Padre Pio Prayer Groups
St. Francis Renewal Center
Dear Spiritual Children and Friends of Padre Pio,
Everything is a grace; everything is a gift. Everything that we are, have, experience; everything that we like, dislike, enjoy or not, everything, seen with the “yes” of faith, is a grace! God’s direct or indirect gifts help us grow through life and become the saints we were created to be. All we have to do is accept the gift and use it to the best of our abilities.
Luke, the evangelist, after the story of the finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple and His return with Mary and Joseph to Nazareth, writes that Jesus grew in wisdom, age, and grace before God and men (Luke 2, 52). Jesus is born, grows up, and fulfills his human and spiritual formation at a specific moment in time and in a determined place. He is the eternal God Who limits Himself to a historical and physical presence among His own creatures.
This is what takes place in the life of all people; it took place also in the lives of the ‘officially canonized’ saints. No one is born a saint but he/she has a lifetime to become one. Saints are creatures whose human nature is not deformed by grace but elevated by it. It strengthens and perfects us day-by-day when we trust and cooperate with this divine gift. God’s Grace and graces are offered us that we might become what we were created to be; that we might recover what was lost when our First Parents refused to do the Will of our Father and Creator. The saint is that person who has taken the narrow road and allows the action of grace to transform his/her soul and thus re-creates the person in the image and likeness of God. We may have heard the saying, What I am is God’s gift to me. What I become is my gift to God…and…God and I together can do the impossible. Without God I can do nothing of true worth.
If it is true that supernatural grace perfects and does not destroy nature, then it is vital that our lives be rooted in the working of grace and the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Before any of us can ever hope to stand out as an example of virtue, it is necessary to become that perfect person come to full stature in Christ in the ordinary daily matters of living. The Spiritual Children of Padre Pio accept to ‘Live Jesus’, to allow Jesus, the Christ, to be manifest in their words and deeds, and especially in their personal character and external demeanor.
Health, culture, character, environment all contribute to this process. God’s grace does not destroy a person’s right and ability to act on his/her own initiative. It does not take away free will. God would never reduce us to mere robots. Grace respects the character and the will of each and every individual. We are the ones who accept or reject the challenge to allow the love God has for us to take hold of our lives. We are the ones who decide to live in holy fear of offending God. And this ‘fear’ is not the uncontrolled anxiety of being condemned by an Eternal Just Judge. It is the loving ‘fear’ of ourselves and what we are capable of; it is a ‘fear’ of wounding the love of a Compassionate and Loving God Who brought us into being, died for us, and calls us to an ever more intimate relationship with Him in mystery. This ‘fear’ of ourselves and trust in Him helps us to recognize the daily miracles of grace around us, as we yearn for that time when we will see Him in the reality of the Eternal Life promised His faithful children.
An Italian psychologist, speaking of the humanity of the saints, wrote: The soul of the saints is not like the Dead Sea whose waters are never agitated by so much as a breeze, and in which there is no sign of life. The soul of the saint resembles rather the Sea of Genesareth (Sea of Galilee) that has terrible storms and can be calmed only by the hand of the Master. Saints had their ups and downs, delusions and difficulties, weaknesses and temptations. They also had their faults, like those that Saint Alphonsus Liguori speaks of when he says that he would consider himself a happy man if he could be freed from these faults a quarter of an hour before dying. Let’s hope that we will be freed from them at least a quarter of an hour after death!
We must allow ourselves to be directed and molded by the action of God’s grace. The obstacles that we may encounter on our way or those we ourselves create must be eliminated. Through our personal commitment, the task of overcoming our own weaknesses takes shape and progresses. Thus, we can begin to see how our life is slowly lifted up to greater heights, spiritually first and foremost, and then, as a wonderful effect, our very soul is lifted up naturally, intellectually, psychologically, etc. as our mind and heart are more in harmony with God and His holy Will.
