Circular Letter: Lent 1993
Padre Pio and the Guardian Angel
(The following is extracted from a spiritual letter written by Padre Pio to his spiritual daughter Raffaelina in 1914.)
Beloved daughter of the heavenly Father,
May the Grace of the Divine Spirit completely possess your heart and that of all those who wish to belong to Jesus! May Jesus also reveal to you the mystery and power of His Cross, completely inebriating you. May His Virgin Mother be the very one who obtains for you the strength and courage to fight the good fight; may your good angel be for you a breastplate to shield you from the blows which the enemies of our salvation fire against you.
O Raffaelina, how consoling it is to know that we are always under the protection of a heavenly spirit, who never abandons us, not even (most admirable fact!) in the very act by which we displease God! How sweet this great truth is for the believing soul! What can the devout soul fear that is diligent in loving Jesus, and that always has such a distinguished fighter present by its side? Oh, was he not perchance among those many who, together with St. Michael the Angel there in the empyreal heights defended the honor of God against Satan and all the other rebellious spirits, finally reducing them to perdition and casting them into hell (Cf. Dan. 10,13; 12, 1; Apoc. 12,7)?
Well then, know that he is still powerful against Satan and his satellites. His charity has not grown less, nor will it ever fail to protect us. Form the beautiful habit of thinking about him always. How close to us stands one of the celestial spirits, who from the cradle to the grave never leaves us for an instant. He guides us, he protects us like a friend, like a brother. This ought to be, moreover, a constant consolation for us, especially in our saddest hours.
Know, O Raffaelina, that this good angel prays for you: he offers to God all your good works that you accomplish, as well as your holy and pure desires. In the hours in which you seem to be alone and abandoned, do not complain about not having a soul-mate to whom you can open (your heart) and to whom you can confide your sorrows: – for the love of God, do not forget this invisible companion who is always present to listen to you and always ready to console you.
O delightful intimacy, O blessed companionship! Oh, if only all men knew how to understand and appreciate this very great gift that God, in the excess of His love for men, has assigned to us this celestial spirit! Recall frequently his presence: you ought to fix your mind’s eye upon him. Thank him, pray to him. He is so finely mannered, so discreet: respect him. Have continual fear lest you offend the purity of his gaze.
Invoke frequently this (your) Guardian Angel, this benefactor angel. Repeat often the beautiful prayer: “Angel of God, my Guardian dear, to whom the heavenly Father’s bounty entrusts me here; enlighten me, guard me, guide me now and forever.” How great, my dear Raffaelina, will be the consolation, when, at the hour of death, your soul will see this angel, who is so good, who has accompanied you throughout your life, who was so ample in his maternal care! Oh that this sweet thought may make you, may render you continually more fond of the Cross of Jesus! This is namely what your good angel desires! ? May the desire to see this inseparable companion of your entire life enkindle in you that charity which moves you to desire soon to leave the body.
Oh, what a holy and salutary thought it is to see this our good angel! It is this aspiration, namely, that should make us escape ahead of time from this dark prison in which we are detained. O Raffaelina, where are my thoughts flying to now? How many times, alas, have I made this good angel weep! How many times have I lived without the least fear of offending the purity of his regard! Oh, he is so finely mannered, so discreet. My God, how many times did I respond to the ample, more than maternal care of this good angel without any sign of respect, affection or acknowledgment! It is this thought that presently rather fills me with confusion: alas — hear this and be horrified — such is my blindness that I feel no remorse at this. And what is worse still, I treat this dear little angel, I do not say as a friend, but as a member of my family. And to tell the truth, this dear angel is not the least offended at being treated like this by me. How precious he is, how good!”
