Correspondence with Raffaelina Cerase, Noblewoman
Edited by Melchiorre of Pobladura and
Allessandro of Ripabottoni.
English Version edited by Father Gerardo Di Flumeri, O.F.M. Cap.
Editions: "Padre Pio da Pietrelcina", 1987
Our Lady of Grace Friary
71013 SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO (FG), Italy
[ This letter is an exceptional
explanation of the Sacrament of Baptism. The reality of following Christ means
death to selfishness. Padre Pio gives many citations from Saint Paul to
underline his teaching. ]
Letter 33 - Pietrelcina,
16 November 1914.
Greetings and thanks. Spiritual
reading. How to adorn the soul. St. Paul: his guide and master in doctrinal
matters. The twofold life: nature and grace. Fruits and effects of baptism.
Christians in name and in practice. The worldly man and his vices. Vices that
offend others internally and externally. The twofold image of God. The new man.
Charity the bond of perfect harmony. Means to reach perfection: divine law and
doctrine of Jesus, to act always for his glory. Conclusion. He desires to die. A
note for Padre Agostino.
Beloved daughter of Jesus,
May the grace and mercy and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be
always with you all and make you ever more acceptable to God our Father. Amen.
I give thanks continually to God for you, as is my duty, for
your continual increase in holiness and for the love of Jesus which is becoming
more and more abundant in your heart.
This poor letter of mine will deal with what ought to be the
life of one who is living in the spirit of Jesus Christ. It is my intention to
place before you an example, a model, so that when you look at this example or
model you may be able to conform to it in all things, reproducing all its features,
even the less important ones, in your own life. I am aware that my manner of
speaking is not, unfortunately, what it ought to be. It is quite harsh and
tiresome and precisely on this account I am afraid that I may not make my
meaning clear. However, I fix my gaze on the One who moves me to speak and who
is the source of wisdom and I earnestly hope that all will redound to His glory.
By a most wise order and a most singular love, our heavenly
Father in His goodness makes it impossible for us to remove those bodily
deformities which we inherit from nature our mother. If we give much thought and
waste much time and effort in trying to correct our superficial bodily defects,
even in arranging our hair so that not even a single hair remains out of place,
tell me, then, what would we not do to rectify and drive far from us the
physical deformities we bear in our bodies?
Unfortunately, we are never done trying to improve our appearance. Indeed, all our efforts are directed towards
improving the body and
making it more and more beautiful. Less attention is perhaps devoted to the
soul, which we may have treated as a negligible quantity.
Well, then, if Providence has deprived us of our motive for
neglecting spiritual things while we were busy improving our bodily life, God in
his infinite wisdom has placed in our hands all the necessary means for the
embellishment of our souls, even after we have disfigured them by sin. The soulís
cooperation with divine grace is all that is required to enable it to develop,
to reach such a degree of splendour and beauty as to attract, not so much the
loving and astonished gaze of the angels, but the gaze of God Himself, according
to the testimony of Holy Scripture: "The king," that is, God,
desire your beauty". (1)
In introducing you here to the model of the true Christian,
my guide will be my beloved apostle St. Paul. His sayings, all filled with
heavenly wisdom, entrance me. They fill my heart with heavenly dew and take my
soul out of itself. I cannot read his letters without experiencing a fragrance
which spreads all through my soul, a fragrance that reaches the very apex of my
May God be blessed for ever, for He alone knows how to bring
about these marvels in a soul that always resisted Him, a soul that was the
receptacle of an infinite amount of filth. He willed to make me an example of
grace and He is pleased to hold me up to sinners as a model, so that none may
despair. Let sinners, then, fix their gaze on me, the greatest sinner of all,
and let them hope in God.
Fix your attention, then, you sinners, on me, the most
wretched of all and be encouraged not to despair of being saved, for the Lord
has not only pardoned my sins but has been pleased to enrich me with most
But, dear God, where is my mind taking me? Forgive me, most
faithful servant of the Lord, for this long digression. I have gone astray, I
have wandered from the subject. I wanted to glorify the Lord within me and tell
you something about the awful life I led up to the present. Who knows how far I
might have gone if a great sob welling up from my heart had not almost
suffocated me (2) and brought me to myself.
Pardon me. It is a man madly in love with his God who is
speaking to you and deserves your pity.