As we strive to regain innocence of spirit and life, let us encouragingly remember that not all the saints were as innocent as we are told was Saint Aloysius Gonzaga. Just consider some: St. Mary Magdalen (from whom seven demons were expelled), St. Mary of Egypt (whose notoriety as a woman of loose morals was proverbial in her area of the world), St. Margaret of Cortona (who was a kept woman), St. Paul (who was rather violent), St. Augustine (whose Confessions speak of numerous sins), St. Francis Borgia (about whom the philosopher Leibnitz remarked regarding the ingenious method Francis used to overcome his exaggerated love for wine).Even St. Vincent de Paul, the loving Father of Charity, had a very grouchy character and was subject to anger. Everyone knows that this was also the case with St. Francis de Sales. Even our spiritual Guide and Father, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, strong and gentle, without any false shades of some prefabricated sanctity, presented as ‘impeccable’ in character to his admirers and defenders, is authentically and surprisingly very human. His childhood pranks attest to his humanity in process. His needs and trials as a religious are all signs of a nature challenged by circumstance or directly by God.
And what about all those holy men and women who did not live in the shadow of the cloister, convents, or friaries! From the very beginning of their life they too had to combat the vehemence of their passions and temperaments! We have all heard the phrase, Still waters run deep. Even those placid souls who seem to be impervious to any annoyance still have the inner part of their nature that must deal and decide on the course to take at any given moment. The temptations we experience are the challenges for change that God through nature offers us. How we respond will determine who we become, and where we are headed. The examples of the lives of our sisters and brothers raised to the honors of the altar continually remind us that we all have more than just a chance at heaven. It is ours for the taking! All we have to do is cooperate with grace.
God is a jealous God (Leviticus 24: 14-16)! God does not want other things to disrupt the loving relationship He has established between Himself and His creation. He knows we can become that new wine in new wineskins (Matthew 9: 16-17) that Jesus, our Incarnate Lord, challenges us to become. The saints we revere and honor all tell us that it is not only possible but necessary. How we accomplish this task is easier than we might imagine. Among the many ‘things’ we could do, I can think of three that are essential:
- Abandon yourself to the working of the Holy Spirit. When God ‘calls the shots’, you can be sure success is in sight. We are called to Heaven. Our journey through life often encounters difficulties that challenge our choices. The Spirit of God speaks to our minds and hearts. Trust the Spirit of God. Seek it out through prayer, meditation and, at times, through the counsels of people of proven faith and life who can encourage you and clarify your difficulties and doubts. God works through others to bring us to Himself. No man is an island; we need each other.
- Be committed to your own conversion. Health enthusiasts will do anything for that better looking body. They go through painful exercises, extreme fasts or diets, and often will spend good hard-earned money, sacrificing other legitimate pleasures, to achieve their goal for a better physical look or material situation. How committed are we to a better soul?! - Be an enemy to duplicity. God knows you better than you know yourself. You are what you are before God and nothing more (St. Francis of Assisi), and I like to add ‘nothing less’, that is, ‘nothing less than a child of God called to eternal life’. We are entrusted with an awesome responsibility to make sure that our authenticity, integrity and credibility never be placed in doubt. Struggling to become saints - we are a work in progress (And what a piece of work many of us are!!!) - the rough edges and cracks and flaws will be evident; don’t hide them. As the Master works on us, we show others the good that is happening and how powerfully transforming God’s grace is. ‘Duplicity’ is just another word for ‘hypocrisy’. Avoid it! Let God shine through. Once the light of God’s presence shines through us, we live in the glow of His Eternal Love.
Years before Vatican Council II and its reminder of our Universal Call to Holiness, Padre Pio wrote to Erminia Gargani (January 27, 1918): I have never ceased, nor will I cease to pray to the most sweet God that He may be pleased to accomplish His holy work in you; that is, that you may have a strong desire and intention to reach perfection in the Christian life; a desire which you must love and nurture tenderly in your heart, as the work of the Holy Spirit, and a spark of His divine fire. As Spiritual Children of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, let us accept the gift of our humanity with gratefulness; our difficulties, burdens, challenges, and even our sins as traveling companions on the road of life who help us keep our feet well grounded in reality, so that we can yearn and strive for where our heart is directed - Life with God in Heaven. And let us all become saints - It takes only a lifetime, and God will be with us all the way!
May God bless you; Our Lady guide, guard, and protect you; and Padre Pio, our Spiritual Guide and Father, watch over each one of you, his Spiritual Children, with loving care.
Peace and Blessings