Monthly Letter
December 2004
Padre Pio Prayer Groups
Office of the National Director

St. Francis Renewal Center
1901 Prior Road
Wilmington, Delaware 19809

Dear Spiritual Children and Friends of Padre Pio,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him...But to those who did accept him he gave the power to become children of God. ..And the Word was made flesh and made his dwelling among us...from his fullness we have all received. (John 1: 1-18)

In the life of Saint Francis of Assisi written by Blessed Thomas of Celano, we are made participants of the first Christmas crŤche inaugurated by St. Francis at Greccio. On Christmas night, St. Francis, an ordained deacon, sang the Gospel of the Christmas Mass. Each time he pronounced the name of Jesus he would lick his lips for the shear pleasure that the name of Jesus awakened in him. This scene of St. Francis licking his lips is a splendid image that should make us understand one thing. A merely intellectual knowledge of Jesus is not enough. Jesus is not a theory to be memorized. Jesus is a Life to be lived. Unless we can taste the goodness the Lord evokes in our hearts, it is useless to attempt to speak of Him with our lips. We may say things that sound good, but they will come from the experiences and writings of others, not from the depth of our heart.

The Word entering human history sets the scene for the fulfillment of the Fatherís Promise. At the beginning of human history, when humanity turned its back on the Fatherís Will, a loving Creator promised to come to our rescue. Humanity would need time to understand all that this rescue entailed. Our will, corrupted by the influence of Satan, would now need many centuries before the time would be appropriate for God to come among us as one of His own creatures.

The liturgy of the Church allows us to experience the anticipation, preparation, celebration and total fulfillment of the Promise of the Father throughout the Liturgical Year. If we take time to learn about the Church Seasons we celebrate and read attentively the Scripture readings for the single days of the Church Year, our lives would have to change. We would be able to see our lives through a Divine Perspective. Confusion, indifference and discouragement would be dispelled. Difficulties, doubts and skepticism would lead us to rest in the Mystery of His Presence rather than seek proof for everything. Alienation, prejudice, jealousy and strife of any kind would lead us to see His image in one another and live as the children of God we were created to be. Advent begins this whole yearly process of growth with the Lord in the Spirit.

Advent sets the stage for the great drama of our salvation to begin. The patriarchs, prophets and events in the life of the People of God indicate in mystery all that the Coming One will be and do. When Mary responds with her total availability to the will of the Father, the Word Eternal is enfleshed in history. The Incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of Our Blessed Mother speaks to us of a God Who will go to any length to retrieve His wayward children. The hopes and fears of all the years before Him meet in that One Solitary Life. The promise made to our first parents in Eden is fulfilled. Humanity is elevated once again to the dignity it was created to share. The Word becomes a visible, tangible presence in creation, so that creation can become one with the Creator. The Word becomes one with us in time, so that we might share in the Wordís eternal glory.

The wonder, excitement and joy of the season can be seen all around us. Lights, food, gifts, travel...all these material things offer us opportunities to enjoy the season, to celebrate the holiday. The expression I used is holiday and not holy day, because I wonder how many Christians have been infected by the consumeristic and materialistic viruses that so many contract each year at this time. Have we kept in our hearts the reason for the season - JESUS? Do we seek the light that His Word can definitely shed on our life? Do we hunger for the food of Life, His Body and Blood, and joyfully celebrate it as often as possible? Do we make the gift of our availability and service to one to another, especially those most in need, a priority? Are we ready to move forward with the Lord Who challenges and encourages us to share in a Life that leads us away from all that would distance us from Him?

Our journey begins preparing for the anniversary of the birth of the Child at Bethlehem, so that with Mary and Joseph, the Shepherds, the Magi and the Heavenly Choirs around His crib we too can be taken back at such splendor in such squalor, such greatness in such humility, such strength in such vulnerability, ... that we may bask in the Light of His Eternal Love made manifest for us in the simplicity of a child, so that we fear not to approach the Divine Majesty hidden within that Child. The closer we approach the Lord, the more we reflect the image of the Christ Child in our lives. Our adult lives take on a spontaneity, an excitement, an enthusiasm, a transparency. Regardless of the effects that time can have on our bodies, we become instruments of peace and joy to others.

Consider so many of the photos of our Padre Pio. How many there are that show him surrounded by children, served at Mass by children, or just blessing children and young people. And they want to be with him. They are comfortable and happy in his presence and he in theirs. The grace of the Spirit and the serenity of a life lived in the bright shadow of the Cross does not push them away. On the contrary, they are attracted to him. The Stigmata signaled him out from among millions of human beings, but it was Jesus whom they saw and whose presence they felt when they were with Padre Pio.

One of the pictures about which I speak is so beautiful. It shows Padre Pio carrying a statue of the Infant Jesus during one of the Christmas celebrations at San Giovanni Rotondo. His eyes seem to penetrate a veil that covers the eyes of others; he seems to see Someone Who is more than a mere statue, within Whose presence he lives. There is a gentleness with which he carries the image, but a gentleness that conveys a message of strength and trust in One Who is the Holy God, Mighty God, Immortal God. There is a serenity and joy that goes well beyond the physical and spiritual pains he suffered each day as he encountered humanity, often at its lowest level, that he might guide them to the heights of Godís compassion and love.

How do we behold and hold onto the Lord? Remember the woman in the crowd who touched Jesus, from Whom power went out to heal her. How come so many were touching Him, but only one was healed? Saint Augustine tells us many were pressing in on Him, but only one touched Him. Frankly, we all seem to press in too much on Jesus, but few seem to touch Him lovingly.

We manipulate him in our sacraments. Where is the heart that should animate our rituals? We multiply standard ceremonial expressions. Where are the words that express a deep relationship with the One invoked? We are often in His presence with our devotions and other religious functions. When will we celebrate His presence in the less fortunate than we who need to experience Him through us?

Do we caress the Lord with our hearts? Do we desire to be with Jesus with the same desire of two people in love? Are we ready and willing to abandon ourselves into the Lordís loving embrace?

Christmas has developed into a season of presents rather than Presence. His Presence is the true gift that seeks our presence as the only gift He truly desires. A life lived in His Presence is a life lived fully. As Spiritual Children of Padre Pio, let us learn from our Spiritual Father. His years and physical infirmities eventually took their toll on his body, but his spirit was as youthful and vibrant as that of a little child. Jesus was real to him, not just a mental image or a thought to calm an anxious mind or overburdened heart. He lived in Jesusí Presence. He saw the loving Savior in all that he did, even when that Sacred Presence was overshadowed by the sinfulness he encountered each day in the confessional.

Let us go to Bethlehem. We seek Him out with joy. Let us go to Bethlehem. We do not fear the criticisms and stumbling blocks that often are placed before those who seek Him out. Let us go to Bethlehem. We bring the little that we are and even the sins that assail us to His crib. Let us go to Bethlehem. The road can be long, hard and difficult. But this is the only road that leads forward to a joy we could never imagine. Let us go to Bethlehem as we bring within us the One Whom we hope to find. We must keep moving forward with Jesus, in Jesus, through Jesus, and for Jesus. Our Savior is born for us, come let us adore Him!

To you and your loved ones, I extend my sincerest best wishes for a Blessed and Happy Christmas. And may the New Year be filled with Godís grace and blessings for all. May the Lord bless you, Our Lady guide, guard and protect you, and Padre Pio keep all of his Spiritual Children in his loving care.

Peace and Blessings,

Fr. Francis A. Sariego, O.F.M. Cap.
National Director