Monthly Letter
March 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!

At the beginning of our Lenten Journey we were reminded how Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert and He was tempted. Jesus responded to each of Satanís challenges with the following powerful reminders: Not on bread alone shall people live...You shall do homage to the Lord your God; Him alone shall you adore...You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.

These powerful words of Jesus hit home when I recalled a letter that a Bishop sent to his pastors several years ago. The letter contained the following statistics:

  • Americans spend $17 billion a year on pet food - $4 billion more than the estimated annual additional total needed to provide basic health and nutrition for everyone in the world.
  • Europeans spend $11 billion a year on ice cream - $2 billion more than the estimated annual total needed to provide clean water and safe sewers for the worldís population.
  • Americans spend $8 billion a year on cosmetics (a good portion of that spent by men) - $2 billion more than the estimated annual total needed to provide basic education for everyone in the world.

We are a nation and people blessed by God. Our land has been the destination of millions who dreamed of living in a land of freedom, justice and peace; a land where everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Many of these wonderful attributes of our nation have been severely affected because some have forgotten that first of all we are a nation under God. When we forget, dismiss, or otherwise shelve this fundamental element of our national heritage, it is understandable why our wants can turn into our needs, and our hearts can often be indifferent to the sisters and brothers around us.

While we may not be indifferent to God, or squanderers of Godís gifts, or indifferent to the needy around us, we still have a responsibility to God, ourselves, and each other to always be a grateful people who give God the first place in our hearts and lives.

Lent is a time for us to re-evaluate and renew the gift of life we have received. We are asked to reflect on our relationship with God, ourselves, and each other - even the stranger who is our sister and brother. We can never accomplish this if our lives are rooted in the idolatry of senseless materialism that enslaves us spiritually. Lent is a time for us to rise from our spiritual lethargy, to honestly review our lives in the light of Godís word and our Christian calling, to open our hearts to Godís transforming grace through an active acceptance of the challenges His word and the Church offer, and to be consciously and actively aware and responsive to those around us, especially those whose lives may be burdened in any way (spiritually or materially) through the consequence of our own participation in an exaggerated materialism, that may lead us to forget or just be indifferent to those in need around us.

Jesusí response to Satanís seductions is a powerful reminder of the essential elements needed for a fruitful Lenten Season. Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent with humble acknowledgment of our human frailty; Palm Sunday begins the Great Holy Week that shows how fickle our relationship with Jesus can be (Hosanna!/Crucify Him!); Good Friday places us before the Crossroad when we, as Jesus, are asked to die to our egos. This leads us to Easter Sunday when the transforming eruption of the Fatherís love through His Spirit breaks the shackles of our human nature affected by sin, rolls back the barriers, lifts us up and renews us into a new way of living the Baptismal gift of our adoption as children of God.

During Lent we say extra prayers, drop extra money into the Sunday collection, or maybe give up (sacrifice?) something we are in the habit of doing. These are all commendable and good opportunities we offer ourselves. But... how often are the extra prayers just words we say rather than heartfelt expressions we pray and reflect on to strengthen our relationship with God? How often is the extra we may place either in the Sunday collection or give as a handout to the needy, no more than fulfilling what we should do to support the Church, or our way of buying the trouble away of saying a kind word to someone truly in need or suffering? How often are our physical sacrifices (no meat, no ice cream, no candy, no smoking, etc.) either acts we should do for our own healthís sake, thus are expected always, not just at Lent, or an easy way not to focus on the purpose of Lenten sacrifices - to rid ourselves of what distances us from God?

In Lent we strengthen our relationship with God through a deeper spirit of prayer that goes beyond just the words we multiply. In Lent we have the opportunity to work at ridding ourselves of whatever may lead us away from Godís Will. This type of sacrifice is meaningful before God and more beneficial to the person who accepts it. Lent is an everyday experience through Godís Word and our personal reflection of it to realize that we are our sistersí and brothersí keepers. We are called to be actively concerned about those around us. Lent can be nothing more than an external show of traditional prayers or practices, unless we have the correct spirit underlying each one. Unless we allow them to work a transformation in our life, they can be an easy cop out for not doing what really matters and truly transforms the inner person.

The spirit of renewal pervades the season of Lent we began. We are on a journey to Easter. Many opportunities are being offered us in our Churches and elsewhere to re-evaluate, renew, and rekindle that Spirit of the Lord who has anointed us in Baptism to be a living image of Christ to each other and Apostles of the Resurrection. We believe in life as the beginning of an eternal journey with God who calls us to live in the fullness of His life.

The practices of the Spiritual Children of Padre Pio and those who have accepted the ministry of prayer and service as members of the Prayer Groups offer us opportunities to enrich our spiritual journey as we develop a deeper relationship with God through the Eucharist, His Holy Mother Mary, and each other. It was the Mass of Padre Pio that allowed those who assisted to enter the mystery of Godís tremendous love and transforming grace. Padre Pio would be so absorbed in the mystery he celebrated that those who prayed with him seemed suspended in time; hours seemed like minutes. The re-presentation of the Passion-Death-Resurrection of Jesus the Christ, imaged in the person of Padre Pio as he stood at the altar where he was not only priest but victim, made his Mass an experience that indelibly impressed its image in every heart present.

This year, March celebrates the Paschal Mystery. The great liturgical celebration that spiritually begins on Palm Sunday reaches its apex on Good Friday and is confirmed for all eternity on Easter Sunday. The Cross becomes an indicator and not a threat; a sign of loveís depth and not humanityís end; a sign of hope and not despair; a reason to work at ridding those things in our lives through prayer and sacrifice that distance us from God and not an excuse to let this season of rebirth pass us by because of our indifference and neglect.

May our Lent continue as the Season of Joy it is intended to be. As we bask in the shadow of the Sonís Cross, may the light it casts make clear our path to the Fatherís loving embrace.

May the Lord bless you; Our Lady guide, guard and protect you; and may Padre Pio look over each one of you, his spiritual children, with loving care. Have a wonderful Lent and Blessed Easter. Get into the spirit of Holy Week so that its graces can overpower you with the knowledge that The Father so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that all who believe in Him might have life and have it in abundance.

Peace and Blessings,

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