FROM THE LETTERS OF PADRE PIO: HOW TO SEE GOD IN OUR SUFFERING ?
Written by: Brother William Trauba Capuchin
Dear Friends of Padre Pio,
Peace and goodwill to each of you!
Life is difficult at times and can even seem to lack meaning. In those moments we suffer more and lose our ability to organize our talents and resources. We are adrift and at the mercy of unwanted and unforeseen circumstances. We are vulnerable and susceptible to sickness, accidents, and other unpleasant events. We do not know how to orient ourselves and even less defend ourselves. We are in crisis.
We all have difficult moments from time to time and wish that they were less frequent and of shorter duration. Nevertheless, we have to confront and manage the best we can. If we only knew the reason for which all this happens to us or the purpose of it all, things would be easier to accept. Psychology and science help us discover some of the causes, but it is God who helps us understand the purpose of the things that happen to us. In the spiritual life this “purposefulness” of difficult moments has to do with our merciful Father helping to purify our soul. This is important because only with a pure heart can we see God and seeing him transforms us and is our complete happiness. These trials, which invite us to practice virtues, are called nights or passive purifications. They are called passive because we are the recipients and not actors of often difficult circumstances beyond our control.
Knowing how to give meaning to these dark times greatly alleviates their burden. This phenomenon was noted by the psychologists Viktor Frankl and Carl Jung. Padre Pio also underlines the importance of signifying the crises in our lives. His perspective is that these trials are permitted by our loving Father to invite us to walk by faith in our desire to unite ourselves with God. His reflections on this theme are included in his letter to his spiritual daughter, Antonieta Vona, dated August 18, 1918:
My most beloved daughter, don’t worry about aridity, languor and afflicting darkness which occur in your soul, because they are willed by God for your greater good. One day Mary Magdalen spoke to the divine Master and believing she was separated from him, she cried and was so anxious to see him that even though seeing Him, she did not see Him and believed He was the gardener.
This is what is happening in you also. Come on, courage! my good daughter, don’t worry at all. You have the divine Master in your company, you have not been separated from him. This is the truth and the only truth, what are you afraid of? What are you complaining of? Come on, therefore, you must no longer be a child, and not even a woman; you must have a virile heart. And as long as your soul is firmly determined to live and die serving and loving God, do not upset yourself either for your powerlessness or any other impediment.
Mary Magdalen wanted to embrace our Lord, and this sweet Master, who, even though he had permitted her to do this on other occasions, this time prevented her from doing so: “No”, he said to her, “Don’t hold me because I have not yet ascended to my Father.”
Putting in the cultural context of the era Padre Pio’s comment about the need for Antonieta to have a manly heart, we gather that facing difficult moments requires clear and firm decisions. Our decisions are based on an interior reference to our values and in this case, it is our faith in God that is our guiding light. Believing that an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving compassionate heavenly Father is permitting the trials in my life for my future spiritual wellbeing, if not for my immediate physical wellbeing, enables me to give them a positive meaning. Once convinced of this, I have the energy to seek ways to tackle these difficulties and assimilate them in my life without giving in to despair or becoming angry. I can see them as tasks to complete on my way home to my Father’s heart from which I was sent forth at the time of my creation.
Nothing happens by chance although it seems that way because we see only secondary causes. Even evil, which is always a privation of a good, exists as a dark color in the great easel of God’s artwork. God uses all the colors of creation to portray better than any poem or other art expression the beauty of the interplay between love and mercy. In this way he reveals who he is, especially in the person and testimony of Jesus of Nazareth. All is good because all was and is created in love. Our greatest gift is our freewill which enables us to love. Unfortunately, this great gift also enables us to engender evil through the misuse of good things; yet the love of our heavenly Father is patient and hopeful. He waits for us to learn how to use our freedom to love; to love him above all else and our neighbor as Jesus taught us by his own example.
The finality of this supreme effort to give meaning to our trials is to learn how to love and to be loved; that is, to learn how to participate in the divine life of our heavenly Father. Love engenders life and by loving we participate in the life of God. Conscious of our dignity as his sons and daughters we dispose ourselves to elect and interiorize the values of the Reign of God. These values will be references for making decisions congruent as God’s children and efficacious in realizing our desire to be completely happy. Living as citizens of this Kingdom is the fullness of joy and it begins or not with the decisions we make today.
Your brother in Christ,
Fray Guillermo Trauba, Capuchin