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Catholic Heroes . . . St. Padre Pio And The Poor Souls

November 29, 2022 saints No Comments


Part 2

“Oh, my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who are in the most need of Thy mercy” — Fatima prayer.

  • + + This week we continue to discuss the special closeness St. Pio had with the suffering souls in Purgatory. Yes, he often knew which souls had made it into Purgatory and also the duration of their stay there, probably an insight given by our Lord because of his great love for his neighbor. He saw, for instance, that on the day of his death, Pope Pius XII was in Heaven.
    We may like to think that only great sinners land in Purgatory, because of our lax modern perspective. However, we would do much better to err on the side of caution. Priests and religious are among those whom the saint often saw appearing as “ghosts” in need of graces to escape Purgatory for Heaven.
    One such priest would be the old town priest of San Giovanni Rotondo, where Padre Pio said Mass. Fr. Salvatore Pannuillo had passed away, and for a time Padre Pio would vest behind the main altar. Then one day his replacement moved the place for vesting to the side of the altar and Padre Pio acquiesced, not knowing the reason why. It later transpired that the newer priest would see the spirit of Fr. Pannuillo kneeling in prayer, on the back side of the altar wall, while Padre Pio was saying Mass. This rather spooked him! It was learned that while Fr. Pannuillo was a good man, he was sometimes in a bit too much of a hurry to meet up for a chat or coffee after Mass and skipped making a proper thanksgiving for the sacrament. After his death, he was seen for about a month before he disappeared.
    Padre Allessio, Padre Pio’s friend and fellow friar, was necessarily once a seminarian himself. One night he was sick with bad bronchitis and since he was coughing so much, he was put in a room under the roof so as not to bother the others trying to sleep. In the night he felt the bedclothes being slid from his body. Later he was told by his superior, who came to check on him, that he saw the ghost of a diocesan priest lying across the threshold. The priest had been sent there years before to do a retreat in reparation for his sins, but had died. Once gone, he was forgotten and only rarely did anyone stay in the room to pray for its previous occupant.
    So, the soul seized on this occasion to appear and ask for Masses for his soul. Today such appearances would be less than successful, given that so few would understand the point of the appearances.
    In the 1920s Padre Pio faced at least a couple such experiences relating to the Poor Souls. In one, he went downstairs to sit himself by the fire and encountered four friars seated there already, with their hoods up. He greeted them in the name of Jesus Christ…but they did not answer him. Nonplussed, he left and asked his superior who they were. Later, he realized that they must be souls soliciting prayers as they returned, and no one was there anymore.
    On another occasion Padre Pio was in the choir loft but heard a noise. Thinking he was alone, he looked down on the altar, after detecting noise. He saw a friar near the altar who was not moving. “What are you doing here?” No answer from the altar. “A fine way to do things, by breaking the candles and candlesticks!” Again silence.
    Then Padre Pio commanded a response by asking, “What are you doing here?” Then the friar broke the quiet by saying when he was alive, he had been a student at the friary. However, he had not been diligent enough in caring for the altar and was making amends now. Padre Pio responded by saying that he would need to offer Mass for him the next day, and they couldn’t allow the noise to continue! But leaving, he returned with a witness about ten minutes later to reassure his senses and sure enough, there were still broken candlesticks on the altar floor. It turned out that the friar appearing was asking for prayers sixty years after his death. There are some souls who wait infinitely longer, and we must pity all of them. We are all part of the Community of Saints.
    According to Fr. Allessio’s book, The Holy Souls-Viva Padre Pio, the saints have revealed over centuries that there are varied degrees of suffering in Purgatory. St. Francis de Sales, for instance, believed that those who feared Purgatory more than welcomed it had more regard for their own feelings than for God’s own consolation. He wrote that if sufferings in Purgatory were greater, then so too was the happy contentment felt at being saved and “at one” with God. Yet some of us still fear because, while the spirit is willing, our flesh is weak.
    That Purgatory merits existence confuses many Protestants or believers in other religions. There isn’t a certain passage in the Bible that defines what Purgatory is, but there are many that detail how important it is to pray for the dead. Church councils, such as the Council of Trent, defined Purgatory, and the teaching goes back to the ancient days of the Church. There is no doubt, and this is an integral part of our faith. Our beliefs are not founded sola Scriptura but also based on Tradition; a handing down from Christ via the apostles the truths from mouth to mouth over the generations known as apostolic succession.
    The German mystic, Blessed Suso (1295-1366), promised a friend that whichever of them died first, the other would offer two Masses a week for the other. Suso survived his friend and began well enough but eventually started to forget the Masses. Still, Suso was solicitous enough to substitute other prayers and offer up other sacrifices meanwhile. Nonetheless, soon his friend appeared, reproaching him. He told Suso that his other sacrifices were not equal to the Masses he had promised, and that the Mass was far superior to any prayer he could offer. Suso was amazed.
    This was because Christ’s Passion could extinguish his friend’s purgatorial suffering as only Our Savior’s could. Immediately Suso resumed offering Masses, even more so than before. His friend did pay him another visit, but it was on his way to Heaven to thank him for helping him to end his time in Purgatory. It is never wrong to make other offerings for the Poor Souls, but what Suso did wrong was to promise Masses to his friend and then break the promise. Let not 24 hours go by where we do not ask God to remember the Holy Souls.
    In praying for the dead and gaining indulgences for them, let us remember that every prayer we say, every sacrifice we make, every alms we give for the repose of the dear departed ones, will all return upon ourselves in hundredfold blessings. They are God’s friends. . . . Being holy souls, they are grateful souls. The friends that aid them, they in turn will aid. . . . They will watch over us and protect us in the dangers of life and they will intercede with God for our eternal salvation.
    (Self-Conquest, by Fr. J.K. Lasance.)
    Prayer: My Jesus, by the sorrows you suffered in your agony in the Garden, in your scourging and crowning with thorns, on the way to Calvary, in your crucifixion and death, have mercy on the souls in Purgatory, and especially on those that are most forsaken; deliver them from the terrible torments they endure; call them and admit them to your most sweet embrace in Paradise. Amen.
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