FROM THE LETTERS OF FATHER PÍO: LIVING THE LENT
Written by: Br. William Trauba OFMCap.
Dear Friends of Padre Pio,
Peace and goodwill to each of you!
Well, we are in the Lenten season again! One may think, “I have many sins and I really want to repent of them, but I don’t know how, and besides, no matter how hard I try I always seem to end up falling into to the same sins again.” With this negative experience of one’s efforts to repent, for many persons Lent has become a time to feel one’s powerlessness to change and the renewal of guilt.
The purpose of Lent is not to make one feel guilty, but rather to prepare us to receive the graces of Easter. Lent is a time to face the reality of our unfaithfulness to God’s merciful love toward us. Lent is an opportunity to plow the field of our comfortable, egocentric way of living. It is a time to sow seeds of hope of participating in the life of Jesus risen from the dead. Lent looks forward to us as becoming faithful sons and daughters of our good heavenly Father who will give us our inheritance of eternal life. This hope is the motivational drive for our acts of repentance. The other impetus that makes Lent a fertile time for personal spiritual renewal is an ample confidence in the goodness and mercy of God in spite our sinfulness and weakness.
Nevertheless, we risk that as with our promises for the New Year, our Lenten resolutions may be equally idealized. We can easily propose good and necessary acts of repentance and mortification without considering the means to ensure lasting changes in our lives. Padre Pio in his letter to fray Manuel de San Marco La Carole offers some basic orientations to obtaining an inner disposition for spiritual renewal. The letter was written on January 20, 1918:
It is good to aspire to the most high Christian perfection, but beware of philosophizing about it rather than centering on our conversion and on our progress in it in the course of daily events, leaving the realization of our desires to the providence of God and abandoning ourselves into the arms of a father as does a little child upon believing that what his father has prepared for him each day is what he needs for his nutrition and is according to the measure of his appetite and necessity. ….
Guard against scruples and qualms of conscience; be at absolute peace with what I said to you verbally, because I said it to you on behalf of the Lord. Remain in the presence of God using the means that I indicated to you and which you already know.
Guard against sadness and anxiety, because there is nothing that such impedes the way to perfection. My son gently and sweetly put your heart in the wounds of our Lord, but not by force. Conserve a great confidence in his mercy and goodness that he will never abandon you, but nevertheless don’t cease to strongly embrace his holy cross.
In the three paragraphs above Padre Pio offers to fray Manuel three basic counsels to develop a docility before God necessary for his real spiritual conversion. In the first paragraph Padre Pio tells him that it is necessary to concretize his good intentions and not merely think about them. Padre Pio invites fray Manuel, and us, to see in the events of each day the raw material for our conversion that God as our Father offers us to be accepted by us and offered in turn to him to be made holy. In this we understand that the most important thing for our conversion is not what or how much we do, but how we do everyday things. Padre Pio emphasizes that developing an attitude of confidence in the goodness of God facilitates our cooperation with him in that we strive to please him in the decisions that we make throughout the day.
In the second paragraph Padre Pio treats of more personal matters concerning fray Manuel. Without knowing exactly what these concerns may have been, the reference to scruples implies things emotionally charged that for fray Manuel were delicate and capable of engendering guilt. Padre Pio’s advice is to not yield to those scruples and to maintain an inner peace of soul confiding in the mercy of God. We surmise that an attitude of tranquility and confidence before the mercy of God are necessary elements to maintain a clear conscience in his presence. This being in the presence of God implies practicing humility, docility and fortitude instead of letting ourselves become overwhelmed by anxiety and despair before the reality of our sins.
The exhortations in the third paragraph help fray Manuel manage his suffering. Sadness is an emotion that indicates perception of loss whereas anxiety is a kind of fear that indicates a perception of need in relation to what is being asked. In both cases Padre Pio counsels him not to reject his suffering but rather to put it into the context of an offering, carrying it to the cross and uniting it to Jesus Crucified, but softly and sweetly, not by force. This attitude of abandonment and confidence in Jesus is a refuge which permits healing of wounds and the solution of problems. When we feel loved by the immense bountifulness of God, we are encouraged to place our troubles in a bigger context than that of our ego-world and to confront our shadow side and weaknesses with a desire for reconciliation. With this attitude, instead of despair, which is a sign of pride, we are better able to abandon ourselves to the infinite goodness of God.
So then, let us accept the plate our Father places before us in the events of each day. Let us not lose inner peace and without scruples, humbly and docilly do the best we can knowing that we are protected by both the goodness and mercy of our Father. And when we suffer, we will unite our sufferings to him who suffers for us and with us knowing that in him the goodness and mercifulness of our Father is for us incarnate in the grace of today.
Your brother in Christ,
Br. William Trauba, Capuchin