Compiled by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, 206 pages hardcover, Paraclete Press, $23.95.
Saint Padre Pio(1887-1968) lived an intense spiritual life, waging war with Satan yet feeling the hand of God. In his letters, he wrote with exceptional clarity about his mystical experiences.
This book of excerpts of such letters reflects many traditional elements of Catholic spirituality that the faithful can practice in their everyday life.
The Saint had a highly developed critical self-awareness. His heavy thoughts come from a truly humble part of his inner life. He often experienced God's distance and an inner emptiness, but rather than giving in to despair, he wondered where these sentiments came from. Did they indicate some level of resentment on his part, for instance?
This self-awareness led him to accept his sinfulness; in fact, he had a mystic's sense of sin's destructive power over the soul: “The fear of offending God once again makes me shiver, racks me with pain and agonizes me. I fear my heart, which is unfortunately ignorant of what is truly evil.”
He dealt with this potential despair by maintaining a deep personal relationship with Christ, rather than by remaining centred on himself. When praying, he felt a close connection to Jesus, and all sentiments of distance and depression left. When this happened, he feared nothing for himself nor for others.
He never had much doubt over his faith. He questioned his own actions or spiritual state, and blamed himself for the distance that he felt between himself and God. Towards the Lord he usually expressed deep faith, love, and gratitude.
Even when wracked physically, mentally, and spiritually by Satan, sometimes on a daily basis, he avoided blaming God. In fact, he praised and thanked God for delivering him from the powers of the devil. This faith in the Father's protection is one of the most powerful – and sometimes most colorful – parts of the book:
“Bluebeard [Satan] follows, with divine permission, to wage war against me; but God is with me.” And more explicit: “I complained to my Guardian Angel about this, who, after having preached a nice little homily to me, added, 'Give thanks to Jesus, that he treats you as one chosen to follow him closely up the steep slope of Calvary.'”
Perhaps most strongly is the Saint's articulation of his suffering for God. He believed that Jesus was close to those who suffer, and so he too wanted tribulation, writing without bitterness: “My life is becoming a cruel martyrdom.” He saw his trials through Christ's agony, which, the Saint believed, continued up to the present day because of the grievous sins of humans. Saint Pio shared in this pain. Yet for this, he only felt gratitude towards Jesus.
This sense of human sin and the harm that it does to the soul and to one's relationship with God is a constant theme in Saint Pio's letters.
The Saint was so readily capable of sharing in Christ's anguish because of his great, unfailing hope that God would come to his aid: “Do you not see that I have no more strength to fight, that all my vigor is gone?...Oh my God, you who know the extreme bitterness of my spirit, do not delay in coming to my aid. You alone can and must draw me out of this prison of death.”
These innocent, charming, and poetic selections testify to the way that God so deeply touched Saint Padre Pio.