by Juliana Valdez
As we begin Easter, our practices of increased prayer, fasting and almsgiving during Lent should not stop when the season ends but should be our way of life, daily.
Pope Francis emphasised this as he addressed the congregation at an outdoor celebration of the Eucharist in Southern Italy. His visit to the region was to honour the 50th anniversary of the death of St Padre Pio of Pietreclina, and to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the manifestation of the stigmata on the saint.
While there, the Holy Father visited the oncology unit of the San Giovanni Hospital, an institution founded by St Padre Pio, catering for children stricken with cancer. Viewing the pope’s interaction with these children of all ages, from babes in arms to older ones, blessing, hugging and kissing them, greeting the parents and offering words of encouragement, evoked heartfelt emotions.
It was a reminder that illness is no respecter of age, race, creed, gender, class or colour. It also begged the question, do those among us whose offspring never had to spend even one day in the hospital, realise how blessed we are?
The pope engaged the sick children, cheering them up and received cards they made and signed a drawing they created for him. As the Holy Father celebrated the Eucharist after the hospital visit, he preached about “peace in suffering” as the theme coming out of the readings of the day and offered three ways this could be accomplished.
Prayer: Do we pray enough? Is our prayer motivated by need or the actual desire to talk to God? Do they imitate Jesus’ prayers or are they reduced to emergency calls? Are they used as tranquillisers taken in small doses to get stress relief or is it an act of love, being with God and bringing Him to the life of the world? Prayer he said, is an indispensable act of spiritual mercy.
Smallness: Refers to those who possess open and humble hearts, recognising that they cannot do it alone. Like antennae, capturing the signal of God, our smallness enables us to find God in the poor, sick, needy, the marginalised, the caregivers among us.
We need to do away with the ‘culture of discard’ where we ‘throw away’ those considered as being of no use to us or society any longer. When we perpetuate our ‘bigness’ we become an enormous interference to the signals of God.
Wisdom: True wisdom does not reside in having great gifts, strengths, etc. it is instead “charity animated by faith”. This can disarm the forces of evil as St Pio, who imitated Jesus did, with humility, obedience, the cross offering all his suffering for love.
Pope Francis went ‘techno’ as he said to the gathering, clicking “like”, showing admiration for the saint and not following his examples is not enough. Many admire the lives of the saints and others among us who work tirelessly in the vineyards, but do not follow their example. Christian life is not about “I like” but rather, “I give”.
Padre Pio saw the image of Christ in the poor, suffering and sick and gave himself to them. This, we too are called to practise, not only during the season of Lent, but in Ordinary time, too. Adapting the lyrics of one of our favourite Christmas songs, we can sing, “It’s not the things we do during Lenten time, but the Lenten things we do, all year through!” The journey continues.