Monthly Letter
February 2005
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,

The Lord give you his peace!

Commenting on the difficulties the Church has experienced these past years, a radio announcer praised the commitment of the faithful of a certain Catholic Diocese in these United States who are investing in Catholic education and backing their Church, in spite of the scandals caused by some of the Churchís representatives. The announcer stated: The Catholic Church is bigger than its problemed personnel. As Lent begins, we should be able to say with the same conviction and hope: Christ is greater than any problemed Christian.

We live in problemed times. Times that offer a host of opportunities for people to hang on to that are so enticing, that people fail to calculate the true value of whatís being offered, the real cost they have to pay, and the ultimate consequences for everyone.

There is an ever increasing desire among us to choose the easy option. Even in advertising we hear how we can enjoy now and pay later. The message is an enticing one, but also an insidious one. Some of its effects are more foolish than harmful but when such an attitude gradually enters the fibre of our life and society, the consequences can be disastrous. To follow such a foolish philosophy of life is to live a lie. Living a lie is destructive and obscures the better option.

Lent is an opportunity to tone up for the struggle between settling for convenience and comfort, and the transforming strength that comes to those convinced in and committed to Jesus, and His Way. Following Jesus brings peace that is open to all who walk with Him through the self-denial and trusting generosity of Lent, to the fullness of the Easter Message of renewal and New Life in the Lord.

We notice that as an inducement to buy something, product advertising often promises huge percentage discounts over the listed price. Rather than vouching for the productís quality, this approach shows that the original price was exorbitant and that earlier buyers did not get value for their money. But the intended message is that only the foolish would let this new offer pass. Advertising is rarely what it seems to be at first sight. There is usually a hidden agenda, something more than meets the eye. And we so often allow ourselves to be seduced by societyís enticements and promises such that we fail to recognize and ultimately to admit what in most cases is really so obvious. What fools we make of ourselves!

Every year, at the beginning of Lent, on Ash Wednesday, one of two expressions is recited over us. The expression is quick and to the point: Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel...or...Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return. The first is a strong yet gentle command and the second is a somber reminder. These words remind us that there is more to Lent than the heroics of personal self-denial. As important as acts of material sacrifice may be, at times these acts are no more than doing what we like to do that makes us feel good, rather than accepting more patiently and cheerfully what God allows to come our way. While it is not a commercial break in the whirlwind of daily living, Lent is a lived out reminder that the Cross of Calvary is the advertisement of Godís love for us. In this situation, the Advertiser pays the price of our everlasting life and the Cross vouches for the fact that oneís life is worth living. There are no percentage discounts. Godís gift of love is total, unconditional and forever.

In Lent we focus more deeply on Godís offer of Himself for us through the Cross of Jesus Christ. We are invited to absorb this love and to make it present daily in our world through justice, truth, generosity and forgiveness. Only the foolish or the unbeliever could pass up such an opportunity.

Most of us tend to procrastinate. It is a weakness of human nature that we put important things off. Putting things off for the future sets us up also with a someday complex. Some of us are always talking about someday; unfortunately, someday often never comes. At the beginning of Lent we are reminded not to accept the grace of God in vain. Donít look toward tomorrow for what is already available to us right here and now.

Living the NOW is an attitude of soul. Eliminating procrastination requires disciplined concentration on the present. Unfortunately, many live in the past, lamenting lost opportunities, blaming others, hanging onto guilt, constantly berating themselves for past mistakes. Others live in the future, always making plans with no commitment to action, hoping for a better quality of life, while ignoring the present possibilities and blessings of the moment. NOW is the only reality that is. The past is only a memory, left to Godís mercy. The future exists in our hopes and desires, left to Godís Providence. It is important to set our goals, but we must also take advantage of the graces available right now. Now is the acceptable time to strengthen our relationship with God through prayer and the Sacraments - especially the Eucharist, to take care of ourselves, to better our marriage or family life, to forgive past hurts, to apologize for offending someone, to get rid of bad habits, to say thank you for the kindness of others, to serve others where and when we are able. There is no better time to evaluate our spiritual needs and begin to meet them than Lent.

Lent is the right now time to take advantage of the opportunities at hand to recommit ourselves to Godís love and the Gospel. Lent is the acceptable time to grow in Christ, who is greater than any obstacle we might experience on the way.

Now is the acceptable time to freely follow Jesus, who paid the un-discounted price for our salvation. Scripture gives us the procedure to follow: Rend your hearts and not your garments...Return to me with your whole heart...Become the very holiness of God in Christ. How do we do this? By taking time NOW to pray a little more - that we may strengthen our personal relationship with God: to control even our legitimate desires - that we may control those things, attitudes and habits that so often control us; and by acts of charitable concern for those less fortunate than we - that we may see Christ in the suffering members of society and receive the blessing of those who as Jesus reminded us: If you did it for the least of my brethren, you did it for me.

As Spiritual Children and Friends of Padre Pio, we have the example of our Father and Founder. Padre Pio lived the image of the Crucified and made of his life one great act of entrustment to the Fatherís Will. We may not be able to follow the example of Padre Pio in the extraordinary aspects of his life, but, as Catholics devoted to his message, we can accept the challenge he offers us as his Spiritual Children and expressed in the simple requisites, endorsed and lauded by the Holy See, in the Statutes of the Prayer Groups. During this Lenten Season of spiritual rebirth and renewal, let us strive to become a Sacrament (sign) of Godís love and channel of Godís goodness, to make Sacrifices through self-discipline to control those things in our lives that we have allowed to control us, and to open our hearts and to live in effective Service for others in Christian Charity that makes us one with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Arenít these the basics of Lent preached by the Fathers of the Church and encouraged by the Church down through the ages: Prayer (Sacrament), Sacrifice, and Almsgiving (Service)? It is the full gambit of personal renewal: relationship with God, awareness and need for personal growth in the spirit, and an openness to others. Now is the acceptable time, to grow in Christ.

May this Lent be a spiritually profitable time for us all. May God bless all of you; Our Lady guide, guard, and protect you throughout this holy season; and Padre Pio watch over each one of you, his Spiritual Children, with loving care.

Peace and Blessings,

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