Monthly Letter

Padre Pio Prayer Groups

National Office

St. Francis Renewal Center
1901 Prior Road
Wilmington, Delaware 19809
June 2009
Dear Spiritual Children and Friends of Padre Pio,

The Lord give you His peace!

This month, on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, will officially initiate the celebration of the Year of the Priest. On the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Marie Vianney, the Cure` of Ars, the patron saint of priests, the Holy Father is encouraging the entire Church to reflect on the vocation of and pray for all the priests of the Church. The more we understand about these mysterious priests who really are not their own, the greater appreciation we will have of their presence and ministry within the Church and the world, and their own essential role in the life of every Catholic. To understand this, we must look at the First and only True Priest, Jesus the Christ, from Whom all others descend and receive their responsibility of service within the family of God.

One incident in the Gospels may help us to understand Jesus mind regarding those who eventually would accept to be His priests. As Jesus entered a certain town, He was struck by the sound of voices calling out to Him. Ten lepers, not daring to walk on the road that a ‘healthy’ Jew would walk, stood at a distance and cried, Master, have pity on us. Jesus replied, Go, show yourselves to the priests. Believing His words, they went to show themselves to the priests and, on the way, they were healed. Jesus alone could have healed them, just as he had done on other occasions when He healed the deaf-mute, gave sight to the blind, or even when with one word he raised Lazarus from the dead. Why in this case did He send the lepers to show themselves to the priests? For the Jewish people, the priests represented the bridge between God and His people. They were the ones who confirmed the work of God among the people. They spoke in God’s name. They were the ones who officially ‘authenticated’ God’s work among His people. In sending the ten lepers to Jerusalem to show themselves to the priests of the Temple, Jesus was teaching us the role that His priests would have in the Great Family of God, the Church.

Jesus was quite aware that his human condition would not remain on earth forever. People would always have need of Him, of His living word resounding in their ears and hearts, of his ministry of compassion, mercy, and love. It was necessary to continue His presence, not only sacramentally in the Eucharist that He would institute the night before His death, but also in a humanly tangible way that would allow Christians through the centuries to ‘see Jesus’. Thus, Jesus instituted the priesthood. These were men empowered by the Holy Spirit and the Church to perpetuate the re-presentation of the Passion-Death-Resurrection of Christ in the Eucharist, and to forgive those who distance themselves from the life of grace through their personal sins. Priests become the ‘doorkeepers of heaven’ as it were, who make the joys of heaven accessible once again to those who have lost their ability to enter.

The priest is that baptized Catholic man who visibly perpetuates Christ through the centuries. As the well know expression states, he is another Christ. Alter Christus. If that is the case, then the priest must expect to experience all that Jesus experienced. He is called to be a sign of contradiction in a confused world always challenging him. His lot will be that of the Master’s: joy and humiliation, dignity and disrespect, happiness and sorrow.

Without a doubt, Moses is considered one of - if not the - greatest figure of the Old Testament. He saw the burning bush that was not consumed, heard the voice and Name of God, and was entrusted with the deliverance of the children of Abraham from the slavery of Egypt. When the Lord entrusted the Decalogue to Moses on Sinai, after having communed with God for 40 days and nights, Moses descended among the people but his face was enveloped in a brilliant light. The priest is the ‘Moses of the New Testament’, but in a manner greater than his. To the priest God has entrusted not only the intimacy of communing with the Lord as did Moses, but He has also entrusted the priest with the New Law in Jesus to assist him in guiding the New Israel, the People of God, through the stages of this life. The priest is empowered to teach, nourish and heal souls. What an awesome and humbling gift and responsibility! To whom much is given, much is expected in return! In return the priest fulfills three important roles among and for the people.

First, remembering that Jesus, before ascending to heaven, told His disciples, Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations…teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28: 18-20), priests are called to be lights that enlighten the minds and hearts of God’s people. The are guides for the little ones in their innocence and wonder about life, as they learn of God’s love for them; they are direction and correction for youth and young adults as they take their place in the Church and society, with dignity and integrity; they are compassionate companions on life’s journey for all entrusted to their care; they teach the ways of God and His holy Will and thus facilitate our knowledge of God and our eternal home. The priest is called to instruct.

Then, we remember that the night before He died, Jesus took bread and wine and pronounced the words: This is my Body … This is my Blood (Matthew 26: 26-29), Do this as a remembrance of me (Luke 22: 19). The priest continues to re-present the mystery of our salvation in the Eucharist. He offers the Eucharist and seeks to become more deeply that Whom and Which he offers. The nourishment for himself is then offered to those well-disposed to share in the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist. This is our ‘viaticum’ - ‘nourishment for the journey’ that strengthens those who receive it well-disposed. The priest is called to feed.

Finally, remembering the incident with the ten lepers, we are reminded of Jesus’ mercy for those challenged by their infirmities. In healing the lepers, Christ reminds His ‘other selves’- the priests - that they must be a mercifully compassionate healing presence to others in their need. The priest did not accept ordination to isolate himself from the world but to live his life for the sake of the other, just as the Master did before him. The priest heals and strengthens the souls and lives of others through the ministry of reconciliation with God, one self and others. Who can forgive sins but God?, was a valid question for those who could or would not see God in Jesus. The Alter Christus, acts in His Name, and forgives sin, heals souls, redirects lives. The priest is called to heal.

