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PART III: ST. PIO OF PIETRELCINA POSTSCRIPT

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PART III of the ST. PIO series 

ST. PIO OF PIETRELCINA POSTSCRIPT

We will begin with a couple paragraphs from our

Part I Introduction.


This month of September is a good time to look once again at the life, dedication and suffering of St. Pio, whose feast day is on September 23rd.. He tasted of Jesus’ Passion for the sake of his fellow priests and ministers. This was just one of the ways that he shared in the Lord’s burden of care for them and their calling.


A PRIEST AND A SHEPHERD

No matter what title in the hierarchy of the church a priest attains, he is also, first of all, a priest. This has been reiterated by more than one pope. It was encouraging and meaningful to many of us when we heard and saw that Pope Francis chose a shepherd and his sheep as the scene depicted on his pectoral, papal cross.

11 “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.12 He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice…” [Jn 10:11-16a]

This shows the passionately loving heart of the Lord God towards His people, His flock. It is deeply meaningful instruction for each and any of us who in any way handle, serve or relate to God’s people.

TODAY’S HEADLINES: WHERE TO FOCUS?

In today’s headlines and in Catholic news, we are hearing about current 21st century issues and (unresolved) 20th century issues and matters of concern to both clergy and laity alike. Some disconcerting events and facts continue to come to sorrowful light that require God’s powerful truth and His holy light shed deeply upon them. Current church leaders need our prayers and Holy Spirit guidance in facing serious matters of concern for the flock that they are called to care for, feed, and tend… tenderly, as Jesus called us to do.

HEARING GOD’S WORD

Considering what is going on around us, and what we are hearing in the news, this may be the best time to honor St. Pio’s great suffering—and Our Lord’s immeasurably greater suffering. (We saw some of Padre Pio's life in Part II of this series. We also looked into his callings and apparitions, along with the Vatican investigation into his ministry and his burden for other priests... and finally into his call to initiate intercessory prayer groups.) Now, we will take another look at what Jesus has said—both to Padre Pio and directly to all of us—in His word, the Bible.

Some of us have spent many years being exposed to scriptures we have heard in church. Human nature being what it is, we can grow too accustomed to hearing some things (and not others) and sometimes stop listening or grow “deaf”. So—let’s take another look for a moment.

Again, considering human nature, it is not surprising that we often tend to embrace the words and messages that we prefer, and that “feel good”. Likewise, we tend to sift out or ignore the many warnings and less appealing instruction we receive. Padre Pio received a warning from Jesus in the form of a vision. He took it in, shared it, and suffered for it.

Times and seasons change, and (to use the student-in-the-school-of-life analogy), we recognize that: Test times DO come… wanted or unwanted, sought or avoided, ready or not… The truth that we have or have not taken in and assimilated— in thought, word and deed—will eventually become evident. Opportunities will present themselves… Life is like that. (It may help each of us to keep that in mind as we hear and see things around us that we would rather not see revealed.)

HIDDEN THINGS

One thing that we are hearing and seeing is this: hidden things coming to light. This reminds me of a scripture.

Jesus said, 

"What you have said in the dark… will be proclaimed from the housetops…" [Luke 12:3 NASB] Or, to clarify and expand on the verse:

“Whatever you have spoken in the darkness shall be heard and listened to in the light, and what you have whispered in [people’s] ears and behind closed doors will be proclaimed upon the housetops.” [AMPC]

[Blogger's note: NAB, NAS(tandard)B and NABRE(revised) are all versions of the New American Bible translation. Likewise, AMP and AMPC(lassic) are versions of the Amplified Bible translation, which expands on certain key words in the original languages to add to the understanding of each verse.] 

