By Devin Watkins
Even though he is following the Spiritual Exercises from the Casa Santa Marta due to a cold, Pope Francis kicked off the annual retreat in Ariccia with a letter sent to Jesuit Fr Pietro Bovati.
In it, the Pope extended his prayer and blessings to the retreat director and the Roman Curia.
“I am accompanying you from here,” he wrote. “I will do the Exercises in my room, following Fr Bovati’s preaching, to whom I extend my gratitude. I pray for you. Please, pray for me.”
Day 1: Receptive to divine revelation
Fr Bovati, the Secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, gave his first reflection on Sunday evening, introducing the theme: “The bush was on fire (Ex 3:2) – The encounter between God and man in light of the book of Exodus, the Gospel of Matthew, and the prayer of the Psalms.”
He told members of the Roman Curia gathered at the Divine Master House in Ariccia that the Old Testament story of Moses is an invitation to “rest in receptivity of Divine Revelation”.
Model of prayer
Moses, said Fr Bovati, always set aside part of his day to spend time in the meeting tent where the Lord would speak to him “face to face”.
Authentic prayer, he added, is an encounter with the “fire” that makes us capable of carrying out our prophetic mission of witness.
Fr Bovati said he chose Moses as a type of “icon” for the papal retreat because Moses was obedient to the Lord. He took off his sandals before the burning bush to recognize that “one must not go elsewhere: there is no path, direction, or preference other than Christ.”
Day 2: Journey of desire
On Monday morning, the retreat director focused his reflections on readings from Exodus 2:1-10; Matthew 1:18-25; Psalm 139.
Fr Bovati again took up the theme of Moses’ example of prayer in the meeting tent, which he described as “a journey of desire”.
When Moses entered the tent, a column of cloud would descend on the entrance, in a sign that the Lord had drawn near to him.
This, said Fr Bovati, “upsets the widely circulated idea that identifies prayer with the words a person directs toward the Lord.” Rather, “authentic prayer is fundamentally a prophetic experience, one in which the human creature can listen to the voice of the Lord in silence.”
Burning but not consumed
Fr Bovati went on to recall Moses’ experience of the bush that was on fire but not consumed.
He said it represents “the human person in all their fragility, weakness, and misery – like that of the bush – which however is invested with an enduring force of life: the fire.”
“It is not simply a matter of refreshing our soul’s fervor through some appropriate devotional exercises. Rather, it means taking on a renewed commitment to truth, with a sincere openness of heart to the gift that Jesus came to bring into the world. ‘I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!’”