FROM THE LETTERS OF FATHER PÍO: JESUS AND THE NEW YEAR
Written by: Father William Trauba OFMCap.
Dear Friends of Padre Pio,
Happy New Year!
Well, we’ve already begun the New Year! Will this new year be better the past? At the start of the year many of us find ourselves on the one hand anxious and on the other hand full of hope; anxious for whatever trials we may have to face and hopeful for what good fortune may be ours. This uncertainty facing the unknown and our inability to control our lives as we might wish increases our anxiety and sense of powerlessness. How to resolve this inner tension depends on what we hope to achieve, the means we employ and in what or in whom we confide. In whatever scenario, success in this new year will come at a price. Will our effort and investment be worth the trouble?
Padre Pio, profoundly dedicated to God from the time he was five years old, understood that the fight is sustained when the goal has sufficient value. For him the prize worth fighting for was to learn how to love as Christ loved and through this loving to unite himself to Jesus. The sufferings of Jesus were for Padre Pio, love in action. Our goal is often less than perfect love. Nevertheless, the trials that result can provoke worry and even despair in our life if we let ourselves be drawn away from the source of our strength which is always our Lord. If we despair, what will motivate us to sustain the fight? In those dark moments Padre Pio counsels remaining faithful to God with the confidence that our faithfulness, despite all the hardship that it may imply, will ultimately help us to attain our fullest potential and happiness of spirit. His advice on these matters is expressed in this letter to his spiritual daughters the Ventrella sisters and was written on December 11, 1916:
The desire to be in eternal peace is good and holy but you must moderate this with compete resignation to the divine will. It is better to do the divine will on earth, than to enjoy paradise. To suffer and not to die was Saint Theresa’s motto. Purgatory is sweet when one suffers for love of God.
The trials to which the Lord is subjecting you at present and those to which he will subject you in the future, are all countersigns of divine love, and jewels for the soul. The winter will pass, my dears, and the never-ending spring will come, all the richer in beauty as the storms were strong. The darkness you are experiencing is an indication of the closeness of God to your souls.
We see that Padre Pio gave a positive sense to their suffering. His reasoning suggests that their trials were permitted by God as an effective means to purify their soul thereby permitting them to see his countenance more clearly. The purification of our spirit for this spiritual acuity will be the principal objective of this new year for the ambitious person who wants to be completely happy. The paradox of joy in suffering is resolved in the mystery of charity which is a self-emptying that unites us completely to God’s divinity. The practice of charity in its completeness proceeds not from obligation but from a sense of praise or gratitude. Praise for the goodness worth fighting for in the other person, and thankfulness for what God has done for us. This “vital force of love” increases in intensity in proportion to seeing the supremely attractive and transformative face of God. Each person is free to choose what for him or her seems worth fighting for regardless of whether it be inspired by obligation or for having seen the fruits of a hope fulfilled.
This new year offers us three areas in which to advance our lives. We can seek things for ourselves, we can fight for the common good or we can devote our energies to further the Reign of God. These options are not mutually exclusive, and we can advance in all three areas simultaneously. Nevertheless, it is important which area is the priority in our lives.
In the first option we can amass things of personal satisfaction or pleasure. Although necessary and legitimate these things, when they are a priority tend to maintain us in a self-centered posture and make us dependent upon having them. The result is that our life becomes a mediocre survival in the world, punctuated by frequent frustrations.
If we prioritize working for the common good, we learn to come out of ourselves and enter the world of others. We learn how to love our neighbor. These activities would include such things as working to better the environment, helping the needy, civil service, etc. Nevertheless, without faith in God the finality of death questions the transcendent value of these good works.
We can choose to prioritize working for the kingdom of God. This consist in helping each person to be truly happy and fulfilled. Implied is the premise that people were created by God and for God and that Jesus is the way to this fulness of life. It implies that our spirit is immortal and that what we do in this present life has consequences for our personal wellbeing after we die. The work done may appear similar to working for the common good but the difference is that the motivation behind these works is directed to the full realization of the human dignity of the person not only in this world but even more in his spiritual dimension that continues after death. The person that prioritizes this option has the hope that the life offered by Jesus be his everlasting fullness and happiness. This person recognizes that there is no greater happiness or fulfillment than to participate in the divinity of an infinite and loving God.
In summary, it is good to work in all three areas with enthusiasm, but the greatest advantage will be in working for the Reign of God which neither our death nor the destruction of material things can conquer. Let us ask God for the grace to live this new year in his presence, to discern between what is good and what is better, and that our selection be not only for our own advantage but also for the good of our neighbor before God.
Your brother in Christ,
Br. William Trauba, Capuchin