FROM THE LETTERS OF FATHER PÍO: JESUS IN OUR CHRISTMAS
Written by: Father William Trauba OFMCap.
Dear Friends of Padre Pio,
Merry Christmas to each of you!
Each year the Christmas season challenges us to give witness to our best self. Social customs and cultural norms including joyful gatherings, family reunions, religious celebrations, purchases and the interchange of gifts promote an atmosphere of joy and wellbeing. These events are stimuli to which we respond according to our values. Our response and testimony serve to either illuminate or darken our surroundings.
Physically speaking, December is the darkest month of the year for us north of the equator. But in addition to this outer darkness, multitudes of persons marginalized by poverty, infirmity, violence and abandonment further deepen and add an inner wailing of suffering to this outer darkness. While some persons feast with their family, others pass Christmas alone, in hospices or in hospitals. The contrasts in our society tend to be accentuated during this time of social fervor and put our response in public scrutiny.
All of this redounds to provoke spiritual and emotional distress within us. We seek light and feel that we should be happy, but when we are not satisfied, we easily blame circumstances outside of ourselves like the lack of money or vent our discontent on those who do not agree or support our way of thinking. God, the author and guiding light of Christmas, is often ignored and kept in a box to be unpacked with so many other gifts on Christmas Eve. God is not taken seriously into account by many people and therefore, we all are more vulnerable to the author of evil, Satan. He walks also in the shadows of the Christmas season looking to seduce the weak and distracted with temporal and material “toys” and so make them part of his reign. Many persons consciously or unconsciously exceed their limits of prudence and let themselves be led to excess. They become wounded and trapped by easy and accessible pleasures of the moment.
Padre Pio comments on the necessity of remaining calm during spiritual and emotional trials that can afflict a person in whatever time of the year. In his letter to his spiritual daughter, Herminia Gargani, he offers some specific strategies to accomplish this inner peace. His letter to her was written on December 6, 1916 when Padre Pio was 29 years old:
Take heart and be sure that God is pleased with you, and that he finds his peaceful dwelling place within you. Do not wait for Tabor in order to see God. You are already contemplating him on Sinai without realizing it. I don’t think the interior stomach is troubled and indisposed to tasting good. It can desire nothing greater than the Supreme Good in itself, and not his gifts. Spiritual distractions, involuntary distractions, temptation, etc. are the merchandise offered by the enemy, but you reject them and therefore they do you no harm. When the enemy makes a noise, it is an excellent sign: It is a sign that he wants your will, and therefore is still outside it. What must terrify you, my beloved daughter and sister, is his peace and concord with a human soul.
During the period of spiritual aridity, be humble, patient and resigned to the divine will, and do not give up anything you used to do in times of spiritual joy. Because true love does not consist in receiving many consolations at the service of God, but rather in always having a ready will to do all that God is pleased to order for our spiritual advantage and his glory.
Always believe all this, and it doesn’t matter if you do so by force and with the tip of your spirit, without seeing the reason for it. Even the martyrs believed while suffering. The most beautiful Credo is that which we say in times of sacrifice and with a great effort of the will.
Our battle with Satan gathers force during the various feasts of December. Satan hates to see the light on the horizon of the One who will end his reign. His tries to seduce us, not with evil, but rather with good things out of proportion. These “gifts” suddenly give us a new freedom which we don’t know how to responsibly assess or manage. Few people know how to control themselves when they experience euphoric pleasures, not to say of those “inebriated” who entertain illusions of realizing their flights of fancy. To prepare us to be more level-headed the Church emphasizes Advent as a time of moderation and orientation toward a dawn of increasing hope in the person of Jesus, who is God’s greatest gift to us. When we receive Jesus, we receive a guiding light which is the first dividend in the plan of our hope to become fully alive and experience complete happiness. All effort and sacrifice are justified to be able to receive this Gift which never grows old.
In order not to be led into excess, Padre Pio exhorts one to remain firm but calm. During trials, the key decision is to maintain our spirit oriented towards Jesus. Keeping our attention on his presence is the foundation for a hope that engenders the fidelity that he asks of us.
Padre Pio, in his accustomed severity, says that the act of faith most beautiful is the one pronounced with sacrifice and great effort of the will. He says this because when one chooses to struggle, one is more conscious and free. His counsel refers to true love which is always conscious and free and leads us out of our ego-centric postures. This testimony of faith is the foundation of true love which is attentive to the gains in the other person more than in oneself. In this way our testimony during the many and varied activities of this Christmas season will be a light in the darkness instead of a shadow and stumbling block for ourselves and others around us.
Your brother in Christ,
Fray Guillermo Trauba, Capuchin