But let us return to the subject I mentioned. In order to
understand each other it should be observed that we have a twofold life. We
have a natural life received from Adam through procreation and which is
therefore an earthly and corruptible life filled with base passions and love of
self. The other life is a supernatural one received from Jesus at baptism and therefore a spiritual, heavenly life by which we
practise virtue. Baptism brings about a real transformation in us. We die to sin
and are grafted onto Jesus Christ in such a way as to live by His very life. At
our baptism we receive sanctifying grace which gives us life, a completely
heavenly life, making us children of God, brothers of Christ and heirs to
Now if baptism causes every Christian to die to the first
life and rise up to the second, it is the duty of each Christian to seek the
things of heaven and not to care about the things of this earth. The apostle St.
Paul suggests this to the Cobssians: If then, says this great saint,
have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above,where Christ is,
seated at the right hand of God. (3)
Yes, the Christian is raised up in Jesus at baptism. He is
lifted up to a supernatural life and acquires the splendid hope of occupying a
heavenly throne in glory. What an honour! His vocation demands that he aspire
continually to the home of the blessed and consider himself as a pilgrim in this
land of exile. The Christian vocation, I say, requires that we do not attach our
hearts to this miserable world. The good Christian who really follows his
vocation directs all his attention, all his study to securing eternal
possession. He must look on the things of this world below in such a way as to
esteem and appreciate only those which help him to obtain eternal things and
must despise all things which do not help him to obtain what is eternal.
The Christian who has forgotten his true vocation and is
merely a Christian in name, a worldly Christian, judges things quite
differently. His judgment is the exact opposite to that of the Christian worthy
of the name who lives according to the spirit of Jesus Christ. The former judges
things from the point of view of their capacity to satisfy his vanity and his passions. The
latter, on the other hand, invariably
judges them in relation to eternal things.
Hence the one that is a Christian merely in name, the
Christian in high society, sets a great value on honours, wealth, fleeting
things, comforts and all that this wretched world has to offer. 0 foolish man,
enter into yourself and remember that by your baptism you renounced the world
and are dead to it. The Holy Spirit tells you so by the mouth of St. Paul:
have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (4)
Remember, foolish one, that the life of those who live
according to the spirit of Jesus will not always remain hidden and unknown.
Remember what it will be in future in the Lordís day: "When Christ who
is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory" (5).
"Beloved, wrote St. John, the favourite apostle, for the comfort of the faithful,
we are Godís children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we
know that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as lie
Is the certainty of such boundless glory, O foolish one, not
sufficient to make you enter into yourself and come to your senses, to live the
rest of your life according to your vocation?
The life mapped out for the Christian by the apostle consists
in stripping oneself of the vices of the old man, that is to say, the man of
this world, and in clothing oneself in the virtues which Jesus Christ taught. As
regards stripping oneself of the vices he tells us: "Put to death therefore
what is earthly in you". (7) The Christian sanctified by baptism is
not exempt from the rebellion of the senses and passions; hence the impelling
need to mortify our passions as long as we live.
The holy apostle himself suffered considerable interior
distress from the rebellion of his senses and passions, which led him to utter
the following complaint: "I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but
with my flesh I serve the law of sin" (8), (that is, the law of
concupiscence). It is as though he intended to say: "I am mentally subject
to Godís law, but my flesh is subject to the law of sin." This is to be
said for the spiritual consolation of many unfortunate people who experience the
sharp conflict within themselves to which a hot temper or lustful desires give
rise. They do not want to feel or to harbour those impulses, that ill-feeling
towards others, those vivid pictures presented by their imagination, those
sensual promptings. Poor things! Quite involuntarily these feelings surge up and
produce a conflict within them, so that in the act of wanting to do something
right they feel violently impelled towards something wrong.
Among them are some who think they are offending God when
they feel this violent interior inclination to evil. Take heart, you chosen
souls, for in this there is no sin, since the holy apostle himself, a chosen
instrument (9), experienced this dreadful conflict within him:
intend to do good, he says, I find within me a power which inclines me to
evil" (10) Even when carnal impulses are violently felt, there can be no
sin when the will does not consent to them.
The sensual passions are the most enticing and they find an
outlet in a great many different acts, which the apostle enumerates:
fornication, impurity, licentiousness, lust and avarice (11). The last-named
gains such mastery over the soul infected by it that it becomes the idol of that
soul to which it sacrifices everything else. St. Paul refers to those in the
grip of these vices as "sons of unbelief" (12), because
these things more than anything else blind a man and make him more readily lose
sight of eternal possessions. Only those who have had this sad experience
themselves can confirm the truth of what we are saying.
Over and above the vices of the senses, the good Christian
must beware of those vices which offend others either by interior acts or by his
(a) The vices which lead us to offend our neighbour by
interior acts, according to the same apostle, are: anger, wrath and malice (13).
