June 04, 2007

Tradition & Sentiment

The Byzantine Catholic parish where I regulary attend is in an uproar because the pastor got rid of the choir loft and four pews in back. He said it was for aesthetic reasons but that he also wanted more room in the rear of church for processions and prayers.

When some of the parishioners arrived at church Sunday they broke down aghast. One cried loudly, "What have they done to my church? This is a barn!"

This is a barn! I seem to be collecting a lot of "you can't make it up" moments lately. Four pews = a barn. The Orthodox (or Byzantines) are so resistant to change that removing pews in back is tantamount to heresy. (Though, to be fair, I've done no polling on how many in the parish are upset about it.)

As usual, my church friend would go to his death to defend elderly babushkas. He feels their pain and again I am cast as the "cold conservative". I'm actually not a big fan of tough love since I don't like it practiced much on me, but come on: four pews = your-life-is-ruined? Has self-pity reached epidemic proportions? Does it seek a target even if the target is minutiae?

I suppose I'm fascinated by St. Pio for the same reason I read Tom of Disputations*. They are both so spare & unsentimental when it comes to matters of faith. Neither would be waving banners of protest over the pastor's reckless and mean-spirited church remodel.

Here's an example of St. Padre Pio's modus operandi, from "Stories of Padre Pio" (thanks Elena!):
The person most anxious to describe her own experience (of Padre Pio) was a distinguished lady from Genoa, who was supposed to have made her Confession to Padre Pio that morning. However, when her turn came, the only thing she could say was, 'Padre Pio, four years ago I lost my husband and I haven't gone to church since then.'

'Because you lost your husband, you also lost God? Go away! Go away!' Padre Pio had told her brusquely, and he quickly closed the grates of the confessional without giving her any further attention.

The woman could not believe her ears, because nobody ever dared speak to her that way. What could she do? All she could do was get up and go away. She had made a long trip from Genoa and had to wait several days until her turn came and the only words Padre Pio had had for her were, 'Go away!' The death of husband had been too great a blow for her after so many years of a happy marriage, which had never been darkened by any shadow. She had thought Padre Pio would understand her pain for the loss of her husband and give her the comfort of a good word. Instead, to her disappointment, she had been sent away - and in such a way!

When she left Padre Pio's confessional, however, she suddenly felt a very keen desire to be reconciled with God. So she went back to one of the other friars and explained her situation to him. That same morning she made, in her own words, the best Confession of her life. She was very happy, and she attributed the merit of the recovery of her faith to the way Padre Pio had treated her. She then received Holy Communion from Padre Pio himself, her first one after years away from the Sacraments.

The day she left San Giovanni Rotondo, she came across Padre Pio again, and this time he gave her some words of encouragement, followed by his blessing. Thus, she too was able to go home with a content and serene heart.
Another story about a man whose son was killed:
For years I had abandoned my family - my wife, my daughter and my son - and I lived with a woman. My life was in chaos; nothing was sacred to me anymore. And then, all of a sudden, misfortune! There I was, oppressed by such despair that the memory of Padre Pio's name seemed like an anchor of salvation!...I got on my knees as if to go to Confession- but without the slightest intention of making a real Confession- and I said to him: 'Padre Pio, they have killed my only son!'

I said that because I wanted a word of comfort from him. But Padre Pio, looking at me sternly, had only this brief question for me:

'And that's not enough for you?'

I was struck by these words, and I understood in an instant what I had not understood for many years. My entire life with all its errors stood before me.

'Yes, Padre Pio!' I answered.

'What are you waiting for? he asked me. I understood what he meant by that, and I asked him if he could hear my Confession.

Since then I have been the happiest man in the world, in spite of my great mourning. I had hoped to find comfrot and consolation from him, but he gave me much more: he completely transformed me!

Now I'm going back to my home, to my wife, to my daughter...I'm going home with a serene heart!

* - UPDATE: One should not read this post without reading the clarifications posited here. (And yes, I should've distinguished between blog and blogger at the very least.) Perhaps St. Pio could counsel so effectively because of the gift of being able to read men's souls, to see the besetting sins people brought to the confessional. To see, in a word, not only the particulars but the capabilities of the sinner. For example, Fr. Peter Joseph writes:
Padre Pio was asked once why he did not heal a close relative, a young man, of an ongoing illness. He replied, "If he were cured, he would come to love this life too much and his soul would be lost." It is not given to ordinary mortals to know the secret designs of Providence, but a simple story like this one gives us a glimpse into God's ways and into how He draws good from evil, even if we do not see it in this life.
Tom links to St. Thomas (surprise!). Counsel, Aquinas says, is a gift of the Holy Spirit. In response to the anticipated objection of:
"Now for the purpose of taking counsel, man is sufficiently perfected by the virtue of prudence, or even of euboulia (deliberating well)...Therefore counsel should not be reckoned among the gifts of the Holy Ghost..."
he replies: "
Since, however, human reason is unable to grasp the singular and contingent things which may occur, the result is that "the thoughts of mortal men are fearful, and our counsels uncertain" (Wisdom 9:14). Hence in the research of counsel, man requires to be directed by God who comprehends all things: and this is done through the gift of counsel, whereby man is directed as though counseled by God."

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