The epistle to the Corinthians also speaks to this:

“… the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts, and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” [1Cor 4:5 NASB]

2 Cor 4:2 speaks even further regarding evil hidden things. This time we will go straight to the Amplified version:

"We have renounced disgraceful ways (secret thoughts, feelings, desires and underhandedness, the methods and arts that men hide through shame); we refuse to deal craftily (to practice trickery and cunning) or to adulterate or handle dishonestly the Word of God, but we state the truth openly (clearly and candidly). And so we commend ourselves in the sight and presence of God to every man’s conscience.” [AMPC]

And then, again, we print the NASB version of the same scripture:

“We have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”


GO TO THE SOURCE

We just spoke of “hidden things” and “conscience”. Let’s look at “conscience” for a moment. 

Vatican II was the Council that Pope JohnXXIII felt led by the Holy Spirit to call in the early 1960’s. Some have said that the openness to the “new things” that the Holy Spirit was leading became an openness to some things that were not led by the Holy Spirit. Some have perceived this: that being led by “conscience” no longer meant that it was, necessarily, a “well-formed” conscience, formed by the word of God, right teaching and God’s Spirit leading us. Some unhealthy “patterns”… some “open doors” may be traced back to times even before that. It is easy to be simply copying the “world’s ways” and not God’s ways and thoughts (instead of what Jesus taught us to do: to live and be in the world—as a light/Light—but not of it [not imitating and absorbing its perspectives and ways, priorities and behaviors]).

Whatever has happened, and however we as God’s people have “evolved” in our thinking and perspectives, it may be imperative that we begin at the Source. We may need to ask ourselves some of the most basic questions—for it is easy to lose sight of the basics as lives and cultures becomes more demanding, confusing and complicated. But even amid complications —when applying the truth becomes less easy to discern—we cannot risk losing sight of the truth… or stop calling truth “truth”, or—much less—stop valuing it, believing it and seeking it—the “truth”.

We mentioned beginning “at the Source”. An analogy comes to mind. 

For health’s sake, people have found that water that has its source in a mountain spring is usually purer—the source has not been compromised so much by outside contaminants. In a spiritual sense, we, too, find it helpful to go to our “Source”—Who also happens to be the “Way, the “Truth” and the “Life”. (So says the Son of God Who co-created the vast universe with millions of galaxies… and amazingly small parts of cells that we have still not fully discovered…) It is always Jesus Who is our Source—of everything that is good, workable, pure and holy. Like all the positive and negative "additives" we find in drinking water, we sometimes need to go back to the pure source... or distill it down again, for purity's sake... Likewise, we go to Jesus, Himself, and (at times) need to distill things down to Him, Alone—for (spiritual) health's sake.

As we write about our awesome God, we recognize the fact: that all these powers and attributes are combined in One holy and endless Source. These endless qualities are both incomprehensible and exceedingly amazing… but quite true. So—whatever we do—we need to continually drink from our pure and Living Source, Jesus Christ—including His words, His life, and His instructions to His 70 disciples.


FINDING ANSWERS AS PART OF GOD’S KINGDOM

When problems come that are complex… involving many people and many things… difficult to discern… we assume—as intelligent, presumedly mature, problem-solving adults—that we must reach hard into our own well-trained and educated thinking ability. That is necessarily involved. But Jesus might advise a different first step. We have heard scriptures saying things like: …. “Come unto Me”….”Take my yoke”… “Come as a child” before the Father… Jesus said:

“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. “ [Matt 18:4] Becoming like children is not what educated, adult, well-positioned people usually want to hear—particularly in a competitive, impress-one-another society like ours. But we continue:

And, again, giving the Amplified version:

3 And said, Truly I say to you, unless you repent (change, turn about) and become like little children [trusting, lowly, loving, forgiving], you can never enter the kingdom of heaven [at all].

As God lives in us, and works through us, He graces us to go beyond what we can be on our own. This makes all the difference.

This is similar to, but much greater than, what a good parent does for his/her child. He or she is quite willing to make up the difference in what that 2-week-old—or 4-year-old or 11-yr-old—can or cannot do, or do well enough on their own. The good father or mother desires to see that child well cared for and covered with love.


