Tag Archives: st. padre pio

Time to set the world on fire

PATRICK NOVECOSKY writes that our efforts to change the culture must be rooted in prayer . . .

Patrick Novecosky

Patrick Novecosky

I just finished watching a three-hour miniseries on St. Padre Pio, and it got me thinking: Why aren’t we all as spiritually connected to Christ as he was? What does it take to realize your spiritual potential and become a great saint right now?

You see, that’s the thing. Great saints are great before they get to heaven, not just after they die. And they weren’t great in their earthly lives because of their accomplishments necessarily, but because of their radical love for Jesus Christ — whether they felt his presence in their lives or not. With a radical pursuit of Christ comes surrender to his will and his providence. With that surrender comes humility. With humility, holiness. It’s that easy … and it’s not easy.

The lives of the saints show us, too, that sanctity is a process. Just as we mature physically from childhood to adulthood, so too with the spiritual life. Sadly, too many Catholics think their spiritual growth ends at Confirmation. They mistakenly believe that our faith is like going to school. Once you get the diploma, you’re done. But our faith isn’t only about knowing the rules and regulations, it’s about a person — Jesus — and our relationship with him.

Here’s another analogy that works best with men. Men spend an inordinate amount of time and effort to woo their beloved. Most men put a lot of thought and money into their efforts to win the heart of the women they want to marry. Only a foolish man would go to such lengths, then forget all about her after the ring       is on her finger!

Our relationship with Christ should be no different. We spend our early years learning about the sacraments and then receiving the sacraments. In a sense, Confirmation is like our wedding day. Our relationship with Christ takes on a new dimension with the Holy Spirit. It takes root, but it needs to be nourished.

St. Catherine of Siena famously wrote that “if you are what you should be, you will set the whole world on fire!” How to make that happen? By understanding that our lives as Christians must be about a relationship with Christ from which everything else flows. When we finally come to the end of our earthly road, heaven will be a continuation of that relationship in a new and unimaginable way.

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is the editor-in-chief of Legatus magazine.

Shepherding Spiritual Shepherds

Omaha’s Institute for Priestly Formation helps priests fall in love with Jesus . . .

shepherds-1The seminarian was divided against himself and felt “overwhelmed by Satan,” which he confided to his spiritual director, Monsignor John A. Esseff.

But through a 10-week summer program at The Institute for Priestly Formation (IPF), the distressed seminarian realized that “so much in him had sold out to sin and become hardened that he was leading a double life, conforming outwardly to seminary expectations but unconverted within,” said Monsignor Esseff, whose brother George is a member of Legatus’ Ventura/LA North Chapter and member of IPF’s Mission Advisory Council.

“The grace of the retreat experience made [the seminarian] become truly himself through conversion of heart,” Monsignor Esseff said. “That joy of experiencing union with Christ gave him the most marvelous sense of freedom. Then he could really explore what he was called to and knew that the priesthood was his true calling. He’s now ordained and is a wonderful, happy priest.”

Bearing fruit

Monsignor John Esseff with Mother Teresa in the 1980s

Monsignor John Esseff with Mother Teresa in the 1980s

Monsignor Esseff — an exorcist for the Diocese of Scranton, Pa. — revels in his work as an IPF spiritual director. The priest has served as a spiritual director to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, and he himself was mentored by St. Padre Pio.

He has assisted IPF since fellow Scranton priest Fr. Richard Gabuzda and three others founded it in 1994. They were inspired by Blessed John Paul II’s 1992 call for a renewed vision for the priesthood and seminary formation in Pastores Dabo Vobis (I Will Give You Shepherds).

The institute is located on the campus of Omaha’s Creighton University. IPF enjoys an affiliation with the Jesuit institution, which grants IPF students course credit. However, it’s a separate entity — a non-profit Public Association of the Faithful.

Fr. Richard Gabuzda

Fr. Richard Gabuzda

Six seminarians attended its first summer session in 1995. Some 2,000 have followed. More than 80% of U.S. dioceses have not only entrusted their seminarians to IPF’s summer school, but have sent their priests and seminary formation personnel to other IPF programs, including 30-day Ignatian retreats and a three-year course to train spiritual directors.

