Padre Pio Prayer Groups
St. Francis Renewal Center
The Lord give you His peace!
How do we begin to reflect on the call to holiness (perfection) and our responsibility to become holy (perfect)? Where do we turn to find the tools necessary to achieve this loving yet unconditional command that God’s Word requires of us: Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect? Who can help us work through our difficulties and journey with us that we might become fully the children of God we were called to be? Does being a Spiritual Child of Padre Pio require more than just gathering for a monthly meeting? What were Padre Pio’s expectations for a Spiritual Child of his? Have we lived up to those expectations, or have we substituted his heart’s desire for our convenient personal image and practices? Do we believe our membership in the Association of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups to be our response to a call to holiness as well as to an apostolate? Do we consider ourselves as apostles of prayer and reform? Do we have a spiritual schedule that offers us tools for personal growth in the Lord as Catholics committed to our Faith? As you can note, there are a number of questions that have arisen in my mind these days. There are others that I hope to share with you in forthcoming letters.
The Padre Pio Prayer Group Association has a lot to offer both its members as well as the local churches where the members gather for prayer, reflection, and the service that is the fruit of these. We, the Spiritual Children of Padre Pio, have a mission entrusted to us by our Founder in response to the heartfelt desire of the Holy Father, Pope Pius XII. These hopes and desires have been repeated and approved by his successors. The only way we can effectively fulfill our mission is for us to understand what has been entrusted to us and to be faithfully committed to living it out each day.
The Spiritual Children who entrusted themselves to the guidance of Padre Pio did so because of their desire to lead a fuller life in the Spirit. Padre Pio was not a “pushover”. Nor did Padre Pio accept hysterics or fanatics who came to him for “direction”, but only wanted approval of their own methods, rather than be challenged to grow. His sole purpose in accepting souls and leading them was so that they, with his assistance, could become saints. Those who have read biographies of Padre Pio or who may have known him, know well that unless one was sincerely committed to the journey to holiness he would not have any meaningful relationship with that person. Holiness is not a “popular thing” for people “to do”. It is not a question of being with the “in crowd” of some church society. Sanctity is the consequence of a personal decision one makes to be fully directed by the Spirit of God through a process of daily conversion. While many use the usual means the Church offers, - Eucharist, Reconciliation, Prayer, Sacrifice, etc.- a Spiritual Child of Padre Pio seeks to deepen that experience by placing himself or herself under the direction of a priest who is willing to assist them in the process.
Each Padre Pio Prayer Group has, or should have, a priest Spiritual Director. Now, I know that this is a difficulty with some Groups. I know that some no longer have a Spiritual Director and are looking for a priest to be with them. Others have a Spiritual Director who is sporadically with them, but not always available because of ministry or other reasons. Whatever the case, continue the practices of the Association as best you can, but make every attempt possible to find a priest Spiritual Director who can see (or encourage the one you have to realize) the valuable service he can render the members of the Group and the local faith community in accepting the responsibility of truly directing the Group in the way of the Spirit, according to the mind of Padre Pio.
Spiritual Directors are often seen as priests who “pray with us”. They are seen by some as “ spiritual therapists” with whom their directees make “regular appointments”, sometimes weekly, to unburden themselves, with very little or any progress beyond just a “telling of one’s woes” or annoyances with others (This is not spiritual direction. This is more of self-pity or gossip). Others are thought of as “gurus” who tell us the “secrets of the spirit” in veiled language that leaves the ultimate choice to a confused hodgepodge of double talk. Some are well-meaning individuals who, like the people with whom they share the Prayer Group experience, are devoted to the memory of Padre Pio, but are not committed to the process envisioned by our Founder to help those who accept the challenge to deepen their spiritual lives. There are those priests who have accepted the title of Spiritual Director who have established the Prayer Group as a service group within a given faith community, but are not really concerned with the Group’s spiritual development. These are but a few examples any of us could mention; there are more, but this list suffices as an example of the types we might meet at times.