Anger is a moral passion which also exists in good people and
in itself it is not sinful. But if we do not know how to control it, it becomes
sinful, as happens when we are angry with someone who does not deserve it, or
before we have reason to be angry, or in matters which do not justify our anger.
The apostle warns us to refrain from this type of anger. On the same subject St.
James tells us: "Let every man be slow to anger, for the anger of man does not
work the righteousness of God". (14)
Resentment is an offshoot of anger. It is present when a
person considers others unworthy to possess what they have and would like to see
them humiliated and disgraced by punishment.
Malice, which proceeds from one and the other, endeavours in
every way and makes use of every means to harm others.
These are the vices which when present in the heart offend
those around us. Anyone who wants to show himself worthy of his vocation should
guard against them.
(b) I also said that we can offend others externally by our speech and this can happen especially in three ways:
firstly, by blasphemy, either by rebelling against God in offensive terms, or
against our neighbour by harsh and unpleasant words, curses and the like;
secondly, by impure language which reveals the nasty fire that burns in the
heart and is inclined to spread and affect everyone else; thirdly, by lying.
This gives birth to deceit, perjury and a thousand other kinds of roguery which
are damaging to others.
The Christian must beware of all these vices if he intends to
live according to the spirit of Jesus Christ. Now all these vices and all these
sins make up the old man, the earthly man, the carnal man. The apostle wants the
Christian to strip himself precisely of this man: "seeing that you have put
off the old nature with its practices". (15). The Christian, then,
who has died and risen again with Christ by baptism, must invariably strive to
renew and improve himself by contemplating the eternal truths and the will of
God. In a word, he must endeavour all the time to reproduce in himself the image
of the Lord who created him.
Christian perfection obliges us to all this and the apostle
exhorts us to act in this way, telling us with great wisdom that we have put
on the new nature which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its
Creator" (16). But what is this new nature to which the apostle is
referring here? It is our nature made holy by baptism which, according to the
principles of sanctification, must live in righteousness and in true
We Christians are therefore images of God twice over, by
nature and by grace. By nature we are endowed with intelligence, memory and will;
by grace we are made holy through our baptism which imprints on our souls the beautiful image of God. Yes, my dear, sanctifying grace
impresses the image of God upon us in such a way that we ourselves become divine
by participation, and as St. Peter puts it so beautifully: "We become
partakers of the divine nature" (18).
See then, my dear sister, how great a dignity is ours.
However, we are great on condition that we preserve sanctifying grace and, alas,
how wretched we become when we lose that grace. I was about to say that our
wretchedness places us on a lower level even than the beasts who roam the
countryside. All is cancelled when sin enters in.
Get to work, then, O Christian. Remember that by baptism you
cast off the old nature and put on the new. You have already followed me in
considering all that goes to make up the old nature, the carnal, earthly nature.
Have patience a little longer and follow me now in considering what goes to make
up the new nature, the spiritual, supernatural nature.
Man can consider himself from two points of view: in the
state of prosperity and in that of adversity. The apostle wants him, when in a
prosperous state, to be filled with mercy as opposed to hardheartedness, with
kindness as opposed to a harsh external manner and as regards his own personal
life he wants him to be full of humility as opposed to interior pride, to be
unassuming rather than given to external show.
Turning to the state of the Christian in times of adversity,
the same holy apostle (19) wants him to show patience and to stifle
all resentment either internal or external. He expects him to bear with all the
vexatious behavjour of others and to forgive them sincerely.
This great saint, however, sets greater store by love than by
all the rest of the virtues and hence he recommends it most earnestly and
expects it to be present in all we do, for Christian perfection consists in this alone:
"Above all these, he
says, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect
Observe, then, that he is not satisfied with exhorting us to be
patient, to bear with one another, which are in themselves fine virtues. No, he
wants us to love, and with good reason, for it might well be that we bear
patiently with the defects of those around us and even forgive them when they
offend us, but all this may be of no value if it is done without love which is
the queen of virtues and includes all the others.
Therefore, my dear sister, let us greatly esteem this virtue if
we want the heavenly Father to show us mercy. Let us be very fond of charity and
let us practise it. This is the virtue that makes us all children of the one
Father who is in heaven. Let us love and practise charity, as this is our divine
Masterís precept. By this we shall be distinguished from the unbelievers by
our loving and charitable behaviour. In our love for charity, we must flee from
even the shadow of anything that might dim its splendour. Yes, in loving this
virtue, let us always bear in mind the great teaching of the apostle: "We are
all members of Jesus Christ (21)
who is the head of us all, the
members of the body" (22). We should show great love for one another,
remembering that we have all been called to form a single body and that if we
keep our love for one another, the beautiful peace of Jesus will invariably
triumph joyfully in our hearts.