(Padre Pio da Pietrelcina. EPISTOLARIO, II: Corrispondenza con la Nobildonnna Raffaelina Cerase 1914-1915, Lett. 64, p. 403f. National Centre for Padre Pio. Rd. 1, Box 134 Barto, PA 19504)
Stories about Padre Pio and his angel are both consoling and inspiring. It happens, moreover, that they are famous to the point of making the rounds in various forms of oral traditions. In the process, essential elements may be lost, and so, for example, one is wont to hear how Padre Pio addressed his angel as ‘Angelino,’ as ‘little angel’ and how he used to ‘boss’ his angel around and scold him. These stories have a disquieting quality about them, since they fail to reflect the dignity of the angels and the reverence with which the saints conversed with their angels. Accordingly, we wish to situate Padre Pio’s relationship with his Angel in its authentic context and show that it truly reflects the holy tradition of the Church in this regard. At the same time, we hope to draw a pious lesson for our relationship with our own Guardian Angel.
Evidently, great reverence is due to the angel: Zachary was punished with dumbness for merely doubting the word of St. Gabriel, since he “stands in the presence of God” (Lk 1,19). And Israel was warned by God that the angel would not tolerate any irreverence or disobedience to his word, since God’s Name was present in him (Ex 23, 20-21). What then are the circumstances of Padre Pio’s contact and exchanges with his Guardian Angel, that the popular impression of a certain boldness and irreverence could arise? This seems to come from a disparity of culture (Padre Pio is very Italian) and from his custom of calling his angel, ‘Angelino.’
His Intimate Bond of Friendship with his Angel
Let us first consider the diminutive form, ‘angelino’ (‘little angel’). You almost have to be Italian, or, at least, very Latin (Hispanic) to even begin to appreciate this usage. Mexicans, for instance, are wont to call a beloved priest, ‘Padrecito,’ ‘Little Padre,’… something which is nearly impossible in the English language and cultural ambience. The Italians exceed this, and Padre Pio was a southern Italian. Two further factors may also help us enter Padre Pio’s world of interior intimacy and diminutive address to his angel. The first is that Padre Pio’s Guardian Angel, by a singular dispensation of Divine Grace, was his visible childhood playmate. This intimate bond of friendship, formed in childhood, deeply marks Padre Pio’s relationship with his angel. And since entrance into heaven depends upon our becoming children at heart, we should not be surprised that P. Pio, a true child at heart, continues to speak familiarly to his Angel. Indeed, ? and this is the second factor ? Padre Pio even addressed his Spiritual Father, Fr. Agostino, as ‘Babbo,’ which is Italian for ‘Daddy.’ Hence, Padre Pio’s calling his Guardian Angel ‘Angelino’ is in good reverent form for him. It may or may not be for each one of us.
His Reverence for His Angel in the Face of Suffering and the Cross
The second point, namely, the popular idea that Padre Pio was irreverent and abusive to his angel, results from a misconstruction, taking as it does an event out of its original spiritual context. The fiery vivacity and vehemence of Italian temperament alone might suffice to produce a miscomprehension of Padre Pio’s bond with his angel. However, even such an appeal were to miss a far deeper theological explanation, which pertains to the mystery of redemptive unity and conformity with Christ, as we shall see farther on. In order to situate the matter properly, let us read an excerpt from one of Padre Pio’s letters to his spiritual director. This appears, in fact, to be the text behind the popular story. Note how well it expresses the depth of Padre Pio’s reverence for his angel. Note also that Padre Pio is exalting his angel, not himself, as the popular versions tend to do: “Babbo carissimo”.
This, your second letter, has also suffered the same fate as your last letter (namely, the devil was destroying or rendering the correspondence illegible)… Babbo mio, [the evil spirits] being unable to vanquish my constancy in reporting to you their insidious intrigues, are resorting to this other extreme: trying to entice me into their nets by depriving me of your counsels, by which you come to my aid through your letters, [which are] my only comfort. For the glory of God and to their confusion, I shall put up with this.
Did I not tell you that Jesus desires that I suffer without any comfort? Did He not, perhaps, ask me and choose me to be one of His victims? And the sweetest Jesus has given me to understand, moreover, the meaning of victimhood. It is necessary, dear Babbo, to add to the ‘Consummatum est’ (‘It is consummated’) the ‘In manus tuas’ (‘Into Your hands, Father, I commend my spirit’).
