His Spiritual Trials
Everyone is subject to the trials from the devil, for we are flesh and spirit, and the battle confronts us as long as the world exists. To deny the existence of evil, of the dominion and power of the infernal enemy is to cede even more power than he is already permitted by Almighty God. The most clever stratagem of Satan is to convince us that he is a figment of our imagination. Believe it or not, there are many, some of them Catholics, who do deny that there are devils who want to drag us down into Hell for all eternity, to deprive us of the eternal happiness of the Beatific Vision reserved for souls which are purified. If one does not think he has an enemy arrayed against him, he puts up no resistance simply because he does nt realize that he must. In a real sense Satan has already won the moment he succeeds in deceiving us this way.
The Church has always taught dogmatically about the existence of Satan and his devils. Our Lady of Fatima reinvigorated this truth when she showed the three little seers Hell with all its hideous punishments without end. Sometimes God permits the devil freer reign than He does at other times. St. John Vianney was tormented by the devil at great length, because God was purifying him through this test. This is the case with many Saints and Mystics, such as St. Teresa of Avila.
Padre Pio suffered two kinds of persecutions, besides that of the mortification he undertook as a private penance: unjust suppression for a time by the Church because of the sensation of his stigmata and the reports from San Giovanni Rotondo, which is discussed in ion the next page. The other persecution was trial by the devil. Padre Pio was never possessed by the devil, but he was strenuously attacked by a spirit of evil which he describes in his Letters to his Spiritual Directors. Father Mondrone tells us that:
"We might wonder why God permits such things. It could be to show forth the holiness of some soul, to increase his merit and eventually to humiliate the devil who is always vanquished in the end. As far as I am concerned, until somebody proves to me that Padre Pio was a person full of complexes, an hysteric, a poor deluded creature, and that his spiritual directors were similarly deluded, I assure you that I have no difficulty in accepting these facts." [Padre Pio: His Life and Mission, Mary E. Ingoldsby, p. 108.]
As early as his youth, Francesco Forgione fought with Satan at home. After he was ordained and still a young priest he was the constant object of insidious temptations of which he speaks immediately after ordination in a letter written to Padre Benedetto on August 17,1910:
"The devil tries to make me lose my peace of soul," he wrote, "chiefly by means of temptations against holy purity which he arouses in my imagination." Two months later, on October 20, he was to write: "Temptations pursue me more relentlessly than ever and they are a source of great suffering . . . Even during the l hours of rest the devil does not cease to torment my soul in various ways", to which his holy director replied eight days later: "Temptations are the sure sign of Divine favour and the fact that you fear them is the clearest proof that you do not yield to them. The more violently the enemy attacks you the more you must abandon yourself to the Lord, confident that he will never allow you to be overcome." [Ibid., pp. 108-109.]
Only a month later Padre Pio would write again that he scarcely had any peace; again the month after that, "the enemy of our salvation is so furious that he hardly leaves me a moment's peace and wages war on me in a variety of ways."
During Holy Week 1911 he wrote: "Even during these holy days the enemy is making every effort to induce me to consent to his impious designs. In particular this evil spirit tries by all sorts of images to introduce into my mind impure thoughts and ideas of despair." [Ibid., p. 109.]
There were many, many other such letters written by Padre Pio to his director during the same period----Satan was doing everything he could to line the Saint's pathway to Heaven with obstacles to discourage him from giving himself completely to God alone, for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
It was not until the following year that Padre Pio began to first describe the physical assaults of the devil. In a letter to Padre Agostino we find: "The ogre won't admit defeat. He has appeared in almost every form. He paid me a visit during the past few days along with some of his satellites, armed with clubs and iron weapons and what is worse, in their own form as devils. I can't tell you how many times he has thrown me out of bed and dragged me around the room." [Ibid., pp. 109-110.]
The torments from Hell came in various forms: physical, very violent beatings, and diabolical suggestions to try to induce the Saint to despair, his body would become almost frozen with cold for as long as two hours and he would spit up blood. Correspondence that was legible when sealed and sent to him would be black as ink and unreadable when opened by Padre Pio. Other times the letter would be stripped of its contents so that it was a blank sheet.
One of the worst tricks of satan was deception, by coming disguised as a Capuchin friar to tell him that he was to cease corresponding with his director. St. Pio wept at this announcement. It was his Guardian Angel who told him of the deception.
Sometimes the beatings by the demons were so relentless and cruel that Padre Pio's body was covered with sores. Throughout this ordeal at the hands of Satan and his minions Padre Pio maintained a strong "conviction that God was making use of these torments for his purification and he mentioned continually the tender intervention of Jesus and Mary after each satanical attack. Then came a change. This type of purification would appear to have ended, as we find no mention of diabolical assaults in the following year. " [Ibid., p. 111.]
A new purification began when God employed a different means to this end. Padre Pio's letters now began to tell of a fearful spiritual darkness, "when such dark clouds gather in the heavens of my soul that not even a feeble ray of light can penetrate . . . It is deep night in my soul, exposed to extreme torments and mortal agony". [Ibid., p. 112.]
He described this torment like the loss of possession of the Divine goodness; it was so severe that it could not be distinguished from the excruciating pains endured by the damned in Hell.
It was during this time that St. Pio started directing a number of holy persons by correspondence----his missives are considered spiritual masterpieces. Still, however, he sometimes explicitly described, his own soul as entering the "dark night" which St. John of the Cross wrote of at length in his book, THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL. This "dark night" is the test of aridity and sense of abandonment which God seems to reserve for those who have followed him with sublime generosity and are destined for the greatest sanctity.
It is believed by several Catholic writers who have followed the Padre and or studied him and his work, that he had to endure this "dark night" for the rest of his long life. "As he went from strength to strength in his direction of others and his wonderful charism of discernment emerged more clearly, drawing ever greater numbers to seek his guidance, this extraordinary friar remained in complete darkness as regards the state of his own soul. Padre Agostino in particular has been able to hand on to us many precious details in this regard, as he was in more or less constant touch with Padre Pio for many years and kept a diary in which he entered particulars of what he observed in his holy confrere." [Ibid.]