THE KINGDOM OF GOD

In our previous section, we saw how important it is to enter God's kingdom with the "trusting, lowly, loving, forgiving" characteristics of a little child. Let’s examine more about the kingdom of God concept in scripture.

Jesus spoke of the “kingdom of God” (or God’s kingly rule over us)many times in the gospels, even saying: “the kingdom of God is at hand” (near, close by, available).

“This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” [Mk 1:15, NABRE]

And the expanded, Amplified version: “… The [appointed period of] time is fulfilled (completed), and the kingdom of God is at hand: Repent (have a change of mind which issues in regret for past sins and in change of conduct for the better) and believe (trust in, rely on, and adhere to) the good news (the Gospel)." [AMPC]

So receiving God’s reign over our lives involves a turning towards Him. Let’s look at some more of Matthew chapter 18—especially verses 5-7—where we hear Jesus speak again of “little ones”. This message fits well into our own day, and what affects Gods’ flock in following after Him. We will begin with the Amplified, and then give some comments from footnotes from the NABRE.

5 "And whoever receives and accepts and welcomes one little child like this for My sake and in My name receives and accepts and welcomes Me.

6 But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in and[a]acknowledge and cleave to Me to stumble and sin [that is, who entices him or hinders him in right conduct or thought], it would be better ([b]more expedient and profitable or advantageous) for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be sunk in the depth of the sea.

7 Woe to the world for such temptations to sin and influences to do wrong! It is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the person on whose account or by whom the temptation comes!”

The footnote on 18:6 in the NABRE sheds some light on the term 'little ones'. We quote: 

“…Since apart from this chapter the designation little ones occurs in Matthew only in 10:42 where it means disciples as such, that is its more likely meaning here." [blogger's comment: as opposed to our more typical assumption that it only refers to 'children'] "Who believe in me: since discipleship is impossible without at least some degree of faith, this… serves to indicate that the warning against causing a little one to sin is principally directed against whatever would lead such a one to a weakening or loss of faith…”

So, from this we understand that any disciple (at any age who is in the process of developing their faith) is included in this “little one” warning. This interpretation certainly fits into the concept of God the Father’s fatherly, protective perspective towards His children--of any age.

Summarizing, we have just recalled that God’s rule over us in His kingdom (as King of kings, Lord of lords, Lord of His church, Lord over every believer, etc.) begins with the “good news” of our Savior being, “at hand”, for us (continually): “Savior”/ “the Way”/ “the Truth”/ “the Life”… and that we need to “trust in, rely on and adhere to” this “good news”…

As we consider finding answers and making good decisions, we can recall scripture speaking of the wisdom of SolomonFew judges would have thought to use a sword to decide a dispute between two women—both claiming to be a baby’s mother. But by the Spirit of wisdom, the truth was discovered. (King Solomon [King David's son] offered to cut the baby in half, and the true mother who loved the child cried out against that action. The other 'mother', motivated by jealousy, could accept the loss to the other woman as justice.) God sometimes has some unusual answers for us—even in our day. However, the only sword recommended here is the sword of the Spirit, the word of God. [Eph 6:17]


THE LEAST

We saw the passion with which Jesus spoke regarding “little ones”. Now let’s look at how He regarded the “least”. They, too, are part of the larger picture of living in the kingdom of God, and allowing Him to influence and lead decisions.

When we speak about serving others, we recall Jesus’ words about how to treat the least among us. We go to Mt. 25:34-40 [NABRE]

“…‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous[a] will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ 40 And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

The Amplified version clarifies: “least [in the estimation of men]”. [AMPC]

And the TPT translation seems to catch the spirit of Jesus’ passionate love toward the overlooked and undervalued:

“And the King will answer them, ‘Don’t you know? When you cared for one of the least important of these my little ones, my true brothers and sisters, you demonstrated love for me.”


WHATSOEVER YOU DID NOT DO

Getting back to Matt. 41, we continue.

