On Monday 23 September the Catholic world celebrated one of the most popular saints ever, St. Pio of Pietrelcina. A dominant characteristic in the holy life of Padre Pio is his constant combat with the devil and evil.
We are living in a world where a number of us do not really believe that the devil exists. Hardly can they fathom, let alone observe, the he is the one responsible and, to that effect, the one to blame for many and many ills in our world. He is the one who seduces me and you to fall into temptation and, thus, lead us to destroy ourselves and each other by all sorts of ways. The devil is to blame for the long list of the desires of the flesh which go diametrically opposite to the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us (Gal 5:17). Yes! It is the devil who is the mastermind and the prime author behind acts of fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like (Gal 5:19-21). It is him who tries, through many means, situations, thoughts and strategies, to prevent us from inheriting God’s’ kingdom.
Thus, Padre Pio’s life teaches us, as Christ’s disciples, to be all the more vigilant and well-prepared to confront him. The devil is not, as many would imagine, a mere figure of ancient mythology and folklore. As the French poet and art critic, Charles Pierre Baudelaire (1821-1867), has instructed us so well, satan’s masterpiece in our modern times is that of having us believe that he does not exist at all. Although for some of us this is not easy to grapple with the reality that satan came from hell to purposely fight Padre Pio, evidence shows that this was exactly the case in his life. Padre Pio’s battles with the evil one were bloody in nature as attested by my many letters that the Capuchin mystic himself sent to his spiritual fathers.
One of the first contacts we know of when Padre Pio had to face the prince of evil took place in 1906. On a certain night, the holy friar had returned to the Saint Elia of Pianisi friary. Due to the enormous summer heat that struck that night he couldn’t fall asleep. After some time he heard the footsteps of someone coming towards him from a nearby room. At first, Padre Pio thought that apparently, Padre Anastasio couldn’t sleep either because of the heat. Thus, he wanted to call out to him so that they could meet and have a talk with each other. He went to the window and ventured calling to his Capuchin confrere. In a moment Padre Pio realised that he could hardly speak. For what reason? On the ledge of a close-by window, he beheld a monstrous dog. Padre Pio, with terror in his voice, said: I saw the big dog enter through the window and there was smoke coming from his mouth. I fell on the bed and I heard a voice from the dog that said, “him it is, it is him”. While I was still on the bed, the animal jumped to the ledge of the window, then to the roof and disappeared.
The devil attacked Padre Pio with myriad kinds of temptations. Furthermore, Padre Augustine also bore witness to the fact that the devil appeared to Padre Pio under many different guises. The Devil appeared as young girls that danced naked, as a crucifix, as a young friend of the friars, as the Spiritual Father or as the Provincial Father; as Pope Pius X, a Guardian Angel, as St. Francis and as Our Lady. The Devil has also appeared in his most despicable figures accompanied by an army of infernal spirits. In other times, Padre Pio was even met by the devil but without any apparition. He was troubled with deafening noises and covered with spittle, and so on. Padre Pio managed in freeing himself from these horrible attacks of the devil by invoking the name of Jesus.
This powerful fact personally reminds me of what Archimandrite Ephraim of Philotheou, commonly known as Elder Ephraim, former abbot of Philotheou Monastery on Mount Athos, and spiritual guide of several monasteries on Mount Athos and Greece, had to say about the Jesus prayer, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner:
My children, I beg you, for the love of God, do not stop saying the prayer of our Christ, not even for a moment. Your lips should continuously murmur the name of Jesus Who destroys the devil and all his plots. Cry out incessantly to our Christ, and at once He will hasten wholeheartedly to help us. Just as iron cannot be grabbed or even approached when it is red-hot, the same thing happens with the soul of him who says the prayer with the fervor of Christ. The demons do not approach it – and how could they? For if they draw near it, they will be burned by the divine fire which the divine name contains.
Another very helpful weapon against the devil and evil is certainly the Rosary. As a matter of fact, when the stigmatised Capuchin encountered so many evils in his lifetime a mighty weapon he made use of is this gospel prayer at the school of Mary. Once he said: Some people are so foolish that they think they can go through life without the help of the Blessed Mother. Love the Madonna and pray the Rosary, for her Rosary is the weapon against the evils of the world today. All graces given by God pass through the Blessed Mother. As his life story details so well, Padre Pio not only prayed the Rosary heartily on a daily basis but also reserved a few rosaries to put under his pillow. When in one night he wasn’t able to locate his rosaries, and thus called Padre Onorato of San Giovanni Rotondo, he told him: Young man, get me my weapon; give me my weapon.
Padre Pio’s affectionate love for the Rosary openly manifests that for him this very strong Marian prayer was an intimate offering to his beloved Mother in Heaven. He nurtured such a great love for the Virgin Mary and stood close to her during his many times of spiritual combat. Padre Pio credited everything to the Blessed Mother and ardently believed that her powerful intercession could, in fact, heal both soul and body.
These simple reflections show you and me that if we want to win against the devil and evil in our world we should be armoured with the Jesus prayer and the Rosary. The Son and the Mother are our two mighty columns that keep us strong, protected and focused on God in our earthly pilgrimage towards our Heavenly Jerusalem. Let us persevere in these two prayers because, with the Jesus’ prayer and the Rosary, prayed devoutly and from a believing and humble heart, anything is possible, including our decisive win against satan and evil.
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap