Padre Pio Prayer Groups
St. Francis Renewal Center
Dear Spiritual Children and Friends of Padre Pio,
The Lord give us all the gift of His peace!
In less than four weeks from the end of the Christmas Season, the Church begins the solemn Lenten Journey that takes us from the Ashes of humility to the Palm and Olive Branches of praise, and from the Calvary of betrayal and death to the Empty Tomb of Resurrection and glory. If ever there were a time for us to see the intimate connection between the Crib and the Cross, it is now. The wood that enveloped the Child at Bethlehem was a preparation for the wood that would hold him up before the whole world. Mary presented Jesus to the world at Bethlehem when the Wise Men from the East arrived seeking the newborn King. Mary again would associate Herself with the Sacrifice of Her Son on Calvary and offer Him to the Father with a love and total surrender that only a Mother can personalize within her heart and express in her life. The words of the prophet Simeon - and your own heart will be pierced with a sword that the thoughts of many hearts may be layed bare - were finally totally fulfilled. The Feast of the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, celebrated at the beginning of this month on February 2nd, prepares us for all that follows during the next forty days; and, it reminds us of the intimate relationship of Mary with Her Son Jesus, sharing with Him the most solemn moment of His life.
Lent helps us to prepare for the transition from childhood to adulthood in the Spirit. We journey in Word and Sacrament throughout this holiest of Church Seasons. We open our ears and our hearts to the Word of God calling us to a deeper relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in Whom all creation is restored. We are reminded that the Christian, as another Christ in the Spirit, is called to take up his cross daily and journey to Calvary and beyond. The ‘beyond’, and where it leads, is determined by the depth of desire and decisiveness we have to make up in our personal lives what is still lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His Body the Church. Lent helps us to re-focus and re-evaluate those areas that may have affected or be affecting our soul’s journey through Christ to the Father in the Spirit.
All this may sound like ‘nice’ words for spiritual reading but not necessarily food for our everyday lives. There is nothing more erroneous! It is a question of Spirit and Life! The Spirit prompts within us and life responds to the urging of the Spirit. It is only when our hearts and souls are balanced that our lives become less dysfunctional, our values and principles less compromising, our actions less burdensome, our decisions less patronizing, our prayers less formal and spiritless, our relationship with God and others less self-centered and more open to the working of the Spirit and the Will of God. When our spirit is in shape, then the whole person is truly - even though somewhat distorted and infinitely less - an image of the invisible God.
We begin Lent with the acceptance of ashes on our foreheads. This has always seemed a little strange to me because of the Gospel we hear read and preached on Ash Wednesday: Be on guard against performing religious acts for people to see. It is interesting how people will make every effort to go to Church ‘to get ashes’ on Ash Wednesday, but often indifferent to what is expressed by their reception. This sacramental signifies the passing state of life, the nothingness of so many material things for which we express great concern and desire, and our willingness to reflect upon our lives to refocus on the priorities and the great gift of salvation celebrated in the Passion-Death-Resurrection of Jesus. Ashes in the ancient world and still today in many areas of the globe are used for scouring and cleansing tough stains. For us, they are the sign of a willingness and availability to permit God’s grace, through our collaboration, to scour and cleanse our hearts and souls so that we may enter the Easter Season renewed in the Spirit, with lives better directed to all a Christian has promised and is expected to be and do.
The three tools that we are reminded of during this holy season are: prayer, sacrifice, and almsgiving (charitable acts). These are traditional terms still meaningful and effective for anyone attempting to make his/her Lent a fruitful experience of growth in grace. Unfortunately, so many view these three positive elements as negative and ‘old fashioned’.
‘Prayer’- Prayer is a posture of dialogue between the creature and the Creator. It is an intimate exchange that places us in the presence of God and allows the Love of God to envelop us and speak to our heart. It does not take eloquence or long drawn-out discourses. When you pray, go to your room … and pray to your Father in private … do not rattle on … All it takes is the time to be quiet with God; to speak to Him from the heart about whatever we know He already knows but that we need to emphasize in our own hearing to recognize our greater need for God in the matter; to speak less and listen more to the God Who speaks to our hearts and souls; to reconfirm our trust in God’s Providence and our desire to always live in His Will. This type of prayer requires only love, and the response we experience brings us peace and serenity.
‘Sacrifice’ - Sacrifice for Lent has always been wrapped up in denials. The word itself actually comes from two Latin words: sacrum (sacred) and facere (to make). Thus, the reason for ‘sacrifice’ is to make something or someone ‘sacred’ or ‘holy’. This was the command God Himself gave His People in the desert after they left Egypt for the trek to the Promised Land. Be holy, for I, your God, am holy. Holiness, as we read in the Gospels and the Letters of the Apostles, has little, directly, to do with food, clothing, activities, etc. What the word does entail is that we seek ways to free our spirits and lives from the slavery of being controlled by things, even legitimate things, which can, continued and exaggerated, addict the person in such a way that that person no longer has time to focus on his/her God and his/her relationship with Him, or makes him/her so self-centered on personal needs and wants, that he/she fails to notice the sisters and brothers in need. The need for physical ‘sacrifice’ (in the common understanding of ‘relinquishing things’) has also been proven very helpful and spiritually and physically healthy for the body, mind, heart and soul. The prime purpose for sacrifices must be the spirit; we must direct our priorities correctly, otherwise a good act, done for the wrong reason, is worth little or nothing.