Indeed, Ignatian spirituality has breathed life into IPF since its inception. Father Gabuzda, Kathy Kanavy and Fr. John Horn, SJ, participated in a 30-day Ignatian retreat at Creighton in the early 1990s. The retreat so strengthened their relationship with Christ that “it became clear God had called us together – along with Fr. George Aschenbrenner, SJ – to do something more,” said Fr. Gabuzda, IPF’s executive director.

In response to John Paul’s call for spiritual formation to be at the heart of priestly ministry, said Fr. Gabuzda, “we founded a novitiate dedicated to the charism of diocesan priests in order to draw seminarians and priests into a deeper encounter with God, and to draw the people they serve into that encounter as well.” Unlike religious orders, he noted, diocesan formation does not include a novitiate or time set apart for spiritual preparedness.

Deeper love for Jesus

IPF’s summer school for seminarians, its keystone program, begins with an eight-day silent retreat, followed by daily classes and one-on-one meetings between each seminarian and an assigned spiritual director.

“In seminary so many things are going on that you can get distracted from your prayer life,” said Matthew Clarke of Illinois’ Springfield diocese, who is studying at Mundelein Seminary. He attended IPF’s summer school last year. “IPF strengthened my prayer life and relationship with God. It’s steeped in Ignatian spirituality: in a nutshell, to see God more clearly, to love him more dearly, and to follow him more nearly.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila

Clarke, 43, credits IPF for giving him a model of prayer and spiritual life so necessary to “entering into that close relationship with Christ that’s the basis of priesthood.”

The bishops sending their seminarians and priests to IPF programs are in lock-step with Clarke’s sentiments.

“I remember when I first attended the Institute for Priestly Formation in 2004 for a 30-day silent, directed retreat,” said Denver’s Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, a member of IPF’s Bishops Advisory Council. “My spiritual life was forever changed and deepened in a way I never thought possible. I learned to pray like I never had before. Those weeks brought forth in me an even deeper love for Jesus, a new and lasting awareness of my sonship in the Father, and the possibilities of the life of grace in the Holy Spirit.”

The spiritual formation that priests and seminarians receive from IPF, he continued, “equips them to serve as diocesan priests, a calling that requires deep intimacy with the Trinity and Mary. That’s because a priest cannot invite others into true intimacy with God without having that kind of relationship himself. Once he experiences this true intimacy, it changes his preaching, teaching and celebration of the sacraments.”

The main goal of IPF’s formation is to help priests and seminarians “fall in love and stay in love with God,” said Denver’s spiritual shepherd, who sends his seminarians and priests to IPF programs each year.

Legatus connection

Tom Pogge

Tom Pogge

Tom Pogge, a member of Legatus’ Omaha Chapter, is IPF’s director of mission advancement and executive director of its fundraising wing, The Institute for Priestly Formation Foundation.

Pogge, 65, enjoyed a long career as a corporate lawyer before joining IPF in 2006 and taking on these twin roles that were a natural given his background in executive decision-making, finance, and fundraising. A longtime member of the Serra Club, Pogge already had an abiding love and appreciation for the priesthood.

His evangelistic fervor for IPF has helped broaden its support base, undergirding its ongoing expansion. The program to train spiritual directors — a three-year program that meets three weeks per year at Mundelein Seminary — is doubling in size this spring to 154 priests. And Pogge envisions an expansion of IPF’s facilities at Creighton, including an international center for priestly renewal.

“Having lived through all the changes from Vatican II and the confusion that came out of it, I think we’re seeing a renewal of the Church and what the Council Fathers were really calling for starting to emerge,” he explained.

“To renew the Church, we need strong, spiritually healthy priests. And when people learn about what IPF is doing to serve this holy purpose, they’re excited — and rightly so.”

MATTHEW A. RAREY is Legatus Magazine’s editorial assistant.

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Amazing phenomenon

Mysterious signs are not the basis of our faith, but rather should help affirm it . . . 

A consecrated host in Buenos Aires falls to the ground during Communion and is placed in water so that it can dissolve. Several days later, it has not dissolved and red stains have formed on it. The stains are tested and identified as human heart tissue.

A saintly priest mysteriouly acquires the wounds of Christ known as the stigmata and bears them throughout his lifetime. Witnesses claim he can bilocate and read souls. When his body is exhumed 40 years after his death, it is found to be mostly incorrupt.

Type a few key words from any of these accounts into your favorite internet search engine and you’ll get the full story about each one. But are these things true? And, if so, what do they have to do with the Catholic faith?

