My Burden is Light (July 2002)

July 2002
My burden is light ©

If you received an invitation that read: “You are cordially invited to take up your cross and follow me. Signed: Jesus”, would you shout out: “Yes!”? Would you change your summer vacation plans to accept this invitation?

Fact is, we have come to see “carrying our cross” as hard work …no fun at all. So is Jesus trying to con us when he says that his yoke is easy and his burden is light?

The truth is that when we dismiss this invitation, we miss the whole point of life. Our cross is ourselves. This is what we find hardest in life to carry. Look into a full-length mirror, naked, and you will see the cross we find so difficult to carry.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people think themselves unattractive, untalented or unlovable. It only we could see ourlseves as God sees us: inherently beautiful, gifted and very lovable, despite whatever weaknesses may cause us to stray off course from time to time.

Christ’s only burden is truth, and his yoke – which helps us carry that burden – is love. Love is the working part of truth. Truth will set you free, says John. So in reality, truth is no burden at all, if it is borne in love. To the contrary, illusion is the burden that passes as pleasure …even though it limits movement and drags us into a slow form of dying. Illusion is no yoke at all, so it cannot help us to carry the dead-weight of our false selves.

The French novelist George Bernanos, a man greatly admired for his uncompromising fidelity to God wrote: “You cannot know someone without loving them.” No wonder we do not know our true selves …if we do not love ourselves first. No wonder we judge others harshly, without really knowing them. And no wonder we have difficulty knowing God, placing – as we do – conditions on our love.

Without love, all is darkness and alienation, cunningly presented as reason. Without truth, all is false and therefore can provide neither peace nor joy. Pleasure must be constantly reconstructed because it is counterfeit and ephemeral.

As burdens go, grace is lighter than sin, and virtue is lighter than vice, and good is lighter than evil. Sin is a heavy set of phoney props …it forces us to live superficially …leaping mindlessly from one fantasy to another. Therefore, sin cannot satisfy over the long term and exposes us to grave physical and psychological dangers. Hence, it provides no peace. That is why we say it leads to hell – the antithesis of peace.

Virtue is what is real because it fully employs all of our God-given faculties and commits us to authentic relationships. Therefore, virtue is ultimately most satisfying because it provides perfect joy and peace.

At the recent canonisation ceremony for Padre Pio, the pope suggested that Jesus’ words to his disciples could be heard as a magnificent summary of the whole life of the holy Franciscan. The life and mission of Padre Pio prove that difficulties and sorrows, if accepted out of love, are transformed into a privileged way of holiness, which opens to prospects of a greater good, known only to the Lord.

Following is a translation of the homily John Paul II delivered during the canonization ceremony.

1. “For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Matthew 11:30). Jesus’ words to his disciples, which we have just heard, help us to understand the most important message of this solemn celebration. Indeed, in a certain sense, we can consider them as a magnificent summary of the whole life of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, today proclaimed a saint. The evangelical image of the “yoke” recalls the many trials that the humble Capuchin of San Giovanni Rotondo had to face. Today we contemplate in him how gentle the “yoke” of Christ is, and how truly light is his burden when it is borne with faithful love. The life and mission of Padre Pio prove that difficulties and sorrows, if accepted out of love, are transformed into a privileged way of holiness, which opens to prospects of a greater good, known only to the Lord.

2. “But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). Is it not, precisely, the “glory of the Cross” that shines above all in Padre Pio? How timely is the spirituality of the Cross lived by the humble Capuchin of Pietrelcina! Our times have need of rediscovering its value in order to open the heart to hope. Throughout his life, he always sought greater conformity with the Crucified, being very conscious of having been called to collaborate in a special way in the work of redemption. His holiness cannot be understood without this constant reference to the Cross. In God’s plan, the Cross constitutes the true instrument of salvation for the whole of humanity and the way explicitly proposed by the Lord to all those who wish to follow him (see Mark 16:24). The Holy Brother of Gargano understood this well who, on the feast of the Assumption in 1914, wrote: “In order to succeed in reaching our ultimate end we must follow the divine Head, who does not wish to lead the chosen soul on any way other than the one he followed; by that, I say, of abnegation and the Cross” (Epistolario II, p. 155).

3. “I, the Lord, bring about kindness” (Jeremiah 9:23).
Padre Pio was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making himself available to all through hospitality, spiritual direction and especially the administration of the sacrament of penance. The ministry of the confessional, which is one of the distinctive traits of his apostolate, attracted numerous crowds of faithful to the monastery of San Giovanni Rotondo. Even when that singular confessor treated pilgrims with apparent severity, the latter, becoming conscious of the gravity of sin and sincerely repentant, almost always came back for the peaceful embrace of sacramental forgiveness. May his example encourage priests to carry out this ministry with joy and assiduousness, so important today, as I wished to confirm in the Letter to Priests on the occasion of last Holy Thursday.

