Monthly Letter

Padre Pio Prayer Groups

National Office

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

The Lord give you His peace!

In the silence of Her faith Mary bore the great mystery of the Incarnation of an immense, infinite, and eternal God in the confined boundaries of Her body. Her womb became the heaven that Mary would look down towards as She contemplated the awesomeness of the mystery and miracle of God’s Eternal Love. The very person of God was enfleshed in human nature. The time determined by nature for the Child to be born allowed the Divine Word to be nourished by Mary; He was bone of Her bone and flesh of Her flesh; He was Son of God and Son of Mary. At Bethlehem the invisible became visible, the unattainable came within reach of all, the Almighty One became mortal that mortals might once again share in the Life of the Eternal One.

At Bethlehem the world would see made visible what Mary had contemplated in the depths of Her being for nine months. At Bethlehem the world would be invited to acknowledge and adore the Creator of incalculable worlds Who had been refused the dignity of merely the corner of a room in which to be born. At Bethlehem the world would indifferently and un-caringly pass by the humble surroundings of the Compassionate God Who loved the world so much that He gave His only Son to take upon Himself our sufferings. At Bethlehem the world would see the wooden manger for animals he accepted as His crib, oblivious to the wooden cross hidden in prophecy He would accept as the ultimate sign of His infinite Love. At Bethlehem the world began its pursuit of the Child expelled out of hatred and fear, and would find Him once again when, lifted up, He invites all people to Himself. At Bethlehem begins the world’s quest for the Child Who Alone reveals the true child within each of us called to share in the Life of the Father.

In the life of Saint Francis of Assisi - baptismal patron and spiritual father so beloved of Padre Pio - we read about his deep love for the Incarnation of Jesus and how he planned celebrating Christmas Night in the town of Greccio. Blessed Thomas of Celano, one of the biographers of St. Francis, recounts the event: Francis said: If you want to celebrate the feast of our Lord at Greccio, go quickly and prepare what I tell you. For I wish to recall to the memory the little Child who was born in Bethlehem and set before our bodily eyes in some way the inconveniences of his infant needs…The saint of God was clothed with the vestments of the deacon, for he was a deacon, and he sang the holy Gospel in a sonorous voice…When he spoke the name ‘Child of Bethlehem’ or ‘Jesus’, his tongue licked his lips, as it were, relishing and savoring with pleased palate the sweetness of the words…

This scene of Francis licking his lips is a beautiful image. It should help us understand that it is not enough to have a purely intellectual knowledge of Jesus, regardless of the depth of academic and theological refinements. We need to be in touch with Jesus in a way that overcomes pious platitudes, academic speculation and theories, and transforms our knowledge into a relationship that becomes an experience that we can feel with our heart and senses as well as with our mind.

A technical term used in traditional theology is ‘soteriology’. It is the theological study of salvation through Jesus Christ. This particular theological study reminds us that our salvation came through One Who became His own creature in all things but sin. It reminds us that our own humanity - flesh, blood, experiences, etc. - is the ‘hinge’ around which our salvation revolves; it is the ‘vehicle’ through which the saving work of God enters the arteries of human history. Jesus is not just some fancy theory. Jesus is our ‘salvation’!

All this has no effect without the reality and sensitivity of our human bodies. It is through our senses that we have a living and personal experience of Jesus; and this experience is necessary for anyone to effectively speak about Jesus. We can learn a great deal from books and the opinions of others, but it is our personal experience of Jesus that makes the difference. The true study and understanding of Jesus comes from: the ‘University of the Desert’ that eliminates distractions and detaches us from useless encumbrances; the ‘Classroom of Prayer’ that places us in direct contact with the One Whose teaching enlightens and directs; and the ‘Practical Courses’ of personal involvement that actively express what we have come to know and that offer concrete ways of measuring our adeptness in being who we say we are. It is at this ‘School of the Master’, this personal contact with Jesus and how we see His image in all whom we encounter in life, that will determine how well the Incarnation and Birth of the Savior have entered my life.

