Thursday, March 13, 2008


Computers are wonderful tools but sadly they are quickly deteriorating one of the greatest accidental historical archives of our present age: that of the handwritten letter. Some might wish to point out that there are such things as blogs and other electronic bits of data that will exist forever out on the Internet and perhaps that brings with it its own advantages, but there is still something special about having that piece of paper in someone’s own handwriting in which they share intimate thoughts with a trusted other.

Once I bought an antique desk and underneath a drawer I found a letter written in a very precise female hand talking about a flu epidemic and her concern for her family. For me this was history flying up off of the page and slapping me in the face. Such is the power of the letter.

Fortunately for us the relative recent history of the Church finds that a good number of the faithful have written letters and diaries. Many have survived and are giving us an exciting insight into the thoughts of those we now call saints. Now we can ask the questions with purpose, “What were they thinking?” and “Were they really all that different from me?”

Recently a friend who sometimes guest blogs on this site said that she was rather relieved to read that Mother Theresa, when she was invited to speak in Las Vegas, wrote that she might die of fear and shyness. When faced with having to share her own faith in public she gained strength in knowing that even those we now consider great were burdened with the same fears that we “common folk” have.

To this end Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa has pulled together excerpts from the letters of Padre Pio that give us a unique insight into the thoughts of this modern saint. We find here not a man who finds the faithful Catholic life a walk in the park, but a man who struggled like we struggle, who had doubts like we have doubts, but who, in spite of it all, who remained loyal to God. In fact, his entire life seems to have been a living out of Psalm 13.

The unique aspect of this book is not that it presents you with the letters of Padre Pio which are many (and are already available to you in other books), but that this author has selected gems from many letters, about a paragraph or two each, sorted them into thirteen categories such as “I Do Not Wish to Offend God Again,” and “The School of Virtue,” and gives a short preface for each.

The author repeatedly emphasizes that this book will not give you a complete picture of the saint but does allow you, particularly those familiar with him already, a chance to hear him speak on his own behalf. Besides, who cannot resist wanting to know what it was like discovering that you have the stigmata from the man himself? In excerpt 117 he writes, “Yesterday evening [7.9.1911], something happened to me that I can neither explain nor understand. In the middle of my palms there appeared a spot of red almost in the shape of a penny, accompanied by a sharp and strong pain in the spot’s centre.”

The translations of the letters are extremely easy to read. The way the book is designed allows the reader to take in a short passage and set the book down and contemplate, a method I highly recommend to the cover-to-cover method I used in order to review this book for you.

Particularly if you already know and love Saint Pio, you might find this book fascinating. Others might gain spiritual strength in knowing that you are not alone in your struggles even among the saints.

WHAT: Words of Light; Inspiration from the Letters of Padre Pio
WHO: Compiled and with an Introduction by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa
GENERAL INFORMATION: Paraclete Press; Brewster, Massachusetts; 2000 –


Anonymous said...

You're so right about handwritten letters. I found a couple letters from my great uncle recently (the one who was a friend of Padre Pio's), and so now they are such a treasure to me. I also have saved some letters from my Mom and Dad to me while in college.

And about that book...I have a review copy sitting right here but I have so far only had time to glance through it. It's just wonderful and as I am his spiritual daughter (my uncle told me so and Padre Pio has let this be known to me), well, I can already tell that this book will help me to know him better.

His grumpiness still scares me, though.


Anonymous said...

Well, I"d be grumpy, too, if I grappled bodily with demons -- quite probably the same ones who wanted to grapple with the un- and under-confessed, but whom Pio detained instead, via prayer. We're so blind to the breadth of diabolic foils.

Besides, it's possible that everyone except Drew Barrymore is grumpy now and then. Maybe even Fr. V.

The book sounds wonderful.

Anonymous said...

justme ~ Padre Pio's grumpiness is legendary. Even in this book he addresses his "anger issues" (in modern parlance). He would literally THROW people out of the confessional.

At times, it was well justified. I have another book about him that described how people would come to him for Confession and when he called them to task for things, they would say, "Well, Padre, don't be so hard on me I can't do that..." etc. And thus no firm purpose of amendment. Padre Pio would of course become angry and throw them out, telling them not to come back until they were willing to acknowledge their sin and want to eliminate it. But even Padre Pio mentioned that he was too hard on people when he let his anger get the better of him. And it was a problem even before the demonic attacks began.

But I grew up hearing about this uncle worked his entire life for his canonization, and was able to be present at his beatification. (He died shortly after.) So he's our family saint, and I do associate him with my Great Uncle, whom I never met but did speak with on the phone. And as I understand it, he was a bit of a grump, too! LOL! But quite beloved, just as was Padre Pio.

Anonymous said...

My education of Padre Pio started 3 years ago when we enrolled our son at Padre Pio Academy (very small school in our area). He is fascinating...equally fascinating is your connection, Adoro! What a wonderful gift.

Adoro said...

Eileen ~ It's a gift, but don't read too much into it! I grew up hearing my great-uncle was his friend, and even since Padre Pio was canonized, I sorta took it with a grain of salt. As a child of course he was just some priest my uncle was friends with. After his canonization I questioned what that meant, really. Until a Sister, last fall, began telling me all about my uncle's friendship with Padre Pio! She told me things about him I never knew. And a woman at the parish where I work now apparently also knew my uncle, said that he served Padre Pio's Masses. THAT was new to me!

So it's cool to have the connection, but being that I know so little about it that random strangers are telling me more...well...

Anyway, sorry Fr. V., didn't mean to hijack the post!

I can't wait to do my own entry on this book, although from what I've seen Fr. V. has already done a better job with it. So just go buy'll be worth it to you. :-)

Fr. V said...

No need to apologize! Better this space used for a good purpose than go unused.

Anonymous said...

Lovely post.

Are you always this coherent 3:30 AM?