Holy Ghost & Halloween

The miracles worked through Padre Pio challenge even hardcore skeptics

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Faith

What if I happened to meet an old crone in the local park who could read my mind, flash heal my heart disease, and predict future events? Would I then accuse her of witchcraft? Strict Puritans would have done so in the year 1692, for that’s what spawned the Salem witch hunt in New England—their grim version of anti-Halloween. Thirty people, mostly women, were falsely accused, tried on flimsy evidence, and executed on the gallows.

America’s pilgrim Puritans, in defiance of the Catholic Church’s ancient doctrine and traditions, would not celebrate Halloween or Christmas. They called Easter the devil’s holiday. They despised how the Church had absorbed into Halloween the pagan Celtic festival of Samhain, where people in costumes would dance around huge bonfires to ward off ghosts and goblins. The Puritans rejected as idolatry the “cult” of the Virgin Mary and Catholic saints and any miracles not found in Scripture. When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the iron-clad door of a German cathedral on All Hallows Eve, he sparked a purgative, far-reaching reformation that shook the Church to its foundations.

In my youth, I also questioned the biblical miracles. Did they actually happen, or had the Church imagined them to spice up the Bible? Who could prove to me Bible miracles happened as described? I learned that America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson—a polymath with an IQ of 150 and maybe a member of the Freemasons — had published in 1804 his extracted version of the Christian Bible, stripped of any mention of supernatural miracles. His attitude typified the then-prevailing Protestant sentiment: that anything supernatural was superstitious poppycock, used to attract a gullible public. I could see that he had discarded the capstone event of Jesus’s resurrection — the greatest of all biblical miracles. If nothing else, America’s own Doubting Thomas had discredited the sine qua non of Christianity (cf. 1 Cor. 15:12-19). My dad, a Freemason, also had doubts about Christ’s resurrection.

Despite the growth of American Protestantism, by 1860 Catholicism had become the largest religious denomination. But to do so, the American Church had to dilute its doctrine and accommodate the self-individualism of transcendental philosophers like Ralph W. Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Unfortunately, these were my favorite authors. The Church further softened its doctrine by the mid-1960s and was no longer preaching hell fire and damnation, to placate growing skepticism over organized religion.

Along came the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi of Beatles fame. I dabbled in Transcendental Meditation for a while and abandoned it when I couldn’t levitate as promised. Maybe the report of Sts. Teresa of Avila and Joseph of Cupertino floating up to a chapel ceiling during contemplative prayer was another lie. I had hoped but failed to prove it true.

My esteem for the Faith was further weakened by socio-cultural changes and scientific progress, which quickened the rationalist skeptic in me. Bold scientific accomplishments promised a material heaven on earth, and, being an engineer, I swallowed their “good news” hook, line, and sinker. Real miracles would come from the god of science.

Shortly after I graduated, my paternal aunt, a Third Order Franciscan, traveled to Italy and met a humble Franciscan priest named Padre Pio. After she returned, we met to discuss his remarkable ministry. He worked miracles and wonders that could challenge hardcore skeptics like me. Even his own Franciscan brothers were fearful of his supernatural powers. At one point he was ostracized and reprimanded by his superiors who suspected him of being a fake. But after Padre Pio’s holiness attracted hundreds of pilgrims, the lucrative income from a daily stream of devotees silenced his jealous critics.

The Holy Ghost manifested some spooky deeds through his servant, Padre Pio. WWII fighter pilots reported an apparition of him in the sky, the sheer fright of which turned them back from bombing a village. Padre Pio was known to bi-locate, or appear in two places at once, in locales thousands of miles apart. This same gift is often mentioned in biographies of both Eastern and Western saints. He was able to read souls and reveal unconfessed sins, stunning men into repentance, like Jesus (cf. Matt 9:4), and leading to dramatic conversions. One famous episode involved an embarrassed bishop who failed to say Mass on his arrival in Rome. No one could have known but the Holy Ghost. Padre Pio could heal at the very hour asked, like Jesus healing from afar the official’s son (cf. John 4:46-54), and he raised a baby back to life for its pleading mother (cf. Luke 7:11). Padre Pio bore the stigmata for fifty years; when he died, the marks disappeared.

The Holy Ghost had fun working miracles through him, but they scared the Hell out of me. Through the powerful miracles worked by this lowly priest, I came to believe wholeheartedly in Christianity. I now can believe all the Scriptural miracles—especially the Resurrection of Christ—and the thousands described in Butler’s Lives of the Saints.

I  will celebrate a newly canonized Padre Pio on All Saints’ Day, after the ankle-biter ghosts and witches have done their best to scare me on Halloween.

 

Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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