Monthly Letter
March 2006

Padre Pio Prayer Groups

National Office

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

Dear Spiritual Children and Friends of Padre Pio,

The Lord give you His peace!

Benedict XVI to the Bishops, Priest and Deacons, Men and Women Religious, and all the Lay Faithful: God is love and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him! These are the first words of the first Encyclical Letter of our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI to the Catholic Church throughout the world - our world-wide Family in Christ.

The opening words of Our Holy Fatherís Letter are simple, but they pack a powerful punch of a message that should ring loud and clear in our hearts and lives. The words are taken from the First Letter of Saint John. The story is related that in his later years, the Apostle John, an old man strong in mind but growing feeble in body, would be accompanied to the Eucharistic celebrations of the early Christian community. As an Apostle of the Lord, the community would ask him to speak to the assembly. Most always, his words were: My little children love one another. After hearing these words over and over again, he was asked why he did not say something else, something new for them to learn. John - the beloved Apostle; last in the line of the chosen ones to still be alive; one who had seen all of his fellow apostles and disciples chosen by Jesus die, most of whom were put to death for their faith in Christ - replied that, until we learn that God is love and that we must love one another in Godís love as we love ourselves, nothing else makes sense.

Love is a difficult word to define. It is an expression we try to explain, but never seem to be able to do so adequately. We all have our concepts of what love means, and how to convey what we call love in our lives. A great deal of the difficulty has to do with language, and also with how we use the word so freely in everyday expressions that refer to pleasure and delight. This often causes confusion. Love is such a basic concept in every heart, and a universal need for every life; and yet how difficult it can be to truly understand and live this basic reality for our existence and the driving force of everyoneís life. Without love, whether for God, myself, another, some thing, or whatever, we may never take the first step in doing anything. It is precisely here that we encounter the first big hurdle to overcome: Love is not doing; Love is being.

As strange as it can seem, the period of Lent is a time for us to grow in love as we reflect upon the depth of Godís love for us in Jesus. Jesus Christ is the Incarnate Love of God. In entering our human history as one of us - the whole Advent Christmas Season reminds us of this - Jesus elevated our lives. Because of Jesus, everything we do, even the most commonplace things, has an eternal value, as long as it is done in love.

Recently I came upon a quote from President Thomas Jefferson in which he said: Wisdom is knowing what to do; Skill is knowing how to do it; Virtue is doing it. We all know what is expected of us as Godís children and as sisters and brothers in the Catholic Family. We know what is necessary to achieve our Christian goals and what we are expected to do as witnesses of our Catholic Faith. The problem, or difficulty, is in doing it! The will gets in the way. Our will becomes our wonít, and our wonít becomes our canít. We fail so often to surrender ourselves to God Who speaks to us in and through His Word and His Church. Love is expressed fully in the total surrender of the one who loves and the one loved. That total surrender allows us to investigate and question, without doubting; that total surrender strengthens us when we are suffering or burdened, so that we persevere in trust; that total surrender gives us courage in the face of persecution of any kind and even death, with serenity, peace and joy. There is so much that we could enumerate, but the basic truth that makes the rest meaningful is as the Apostle John states in his letter and as Our Holy Father Benedict XVI reminds us at the beginning of his Encyclical: God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

We begin the Lenten Season with the reception of the Blessed Ashes. These symbols of humility and conversion are given to set a tone for the ensuing forty days that lead us to the celebration of the total emptying of Jesus for us on the Cross and our rebirth in Him on Easter Sunday. Many, however, take pride on Ash Wednesday by openly displaying a black cross traced in ashes on their foreheads. They want others to know that they are Catholic - although now some Protestant denominations have a similar ceremony at the beginning of Lent - but their lives seem not to change at all. It is the smudge on the forehead and not the sign of the cross on the heart that matters. Many would rather shake hands with themselves, rather than be lifted up in the Fatherís hands.

