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2020.03.01 Casa Divin Maestro inizio Esercizi Spirituali Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament during the Spiritual Exercises at the Casa Divin Maestro  (Vatican Media)

Papal retreat: A ministry of encouragement, and a warning against idolatry

The preacher for this year’s Spiritual Exercises for the Roman Curia, Fr Pietro Bovati, warns against modern forms of idolatry, and encourages a “ministry of encouragement”. As he recovers from a cold, Pope Francis continues to follow the exercises from the Vatican.

By Vatican News

Pope Francis is continuing to say Mass at the Casa Santa Marta, and following the spiritual exercises for the Roman Curia, according to a statement Tuesday evening from the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Matteo Bruni. “The cold the Holy Father has been diagnosed with in recent days is running its course”, Bruni said, “without symptoms attributable to other diseases”.

Jesuit Father Pietro Bovati, who is directing the spiritual exercises, warned against modern forms of idolatry during his reflection on Tuesday afternoon.  

Day 3 afternoon: Idolatry rooted in lack of faith

Focusing on the story of the golden calf in the book of Exodus, Fr Bovati said that, although idolatry is sometimes seen as a problem of the past, it nonetheless remains “a capital sin”. Reflecting on various aspects of idolatry, he highlighted a desire for certainty, choosing “to see” rather than to listen to the voice of the invisible God.

Father Bovati also warned of the danger, especially in the modern digital world, of becoming “followers” of an idolatrous object. In particular, he said there can be a kind of idolatry in ritualism, in being concerned with beautiful ceremonies which may lack authentic prayer, rooted in hearing and accepting God’s Word.

Jesus overcomes this temptation to idolatry, Fr Bovati said, when He triumphed over Satan during the temptations in the desert. By His example, the Lord teaches us how to overcome our own blindness.

Day 4 morning: A ministry of encouragement

In the fifth meditation, on Wednesday morning, Fr Bovati said the only antidote to the fear people feel today is the Word of God, “which breaks into human history”.

Reflecting on the Crossing of the Red Sea (Ex 14) and the story of Jesus walking on the water (Mt 14), Fr Bovati noted that the theme of a night crossing is prominent in both stories. In particular, the Hebrew people were discouraged by the difficulty of the flight from Egypt. Moses, rather than criticizing the people, exercises a “ministry of encouragement” to help the people trust God.

In Matthew’s Gospel, the Apostles are frightened when a storm threatens their boat. Jesus comes to them, walking on the water, and encouraging them, “Do not be afraid”. He invites Peter to have the same experience of walking on water, and when Peter’s faith wavers, Jesus holds him up.

Jesus saves us and sets us free

Father Bovati concluded his reflection on Wednesday morning by suggesting to those present to pray Psalm 124 “as a prayer of praise for the Lord who sets us free, who saves us”. If Jesus were not “He Who Is”, we would have perished in the deep waters. “But the waters have not submerged us: the snare was broken, and we are freed”.

04 March 2020, 15:15