Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Pope's Lenten Retreat

By all accounts a great retreat. I would note that it seems taht Cardinal Biffi has really aimed this retreat at the pope, especially in the first conference where there seems to be a direct remark about what Cardinal Ratzinger had often said about the church being reduced to a "small flock." Read the summaries for your own mini-retreat.

How they are reporting about it in Italy....from the Papa Ratzinger Forum:

Here is a translation of how the Italian service of Vatican Radio reported on the first three meditations led by Cardinal Biffi:

  • The existence of an invisible world, which implies the presence of divine creatures ignored and derided by the culture of positivist scientism,
  • The need to convert hearts so they may consciously choose God rather than evil,
  • And thus, in this context, the value of repentance with respect to the sense of sin, and the value of the life we live with the hope that there is something beyond rather than nothing -

These were some of the themes elaborated by Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, archbishop emeritus of Bologna, in the first three meditations he prepared for the Lenten spiritual exercises at the Vatican for the Pope and the Roman Curia. The exercises started yesterday afternoon at the Redemptoris Mater chapel of the Apostolic Palace.

Alessandro Caroli of Vatican Radio reports further:

By his very nature, man strives to conceive the existence of an 'invisible world', the hypothesis of 'another world' outside the perception of our senses, Biffi observed. To exclude prejudicially the existence of a beyond is an irrational attitude - because man, who is not omniscient, cannot presume to state with certainty what he can neither touch nor see, and and to exclude the idea of a beyond would mean, substantially, condemning himself to a life that has no sense. But even the believer, says Biffi, risks reducing the breadth of divine things to to the measure of his own misery. In summary, this was the premise for the first Lenten meditation proposed by Cardinal Biffi Sunday afternoon at the start of the annual Lenten retreat for the Pope and the Roman Curia. The sign that one takes the 'invisible world' seriously, he said,is if one takes the world of angels seriously. He stigmatized the mentality today for whom the hidden reality of angels is among the most derisive concepts, because that mentality is not inclined to think at all about 'higher things.' ['Things above' or 'Higher things' is the theme of this year's retreat.] But if one considers these 'higher realities', then, Cardinal Biffi says, the Christian will lose his fear that the Church is being reduced to a small flock compared to the forces that undermine it, because he will see the Church for what it is: part of a very crowded community that inhabits the space between earth and heaven.

In the two meditations on Monday morning, Cardinal Biffi dwelt on two aspects of the faith that call for particular reflection duting Lent; conversion - and therefore, the sense of sin and of redemptive repentance; and death itself as redemption. The liturgy of Lent, Biffi said, in the first of the Monday meditations, derives from a sentence that represents the opening of Jesus's public preaching, "Repent and believe in the Gospel." Therefore, he said, Lent is not the time for the believer to determine 'if' there is something he needs to change in himself, but rather 'what' he should change, or convert from a state of error to one of grace. And conversion - which is a change of direction in one's journey through life - starts from the heart, from internal repentance. If the disciple of Christ firmly renounces sin, it doesn't detract at all from the certainty of divine mercy, and authentic repentance will inevitably beer fruit in joy. Biffi noted that today, there is no sense of repentance because the sense of sin itself has been lost. But this is not really true, he said with some irony, because our era is marked by the continuous denunciation of wrongdoing in the media and public tribunals. Which means that the sense of sin exists, but a sense of the sins committed by others. Onthe contrary, he said, redemptive repentance lies in recognizing one's mistakes, because dissociating oneself from sin is in itself coming closer to God who is the antithesis of evil, and in doing so, we can better perceive the imminence of His kingdom.

Biffi's take-off for the third meditation was the imposition of ashes at the start of Lent - and the sentence that accompanies the rite ("Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return"). In a world that does not recognize the invisible world, he said, death is defeat. And a life which, according to that mentality, is destined to end in nothingness, also renders itself empty - because according to this vision, the most perverse existence and the most generous would both be rewarded smilarly, with nothingness. And so, that mentality almost denies death itself by not talking about it. The growing number of suicides, like the death of some teenagers who just came back from a discotheque [referring to some fresh news in Italy] are the tragic emblems of lives spent senselessly. But such a void, life without sense, is absurd for the human mind, Biffi said. And this is where the evangelical message makes a profound difference. The Christian does not censor the thought of death, he is not ashamed of feeling dismayed by the thought, because the Lord too felt all these apprehensions. Biffi said the ministers of the Church must be able to combat the conditioning that avoids a serious reflection on death. Man, he said, should be led to choose not between an unknown future and a present life of enjoyment, but between a life devoid of sense which ends in nothingness, or the hope of an event that will give us both a sense for our earthly life and a goal which is resurrection. The Resurrection of Christ is a reality that can be opposed to the ineluctable and experiential fact of death. And that is why, he said, ashes can never be dissociated from Easter. Ashes symbolize not so much what we will become, but what we could become if we do not open our hearts to the invisible world which encompasses the event of Salvation. And also, that life without God would be a flame that can only end in a handful of ashes.