FROM THE LETTERS OF PADRE PIO: OPEN YOUR HEART TO JESUS
Written by: Brother William Trauba Capuchin
Dear Friends of Padre Pio,
Peace and goodwill to each of you!
Sometimes we want to pray and do not know what to say or how to talk to God. So, we hesitate until we are distracted by some other activity and so the desire to pray disappears and is forgotten. We were not aware that our desire to pray was inspired by the Holy Spirit and unfortunately, we missed an opportunity to know more intimately our Father and Creator who loves us so tenderly. Later perhaps, we go on a retreat and feel spiritually refreshed by all the talks and activities there. One may even have the sense of being “filled by the Holy Spirit”. But when this sensation disappears our spirit feels dry and without desire to pray and we are confused by this apparent abandonment of us by God. What happened? How are we to understand our desire to pray?
June is the month of the Sacred Heart. This image presents Jesus opening his heart to the world. His heart is on fire for love of us and is wounded by the lack of love on our part towards him in return. It seems that Jesus is crazy to want to dwell in our heart when we hurt him so often. But his willingness to risk suffering our rejections and offenses towards him is more proof of his fidelity and unconditional love for us. God freely and consciously takes the risk to be mistreated by us in the hope that his unconditional loving will one day soften our hardened hearts to love him in return. On that day we will begin to live and to be genuinely happy. To begin to love is to begin to live since love engenders life and life is the basis for happiness.
Teaching a person to love is not easy. In the first place, the person needs to be loved. Humanly, this being loved is experienced in our relationship of family, especially in our closeness to our mother. It is the nature of love to express itself and to give of itself in favor of the good and wellbeing of another person. Love goes outside of itself and is in opposition to all egocentricity. The image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus presents us with this model of self-giving and unconditional love. But how does one come to love in this way?
The ways in which God inspires this passionate and unconditional love for him in the soul is the subject of Padre Pio’s letter to his spiritual daughter Raffaelina Cerase, dated January 9, 1915:
God deals with our souls in this manner and in an even better way. He wants to win us over to Himself by having us experience abundant sweetness and consolations in all our devotions both in will and heart. But who does not see the great danger which surrounds this kind of love of God? It is easy for the poor soul to become attached to the accidentality of devotion and love of God, while paying very little attention to substantial devotion and love which alone make it dear and pleasing to God.
When we are placed in such grave danger, our most sweet Lord hastens to the rescue with extremely delicate concern for us. When He sees that a person is strongly consolidated in love for Him, attached and united to Him, when He observes how that person has drawn away from the things of this world and the occasions of sin and has acquired sufficient virtue to persevere in His holy service without the attractions and sweetness which arrive through the senses, He then intends to promote that person to greater holiness of life. He therefore removes the delightful feelings we have experienced in all our meditations, prayers, and other devotions. What is more painful still for the soul in this state is that it can no longer pray and meditate easily but is left in the dark, in complete and painful aridity. …
Dear God, how easily that person has been deceived! What the unfortunate soul calls abandonment by God is nothing else than a most singular and special attention on the part of the heavenly Father. This transition which is taking place is no more than incipient contemplation, dry at first, but if that person is faithful, he will be transferred from the meditative to the contemplative state and all will become palatable and delightful.
The theme treated in this letter is important because it represents the transition from meditation to contemplation. Meditation is controlled by us and is usually analytic and discursive whereas contemplation is experiential and relational, without definite form. Contemplation is a grace that God bestows on the soul that is disposed for it. In other words, meditation is active, and we are the actors while in contemplation God is the actor and we are the recipients, disposed and attentive to receive his communications. In meditation the soul employs intermediaries such as feelings and concepts or imaginations in his or her communication with God. In contemplation there are no intermediaries. The communication is direct, spirit to spirit. Consequently, contemplation is something unknown to us and appears “dry or arid” at first as Padre Pio comments. But afterwards, with the help of the Holy Spirit, contemplation becomes “rich and tasty”.
Experiencing contemplation is to experience the beginnings of eternal life which is our future as sons and daughters of God. It is to experience the first steps of being in heaven, in union with God. The image of the Sacred Heart reveals that God is open and ready to receive this intimacy with us. This month of June will be a good opportunity to respond to his invitation. Being attentive and affirmative to our desire to pray will be a good first step in saying yes to this invitation and in opening our hearts to receive him. Please understand that Jesus invites us into his heart but to be prepared to live there we must first receive him into our own heart and make him feel comfortable there.
Your brother in Christ Jesus,
Fray Guillermo Trauba, Capuchin