Miracles and hoaxes

As any Catholic knows, miraculous occurrences have been part of Christianity since the days when Christ healed the sick, turned water into wine and multiplied a small cache of loaves and fishes to feed thousands.

Miracles have occurred throughout Church history — from apparitions of the Blessed Mother to saints who bore the stigmata and whose bodies were found to be incorrupt after death. Recent examples of these phenomena involve St. Pio of Pietrelcina — better known as Padre Pio — who died in 1968 and was canonized in 2002.

Jimmy Akin

Jimmy Akin

Not every miraculous occurrence, however, is authentic and from God. Jimmy Akin, senior apologist with Catholic Answers, said it’s important to distinguish between paranormal phenomena of divine origin and those that might come from another source, such as Satan.

“Certain tests can be used,” he said. “Sometimes this is difficult to apply, but if a paranormal phenomenon endorses ideas contrary to the Catholic faith, then it’s not coming from God. If it seems to have a tendency to corrupt the morals of individuals rather than build them up, it’s also a sign that this is not from God.

“Things can also be produced by the imagination, they can be misperceptions of things thought to be supernatural when they are not,” Akin explained. “And then there are outright hoaxes.”

For example, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, a psychologist and author of several books on extraordinary phenomena, told Legatus Magazine that he has examined five reported cases of people who thought they might have the stigmata. In one case, he said, the wounds seemed to have been selfinflicted, and he determined it was a fraud. The other four looked more like blood blisters than the open wounds associated with authentic stigmata.

“The Church is very matter-of-fact when it comes to these things,” said Fr. Thomas Euteneuer, an exorcist and president of Human Life International. “It goes back to 1 Jn 4:1, which says, ‘Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.’

“The Church follows that advice and asks the individual faithful to be very circumspect about spiritual things so they don’t fall into either superstition or the occult; and then the Church herself very seriously tests all alleged supernatural phenomena in order to protect the faithful.”

Even when the Church authenticates supernatural occurrences, it does not require that Catholics believe in them.

Father John Trigilio, co-author of The Catholicism Answer Book, said approved phenomena are merely there to help one’s faith. “The caution on the part of the Church when they investigate these things — besides authenticating them — is that they don’t want that to become a person’s principle of faith, that they believe because of these things.”

Extraordinary graces like the gift of miracles “are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. They are at the service of charity which builds up the Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2003).


Furthermore, even when a supernatural phenomenon is determined by the Church to be the real thing, it can take years to authenticate.

Maureen Digan

Maureen Digan

Maureen Digan was healed of Milroy disease (lymphedema) while praying at the tomb of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska in 1981. But her cure was not accepted as a miracle until 1992.

“They didn’t even start investigating until five years after it occurred,” Digan said, who hails from Lee, Mass. Digan was examined by five different physicians, whose testimony was submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The cure was accepted as a miracle and led to St. Faustina’s beatification in 1993.

Digan said that when she was healed, she felt an instant change in her leg. (She already had lost one leg to lymphedema, which causes swelling from excess fluid in the tissues.) At Faustina’s tomb, she said, “All of a sudden, I could feel the leg changing.”

However, Digan didn’t want to examine her leg right away, and waited until she was back in her room. When she did, the leg looked normal and the swelling and pain were gone. The next day, Digan showed it to her husband, Bob, who smiled and said, “We came here for a healing. You’ve been healed.”

Someone who thinks he’s experienced a miraculous occurrence should first “calm down,” Fr. Groeschel advised. Secondly, he should seek out a serious, prudent person for advice. Often, he said, unusual phenomena can be brought on by a person who is under pressure.

In his book A Still, Small Voice, Fr. Groeschel cautions that religious people often have a tendency to look for signs, but that most authentic visions occurred to simple people, usually children, who were not seeking them.

The best kind of religious experience, he writes, is found in reading of the gospel and in the example of those who care for the poor. “It brings together the ordinary events of life and transfuses them with the light of divine grace given through the gospel, the Church and the sacraments.”

Father Trigilio observed that Catholics looking for a genuine miraculous experience need look no further than Mass.

“Even if it is true that Mary is appearing somewhere, the greatest miracle is the Mass — the substantial truth of the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ,” he said. “It pleases the Lord more that we go to Mass every chance we get. That’s the biggest miracle of all, done by Christ himself.”

Judy Roberts is a Legatus Magazine staff writer.