The beginning of Lent has some similarity with the beginning of the New Year. People propose resolutions intended to make them better, or healthier, or more efficient, but something always seems to block the realization and progress of these good intentions. Then, when we allow our good intentions to be overwhelmed by our entrenched habitual actions, discouragement usually follows and then some reasoning that justifies not challenging ourselves to grow. If we do this at the beginning of the New Year, donít we often see ourselves acting the same way for Lent? How many make resolutions to pray more intensely, to be more sacrificial, to participate in the life of the Church more, to be more charitable, etc.? Usually to be charitable - in common usage - means to give something to a needy person; this is praiseworthy and necessary, but often it is someoneís way of buying away their responsibility to be loving, to give of themselves, rather than just their things. When we reflect on it, much of what we propose for Lenten practices are basic; we should be striving to do them always and better, without forgetting and striving to live the purpose for them more fully: LOVE.

In his encyclical, our Holy Father reminds us of the threefold responsibility of the Church: to Preach/Teach; Celebrate the Mysteries of Godís Love in the Eucharist (and the Sacraments that lead to and complement the Great Gift of His Presence); and to Serve. If we strove to do what is already expected of us, and did it well, what strides we would make in our spiritual growth! Preaching and Teaching inform us (Wisdom); Celebrating the Mysteries, especially the Eucharist, strengthens and prepares us (Skill); Service makes our heart witness with our life to what we believe about Jesus and what our role is as one redeemed in His blood (Virtue). This Service, as an external sign of what we believe, leads to Christian justice by rendering to those less fortunate than we what they deserve as Godís children and thus it concretizes in our actions the charity/agape/love with love from Godís perspective, that we as Christians are called to live out and do to others.

If we made Love our Lenten challenge, and sought every possible way to live it, how different do you think things would be in our life! If we thought of love not only in the sense of pleasure or personal delight, but as a daily surrender to Godís will and to those whom we encounter each day, especially those who challenge our thoughts, words, responses, reactions, etc., how different would our character be, and how much we would be able to control those attitudes we allow to control us! Love is a two-way street. Even those who refuse to respond to love are still affected by it.

Padre Pio would never have reached the heights of holiness without a deep abiding love for God and others. It was a love he sought to instill in all who asked for his spiritual guidance. Let us take to heart the following words Padre Pio wrote to his spiritual child, Raffaelina Cerase, in a letter dated 25 April 1914. Let us read his words as though our Father were writing personally to each one of us.

Beloved daughter in Jesus, ... Place your unlimited trust in the divine goodness...Our enemy (satan) who plots against us wants to persuade you...despise him in the name of Jesus and laugh heartily at him...You may fear, if you like, but it must be that holy fear, I mean to say the fear that is never separated from love. When fear and love are united, they help each other...Love makes us hasten with rapid strides, while fear...makes us watch prudently where we place our feet and guides us so that we may never stumble on the road leading to heaven. I know...that the cross is painful and that for those who love, a thing is almost unbearable when it exposes them to the danger of offending the One they love and adore. But Jesus tempted in the desert and hanging on the Cross is clear, obvious and very consoling proof (of His love) ...Courage then and go ahead. God is with you and hell, the world and the flesh will one day, to their confusion, have to relinquish their weapons and admit once more that they are powerless against a soul that possesses and is possessed by God...Calm is the Lord who is acting within let Him guide you on the difficult journey of this life.

My sisters and brothers, allow the love of Christ guide to us on our Lenten journey. Keep focused on the Crucified. In His love we are enlightened that we might see more clearly who we really are; we are impassioned to love Him more dearly; we are empowered to follow Him unreservedly more nearly. What greater basis for our Lenten journey and daily practices can there be than to make a conscious intention every day to accept all things and everyone as a gift of Godís love. Prayer, Penance, Almsgiving, Faithful response to rules and regulations, as necessary as they are, profit us little if they are not expressions of a love that continues loving. When we totally surrender ourselves to the One Who surrendered Himself for us on the Cross, then it is that our Lent leads to a growth in the spirit and a conversion of heart that makes Easter a true Resurrection Day.

May God bless you; Our Lady guide, guard and protect you; and may our Spiritual Father, Padre Pio, watch over you, his spiritual children, with loving care.

Peace and Blessings

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