I must add a further word to what has already been said, namely,
to suggest the suitable means for the attainment of Christian perfection. The
apostle suggests two most powerful means, which are the constant study of Godís
law and the performance of all our actions for his glory.
As regards the first means, he writes to the Colossians: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and
admonish one another in all wisdom, and as you sing psalms and hymns and
spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God"
This apostleís doctrine is clear and does not need any
comment. If the Christian is full of Godís law which warns and teaches him to
despise the world and its allurements, wealth and honours and all that prevents
him from loving God, he will never fail no matter what adversities may befall
him; he will endure everything steadfastly and perseveringly; he will readily
forgive offences and give thanks to God for all things.
The apostle, moreover, wants Godís law and Jesusí doctrine
to be and to dwell abundantly in us. Now all this cannot come about unless we
apply ourselves to reading Holy Scripture and books dealing with divine things,
or else listening to Godís word as expounded by holy preachers, confessors,
Finally, the apostle wishes the Christian not to confine himself
merely to knowing the divine law; he wants him to penetrate deeply into the
meaning of it in order to be able to regulate his own life. None of this can
take place without diligent application to meditation on Godís law, which
makes the Christian exult with joy and chant sweet psalms and hymns to God. The
Christian who is striving for perfection will understand, then, how very
necessary meditation is.
As regards the other means of doing everything for Godís
glory, let us listen to the apostleís teaching: "Whatever you do, he
says, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving
thanks to God the Father through Him" (24)
By the faithful use of this simple means we do not merely
keep far from any sin, but feel the continual urge to aim constantly at
I exhort you to impress this letter deeply on your mind and
endeavour to apply its teaching in a practical way to your own conduct. The Lord
is calling you to all this, so try not to let all my care of you be ineffective,
letting Jesusí grace remain fruitless in your soul.
I want you, moreover, to rejoice at all times, for the Lordís
yoke is an agreeable one. You are glorifying the Lord by your life and he is
pleased with you. Never leave any room for sadness in your heart, for this would
be in conflict with the Holy Spirit poured out into your soul.
When Jesus wills, I want you to give me an exact and detailed
description of the manner in which you ordinarily spend your day. Do not
consider me a nuisance on this account. God knows and reads my intentions in
this respect. Besides, what use is there in concealing things from someone who
already knows them through other channels?
I am in really bad health, so pray the divine Majesty without
ceasing, as I myself pray continually for you. Pray, I say, not that he withhold
his fatherly hand which strikes me, but that he may give me at last the final
blow. I cannot bear life any longer, my dear sister. I see myself in continual
danger of offending the divine Bridegroom. It appears to me that I am invariably
surrounded and pervaded by a divine flame which causes me to die a thousand
deaths at every moment.
Ah! Donít be envious of my state, for I am more to be
pitied than envied. Death is the only remedy, the only thing that can reduce
this flame which burns but does not consume me. For pityís sake, donít be so
cruel and ungrateful. Ask Jesus with filial confidence to break these chains
without delay, to open the doors of this dark prison. He alone holds the keys
and He alone knows how to open it.
The sheet of paper enclosed herewith (25)
Padre Agostino. Be so good as to put it in an envelope and give it to him when
he returns to you. I havenít put it in an envelope myself as I feared it might
weigh too much. I am not afraid to pay double postage, but merely want to avoid
May the Lord bless you.
(1) Ps 45:11.
Letters, Vol. 1, Nos. 192 ff
(3) Cot 3:1.
(4) Col. 3:3.
(5) CoI. 3:4.
(6) Jn 3:2.
(7) CoI 3:5.
(8) Rom 7:25.
(9) Acts 9:15.
(10) Cf. Rorn 7:16 ff.
(12) Col 3:6.
(13) Cf. Rom 2:8; Col 3:8.
(14) Jas 1:19-20.
(15) CoI 3:9.
(17) Cf. Lk 1:75.
(18) 2 Pet. 1:4.
(19) Cf. CoI 3:12.
(20) Cot 3:14.
(21) Cf. Eph 5:30.
(22) Eph 4:15.
(23) Col 3:16.
(24) CoI 3:17.
(25) He is certainly referring to the letter he wrote on the
same day, 16 November, to his director, Padre Agostino, and which appears in the
first volume of his letters.