‘Almsgiving’ - ‘Almsgiving’ is an old term that merely means ‘charitable acts’ of giving, that is, materially meeting another’s needs from our own resources. The first thought here that some may have is that of special collections or money gifts provided for those whose lives are socially, financially, ethnically, legally, etc. challenged. Even here, the thought is commendable, but when done for more social reasons and not because we recognize the suffering Christ in our sister or brother in need, our acts benefit the other, but are not a true expression of faith in Divine Providence Who exercises Its beneficence through God’s Children.
Prayer, Sacrifice and Almsgiving (Charitable Acts) really do follow a logical sequence that fills the soul with a serenity in its advance on the road that leads to our resurrection and renewal in the spirit at Easter. Prayer creates an atmosphere of calm and quiet, an openness and availability to God Who speaks. Sacrifice, in response to God’s Voice, helps us to differentiate between our needs and wants, and allows us to recognize how blessed we are recognizing everything we have and do not have as a gift of Divine Providence. And, Almsgiving (charitable acts) is the natural response done from the heart and not the head to offer others the opportunity to know how blessed they are because of God’s Goodness offered them through us, because we have recognized God’s Goodness and our call to be His Providence to others.
In his letters to his spiritual daughters, Padre Pio also had words concerning these three Lenten Companions. (Prayer) We will discover that humility, contrition and prayer make the distance between man and God disappear, and act in such a way that God descends to man, and man ascends to God, so that they end up understanding loving and possessing one another (Annita Rodote August 27, 1915)… (Sacrifice) Always humble yourself lovingly before God … because God speaks to those who truly have a humble heart before him, and he enriches it with his gifts (Campanile Sisters August 23, 1918). In the course of life, mortifications will not be lacking…let us love them; let us embrace them with a cheerful heart (Annita Rodote March 15, 1915). Suffering is the mark of those who have chosen a Crucified God as their inheritance (Assunta di Tomaso January 27, 1918)… (Almsgiving - Charitable Acts) Treat your neighbor well … when necessary, say these words … I love my neighbors, Eternal Father, because you love them, and you gave them to me as brothers (and sisters), and you want me to love them as you do (Erminia Gargani June 11, 1918).
As Spiritual Children of Padre Pio we know the emphasis that our Spiritual Father and Guide places on intercessory and reparatory prayer. He wants us to strengthen our relationship with the Father in the Spirit and to open our lives to the needs of the Church and the world as Jesus opened His Heart for all of us on the Cross. Thus, some questions we might find helpful in preparing and beginning this Season of Renewal and Grace - Lent:
Have we tried to enter a more personal relationship with God? Do we pray from our hearts, or must we always use books or vocal prayer. Do we feel uncomfortable in silent prayer, especially before the Blessed Sacrament? Do we believe that the power of prayer can transform ourselves and even the world? Do we believe in the necessity of prayer to recognize God’s kingship over us and our need to detach ourselves from all that hinders our journey to God? Are we prudently reasonable in the sacrifices we perform during Lent? Do we propose Lenten ‘sacrifices’ that will help us: control our exaggerated desires, let go of legitimate acts and things that tend to or in fact control our daily routine, or help us to prioritize our needs and wants, so that we can recognize more deeply the presence of God’s Providence in our life? When we respond to the needs of others, do we offer out of ‘compassion’ (seeing our suffering sister or brother entitled to our concern and loving response - love looks across - horizontally) or out of ‘pity’ (seeing a lesser member of society so that we can ‘feel good’ in materially helping someone without considering them as an equal in need - vainglory looks down - vertically)? Is our willingness to be of service an openness of heart or just a ‘seasonal’ series of acts that will have no lasting effects on our perception of those less fortunate - in any way - than we? Do we ‘buy’ our way into the lives of others rather than empathize and enter into the hearts of others, allowing them to enter ours?
Now that we have begun this holy season, I pray that it may be a spiritually rewarding journey for us all. Let us ‘Hurry up slowly’ through this Season. Let us do little things well, with our hearts focused on the true meaning of ‘Repentance’ and ‘Renewal’. Little, simple, consistent, faith-filled acts and attitudes can help us deepen our awareness of God’s love in the Passion-Death-Resurrection of Jesus and strengthen our spirits to become more authentic Christians in our lives.
May God bless you; Our Lady guide, guard, and protect you; and Padre Pio, our Spiritual Father and Guide, look over each one of you, his Spiritual Children, with loving care. As Jesus was proclaimed by Simeon, may we too, through the graces and practices of this holy season, become a Sign of Contradiction - as was and still is Jesus - for the uplifting of the many whom we encounter on our journey. May Jesus come through in all our actions.
Peace and Blessings