By Robin Gomes
Pope Francis and 65 of his collaborators from the Roman Curia began their annual spiritual exercises Sunday evening at the Casa Divin Maestro in the town of Arricia, just outside Rome.
Benedictine Abbot Bernardo Francesco Maria Gianni, head of the Olivetan Abbey of San Miniato al Monte, is preaching the March 10-15 Lenten spiritual retreat on the theme “The City of Ardent Desires: For Paschal Looks and Gestures in the Life of the World”.
Pope Francis sat on the 4th row Sunday evening, to listen to the first meditation of Fr. Gianni on a 1997 poem by Italian poet Mario Luzi entitled: "We are here for this". The abbot's reflection started from the perspective of his abbey overlooking the Italian city of Florence, which Giorgio La Pira, the saintly mayor of Florence after World War II, now a “Venerable” on the way to sainthood, described as "a place of the geography of grace".
The Pope and his collaborators were invited to look at Florence and find clues about “how God lives the city”.
Gaze from above
The abbot spoke about the need to gaze from above in order not to fall into the temptation of the evil one who would almost have us own, dominate and condition the things of this world. On the contrary, he said, one needs to have a gaze aroused by the Holy Spirit and the Word of the Lord - a gaze of contemplation, of gratitude, of vigilance if necessary and of prophecy. It is a gaze that easily recognizes that our cities are a desert.
Desert into a garden
The Benedictine monk explained that the gaze from above is also an incentive to rekindle a fire in order to restore true life in Christ and the Gospel.
He earnestly urged his listeners to have what he called the “gaze of mystery towards Florence”, so that their pastoral actions and care of the people and humanity entrusted to them by the Lord, may truly be a "new living flame of ardent desire" that transforms the desert into a garden of beauty, peace, justice and harmony.
Citing the words of the Medieval Scottish mystic, Richard of Saint Victor - “where there is love, there is a look" - Abbot Gianni spoke of the need to recognize the traces and clues that the Lord leaves behind as He passes through our history and life. It is in this love that one must read the gaze of La Pira on Florence, of Jesus on Jerusalem and on all those the Lord met. The abbot said, it is a perspective that introduces "a dynamic Easter", making us aware of a weakened brotherhood. The strength of brotherhood, the preacher stressed, is the new frontier of Christianity.
The gaze of Christ
Recalling that humanism starts from Christ, the abbot invited the retreat participants to have a glimpse of the merciful face of the dead and risen Jesus who recreates our humanity that is fragmented by the struggles of life or marked by sin.
“Let us allow Jesus to gaze at us,” the retreat preacher urged, so that “we learn to see as He saw,” just as He did with the rich young man and Zacchaeus.
Abbot Gianni described Christ’s gaze as one that sweeps away the fear of not recognizing the Lord, but one which already has changed the heart.
The abbot recalled the words of St. Augustine - "If you are not attentive to your heart, you will never know if Jesus is visiting you or not" – and stressed on the conversion of the heart so that it recognizes the presence of God in our history and opens itself to a burning hope that is new and unheard of.
The Benedictine monk thus urged the consecrated persons to a simple and prophetic life, where the Lord is before their eyes and in the hands, and nothing else is required.
"Consecrated life,” he said, “is this prophetic vision in the Church.” “It is the gaze that sees God present in the world, even if many do not realize it". “He is life, He is the hope and the future,” the abbot said.