As Zeppelins began to course the Deutschland skies and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein shone on American picture screens, somewhere in Italy a young man, robed in Franciscan brown, grasped his hands in pain. It was 1910 when this friar first felt the wounds of God. Eight years later, praying before an image of the one who bore them nineteen centuries prior, his hands, his side, and his feet began to bleed.
Strange, you might say. Sure seems like odd timing.
You’d expect this kind of thing in the Middle Ages, but in the twentieth century? Isn’t it a bit incongruous to know that somewhere in Italy there is a friar bearing the wounds of Christ while “Good Morning Mr. Zip-Zip-Zip” is playing on your transistor radio? It kinda takes the fun out of taunting Russians over the shortwave, knowing that there is a holy man speaking with angels and battling demons across the pond. We just sent a man into orbit? Yeah, well that’s cool I guess, but this guy bi-locates. Johnny Larson has invented the Polygraph — Padre Pio can read souls.
There is something a bit awkward about being a believer today. Maybe you’ve never felt it. Maybe I’m just projecting. But, gee, sometimes it just feels like the world has moved on. How would our Lord fit into our modern life? Sure he went to weddings, worked with his hands, traversed land and sea, but can you imagine the Son of God having a Facebook page? Perhaps I’m making something out of nothing, but at times the feeling of incongruity can be overwhelming. Caravaggio painted Christ calling the Apostle Matthew right into 16th-century Italy, complete with 16th-century puffy sleeves, feather hats, and all. Somehow it worked. Some artists have attempted to do the same today, with blue jeans and t-shirts. Somehow it doesn’t work. It just comes across as irony.
Then comes Padre Pio. Here is a holy man who bore the wounds of Christ, just yesterday, in the twentieth century, while the mad men were revolutionizing advertising in Manhattan skyscrapers and a rhesus monkey named Albert was howling jubilant weightless screams in an American space capsule. Somehow all of this falls under God’s providence. In the ineffable mystery of God’s plan, he gives St. Padre Pio to bear anew that most striking sign of his love, the wounds of Christ’s body nailed upon the cross.
Those miraculous wounds unsettle the course of things. Time wavers, centuries collapse. The crucified is near.
Maybe our age isn’t so different after all. Maybe behind all our gizmos and gadgets, our networks and knowledge, our subjective turns and Copernican revolutions, underneath it all, maybe we are all just naked sons of Adam, naked daughters of Eve. Maybe our age too is loved. Maybe, even today, we are carried by the Savior.
Image: Thierry Ehrmann, Padre Pio de Pietrelcina