Monthly Letter

Padre Pio Prayer Groups

National Office

St. Francis Renewal Center
1901 Prior Road
Wilmington, Delaware 19809
January 2008
Dear Spiritual Children and Friends of Padre Pio,

The Lord grant you the precious gift of His peace!

John the Baptist was the link between the Old Testament and the New Testament. He ended the line of prophets who had spoken in God’s name to prepare the People of God for the fulfillment of His Promise to send a Savior. Together with the Prophet Isaiah and Mary the Mother of God, John the Baptist completes the liturgical triptych of Advent. The new calendar year begins with Mary in Her Divine Motherhood offering Her Son to everyone and with John the Baptist indicating the Savior to follow and he himself receding into the shadows.

John the Baptist is the central figure in the Gospels of the first days of January. His response to those who question him as to his own identity offers us a profound reflection. He reminds us to seek to know ourselves more truthfully in the light of God’s will and to focus more intently on our lives and our hopes and dreams. We have put the past behind us, but we can never really not be affected by the past - good, bad, indifferent; we build on the experiences we have had. Let us reflect on who we are, for what or for whom we are searching, and what are we willing to do once we have found the object of our searching. The Gospels say, When the Jerusalem Jews sent men to ask John, Who are you?, he admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, I am not the Messiah. This response demanded a detachment from personal popularity and prestige among the people, and indicated a willingness to be relegated to oblivion for the sake of One greater than he. No false humility, but a stark reality and truth impelled John the Baptist throughout his whole life and ministry.

The Baptist is a captivating figure. His message was strong and non-condescending to anyone: rich or poor, influential or common, Jew or Gentile, religious or secular. The people saw in him The Prophet they had desired for centuries. Israel had been deprived of the voice of one who spoke with the authority and power of God. The voice of the Prophets had ceased and the people had fallen into a rather stale formalism that made their religion a matter of rules and regulations that burdened rather than liberated them. The leaders of the people no longer expected the one-who-is-to-come, of whom Isaiah spoke in the Scriptures, as the prophets had presented him: a Suffering Servant who would lead people back to God. Isaiah had spoken clearly of the Messiah and how he could be recognized; he also spoke of the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah. The People of the Promise would eventually formulate their own concept of who the Messiah would be, thus not recognizing him when he finally arrived.

John the Baptist came on the scene to help people recognize the Savior. His unique appearance and forceful style could not be easily disregarded. His message was direct and to the point. The people who heard him were challenged to accept or to reject, and ultimately to reap the consequences of their decisions. We know how John’s life ended and why. His commitment to transparency of life would not accept to be politically correct and condone the scandalous lifestyle of king Herod, even when his life depended on it. The death of John only confirmed the credibility of his mission and words and opened the way for Jesus to begin His ministry of salvation, a ministry based not on the retribution of the Law but on the love, compassion, and mercy of a God Who would stop at nothing to bring His children back to Him.

The life of John was one of preparation and relinquishment. He prepared the hearts of the people to encounter and acknowledge the Messiah in their midst. He challenged Israel to look into their hearts and souls and honestly acknowledge their need to change their lives. We could call him the Saint of New Beginnings. With the abruptness of expression, and the disdain for the normal amenities of life of the ancient prophets, John the Baptist was a living sign of decisiveness and commitment to the God of Israel and His Law. Selfless and detached from all the fame and following he had, he indicated the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world to his disciples so that they might know and follow Jesus. John stated emphatically: He must increase and I must decrease. He needed no pats on the back or constant affirming compliments from the people. He was A voice crying out in the desert, Make straight the way of the Lord, and that is all that mattered to him. Jesus lauded John when he asked, What did you go out in the desert to see? a reed shaken by the wind?.a man dressed in fine robes?…Or did you go out to see a prophet?…Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet…

The new year encourages people to dream and hope for a better life, more successful enterprises, improved health, serene and peaceful existence, a world without war and violence of any kind, etc. New Year’s Eve celebrations televised from around the world show how other countries and time belts prepare for New Year’s Day and the beginning of a new year. It may seem, after the fact, that last year accomplished less than we had expected. Just like the People of Ancient Israel, we too may have been waiting for something or someone that would make everything what we desired. We can see that the hopes and fears of people are the same no matter when they lived. The wilderness of our cacophonous society still seeks to stifle the Voice of God that speaks to us through the Liturgy, in Sacred Scripture, through the Magisterium of the Church, and through the events of our lives.

