)
These maxims are good for any occasion, but one can also see their value in living through a pandemic situation. For instance, the truth that “God is our Father” brings the consolation that we are under the care of his loving providence and protection, and that, even if we are to pass through difficult situations, he is with us.
While I have found the above selections helpful at this time, another that is good to be reminded of is Padre Pio’s oft-repeated phrase: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.” These words can serve as a motto of sorts for this time, and truly for any time in our lives, for we are always called to pray, to trust in the Lord, and to surrender our worries.
May Padre Pio intercede for us, and allow us to live the present moment in the loving presence of God. May we hear his words — “My past, O Lord, to Your mercy; my present, to Your love; my future to Your providence” — and make them our own, and entrust ourselves to the protection of Our Heavenly Father, and to the prayers of the Mother of God.