I shall not relate to you, therefore, in what manner they go about beating me, those reprobates. Sometimes I feel that I am close to death. Saturday, I thought they really wanted to put an end to me; I didn’t know any more to which saint I should appeal; I turned to my angel and after making me wait for some while, he finally shows up, flying around me, and singing hymns to the Divine Majesty with his angelic voice. There followed one of those ordinary scenes: I shouted at him harshly for having made me wait so long, since I had not failed to call him to my aid. To punish him, I did not want to look him in the face, I wanted to hold my distance, I wanted to run away and hide from him. But he, poor fellow, approached me, nearly crying. He caught hold of me, so that raising my eyes, I might look into his face and find it wholly grieved.
And behold,.. “…I am always close to you, my beloved youth,” he says, “I hover about you constantly with that affection which stimulated your gratitude towards the Beloved of your heart. My affection for you shall not ex-tinguish even with your life.I know that your generous heart beats always for our mutual Beloved. You would cross every mountain, every desert to find Him, to see Him again, to embrace Him anew in these extreme moments and to ask Him to break now those chains which hold you bound to the body,… that you can suffer no more to be far away from Him, that He take you with Him. To tell him that separated from Him you gather more sorrow than joy. You would like this very gift from Him, but do not grow weary,… for you must wait a bit more. For the present, He can give you nothing like the ray of a star, the perfume of a flower, the sigh of a harp, the caress of a wind. Yet do not cease to constantly ask Him for it, for His supreme pleasure is to have you with Him. And although at present He cannot satisfy your wish, because providence has willed that you be in exile a little longer, He will finally end up satisfying you, at least, in part,…”
Poor dear angel! He’s too good. Will he succeed in making me recognize the grave obligation [I have] of gratitude?” (Epistolario I. San Giovanni Rotondo, 1987. Lett. 102, p. 311-12)
The Angel’s Compassion and his Great Joy over Padre Pio’s Spiritual Progress
In another letter to Fr. Agostino, after the devils had thoroughly thrashed him, Padre Pio again relates his conversation with his Guardian Angel:
“I raised a complaint to my dear angel, and he, after having given me quite a little sermon, added: ‘Give thanks to Jesus that He treats you as one chosen to follow Him closely up the ascent to Calvary. I behold with joy and interior commotion, O soul entrusted to my care by Jesus, how Jesus treats you. Do you think that I would be as happy, if I did not see you so thrashed? I, who in holy charity desire greatly your advantage, delight to see you ever more in such a state. Jesus permits these assaults of the devil, because His (Divine) pity endears you to Himself, and He wants to make you like unto Himself in the anguish of the desert, of the Garden and of the Cross.
Defend yourself, always distance yourself from, and despise the malign insinuations of the devils; and where your strength does not arrive, do not be afflicted, beloved of my heart, for I am near to you.’
What [holy] condescension, dear father! What have I ever done to merit such exquisite affection from my dear angel? In fact, I do not worry myself about this at all; is not our Lord the Master Who can give His graces to whom and however He wishes?” (Epistolario I. Lett. 112, pp.330-31)
Can there be a doubt as to Padre Pio’s great esteem and gratitude towards his angel? It is scarcely justified to conclude from the fact that he cried out at him in the straits of his pain and anguish, that he bossed his angel around or that Padre Pio interpreted his angel’s compassion as an obligatory apology. This special compassion, nonetheless, merits an explanation. It has to do with the mystery of suffering. Pope John Paul II writes: “Man suffers whenever he experiences any kind of evil.” (On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering. n.7). “Within each form of suffering endured by man, and at the same time at the basis of the whole world of suffering, there inevitably arises the question: ‘Why?’ It is a question about the cause, the reason, and equally about the purpose of suffering, and, in brief, a question about its meaning. Not only does it accompany human suffering, but it seems even to determine its human content, what makes suffering precisely human suffering.“ (ibid.9) “Man does not put this question [‘Why?’] to the world,…but he puts it to God as the Creator and the Lord of the world.” (ibid.9). “Man can put this question to God with all the emotion of his heart and with his mind full of dismay and anxiety; and God expects the question and listens to it,…” (ibid.10). God not only listens to this passionate cry, but our Lord, indeed, also compassionates His victim souls when, on occasion, He visits them in the midst, and more often, at the end of great sufferings. He compassionately explains to them and helps them understand the meaning and purpose of their sufferings. Padre Pio’s angel did no more nor less than to imitate this compassion of his Lord. His angel also explained to him the ‘Why?’ of suffering: redemptive unity and conformity with Christ.