The great artist Beato Angelico once said that to paint Christ one must live Christ. To paint the image of Christ on the ‘canvass’ of a person’s life, especially if that ‘canvass’ is a delicate, fragile person, it is necessary to dip the brush into the scarlet of His Wounds, the green of His eyes, the openness of His heart, the etching of His actions, the tempera of His sentiments, the depths of His thoughts, and the transparency of His dreams. What a beautiful image! What image are we painting?

Before we can speak about Jesus we must touch Him. That which our hands touched, the Word of Life, we announce to you. Saint John not only touched Jesus with his hands but also with his head. He touched and did not push away. Remember the woman in the Gospels who was healed after years of infirmity because she touched the hem of the Lord’s mantle. Crowds were surrounding Jesus and pressing around Him; many were probably in need, but she was the only recorded one cured. Only this woman was healed. Why? Saint Augustine responds with a powerful remark: the crowds pushed, she, on the other hand, touched.

Let’s be honest, how often do we ‘push’ Jesus around in our lives without ever really touching Him? We manipulate Him in the Sacraments, with rituals that often we fail to celebrate with meaningfulness. We plead and entreat His graces and gifts with scripted invocations that we often fail to bring from the depths of our heart. We go around from one ‘sacred’ event to another, but often fail to recognize Him in the ‘sacred’ poor in whom He hides awaiting our acknowledgment and assistance. We fail to touch Him with love. We do not caress Him with the excitement of one in love with Him. We do not abandon ourselves into His hands. Saint Thomas the Apostle, with a slight change to the scripture quote, gives us the answer: If I do not put my finger into the nail prints and do not put my hand into his side … others will not believe!

The manger and the cross speak so eloquently of Jesus and His mission. We cannot look at the manger of Jesus without thinking how it became the mysterious magnet attracting all the suffering and sadness of our planet. The manger attracts so many: the poor devastated by violence of any kind, those upset by natural disasters, women and men used and abused by those seeking meaningless pleasure without consideration for lives reduced to a functional object of sensuality, families devastated by economic instability that threatens their security, women and men dedicated to the service of others embarrassed by the inappropriate activities of their peers that shake the trust in those whom they serve, lives created without the possibility of natural birth and experiences, and so many others. The shepherds of that first Christmas night represent all these and many more. They are the first informed and called to the feet of the Savior. They are the ones who go that they might see and ‘touch’ this new-born Child Whose life came to bring re-birth to all. They may not have understood all the theological implications of the Incarnation, but they did rejoice at what they saw and touched. Once they saw, they understood what had been told them concerning this Child. All who heard it were astonished at the report given them by the shepherds.

Padre Pio in his correspondence with Raffaelina Cerase, writes: At the opening of the sacred novena in honor of the Child Jesus I felt my soul being born, as it were, to a new life. My heart felt too small to contain the heavenly favors and my soul seemed to disintegrate in the presence of this God who took human flesh for our sake. How can we help loving Him more and more ardently? Let us draw near to the Child Jesus with hearts free from sin, that we may discover how sweet and delightful it is to love Him (December 17, 1914). The Child Jesus is offering you a new chance to practice this virtue [i.e. the virtue of love seen in the love of God in the Birth of Jesus] (December 22, 1914).

As Spiritual Children of Padre Pio, the Birth of the Savior can never really leave us disconnected from life. What if humanity had never sinned? A rhetorical question, but one the Franciscans have always answered from their hearts, as well as their heads: God would still have become one of His creatures to show us the depth of His love for us. If God has shown us how deeply He loves us by sharing life with us in all things but sin, how can we not touch that Jesus we see ‘enfleshed’ in our sisters and brothers, especially those who share in the sufferings of the Cross of Christ. The Crib and the Cross … eternally linked to each other as the sign of an Eternal Love that invites us to Life.

May you and your loved ones have a most blessed and happy Christmas. May the Christ Child help you discover the simplicity and joy of this season, in the love of the Infant Savior, and share it, as the greatest gift you can give anyone. God bless you; Our Lady and St. Joseph guide, guard, and protect you; and Padre Pio watch over each one of you, his Spiritual Children, with loving care.

Peace and Blessings in the Christ Child.

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