One of the modern day saints who really cherished an extraordinary love for Christmas was my dear Capuchin brother and also, after Christ and His Holy Mother, undoubtedly the one who has led me to the Capuchins, Saint Pio of Pietrelcina. This faithful friend and companion, thanks to whom the Lord chose me to serve Him through this challenging yet adventerous Capuchin way of life, in His holy, sinful and troubled Church, really teaches me to love Christmas for the best of motives.
As the Capuchin priest, Fr. Joseph Mary Elder OFM Cap, hailing from the Capuchin Province of St. Conrad, says: “At his home in Pietrelcina, he prepared the crib himself. He would often begin working on it as early as October. While pasturing the family’s sheep with friends, he would search for clay to use to fashion the small statues of shepherds, sheep, and the magi. He took particular care in crafting the infant Jesus, making and re-making it continually until he felt he had it just right.”
But, more than just others, significant as they might be, can talk about Padre Pio’s love for Christmas, let us listen from him personally, regarding his loving devotion he always had towards the Baby Jesus. In an letter to one of his spiritual daughters, precisely Raffaelina Cerase, Padre Pio wrote the following:
When the Holy Novena begins in honour of the Baby Jesus, it felt as though my spirit were being born again to a new life. I felt as though my heart were too small to embrace all our heavenly blessings. My soul felt as though it were disintegrating in the presence of our God who had become man. How can we not love Him forever with a fervour that never grows stale? Let us open our hearts to the Baby Jesus whose soul was without the stain of sin and we will taste how sweet and soave it is to love Him.
If Padre Pio loved so much the Baby Jesus let alone how joyful he would have felt at Midnight Mass? As a matter of fact, this stigmatised holy Capuchin priest was so in love with Jesus, during the Holy Mass, that He spent hours celebrating it. Certainly, he did not have someone who told him to hurry up for the fear that people might leave the church! People were just captivated by his deep faith even though the mass took hours to be celebrated! Those present could easily tell how his soul was so lifted up to God with that extreme joy that only a true Franciscan, who suffers horrible persecution from those around him simply because he is open to the Holy Spirit’s workings in and through him, can really taste and naturally transmit, by God’s grace, to those who will be in his presence.
Furthermore, numerous witnesses have related the mystical state Padre Pio was in as he held the Baby Jesus. Let us not forget that this Baby Jesus was not some cute porcelain statue but the Baby Jesus himself who appeared in a miraculous vision. The first experience is given by Renzo Allegri.
We were reciting the rosary while waiting for the Mass. Padre Pio was praying with us. All of a sudden, in an aura of light, I saw the Baby Jesus appear in his arms. Padre Pio was transfigured, his eyes gazing upon the glowing child in his arms, his face transformed by an astonished smile. When the vision disappeared, Padre Pio realized from the way I was looking at him that I had seen everything. But he drew close to me and told me not to mention it to anyone.
In another testimony, this time recounted by Fr. Raffaele da Sant’Elia OFM Cap, who lived side by side by Padre Pio for several years, we find:
I had got up to go to the church for the Midnight Mass of 1924. The corridor was huge and dark, and the only illumination was the flame of a small oil lamp. Through the shadows I could see that Padre Pio, too, was making his way to the church. He had left his room and was making his way slowly along the corridor. I realized he was swathed in a band of light. I took a better look and saw that he had the Baby Jesus in his arms. I just stood there, transfixed, in the doorway of my room, and fell to my knees. Padre Pio passed by, all aglow. He didn’t even notice I was there.
Besides being a great mystic Padre Pio was also a gifted spiritual writer. His meditations were surely anointed by the Holy Spirit. A case in point is his Christmas Meditation which one can easily appreciate in the translation by Frank M. Rega into English of Padre Pio da Pietrelcina: Epistolario IV, Edizioni Padre Pio, San Giovanni Rotondo, 2002, pages 1007-1009. The translation by Rega was published in December 2005.
In this meditation after describing the suffering undergone by the Promised Messiah in that chilly grotto, Padre Pio talks about humility, the greatest of all virtues, that shines from the cave of Bethlehem!
So plentiful, O Christians, are the lessons that shine forth from the grotto of Bethlehem! Oh how our hearts should be on fire with love for the one who with such tenderness was made flesh for our sakes! Oh how we should burn with desire to lead the whole world to this lowly cave, refuge of the King of kings, greater than any worldly palace, because it is the throne and dwelling place of God! Let us ask this Divine child to clothe us with humility, because only by means of this virtue can we taste the fullness of this mystery of Divine tenderness…
Glittering were the palaces of the proud Hebrews. Yet, the light of the world did not appear in one of them. Ostentatious with worldly grandeur, swimming in gold and in delights, were the great ones of the Hebrew nation; filled with vain knowledge and pride were the priests of the sanctuary. In opposition to the true meaning of Divine revelation, they awaited an officious savoir, who would come into the world with human renown and power.
But God, always ready to confound the wisdom of the world, shatters their plans. Contrary to the expectations of those lacking in Divine wisdom, he appears among us in the greatest abjection, renouncing even birth in St. Joseph’s humble home, denying himself a modest abode among relatives and friends in a city of Palestine. Refused lodging among men, he seeks refuge and comfort among mere animals, choosing their habitation as the place of his birth, allowing their breath to give warmth to his tender body. He permits simple and rustic shepherds to be the first to pay their respects to him, after he himself informed them, by means of his angels, of the wonderful mystery.
The kernel of Padre Pio’s reflection is the following phrase: But we, out of the darkness that envelops the incarnate Word, understand one thing, hear one voice, perceive one sublime truth: you have done everything out of love, you invite us to nothing else but love, speak of nothing except love, give us naught except proofs of love.
Lord, give me your grace to do everything out of love not only in this Christmas but in each and every moment of my life. May my life, in, with and through You, O Christ Jesus, be a continual rebirth in your eternal life. May I have, my Lord Jesus, your very life and have it abundantly! (John 10:10). Amen.
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap