Category Archives: Padre Pio

Stepping Through Our Doors to Minister to Those on the Outside

With a ten month old at hip, I’d taken up my usual place at the rear of the sanctuary so as to distance my noise-maker from the attentive audience. It was Pentecost Sunday, the Church’s birthday, and Monsignor was traversing the aisles between pews. A pine branch in place of the aspergillum, he was dotting his parishioners with holy water blessings.
He seemed to take an extra long time, weaving through the maze of pews, all the while dipping and flicking that broken, wet branch. Just when I thought he’d direct his path towards me, he turned again done another row. Of course, paying attention to the details and taking extra care in sacred matters wasn’t surprising, this was Monsignor Williams after all. And while not exactly as dismissive of time as St. Pio of Pietrecina (who was known to celebrate three hour long Masses), he wasn’t in the habit of curtailing the Lord’s Holy Sacrifice in order to satisfy forty-five minute man-made quotas either.

At long last, Monsignor and his faithful altar servant strode back in my direction. Positioned several feet behind the last row, I prayed the sprinkled blessings would reach little Pio and me. Then, to my amazement, Father not only hit my target, but he brushed passed and pushed open the heavy, wooden doors behind me which led to the community room. While most priests might have contained their ministry to inside of the sanctuary space, he recognized there were sheep beyond the confines and, like the Good Shepherd, he sought them out.

Keeping in mind this pastor, who (only weeks away from “retirement”) struggles with the physical challenges of an aging body, I was struck by this living testimony of the gospel. Typically, those of us resigned to the far corners of the building (i.e. basements, corridors and cry rooms) have to take up our cross and, like the land-locked crowds facing Jesus’ boat, be satisfied with the grace that come through speakers and TV screens.
Watching Monsignor meet his parishioners where they were, I thought about the importance of stepping outside of our comfort zones, of being Jesus’s hands and feet beyond the beaten paths of our ordinary, comfortable travels.
A few friends of mine have children with special needs and they routinely face the challenges of not only meeting their daily needs, but of dealing with the misunderstandings and harsh criticisms of bystanders. Understandably, I admit my own irritation when I encounter some wild child running amok in the superstore while a parent stares mindlessly at a smart phone or the unconsoled wailing of a toddler (who isn’t being removed) during the Mass readings. And it is true that parents do need to discipline appropriately and occasionally remove disruptions. But with that being said, those parents and children are no less in need and perhaps might be more so in need of Christ’s presence.
One particular Sunday, I heard a bit of a ruckus as Mass was being offered. Shifting my gaze sideways to the other side of the sanctuary rear, I watched a weary mother trying in earnest to juggle two little girls by herself. I could read the frustration on her face as she fed the more rambunctious of the petite darlings Cheerios and pushed a sippy cup her way. As the littlest one twirled, I saw the mama take to the kneeler and close her eyes. I imagine she was praying for peace or perhaps, like I have so many times, laying out her sorrows and begging for her sacrifice to be enough.
At some point in the Mass exodus she disappeared and so I never had the chance to introduce myself. But I overheard a conversation of which her children were the topic. The noise had not gone unheard and fellow parishioners were voicing their displeasure.
Sadly, they weren’t privy to the lone mother’s struggle that morning. They hadn’t seen her solo-parenting arrival nor watched her face contort in vexation as she longed to soak in the Word, but was instead focused on keeping her girls’ winces to a dull roar.
Laying aside the cry room debate and the Mass isn’t a picnic argument, I think the problem is that we so often want to stay inside the parameters of our self-designated space. We can so easily discount those who are on the “outside.”
About eight years ago we belonged to this wonderful, tiny parish of mostly retired couples. As the parents of six with another on the way, we stood out (I mean really because we barely managed to cram into a pew). No doubt our family may have brought some before absent disruptions, but rather than eye our brood with suspicion we were adopted and assimilated. Our children breathed some youthful life in to the church and we learned to be better parents under the tutelage of our more mature peer.
The grandmothers of St. Catherine’s were quick to grasp a small, wandering hand or invite a fidgeting Brelinsky to sit beside them. They remembered well the difficulties of parenting their own and so easily slipped on our “shoes.” And our children sensed the camaraderie, they recognized that mom and dad were not flying solo, but that we were all members of the Body.
Like Monsignor, the members of that parish didn’t restrict Jesus’ reach. They took the time to meet us, know us and minister to us. They could have stayed planted in their “designated” pews and kept close company with established friends, rather than widen their circle and include us. My family would have suffered for it because while God would draw us far from that location (due to a necessary move) less than two years later the graces we received continue to this day.
I wish I had had the chance to encourage that frazzled mother, to offer her a compliment and a warm smile. To show her that Jesus does indeed want the little children around His table. I wish more people took the time to connect with the parents of special needs kids. To recall their inherit dignity and extend compassion and mercy their way.
In this age of pseudo-social kinship, we are failing all too often to make legitimate connections. We need to press open the doors and meet people where they are. Get to know one another, identify with our common ground and minister to one another’s needs, so that some day no one will be left outside.

The Fall, An Accident Inspires Gratitude

Doing the baby jig at the rear of the adoration chapel, I glanced down at the book of thanksgiving. Perusing the list of gratis for health and healing, family and friends, my eyes were drawn to two lines in particular. The familiar scratching of P. I. O. called my attention. Truly this wasn’t the first time my nine month old’s name has been sprawled in childish print in that book, but on this day he was mentioned in two consecutive entries.

Thank you God for protecting Pio.

For keeping Pio safe.
Instantly I jumped back in time to that late morning less than two weeks ago.
Crouching on the family room floor next to the coffee table while attempting to finish grading a lesson, my second eldest son had me stop and proofread his assignment. With my hands baby-free for a few minutes I felt like I was actually making headway in keeping the school day on track so this interruption wasn’t troublesome. It was a good day.
Off in the distance a commotion erupted which I was fully ready to ignore, figuring it was the umpteenth “he did-she did” of the morning. But my son leaped up like a guard dog that’s caught whiff of danger and my internal radar said to follow. The next minute (which was really more like ten seconds) felt like a slow motion scene as my brain tried to clue in to what was happening. Five steps in, I watched that son break into a sprint as he flung the dog/baby gate open. Close behind him, my own movements felt less conscious and more reflexive.
Then my ears registered the words, “THE BABY.” My body stiffened and my head starting spinning like a twister as I instinctively prepared.
My concern-faced,7 year old son rushed at me and thrust the crying infant into my arms, as he explained that the baby had fallen down our basement stairs. Nausea rose up as I scanned little Pio from head to toe. Running my fingers over his hard skull to feel for lumps, I stared into his dark brown eyes to be sure he was fully coherent. Bending and rubbing chubby limbs, I tried to remember not to overlook any part of him.
The kids were talking rapidly, questioning one another. Fear was palpable.
Sweet Pio was simply happy to be in his usual spot, my arms, and so his crying ended quickly. My jarred nerves were not so rapidly soothed as I spent the remainder of the day on watch trying to decide whether a nap was indeed a routine nap or the signal of a concussion.
By the grace of God alone I managed to remain calm in front of the children although internally I was anything but. I was angry and scared, worried and fearful. However, I knew that the children were watching me for a reaction and it would set the tone for theirs. The child who had accidentally allowed the baby to get out of sight was gripped by remorse and anxiety and there was a delicate balance to be struck to prevent the siblings from laying overwhelming blame.
Once the story unfolded and the pieces were fit together it appeared that the baby had only slipped part of the way down the actual stairs before free falling over the open side of the staircase straight to the hard basement floor. Thankfully, he hit a stack of plastic crates which probably slowed his descent. Standing at the bottom of the steps trying to play detective, I had a distinct sense that Padre Pio had been a party to this event. Hard to explain, I just knew he had been there.
Although I’ve offered abundant thanks and praise for the blessing of my sweet youngest, that day reminded me again that life is a precious, fragile gift. Without any advanced notice, everything can be rearranged. For as easily as joy can fill us up, just as swiftly sorrow can rush in. Like the thief that comes in the night, a moment can steal away our well-crafted plans.
Reading those scribbled words in the chapel book, it seemed clear that the gravity of the situation had not been lost on even my young ones. Our family life has exposed them to much of the realities of life and clearly the lessons are sinking in. How beautiful it is too, that even though they fuss and fight, they are able to recognize in small ways that we must be thankful in the moment to moment of life together.
Standing there in the chapel, I looked around at those 8 bowed heads and counted my blessings by name. And I thought, this is the good stuff of family life. The reality checks that keep us grounded. The events which drop us to our knees in petition. The gifts which swell our hearts with gratitude. Countless opportunities to practice patience and forgiveness. And the chance to turn our dirty sock-strewn, toy-riddled, noisy home into a domestic church within which precious souls are formed and made ready.

Short Term Memory Loss: Remembering to Pray, Hope and NOT Worry

Stop talking. Pay attention. Do your schoolwork. Pick up your socks. Clean your room. Brush your teeth. Brush your hair. Wipe up your crumbs. Don’t chase the dog. Feed the cat. Don’t pick you nose. Phrases I repeat ad nauseum to my beloved offspring. Sometimes it feels like I’m trying to catch water with a sieve. I’m convinced they all suffer from short term memory loss (although they somehow remember some naughtiness perpetrated by a sibling three years ago, as well as the play-by-play of the movie they watched last week).

As for me, I was just remarking to my husband that I’ve made good progress in a particular area of my faith life. To be sure he assigned me proper credit, I pointed out that although we’ve been in our slow season for his business I haven’t once fallen apart when bills sat unpaid. Maybe it was too prideful, but I thought I deserved a little pat on the back for having finally learned my lesson in trusting without constraints. My husband obliged me with a smile and an agreeable nod (since his leadership fueled my progress he probably deserves some credit here, too.)
Only because I’m typically more frugal (definitely not because of my mathematical skills), the task of bookkeeping and budgeting has long been my assigned domain in the household. Raising the near equivalent of a baseball team on a Little League coach’s salary often times meant squeezing our pennies until copper drips out. In years past, a stack of bills could lead me to tears.
Don’t worry, we’ll get it all covered,” my husband always reminded me. He was right, of course, the means always managed to appear allowing us to knock out one stack of bills just before a new pile took its place. However, back then, his direction never fully imprinted in my memory before the next bout of financial woe erupted.
When my husband’s long requested prayer to own his own business was answered in 2012, it was clearly the workings of the Holy Spirit that imbued my mind and heart with a sense of peace and trust. Completely unprepared for exactly what we could expect from the leap into business ownership, I reasoned that if God had finally answered this prayer surely He would meet our needs.
Our first year was a learning curve as we’d discover that for a portion of each year sales would drop-off and our income with it. Not coincidentally, at this same time Padre Pio entered my life and his instruction to “Pray, Hope, Don’t Worry” seemed intended precisely for me.
So whenever I felt tempted by anxiety, Padre’s words rang out and I would hold a little internal conversation that went something like this, “Pray about it, Tara (yeah, I insert my own name to be sure I’m listening). Place all of your hope in God. Worrying won’t accomplish anything. Worry can’t generate income. Worry can’t pay a bill. Worry only misleads you into fear. Don’t worry, Tara.” I committed this to memory (or so I thought).
In fact, just this month we were so short on income that we’d only managed to cover the mortgage halfway in, but rather than sweat the “big stuff” I prayed and reminded God what a fabulous job He does caring for the birds. Because He promised we are all the more important to him. Then, miraculously, within the next three days we were able to pay every single outstanding bill.
How many times God has proven His Word to be true, I cannot begin to count. Each time it amazes me, like it’s the first time, and inspires abundant praises of thanksgiving.
Alas, there I was less than a week after God had bestowed the financial blessing we needed, basking in my pride for having matured in this spiritual journey and singing praises of gratitude, when I happened to call our accountant. Without fair warning, she let me know the reward for our increased business over the summer was a nice, big tax bill owed to the IRS.
Huh?” But that wasn’t part of the plan because our new school year is about to begin and we have tuition and books to buy. No, not now because the patio roof is about to cave in and the family room carpet has come undone. Really, the couch has lost its springs and we were only going to buy a used one anyway. And there’s the big party in June to celebrate our first graduated son.
In an instant, I fell apart inside.
That evening was mostly one of silence as my mind raced around trying to formulate a scheme. Perhaps, I could juggle this or do without that for another year. So continued the night in my brain until I fell asleep. Waking the next morning it felt like a Mack truck had run over my side of the bed. My shoulders were stiff and sore like I’d carried a boulder up a ten mile hill. But still I tried to conjure up a few new ideas for balancing our budget with this new addition.
Then I remembered the fish. The fish that delivered the temple tax for Jesus and His Apostle. Jesus instructed, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” And in a most unlikely way He provided their money for the tax.
He has provided for us. He had just done so again in a very real and very unexpected way, but my memory failed to recall that truth. My progress retracted quicker than a fisherman’s pole when he senses a bite. The physical soreness was the price for attempting to shoulder the impossible weight of the world alone. I suppose pride really does go before the fall as I’d fallen right back into my old pattern of anxiety and delusional self control.
Pray. Hope. Don’t worry. Depend on Me. Trust Me. Follow My commands. Stop being anxious. The Holy Spirit must repeat those phrases ad nauseum to me. You would think after forty-two years my memory should be a steel trap, not a sieve. I suppose I’ll have to admit my kids come by their short term memory loss honestly. Fortunately, in all likelihood, there will be ample opportunities to practice this virtue and hopefully some day (before senility sets in) my memory will extend beyond the current moment.

Plugged In On A Thanksgiving Pilgrimage

The kids and I just returned from a pilgrimage and visit with long distance loved ones. We started out slow with a stop halfway between so we could attend Holy Mass at the Basilica. The first four hours trapped in a van with six of my dear offspring was relatively easy. Zombified by the new movie screens, stuffed with pretzels and beef jerky with juice boxes in hand, they managed to keep the number of “He’s kicking my seat”, “She’s won’t let me watch my movie”-s to a minimum.
Navigating through the busy streets of Washington, DC under a dripping sky was manageable because in addition to my faithful (mostly) GPS my husband took the lead in our other, little car. He was only accompanying us to this halfway point. A quick turn into the parking lot and a harried dash into the lower level of the church, we made it to our first destination before Mass commenced or bladders gave out under pressure.
My second son spied the confession schedule and relayed that we had just enough time to cleanse our souls before racing into the elevator. I’d like to say I had time to unwind, relax and thoroughly examine my conscience, but as is more often the case I perused the exam sheet with one eye while keeping the other on my youngest sons (who were trying hard to contain their unending streams of energy). 
Green light time, I took my turn in the confessional; however, the attempt to kneel behind the curtain quickly went bust when the infant in my arms took to squirming. Afraid my confessor might fear an exorcism was taking place, I opted for the face to face chair so that he could at least understand the reason for the grunts and constant shifting.
Sins relinquished, we (baby and me) made our way to the communal kneeler in the center of the chapel for penance. Awkwardly, balancing myself and my tiny partner on that narrow strip of wood challenged my muscles and my mind. Add to that, the five year old who decided to nuzzle up along side of us and one might wonder if I would have been better off saving my prayers of penance for later.
Cleansed, the crew of us followed the stroller quickly through the marble hallways to the elevator. Crammed into the metal box for a minute or two, we prepared ourselves to participate in the Eucharistic celebration that awaited above. A welcomed renewal, Holy Mass recharged my battery (even if the pews were somehow narrower than usual leaving me a twelve inch span of space in which to remain attentively still while nursing the baby under my wrap as the five year old continued to snuggle against my right side.)

Arriving at our one night accommodations, we were happy to traipse our belongings from the van to the hotel suite. Thank goodness for those luggage trolleys that are just big enough to contain 7 backpacks, 6 sleeping bags, 2 or 3 miscellaneous bags, one suitcase and a pack-and-play. After a meal of fast food, our family (minus our traveling eldest son) sang happy birthday to our newly twelve year old daughter as she cut the cake that daddy had smuggled in his car.

Only about a dozen admonitions of “You can’t jump on the beds”, “Stop throwing pillows” and “Shhh don’t talk so loudly” were required (which I chalk up as relative success in the arena of harnessing little kid energy for so long). By the time ten o’clock rolled around, my eyes decided it was time to close up shop and I didn’t have the desire to fight them. So much for romantic moments with my better half during this getaway, we’d have to wait until some other distant day when we might not be sharing our sleeping quarters with nocturnal offspring (maybe in another eighteen years or so).
Morning arrives all too soon when nights are spent satisfying a nursling, but we had a journey before us which we were eager to continue. Breakfast and gas fueled us for the next four hour leg as we kissed daddy goodbye and pointed our compass northward.
Another few rounds of “His feet are on my head” and “She’s picking all the movies” until our van rolled up in front of grandma’s. Doors opened, our excitement spilled out along with our bodies and belongings. Grandma’s house is actually a four family apartment building that also houses great-grandma, a great-aunt, an aunt and a cousin so our arrival meant an instant family reunion.
Our next few days included more birthday celebrating, introductions to Pio Gerard and lots of time engaged in good conversations. Ninety year old, great-grandma (affectionately known as GG) lured my 7 and 5 year olds into disarming (their Nerf guns) and playing a few rounds of Go-Fish. A triumph because the two of them managed to be still, focused and polite (as opposed to wrestling, bouncing and bickering) allowing GG to actually enjoy some one on one time with them.

The youngest five and I made a thanksgiving stop at the local shrine of St. Gerard (all the more exciting considering we managed to get locked in a courtyard requiring rescue by a couple of funeral directors!) Then, I convinced my brood to belt themselves back in for yet another long ride to St. Padre Pio’s shrine the day after his feast day. Our arrival was divinely timed as we managed to participate in some of the prayer hour in the chapel and receive a blessing with Padre’s glove and holy oil.

Clear, crisp, fall weather invited us and some old friends, who’d met us there, to lunch together outside. Wide open fields offered the perfect balance to so many hours cooped up in the apartment and the van. The kids ran and shouted, discovered cattails and pitched black walnut pods before we paused to light two candles for the petitions we’d carried on this pilgrimage. We finished off this thanksgiving stop with a trip to the ice cream shop where we met up with my college roommate, whom I hadn’t seen in many years.
One last day of family time and fun followed before we had to reload all of our bags and bedding. All in all, we and the apartment building made it through our invasion fairly unscathed (only one lamp met its unfortunate end). GG’s peace wasn’t too disturbed (luckily her hearing aids didn’t detect the loud noises banging around above her ceiling.) And the majority of tears shed were the result of having to say goodbye so soon.
Cousins kissed and a decent night of sleep had, I slid behind the steering wheel once more and set our GPS for Brelinskyville. Two cups of coffee, nine bottles of water, two pit stops, numerous “He’s touching me” “She’s not sharing”-s, 20 minutes of crying (the baby, not me) and 8 ½ hours later, the tires came to a screeching halt (okay maybe the screeching wasn’t actually from the tires) in our driveway.
My intention for this trip was well thought out. I planned to make a sincere pilgrimage of thanksgiving, to revisit the shrines we’d discovered last April when I was praying intently for baby’s safe arrival. Having been months since our last meeting, I wanted to reconnect with our loved ones, to allow my children to create new memories of these wonderful people they belong to. Little did I realize that my thanksgivings would increase ten-fold along the way inspiring me to ever greater gratitude for a life so richly blessed.
During that confession at the Basilica, Father used a simple prop to instruct me. Pointing to the lamp on the table beside him, he reminded me that it needed electrical energy in order to light up the room. Before he’d flipped the switch enabling power to surge down the cord, the small space had been in complete darkness. God, he said, was the energy source I needed and by plugging into Him, I am able to transmit His patience, His love, His mercy, His charity… (all those things I struggle with)
Traveling with my kids, I discovered my family functions as my cord. Without them, I’m prone to more self-interest. Having to tend to the immediate needs of baby requires patience and immediate attentiveness. Monitoring those speed demons I call sons demands discipline (on my part and theirs) and diligence. Connecting with my teens leads me let go and honor their individuality. With eyes upon me at all times my actions and words set an example whether or not I want them to. Fulfilling my marriage covenant compels me to be considerate and tender.
What a very different journey this would have been if I’d been unplugged and steering the roadway alone. How truly thankful I am that’s not the case. 


Announcing Pio Gerard’s arrival

Eighteen years ago this month, July 25th 1995, our firstborn son entered the world only to return home on August 21st. His brief life taught us the value of precious time and inspired our openness to life, but as the years passed and the babies kept coming, we began to take for granted that life was a given.

When I miscarried our first sweet little one in between our two youngest, I chalked it up to the inevitable reality of numbers. Which is not to say, I didn’t miss that sweet little soul who passed unseen through me.

 But then life turned upside down in July of 2010 when we lost a son in the second trimester. Then another sweet soul passed unseen on All Souls’ Day and another son entered eternal rest in my womb, again in the second trimester, the follow June of 2011. Finally, those five lovely souls were joined by another at Thanksgiving time.

I share all that only so that I can better express my sincere gratitude for this newest blessing of life in our family.

 After so many losses, it would have been easy to give into the temptation to despair. It would have been reasonable to have recourse to the infertile times only, so as not to risk further heartache. But God’s Will called us to surrender and to trust all the more.

How many prayers I’ve offered and intercessions I’ve implored, I cannot begin to count. Friends and family wrapped us in their petitions. Padre Pio’s oil was a regular anointing vehicle for crossing my belly and St. Gerard’s cloth spent nights pressed against my expanding skin. And where would I be without my Blessed Mother’s love and support. Truly it felt like this life was guarded by the communion of saints.

Expected to arrive for the Feast of the Transfiguration, our blessing chose instead to make his way into the wide world two and a half weeks early.

Precious Pio Gerard Brelinsky was delivered at home on Saturday, July 20th, 2013 at 3:09am. How fitting that he should come during the hour of mercy. For so great was God’s love and mercy that He answered our prayers in the form of a perfect child, a son.

Every life is sacred and every child
has a purpose in this world which cannot be fulfilled by any other. Honored am I to be entrusted with the privilege of preparing these eight living souls for the Kingdom of their Father. What more noble vocation could I have been called to?

My heart beats with genuine appreciation and thanksgiving for every opportunity for sanctification that God has allowed me, whether it be in joy or in suffering. Praise be to Him from Whom all blessings flow!

Putting Faith Into Action By Making Pilgrimage To Holy Places

pilgrimage to st. gerard national shrine
St. Gerard Maiella
No sooner had I shared the news of our expected little one with my priest, that he encouraged me to make a pilgrimage to St. Gerard’s Shrine. The patron of mothers, St. Gerard had become a favorite confidant and intercessor of mine. Did Father know that this beloved saint was honored just one town over from my childhood home or had Divine Providence intervened?

Several months would pass before the opportunity presented to entertain his recommendation, but recently a return to my hometown placed me in the neighborhood. Hard to imagine how I’d spent 18 years so close and yet so far from this holy place, but now the National Shrine of St. Gerard beckoned me to come. Sightseeing in beautiful churches is a worthy effort, but this was a pilgrimage, a deliberate journey to a holy place to worship God, to offer thanksgiving, to beseech divine aid, to seek Him.

St. Lucy's Catholic Church, Newark NJ
National Shrine of St. Gerard
When we were planning our week’s itinerary, my mother suggested traveling to visit the Shrine of Padre Pio. Considering that the initial trek home meant 9 hours trapped in a van full of my energetic offspring while steering across five states, the notion of sacrificing four more hours in commute sounded unpleasant. Never fully answering her question, I decided to mull it over. My feet were surely pointed toward St. Gerard, but somehow I couldn’t completely discount this second pilgrimage.

Padre finds me

Arriving at St. Lucy’s Catholic Church, home to St. Gerard’s shrine, the van door swung open and children piled out when what to my wandering eyes should appear, but Padre Pio. Laughing at the notion that once again this powerful saint had crossed my path, something stirred in my heart.

Together the children and I, accompanied by extended family, soaked in the beauty, the serenity, the distinct sense of holiness in the courtyard located within a busy, tired old city. Low income housing projects surround St. Lucy’s and vacant, trash-filled lots are only a stones throw away, but the ugliness of poverty and worldliness disappeared when our feet tread that sacred ground. Perhaps, therein lies some of the blessing received when one makes a pilgrimage. We seek and find God in the midst of a moment in our lives. We purposefully set aside time to let our everyday routine fade into the shadows and look directly into the eyes of God through His Creation, His inspired places.

Stepping through the heavy wooden doors leading to the sanctuary, a rush of peace surged through my mind and body. Although a pilgrim in this particular location, the sights and smells spoke of home, the Lord’s home. No matter how far and wide one might traverse in search of God, He is easily found and He has the power to transform the ordinary into the sacred.

St. Pio statue in Newark NJ
Padre Pio
No sooner had the aroma of fresh, Easter lilies wafted under my nose, then a medium-sized statue of Padre Pio stationed near the wooden entryway again drew my immediate attention. “Okay,” I relented, “I will come to visit your shrine, too.”
decorative ceiling depicting St. Gerard Majella
ceiling in the St. Gerard chapel

The morning culminated with our entrance into the side chapel devoted to St. Gerard. Gerard’s looming statue directed our gaze and thoughts upward. The dimly lit room, glinting in candlelight, reminded us to rest awhile. Climbing the narrow stairway that allows devotees to finger the cloth cassock shrouding the saint’s likeness, I reflected on the challenge to take the narrow road in life. Considering the handwritten notes tucked behind him, I realized how available the Creator of the whole universe makes Himself to us, His lowly creatures. Whispering my words of thanksgiving and my prayers for continued intercession, I was uplifted by his saintly friendship.

Mission accomplished?

My mission, so many months anticipated, was accomplished, so why I wondered was that second pilgrimage summoning. Honestly, both St. Gerard and Padre Pio have been my most recent companions, the saints I’ve turned to daily for guidance, inspiration and intercession. But seeing as both of these godly friends are aiding me toward the same goal, communion with our Heavenly Father, I couldn’t help but question what a second journey had to offer. Queries aside, it seemed Divine Providence aligned circumstances to set the trip’s agenda.

My children had not heard the same call. They were oblivious to Padre’s persistent appearances, so their audible grumblings were somewhat understandable. Trading unencumbered cousin-time for more stifled van-time certainly didn’t sound like fun, but something greater lie down the path even if they didn’t realize it. So, they less-than enthusiastically, but obediently, stuffed themselves back into our vehicle and endured the long route that delivered them into another state.

Padre Pio shrine in Barto, Pennsylvania, US
shrine of Padre Pio, Barto, PA

Finally, reaching this second shrine, the Shrine to Padre Pio, we were greeted by a very different setting. Unlike St. Lucy’s church, which shone amidst a tight backdrop of city life, Padre’s shrine seeks to mirror the wide expanse of San Giovanni, the Italian home of the saint. While we sensed the beauty and peace of this holy place, there was also a feeling of loneliness, emptiness. The numerous parking spots unoccupied and spacious grounds mostly vacant. Not unlike the trials which plagued Padre Pio in his lifetime, this shrine site has been the source of controversy and contention between the Church’s shepherds and the devotees who built the pilgrim site. Placing my feet on those grounds felt like an act of solidarity. Holy Mass is currently prohibited at this sacred site, but that doesn’t stop the faithful from worshiping God. In fact, I suppose it simply leads pilgrims to pray all the more fervently for the privilege of one day celebrating there.

Divine Mercy novena

The day we arrived was the last day of our family’s novena in preparation for Divine Mercy Sunday. Fittingly, our entrance into the building was timed exactly, through no earthly planning, with the start of a communal recitation of the chaplet. Just as we, the limited members of the Church, have the chance to beg God’s mercy for not only ourselves but for the whole world, that small assembly of pilgrims joined in unison to plead for God’s mercy to be poured out for all. What a sublime deed we were called to participate in just six days into Easter.

Soon after the chaplet finished a relic, a glove that once concealed Padre’s wounded hand, arrived and we were invited to receive a blessing. My beloved friend made himself manifest in a tangible way through that relic further reminding me that God lives and makes Himself available to us if only we avail ourselves.

Our Lady of Grace and Padre Pio painting at Barto shrineMy pilgrimages successfully concluded, I recalled the abundance of blessings showered upon us from inviting weather to restful moments. Faith alone leads our minds to our Triune Lord, to the contemplation of lessons taught by Jesus Christ, to ruminations of the examples set before us, but faith alone is not enough. For faith, without works is dead. So, these pilgrimages provided the occasion to put my feet into motion, my faith into action. The journeys required sacrifice and energy, time and physical participation. I can find God in my local parish. I can find Him kneeling beside me at my bedside, but making a pilgrimage is actively seeking.

My beloved patrons, St. Gerard and Padre Pio dedicated their lives to seeking God and to making Him present in the world. These pilgrimages invited us to share in their missions, to continue the work they’d begun. They led us to new experiences, called us into meditation, displayed the different ways in which God appears in the world. They inspire us to carry these messages, these experiences, outside of the shrines and into a world desperate for love, rest, beauty and mercy. A world seeking.