Pope John Paul II expressed the matter in these words: “It is suffering, more than anything else, which clears the way for the grace which transforms human souls. Suffering, more than anything else, makes present in the history of humanity the powers of the Redemption. In that ‘cosmic’ struggle between the spiritual powers of good and evil, spoken of in the Letter to the Ephesians (Cf. 6,12), human suffering, united to the suffering of Christ, “constitutes a special support for the powers of good, and opens the way to the victory of these salvific powers” (ibid. 27).
We may add with the saints that if the angels could envy us anything, it is our capacity to suffer with and for Christ. There is scarcely anything so consoling for a Guardian Angel as to be able to guide and strengthen a human being through the school of victimhood. Indeed, an angel even comforted and strengthened Christ according to the weak-ness of His humanity in the Garden of Gethsemane. We can, therefore, apply the Holy Father’s further reflections to Padre Pio’s angel: “Everyone who stops beside the suffering of another person, …is a Good Samaritan… The name, ‘Good Samaritan’ fits every individual who is sensitive to the suffering of others, … If Christ, Who knows the interior of man, emphasizes this compassion, this means that it is important for our whole attitude toward other’s suffering. Therefore one must cultivate this sensitivity of heart, which bears witness to compassion towards a suffering person. Sometimes this compassion remains the only or principal expression of our love for and the solidarity with the sufferer.” (ibid. 28). This, then, explains the apparent sorrow and near tears of the angel.
On the one hand the angel felt great compassion for the terrible sufferings of Padre Pio,… on the other hand, he felt great joy on account of his spiritual growth and the glory offered to God. Such pertains to the very nature of supernatural friendship as explained by St. Theresa of Avila in The Way of Perfection (Cf. ch. 7): when a friend suffers, we feel sorrow, and would prefer to bear the suffering ourselves; at the same time, as we reflect how profitable this suffering is for our friend, we rejoice in spirit. Padre Pio witnesses himself to this union of such seemingly contrary sentiments in his love for his spiritual daughter, Raffaelina. A single citation should suffice. Note how much it resembles the discourse of Padre Pio’s own angel:
“Beloved daughter,… How it grips my heart (with pain) to see you tossed about ever anew by furious storms; but how much more I exult in spirit knowing with certitude that the fury of these waves is per-mitted in you by a special providence of the heaven-ly Father in order to make you resemble His most beloved Son, persecuted and crushed even to death, to death, moreover, on the cross! The greater the pains, the greater the love which God has for you. Let this be for you, my dear, the touchstone by which you can know God’s love for you. You can know God’s love for you by this sign: by the afflictions which He sends you. You have the sign in your hands and your intellect bears witness to it: exult therefore in the very raging of the storm. Exult, I tell you, with the sons of God (the angels?) because this is a most singular love of the Divine Spouse towards you. Humble yourself before the Divine Majesty, considering how many other souls there are in the world who are more worthy than you, who are more richly endowed with under-standing and virtues, and yet whom God does not treat with such a singular love as He does you.” (Sept. 19, 1914. Epistolario II)
From the life of Padre Pio and the Saints (for example St. Francis, St. Gemma Galgani) we know that the deepening of our spiritual friendship with our Guardian Angel goes hand in hand with our readiness and love for the Cross. He is anxious to help us with the Divine light and strength, but saying “yes” to the Father’s will is up to us. What do you say?
Fr. William Wagner, ORC
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