"I have also wondered: 'Why me? I messed up so much ... what have I done to deserve this?'"
Daniel Maria Piras is a young Franciscan currently in formation the Province of Umbria. He is 32 years old and a native of Carbonia, Sardinia, home to his parents, Carlo and Graziella, and to his sister, Sr. Chiara Redeemed, who is a Poor Clare at the Monastery of Iglesias.
The religious vocation of the Br. Daniel is a story marked by suffering, faith and the power of God. It is a story of good news, the Gospel: Christ, our hope, is Risen! Christ loves me and he gave himself for me. His Spirit is at word in us, crying out: “Abba! Father!”
We asked Br. Daniel to share something of his story with us.
Early on in life you knew hardship and pain …
Ever since I was little my family, especially due to financial problems, experienced a lot of relationship difficulties, especially between my mom and dad. When I finished middle school, I started working with my father at his construction company. At the same time, to escape my family problems, I started keeping “bad company”: to keep up with them, I began to drink, to use soft and then heavy drugs. I also did it to dull the pain I was carrying in my heart. … At 16 I was addicted. For seven years I couldn’t escape that bondage. I knew I was making a mistake, but I’d gotten into a vicious cycle, and I couldn’t help it anymore. I was too weak, and even if I wanted to get out of it, I realized it was too late and my will was too weak. [I spoke with] with psychologists and tried to take medication for abstinence, but with few results.
How did the Lord manifest himself to you amid all this?
Initially I managed to hide my difficulties. Then I grew worse and my parents became aware of what I was going through. My mother encouraged me. She stood by me and she loved me just as I was. As a young woman, after receiving the Sacraments, she distanced herself from the Church. But in recent years she had come back, because of the painful relationship she was going through with my dad. Their relationship was her cross. That cross had a name and a face: my father, Carlo, who was left in a very difficult situation after he lost his job. My mother found consolation and a listening ear in a group of friends who prayed the rosary. So Mary led her back to her Son: in prayer, in the Word and in the Sacraments my mother drew the strength she needed to remain in a painful situation. She decided to stay close to my dad and love him as he was, despite everything. She embraced the cross the Lord was asking her to carry.
This allowed the One who conquered death to bring his salvation to our family and make all things new. My mother’s gratuitous love changed my father’s life. Later the witness of my mother’s life was also instrumental in the journey of faith of my sister, whose name in religion is “Chiara the Redeemed.” After experiencing the love of Christ in her, one day while visiting the monastery of the Poor Clares of Iglesias, she heard the call of Jesus to follow him in that particular form of life. In October 2005 she entered the monastery. At that point my experience of death, but also the witness of my mother and my sister, led me to return to myself and ask for help: I began to call upon the name of the Lord Jesus!
And the unthinkable happened …
On November 25–26, 2006, there was a Renewal in the Spirit Conference being held in Arborea, Sardinia (it was the Solemnity of Christ the King). My mother invited me to come, and I accepted. I hoped that the Lord would help me get out of this situation, but I was very weak. The guiding Word of the conference was a verse from Psalm 107:14: “He brought them out of darkness and gloom and broke their bonds asunder.”
At the conference I was struck by the catechesis of a Franciscan priest. It seemed that I had told him my story … he was recounting my experience … he explained how evil, through the attractions of the world presenting themselves as apparent happiness, seeks to destroy our body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit, God’s dwelling place, the place where we can experience him.
There was a time of prayer in which we asked Jesus to free people from evil. Just beside me was a lady around 50 years old. She began to cry like a newborn baby; but then she began to speak with a male voice in an incomprehensible way. It was as if the Lord was saying to me: “I’m telling you that evil is a reality at work in life … do you now see that it exists?”
I decided to go and talk to the priest who was holding the meeting and to humble myself. I have always been proud. I always thought I could handle things alone. I asked him to pray for me, I told him: “I’m an addict and I’ve hit rock bottom; I don’t know how to get out. Pray to Jesus for me.” The friar invited me to ask Jesus to intervene, he blessed me and I went back to my seat.
Then a priest processed by with the Eucharistic Jesus, in a crowd of around 600 people. Jesus passed by me. Then he returned to the altar, and I felt within me the desire to go and touch him. So I went up (I had nothing to lose), I touched him and went back to my place. Then the priests invoked the Holy Spirit and asked for a word from the Lord. A word from the book of the prophet Daniel was read: “He is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. He delivers and rescues, he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions” (Dan 6:27–28).
I heard that word addressed to me and I burst into tears and began to experience in my soul something new. I also began to sweat a lot. Looking back today, I see in this the action of the Holy Spirit released by the word of life. My mother, who saw what was happening, came over to me and said, “I think God has spoken to you today, and has healed you, because what the Word of God says, it does.” She invited me the next day not to take methadone, so I didn’t take it. And in the following days I realized I had no withdrawal symptoms: I was completely healed.
An atmosphere of faith and charismatic prayer, the Eucharist and the Word of God, the immediacy of a complete healing … this story sounds like a miracle. Addressing to you the question Br. Masseo put to Saint Francis: “Why you?”
I have also wondered: “Why me? I messed up so much … what have I done to deserve this?” The Lord told me a few months later through the gospel of the woman with the hemorrhage (Mark 5:25–34): that woman experienced what I lived through myself. I too had done something out of the norm, getting up in the middle of a crowd of so many people to touch Jesus in the Eucharist who has passing among us. … A “power” also touched me, in listening to the Word of the book of the prophet Daniel … I too was healed after all my previous attempts had failed.
This happened in November 2006. Less than two years later, on September 29, 2008, you entered as the postulate of the Friars Minor. How did you discover your religious vocation?
After the healing, a friar whom I’d met when my sister received the religious habit contacted me. After I had told him how God intervened in my life, he invited me to Assisi, first to for the New Year along with many other young people from all over Italy, and then to participate in a vocational course. It was at the vocational course that I heard the gospel of the woman with the hemorrhage. Also, I was strongly attracted by the way of life, the benevolence, and joy and understanding that shone through those brothers … as Pope Francis says, taking up the words of Benedict XVI: “The religious life should foster the growth of the Church through attraction”. This beauty, a word which the Lord gave me during the course, and a great desire led me to realize, with the help of a spiritual director, that the Lord was calling me to follow him according to the way of life of St. Francis of Assisi and his sons. Over the next two year, after other experiences, this desire to surrender my life into the hands of the Lord grew, and I entered the friary in 2008.
In these first years of religious life—through activities in the parish as well as in the missions—you have met many young people and many families. What would you like to say to those who are going through a time of difficulty and trial?
The suffering in our family was educational: received in faith, it prepared our hearts to receive the Mystery. We need to stay close to young people, to help them feel respected and loved, and then we need to explain to them that the emptiness they carry in their hearts, their desire for happiness and fullness, can be filled only by a relationship with Jesus. Only he tells them: “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly … I came that your joy might be full” (cf. John 10:10; 15:11).
Translated from the Italian.