41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;

45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”[Mt. 25:41,45-46, NASB]


EXTERNAL RELIGIOUS SIGNS

Our church and many other denominations focus aspects of religion on the outward signs of faith in God. However, Jesus spoke clearly and conveyed that religious performances, alone, had their limits.

For it is genuine, agape love from within—not just deeds that are superficially religiously manifested, or intended primarily to be outwardly, publicly seen “good deeds”—that touch His heart.

God makes clear in His word—Old Testament and New Testament that He looks far beyond and beneath outward behaviors: He searches our hearts. He deeply sees, discerns and understands every aspect of each human heart. He let us know that it is the love coming from and through our hearts that He is after, as the necessary foundation to everything else. (It was the psalmist, David, whom God called a “man after [His] own heart”.)


TOUGH QUESTIONS

The fact is, the more skilled we become at being politically, socially, and religiously “correct”, the more easily we can be fake and hypocritical. It is also true that religious rituals and well-learned pious words and behaviors can become, and easily be used—if we let them—as a masked performance, hiding a self-seeking, using-and-abusing heart.

That means, too, that it becomes easier to cover up true evil. The Pharisees that Jesus knew were experts at these very things. Jesus expressed great righteous anger towards them. The same things are happening in our day, in our times and with God’s beloved flock.

As we think about finding answers to many complex issues, perhaps we need to ask ourselves some basic questions:

Are we really His, or not? [Jn 8:47; 42-46].

“47 Whoever belongs to God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not listen, because you do not belong to God.”

42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and am here; I did not come on my own, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I am saying? Because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I speak the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Can any of you charge me with sin? If I am telling the truth, why do you not believe me?”

Do we “follow” Him, or not? (More than two dozen of Jesus’ directives tell us to do exactly that.)

Do we love and serve Him first, while humbly serving and loving others, or not? [Mt 22:36-40] Jesus boiled the whole law and the prophets down to this.


WHO NOT TO BE LIKE

There are some more tough questions that we can ask ourselves.

Have we bought into the religious activities and words, but shut out the Life and love that flows from the Holy Spirit as we choose to love God and others?

Do our behaviors and words come from the love operating in our hearts, or are we too much like the group Jesus told us NOT to be like—the Scribes and Pharisees? Jesus goes into detail in Matthew chapter 23. [Scripture passages are taken from the NABRE, with AMP (Amplified) translation meanings in parentheses.]

“…[D]o not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens (hard to carry) and lay them on other people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them (to make them lighter). All their works are performed to be seen… They love places of (distinction and) honor at banquets, (best) seats of honor… greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation Rabbi (Teacher)… The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Woe* (judgment is coming) to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites**. You lock*** the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.”

Footnote in NABRE 23:13-36 “The phrase woe*… express[es] horror of a sin and punishment for those who commit it. Hypocrites**… The hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees consists in the difference between their speech and action (v.3) and have no other purpose than to enhance their reputation as religious persons (v.5)… ‘You lock*** the kingdom’… [H]ere the charge is made that [their] authority…is exercised in such a way as to be an obstacle to entrance” into the kingdom of heaven.

Back to Matthew chapter 23...

“Woe to you, you hypocrites. You (travel over) sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens, you make him a child of Gehenna (hell) twice as much as yourselves.

Woe to you, blind guides… [b]lind fools… blind ones…

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You… have neglected the weightier things (more important moral and spiritual matters) of the law: judgment (justice) and mercy and fidelity (faithfulness)…”

[blogger’s note: i.e., consuming yourselves with miniscule matters.etc… Jesus goes on, but we will stop.]


BACK AGAIN TO BASICS

There are some things we may do well to remember…

Let’s recall, once again, that it is Jesus Who IS the Way, the Truth, and the Life. [“I am the way, and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Jn 14:6] Let’s remember the meaning of the crucifix that is in all of our churches … That it was His decimated Body that bought and brought any measure of hope for our quite fallen human condition. … That “hope” (that we now have because of His death and resurrection) becomes reality as we seek Him as the source for every measure of salvation, deliverance, healing, and answers that we need.

