Tonight I attended Mass and a healing service offered by Fr. Pio, a Franciscan hermit from Pennsylvania. His family was from Pietrelcina, the home of St. Padre Pio; they were personal friends of his. Fr. Pio said his mother grew up literally at St. Pio's knee. He bore an uncanny resemblance to the saint, as well. My son, Christian, and I both did a double take. Fr. Pio was here in Virginia to offer blessings and the powerful healing of body and soul through St. Pio's intercession to the Divine Physician.
His homily was inspiring, filled with stories of St. Pio's abilities to read hearts and change lives with instantaneous conversions. He said that the only requirement is to have a heart open to grace; that grace is the "relationship" with the living God. Illness, pain and death will come for all of us, he reminded. It will touch us through personal tragedy, like cancer or brain tumors -- here, I caught my breath as I looked over at my friend who is a cancer patient, and one of the most courageous women I know. Was he speaking to her? And, then he said, it will touch us through the loss of a loved one, and I realized that it would have been my parents 59th wedding anniversary today, then I saw my friend whose step-father's death was only a couple of weeks ago, but his birthday also happened to be today. And again, moments later, I watched a friend return in tears to her pew. She had just received the news that her beloved grandmother had entered eternity only minutes before while she was praying for her. I left my family to join her and offer some small consolation.
As Fr. Pio spoke, my son, Eddie, laughed and made his typical clicking noises; he has multiple disabilities. He was vocal during the entire Mass. Usually, Eddie becomes increasing vocal during the Consecration, but tonight, it began during the Gospel. When Fr. Pio began to read, Eddie became excited, smiling and laughing. He was having trouble containing himself. It was interesting to witness. Could there be something more about this particular Mass? Could Eddie be aware of something that the rest of us could not see?
I certainly believe that was the case. Lyle took him to the back of the Church, but never actually took him out. He was engaged in what was taking place, noisy but engaged. Lyle returned to the pew with Eddie just as I came back to the children after caring for my friend. We all approached for Communion together -- Eddie was simply giddy. He kept tapping his hands on his chest almost like imitating a heart beat. This was something new. Was he expressing his love? Eddie is non-verbal, with cognitive impairment and hypotonic Cerebral Palsy, but when he wants you to know something, he finds a way to make it very clear. I believe this was an outward expression prayer after Communion. I leaned in while my husband prayed and gave Eddie hugs to try to settle him down.
After the final blessing, Fr. Pio told us how to proceed to be blessed with the glove of St. Padre Pio -- a relic, not magic, he reminded. That glove once covered the painful wound of the stigmata that was granted to Padre Pio during his life. Through his intercession we were asking for the healing of the Divine Physician who makes all things new.
We waited in the pew, although they said that the sick and infirmed should approach first. The gentle people in the pew ahead of us encouraged our family to go forward. I looked at my husband, and we went up the aisle.
Fr. Pio looked at our family, all eight of us, gently smiled and thanked us for coming. We told him that our Eddie had just taken the name Pio in Confirmation. Fr. Pio's smile grew. He touched our heads and prayed for our love to increase. He gave us a phrase to pray as a family and then, he blessed each of us with the glove of St. Pio. My heart was about to explode. He thanked us again and I said, "God bless you Father." My daughters danced off with a joy too effervescent to contain. And I, to everyone's great surprise, literally lifted my seven year old up and carried her. I don't think I've attempted to carry her in years. Her giggles were uninhibited and full of joy. Each of the girls seemed inspired, awed by the experience.
But, as we walked off, I noticed that I wasn't immediately followed by my husband and sons. They were well behind us. I wondered if something had happened.
When we arrived back at our pew to give thanks and praise to God, my husband leaned in and said, "He told me we have a saint with us."
I asked, "Did you tell him we know?"
Lyle responded, "Yes."
We said our prayers and I gave permission for the kids to head out to the car. The line for the blessing seemed to stretch on forever. What an awesome sight. Lyle grabbed Eddie's hand and said it was time to go.
Eddie stayed put.
I sat down next to him and said, "Do you want to stay, Eddie?
So we sat a little longer in the pew. I guess he just hadn't finished saying, "Thank you!" I whispered to him about how great it was to be touched by His patron's glove. I asked him if he thought it was cool, too. Then, I said we needed to go home.
He stood and we left.
I know how Eddie felt. I wanted to stay, too. The Spirit was so present in that Church. It was peaceful, yet joyous; exciting, yet calming. I just wanted to stay and remain in that moment. But, we all know that life must move forward.
Fr. Pio offered in his homily the hope for each of us to experience the wonder of a moment when God just fills our souls, a moment in which we can never be the same. This evening will hopefully remain in our hearts leaving us changed as we continue our life journey. It was a gift like no other to receive the Eucharist, and then be offered the intercession of St. Padre Pio for healing while being touched by his relic. Personally, I don't think any of us will ever be the same.