4. “Lord, you are my only good.”
This is what we sang in the Responsorial Psalm. Through these words, the new saint invites us to place God above all, and to consider him our sole and highest good. In fact, the ultimate reason for Padre Pio’s apostolic efficacy, the profound root of so much spiritual fruitfulness, is found in that intimate and constant union with God, of which his long hours spent in prayer were eloquent testimonies. He loved to repeat: “I am a poor Brother who prays,” convinced that “prayer is the best weapon we have, a key that opens the heart of God.” This fundamental characteristic of his spirituality continues in the Prayer Groups that he founded, which offer to the Church and society the wonderful contribution of incessant and confident prayer. To prayer, Padre Pio joined an intense charitable activity, of which the House for the Relief of Suffering is an extraordinary expression. Prayer and charity, this is the most concrete synthesis of Padre Pio’s teaching, which is proposed again today to everyone.

5. “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike” (Matthew 11:25).
How appropriate these words of Jesus seem, when applied to you, humble and beloved, Padre Pio.
Teach us also, we pray, humility of heart, in order to be numbered among the little ones of the Gospel, to whom the Father has promised to reveal the mysteries of his Kingdom. Help us to pray tirelessly, certain that God knows what we need, even before we ask him.
Obtain for us eyes of faith capable of recognizing immediately in the poor and suffering the very face of Jesus. Sustain us in the hour of battle and trial and, if we fall, make us experience the joy of the sacrament of forgiveness. Transmit to us your tender devotion to Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother. Accompany us on our earthly pilgrimage toward the blessed homeland, which we also hope to reach, to contemplate forever the Glory of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Model of spirituality and humanity

A day after Padre Pio’s canonization, John Paul II proposed him as “model of spirituality and humanity” for the world. Meeting in Paul VI Hall with thousands of pilgrims who came to Rome for the canonization, the Pope reviewed the lessons of life left by the Capuchin friar (1887-1968). Padre Pio of Pietrelcina was the 462nd saint proclaimed by this pontificate, and is among the most loved throughout the world. The Shrine of San Giovanni Rotondo in southern Italy, where Padre Pio lived, receives over 6 million pilgrims a year. It is now third in terms of visits by the faithful, after the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico and the Vatican. “What is the secret of so much admiration and love for this new saint?” the Holy Father asked. “Above all, he is a ‘friar of the people,’ a traditional characteristic of Capuchins. Moreover, he is a holy miracle-worker, as proved by the extraordinary events that filled his life. However, above all, he was a religious who was sincerely in love with the crucified Christ.” “In the course of his life he participated in the mystery of the cross, including physically,” the Pope said. Karol Wojtyla, the future John Paul II, visited the friar in 1947, and went to confession to him in San Giovanni Rotondo. Padre Pio followed this path “in profound communion with the Church,” the Pontiff clarified. “He was not hindered in this filial obedience by momentary misunderstandings with one or another ecclesial authority.” In fact, Padre Pio endured investigations and restrictions in the exercise of his priestly ministry, imposed by the Holy Office, because of false accusations by people who were resentful of his extraordinary impact on others.

Biography of Pio of Pietrelcina (1887-1968)

Padre Pio (1887-1968), the Church’s newest canonized saint, was born on May 25, 1887, in Pietrelcina, in the Archdiocese of Benevento. He was the son of Grazio Forgione and Maria Giuseppa De Nunzio. According to the Vatican biography written for the occasion of his canonization, he was baptized the next day and given the name Francesco. At age 12 he received the sacrament of confirmation and made his first Communion. On Jan. 6, 1903, he entered the novitiate of the Capuchin friars at Morcone, where on Jan. 22 he took the Franciscan habit and the name Brother Pio. At the end of his novitiate year he took simple vows, and on Jan. 27, 1907, made his solemn profession. After he was ordained priest Aug. 10, 1910, at Benevento, he stayed at home with his family until 1916 for health reasons. In September of that year he was sent to the friary of San Giovanni Rotondo and remained there until his death. Padre Pio was renowned for his work with the sacrament of reconciliation and for his reverence in celebrating the Mass. On the level of social charity, he committed himself to relieving the pain and suffering of families, chiefly through the foundation of the House for the Relief of Suffering, opened on May 5, 1956. He was devoted to prayer. “In books we seek God, in prayer we find him,” the Capuchin would say. “Prayer is the key which opens God’s heart.” For more than 50 years, countless people had recourse to his ministry and his confessional, his counsel and his consolation. Yet, he thought of himself as useless, unworthy of God’s gifts. Amid so much admiration around him, he would say: “I only want to be a poor friar who prays.” On Feb. 20, 1971, barely three years after the death of Padre Pio, Pope Paul VI, speaking to the superiors of the Capuchin order, said of him: “Look what fame he had, what a worldwide following gathered around him! But why? Perhaps because he was a philosopher? Because he was wise? Because he had resources at his disposal? Because he said Mass humbly, heard confessions from dawn to dusk and was — it is not easy to say it — one who bore the wounds of Our Lord. He was a man of prayer and suffering.” In the years following his death, his reputation for sanctity and miracles grew steadily. Padre Pio was beatified May 2, 1999. Last Feb. 28 the decree of canonization was promulgated.

Papal remarks, the commentary on Padre Pio and biographical notes were provided by the Zenit News Service.