Jesus, the “Way,” can make a way for us through every kind of troubled water. The “Truth” is Jesus, Himself—real, and in the flesh, while still present as [the Son of] God, Himself… as He told us. Perhaps focusing, once again, on these foundational words of Jesus can help us to understand how far we can stray from the truth, and from the deeply, shepherding, loving care of God’s people—God’s much beloved flock.

As we do that, we can also remember to “abide” in Him. Jesus said, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” [Jn 15:7] The amplified version [AMP] sheds even more light on what Jesus means by His words:

7" If you remain in Me and My words remain in you [that is, if we are vitally united and My message lives in your heart], ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you."

We know that God is not vending machine. His sovereignty, His omniscience—all that He knows and sees—can conflict with the little we know, see and want. But He is an immeasurably good Father who seeks to bless and help His children as we walk with and trust and rely on Him.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours [Isa 55:9]. That would mean that we need to continue to seek His higher ways and thoughts. His desires and perspectives, purposes and plans are so loving… for He is Love, Himself, itself. And as He lives in us, and works through us, He graces us to go beyond what we can be on our own. This makes all the difference. For it is genuine, agape love from within—not just deeds that are superficially religiously manifested, or intended primarily to be outwardly, publicly seen “good deeds”—that touch His heart.


CONCLUSIONS… FINAL QUESTIONS

What will we choose? Will we choose feeling comfortable over living in the truth? Will we choose expediency and efficiency over love and care for God’s flock… and for the “least of these”? Will we remove evil by the roots, or just rake and mow over what’s obvious… to make a “show”… even a “show” of “good faith”?

The answers are not easy. There is a price—even a high price—to pay, no matter what way we go—it’s vitally important to face and recognize that up front. And… we will have to answer to God—individually; as God’s people; as leaders; as religious bodies of people (“of Christ”?) no matter what we choose. We will be answering both sooner—and definitely, without fail—later.

Shall we turn to the Spirit of wisdom, or remain with our own faulty ways? Only God… only God… only God can lead us—lovingly, justly, mercifully out of every mess, and into what brings life, hope, and love.

Let’s hear (even as a saintly hand penned these words 2000 years ago in Revelation chapter 3): ”Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches” [Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13,22]. These words let us know—repeated several times in the same chapter—that it is important to listen to what God is saying to us…especially now.

No matter what happens, no matter who fails us, we still hold fast to our God Who cannot fail. He is ever with us (Emmanuel). He will not fail to be our Good Shepherd…as we seek Him personally and surrender to His care.

We can remember that saints and others in ages past have had to know and cling to the real and living God—even when others did not, and when they found themselves seemingly alone in their faithfulness. None of us is alone, no matter how we feel. And always—always—our God has promised to “never leave nor forsake us.”


BLESSING OUR CLERGY

Lastly, we remain compassionately and supportively aware of all the many priests who are and have been faithful and caring shepherds of God’s flock—priests, ministers, deacons and some ecclesiastical leaders who are caught in the crossfire as God’s people reel and react to the disturbing and on-going headlines.

And, again, let’s continue to remember to pray for our church: for our clergy, for its leaders/episcopal decision-makers, its ministers… and for all of God’s people, particularly those who are suffering the most from the sin and failures and destructive decisions of others, both past and present.


ANNOUNCEMENT:

ST. PIO RELICS COME TO ST. PETER IN CHAINS CATHEDRAL,

325 West 8th St., Cincinnati, Ohio 45202

We have been invited to venerate the official relics of St Pio at St Peter in Chains Cathedral on Wednesday, October 3, 2018. (You can call 513-421-5354 or email events@cathedralaoc.org for more details.) The day includes two masses (at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.) and time for veneration of the relics (8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.), with the evening mass being celebrated by Archbishop Schnurr.


Coming up next:

Our next blog will be on St. Michael the Archangel, a great saint and protector-defender of God’s people


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