How Padre Pio Moved In My Life

Ever notice how the right people happen to cross your path just when you need them most? When we lost our firstborn we were introduced to so many other moms and dads who shared our experience as grieving parents. When we began home schooling doors opened and behind them stood fellow home educators. As our family grew beyond the standard-size, we were placed in a new community filled with large Catholic families. So it is with our sainted brothers and sisters, they tend to find their way into our lives when we need their intercession and inspiration the most.

In my kitchen there is a little shrine to the Blessed Mother. Filled with reminders of heavenly intercessors and symbols of our faith, the shrine grabs my attention every morning when I go to draw some water for my coffee pot. Of course, like most familiar objects and portraits in our everyday surroundings, sometimes my attention is fleeting. One particular day, as I was filling the water dispenser, the small portrait of Padre Pio appeared out of place. Like he’d moved front and center to garner my attention, I took special notice of him and it sparked my curiosity.

One by one I interrogated my children seeking to find the culprit behind Padre’s move, but each in turn denied having taken part in his transportation effort. Okay, it isn’t uncommon for no one to take credit for odd going’s on in our household. In fact, I’m pretty well convinced that we have any extra person living in our home that goes by the name of Itwasntme, but something about Padre’s move intrigued me.

The day happened to be Tuesday, the day of the week we attend a home school co-op, so off we went. Standing around at co-op I overheard a few fellow moms discussing the retreat they’d attended that weekend. I’d wanted to go myself, but hadn’t been able to so I was only half listening to the conversation. And then I heard his name…Padre Pio. My ears perked up as they mentioned a relic of the saint had been available during the retreat. The lucky women who’d attended had been prayed over with the relic. All the more disappointed I felt now. Recalling Padre’s portrait, it seemed as though he was reaching out to me, but had I missed our meeting?
My stepdad had a devotion to Padre Pio when he was alive, but in truth I knew very little about the saint or the reason behind the devotion to him. In the years just before his death, my stepfather actually looked a bit like the holy Italian man. In fact, one of our older boys used to favor a particular holy card of Padre because it reminded him of his grandpa Dan, but that was the extent to our friendship. Padre was my stepdad’s patron, that’s all I knew of him.

On that Tuesday, I was struggling physically and emotionally. Since having a fourth consecutive miscarriage, my body seemed unable to return to a state of normal and while I was coming to terms with the losses I still had a lot to process. So, I asked the retreat coordinator if I might be blessed to come into contact with the relic, to receive Padre’s blessing. Unfortunately, the relic was enroute to its owner, who lived several states away, but my friend advised that she’d be happy to send my request for prayer along to him. Days later I composed an email to the relic holder explaining my prayer needs. Simple, perhaps, but it seemed as though he was the intercessor for me and I just couldn’t shake the thought.

Once that petition set sail, Padre Pio began to appear around every corner, on posters, in brochures, in books, on facebook, on holy cards. Opening an email from a Catholic products provider, I was excited to discover they were giving away bottles of Padre Pio’s holy relic oil with every order of the day. Seeing as we were in need of new scapulars anyway, I seized the chance and placed an order.

Interestingly, I received two bottles of oil, but it seemed gluttonous of me to keep both. Just as I was pondering what to do with the second bottle, a friend asked for prayers for her husband, who’d just been diagnosed with cancer. Obviously, the second bottle must belong to him. I suppose that may have been Padre’s plan all along, so in the mail it went.

The miracles weren’t immediate, but the graces received due to the intercession of this great saint were unmistakeable. Additionally, I stumbled upon many quotes and teachings attributed to Padre and he began to teach me how to embrace suffering. An idea I’d been introduced to throughout our two years of cross-bearing, Padre Pio spoke directly on the subject. He knew suffering and he was asking me to thank Jesus for mine, quite a life-changing idea.

In time, my physical ills healed and more importantly I began to see the value of suffering which lifted the weight of sorrow. Padre Pio became my spiritual director, my patron. Throughout the year to follow I blessed myself daily with the oil and I discovered the beauty of this communion of saints. Like beloved siblings and good friends, they are here to teach us, to inspire us, to relate to and to pray for us.

Padre Pio may or may not have moved that little portrait on my kitchen shrine, but he did surely move into my life, into my heart.