I have mentioned the various attitudes, motives, types of Spiritual Directors that are possible not to offend or point out anyone in particular. As yet, I have met only a very few of the Spiritual Directors and, thank God, those I met are wonderful, caring, and very spiritual and apostolic men. It is precisely here that we see where the value of the Spiritual Director lies. A spiritual and apostolic man is one who can see both sides of the coin of holiness and direct well. Unless our prayer is enfleshed in our lives, and our lives resound in our prayer, our spiritual life is stunted. A Spiritual Director is a priest who is willing to share the journey and the process with the members of the Group. He is a priest who realizes that holiness can never be achieved fully until we enter the everlasting embrace of the Eternal Father, through the blood of his Son Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and we can add, through the almighty intercession of Our Lady, as well as the intercession of the saints, angels and souls to whom we pray. The process is not impossible nor is it difficult, but it is demanding. It demands that we desire this holiness so much that we are willing to give our all for it.
August celebrates two significant feasts: the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mt. Tabor and the Assumption of Our Blessed Mother into heaven. It is interesting to note that both deal with the divine and the human, the soul and the body, the invisible and the visible, the immortal and the mortal, the perfect and the flawed. One is seen as the fruit of the process of the other. The Transfiguration that dazzles the apostles is the transformation of the body that the Apostles walked and talked with during their years with Jesus. The Assumption of Mary’s physical body into the realm of the spirit is the celebration of the transformation of the material body of Mary that grew old and was subjected to life’s many changes into a fully spiritual entity. No person can be truly holy without being truly human - human as God intended at the beginning of time and not as we have become through the abuse and misuse of our free will. These two feasts should be an encouragement for us to continue our endeavors to grow in the spirit, regardless of our weaknesses, faults, and even sins. They should encourage us to strive more intensely to live the spirit of the Association every day of our lives rather than just once monthly.
The Spiritual Director understands the need to be vigilant over one’s self at all times, without scrupulosity or undue exaggeration. The Spiritual Director, nourished by the Eucharist he celebrates and becomes each day, sees others with the eyes of Jesus and speaks to their heart with the compassion and practicality of one who lives in the world but is not of the world. The Spiritual Director is a man whose experience with prayer can offer insights to others. The Spiritual Director’s selfless service to God’s People allows him to listen with an open heart to the sincere concerns of his sisters and brothers in the Group. The Spiritual Director is a priest involved in the everyday ministry of the Church, who thus can help others to understand the value and role each one is called to fulfill in the Church. The Spiritual Director offers suggestions that will enhance the Group’s prayer life and service to the faith community.
Our Prayer Groups are active cells of enthusiastic men and women who love and desire to honor Padre Pio. Through him they hope to be able to experience God’s loving presence in their lives. The Eucharist, devotion to Our Lady, and the sharing of our Catholic values brings us together in prayer and reflection. From the experience of our monthly meeting it is hoped that the desire for prayer and reflection will grow stronger. As people not bound by vows or public promises, but solely by your love and devotion, you are an example of what the everyday Catholic can be and do: find time to pray, reflect and allow that experience of God to flow over into acts of charity and service within the community. How Padre Pio desired to see his Spiritual Children glow like beacons of light in a world that was growing dim in its spiritual fervor! How Padre Pio demanded that his Spiritual Children not compromise their Baptismal promises and be examples and guides for others! How Padre Pio rejoiced to know and hear that his Spiritual Children touched the lives of others and led them closer to Jesus and Mary! How Padre Pio wanted to see his Spiritual Children take up the challenge to be Christ to the world! This is the responsibility we accept in asking to be Spiritual Children of Padre Pio. This is the goal the Spiritual Director must set his sights on when he accepts to direct a Prayer Group.
All of this may seem like too much. It may seem impossible. It may seem unattainable. If that were the case, then we would have to say that the Gospel is impossible to live. That would be a blasphemy. All things are possible when we believe in God and trust in his grace that can transform those who place their lives in His hands.
May God bless you; Our Lady guide, guard, and protect you; may Padre Pio watch over all of you, his Spiritual Children, with loving care.
Peace and Blessings|