Teacher, nurturer, healer!, some real presumptuous aspirations for a man who enters the priestly life. Presumptuous, yes, if he thought that it all depended on him. Humbling and effective when the priest sees any good as coming from the Father working through His Holy Spirit in the Person of Christ in, with, and through him … the alter Christus.

While every vocation that is a response to God’s will is the perfect vocation for that particular person, the dignity of the vocation to the ministerial priesthood cannot be denied. The priest is asked the same question asked of the sons of Zebedee who sought positions of importance: Can you drink the cup that I will drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. (Cfr. Mark 10: 35-45) The life of a priest is not one of dominance but service. The response the young disciples gave to the question Jesus posed is the response every man called to the priesthood gives when he takes that one step forward into the clerical state, and especially when he receives the imposition of the hands of the ordaining bishop: We can!, and we must add with the help of God.

Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice on Calvary for the people. The priest must also sacrifice his life for the people, at times given the ultimate witness of his life for the faith, but usually living his life totally surrendered to God’s Will and the service of His People. Every priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins … for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people. (Hebrews 5: 1-3). How do people respond to the priest? … with love and appreciation? Often not! All too often the world persecutes the priest, just as it persecuted Christ, most times not by destroying the body but seeking to destroy the integrity of the person and thus the credibility of his words. The disciple cannot expect to be better than his Master. The first priests suffered martyrdom for their faithfulness to Christ: some were crucified, others thrown to the beasts, others beheaded. The glory of the priestly life, like Easter glory and fulfillment, must pass through the darkness and ‘failure’ of Calvary and the Cross.

In one of his letters dated December 21, 1915, Padre Pio writes to Raffaelina Cerase: Accompany me continually, then, by your prayers, that the Divine Shepherd may give me what is lacking to me. Ask him to give me the holiness that I lack … Every minister of the Lord ought to work continually for the good of souls. He ought never admit weariness … This is the image of the genuine Catholic priest … may the Lord assist me in the fulfillment of my duty.

It was obvious from the life of Padre Pio how much he loved the gift of his priesthood. The imposition of the bishop’s hands conferring the sacred priesthood on him, made Padre Pio one with Christ more intimately than when he received the external signs of the Sacred Stigmata of the Passion of Jesus. The stigmata made him a visible image of the Crucified through whom others could see and reflect on the Passion of the Savior. Padre Pio’s sharing in the priesthood of Christ made him an alter Christus (another Christ), as all validly ordained priests are.

June, the month dedicated to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, also marks the beginning of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Marie Vianney, the Cure` of Ars. It also is the starting point, this year, for the Year of the Priest, proclaimed by our Holy Father Benedict XVI. We praise and thank God for this wonderful gift of the priesthood God gave and continues to give the Church. Aware of human frailty, we pray for all priests that they may find strength in the Eucharist they celebrate, that the Body and Blood of the Savior they confect and receive may strengthen them to encounter the challenges of today’s world that seeks so often to discredit the office and person of the priest. We invoke God’s particular assistance on any who have left the Church or grown lukewarm to the Faith because of a priest who may be in difficulty with his faith and vocation. Just as our Spiritual Father, Padre Pio, continually asked for prayers to assist him in his ministry that he might be a priest according to the Heart of Jesus, let us pray for all priests, especially those in crisis or whose crises have scandalized or harmed members of the flock of the Good Shepherd.

The priest is essential to the Church; he is necessary to each one of us. The priest accompanies us at momentous times in life. He accompanies the faithful to the portals of eternity, when we make the journey from time to eternity. His words make Christ present among us, and his hands hold and administer the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus the Christ in the celebration of the Eucharist. The priest absolves us from sin and offers us the gift of serenity of conscience and growth in grace through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. No priest is worthy of the office, yet through his own unworthiness, and even in spite of his sins, the Lord makes the priest an instrument of his grace, and link with God.

As Spiritual Children of Padre Pio, let us revere our priests. The Sacrament of Ordination does not change the personality of the man receiving the gift, it just makes him more responsible and accountable, while imparting to him a unique relationship with the Lord. Your Spiritual Directors are men who have accepted the awesome responsible of being spiritual guides for their Prayer Groups. It is no little task. The spiritual journey for the group is not the same as for individual members of the group. Gifted with the Holy Spirit, and making use of their natural gifts entrusted to them by God, your spiritual directors journey with you. The open the road ahead of you that leads to a greater intimacy with the Father in Jesus through the Holy Spirit, by their instructions, homilies, personal spiritual guidance, and prayers. Pray for your Spiritual Directors and let them know you pray for them every day.

It is my hope, during this Year of the Priest, to focus on some aspect of the priesthood every month in my Circular Letters, that we may grow in our love for our priests. Pray for good vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Foster and encourage vocations in your families. Without the priest there is no Eucharist; without the Eucharist there is no Life, true Life, within us.

May God bless you; Our Lady guide, guard, and protect you; and may Padre Pio watch over each one of you, his Spiritual Children, with loving care. May the Sacred Heart of Jesus, open for love of us on the Cross by the soldier’s lance, be the open door we enter that leads us to the loving embrace of the Father.

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