Memorial of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, priest
(Ezra 9:5-9; Luke 9:1-6)
In Italy many stories are told about Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, known universally in the Church as Padre Pio. A story told in America about him occurred during World War II when American soldiers were marching up the Italian peninsula. A group of soldiers stopped at the Franciscan monastery where Padre Pio lived. The saint spotted one of their numbers and told him that he had to go to confession. The soldier knew what he was talking about and relieved his conscience of a heavy burden. In today’s first reading a whole nation similarly relieves its conscience.
The issue causing Ezra’s public repentance with the approval of the people is the apostasy of many Israelites. In great numbers Jerusalem’s men have taken foreign wives and converted to pagan idolatry. Ezra knows that faith is both precious and elusive. Unless the people take strides to practice and preserve their faith, it will slip from their possession like a fish just out of water from one’s hands.
Few of us seem to have the stomach for private penance, much less public demonstrations of remorse. Friday is a day of penance on the books, but even church organizations do not hold back from celebrating on that day. Yet penance is more about building up the self than tearing it down. It acknowledges God as the supreme source of our strength and appeals to Him to correct our faults.