The Gospel of Matthew tomorrow, the First Sunday of Advent, speaks of Jesus warning his disciples to be prepared for the coming of the Son of Man.
As Jesus narrates, in the days of Noah, just as in the coming of the Son of Man, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark and the flood came and carried them all away.
The Scripture commands the disciples of Christ to always be vigilant—prepared—for you know not when the Messiah is coming.
The Lord is the master of the house who does not announce his coming.
As in the Gospel reading, the wise servant does not await for the Master to announce his coming but is always ready at any time for his arrival.
One such wise servant is Padre Pio, a perfect example of what total surrender to God’s will means.
Afflicted with so much sickness and suffering early in life, Padre Pio had to contend with relentless and unceasing physical and moral assaults from the devil.
Born May 25, 1887, in Pietrelcina, Italy, as Francesco Forgione, Padre Pio devoted himself to God at a very young age.
Even in his tender years, Francesco had intimate encounters with the supernatural, when he experienced ecstasies and apparitions by age 4 or 5 which Francesco thought were common human experiences.
When Francesco became a Capuchin Friar in January 1903 at the age of 16, his health condition deteriorated.
He could barely eat and was only able to drink minimal amounts of water. Despite his poor health, the bishop ordained Pio on August 10, 1910.
At 23, Brother Pio became Father Pio, or in Italian, Padre Pio, as we know him today.
He eventually moved to a monastery in San Giovanni Rotondo in 1917 after he became sick with tuberculosis, and this is where he lived until his death on September 23, 1968.
One day in September 1918, Padre Pio received a miraculous vision: he saw someone with Christ’s crucifixion wounds.
After the vision, Pio realized he was physically dripping with blood—he had received the stigmata.
Stigmata are the five wounds of Christ replicated in the human body. Padre Pio tried to keep it a secret, but word spread about his reception of Christ’s wounds.
Through Padre Pio, God performed hundreds and hundreds of miracles, curing people of all kinds of sicknesses.
Pio passed away in 1968, was beatified in 1999, and soon canonized in 2002 by Saint Pope John Paul II.
The latter extolled Pio’s willingness to embrace the yoke of Christ; how the saint carried his many burdens—sickness, the stigmata, questioning from the Church—with love for Christ.
Padre Pio found a way to draw near to Christ in his suffering, as reflected in his famous words: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”
He believed that being “on” the cross with Jesus was better than simply contemplating Jesus from a distance.
Pio also said: “Prayer is the best weapon we have; it is the key to God’s heart. You must speak to Jesus not only with your lips, but with your heart. In fact on certain occasions, you should only speak to Him with your heart.”
John Paul II said in his homily that Pio inspires us to draw closer to God in our daily lives even through our challenges:
“In fact, the ultimate reason for the apostolic effectiveness of Padre Pio, the profound root of so much spiritual fruitfulness can be found in that intimate and constant union with God, attested to by his long hours spent in prayer and in the confessional . . . Padre Pio was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making himself available to all by welcoming them, by spiritual direction and, especially, by the administration of the sacrament of Penance.”
Padre Pio was a vessel for God’s love in his lifetime on earth, John Paul II concluded.
These last six months, after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in June, sickness and suffering, and, yes, death, have been foremost on my mind.
I plan my life now around four-month cycles (based on the semesters of the schools I am teaching in Manila and Mindanao), hoping that the next round of tests will signal I can still live an active life as a leader, teacher, thinker, and advocate.
But I am ready also to wind down my affairs anytime and accept the plan of God as that is always good.
We are sentinels of this world, watchpersons in the night.
As Psalm 127 reminds us: “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain.”
This Advent season, I pray that I too will be a vessel for God’s love in my lifetime on earth.