Once the glitz of Christmas celebrations is finished, the Ordinary Time of the Church begins. And it is anything but ordinary. With the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, Jesus and John both challenge us to take the plunge into the waters of repentance. Our ‘Jordan River’ is the daily experiences that invite us to change our negative attitudes, uncharitable behavior, self-centered lives, materialistic hopes, lukewarm or even cold sentiments for the Church and our responsibilities as part of the Faithful People of God, etc. When Jesus entered the Jordan River, He had formally decided and indicated to the people that He was one with them, from them, and for them in all things but sin.

Our Sacramental Baptism makes us redeemed children of God in Jesus through the Holy Spirit, just as the children of Abraham became true children of God through the acceptance of the Covenant. Each day we are invited to plunge into our daily lives with eyes open to and aware of all that is happening, ears attentive to all that is said, minds open to seek what unites rather than what divides us and to reflect and seek to understand before speaking out, and hearts open and disarmed to everyone we meet regardless of what differences may exist and what consequences may result from doing as Jesus would do. The last mentioned - hearts disarmed and doing as Jesus would - is probably the most difficult challenge since it ultimately concretizes in action what we say we believe in our hearts. In a world that seeks to appeal and appease saying what is desired and not necessarily what is true will only keep us lodged in the present without any possibility of free access to go beyond our fears and prejudices.

In a letter to Antonietta Vona (January 2, 1918), Padre Pio writes: Take care to render them (your hearts) more pleasing to our Master day by day, and see to it that this coming year is more fertile in good works than the one just gone by, given that at the same pace with which the years pass by and eternity approaches, we must redouble our courage and raise our spirits to God, serving Him with greater diligence in everything that our vocation or Christian professions obliges us. Only this can render us pleasing to God. It can free us from the big world that is not of God, and from all our other enemies. This alone can bring us to the port of eternal salvation…Let us face the present trials to which divine Providence subjects us, but let us not lose heart or become discouraged. Let us fight valiantly and we will obtain the prize of strong souls. Remember the words of the divine Master one day said to His apostles and which He says to us today: Let not your hearts be troubled…Jesus is with us…Jesus fighting for us and with us. Let us have recourse to Him…Live tranquilly, follow the path on which the Lord has placed you and in a holy manner…

Padre Pio offers suggestions to Antonietta ninety years ago that are still valid for all of us today. As we enter 2008, we are definitely aware of all the problems that confront our world: nuclear threats, diseases for which there are still no cures, financial instability that affect the security of families, natural disasters that have left millions affected and thousands homeless, etc. But we must enter this year with the hope-filled faith of a people who know that God is still in control and we, as the Baptist, as Padre Pio, are called to prepare the hearts of others to recognize and welcome the Lord in our midst. How?!

Is our heart and mind focused on the Lord everyday? Do we make an effort to have a better frame of mind, soul, and spirit because we trust in God? Do we face our responsibilities without allowing them to control us? Do we try to understand and learn from the past, especially from our mistakes, to avoid them in the future? Will we strive to please the Lord every day, rather than compromise the values and principles of our faith? Will we strive to ‘hurry up slowly’ and pace ourselves? Will we strive to direct even our material endeavors and gains to better ourselves and help others? Will we avoid being controlled by anxieties, useless worries and undue pressures, and actually believe that God can help us?!! Let us be prudent and set priorities, and trust in Divine Providence.

I know that this all seems like an awful lot and not that easy, but a better year filled with inner peace and serenity can be a fact if we do one important and essential thing - TRUST IN GOD WHO LOVES US AND WANTS US TO LIVE LIFE FULLY. With Our Heavenly Mother leading us into 2008, May She be a living presence in your hearts as She presents us Her Son, Mary is the one who gives us Jesus and it is Jesus Who leads us to the Father. May that Father of Life and Love bless you; our Mother Mary guide, guard, and protect you; and may Padre Pio look over each one of you, his Spiritual Children, with loving care.

Happy, Blessed and Peaceful New Year everyone, and in the words our Seraphic Father St. Francis made his own:

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May He show His face to you and have mercy on you.
May He look on you with kindness and grant you peace.

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