Day three of the retreat of the Roman Curia in Ariccia

2014-03-11 L’Osservatore Romano

Man is like a pomegranate: inside he contains many tiny fleshy seeds, like the many elements of creation. God mixed them all together and breathed into them the breath of life. The preacher of the papal retreat, Msgr Angelo De Donatis, today offered this image of man's creation, at the opening of day three of Pope Francis' Lenten retreat with members of the Roman Curia. The five-day retreat is taking place this week at the house of the Divine Master in Arriccia, just south of Rome.

To illustrate his point, the papal preacher had a fresh, ripe pomegranate on hand and held it up for all to see. He noted, however, that the beauty of the human creature is destined for ruin if man prevents the breath of God, i.e. divine merciful love, from penetrating him to the core. Developing the metaphor, Msgr. De Donatis explained that when this occurs, each of the little seeds, seized by the desire for self-assertion, seek to grow larger in a despotic competition with the others until they explode and destroy the fruit.

To further explain evil's effect on man, the papal preacher drew upon the Gospel account of Jesus' meeting with the dmoniac, reported by the evangelist Mark (5:1-20). He enumerated the most salient points: the dialogue; the demon's begging not to be driven out to wander through the countryside; Jesus' questioning the demon to elicit its name; the demon's description of himself as “Legion” whereby he indicated the enormous number of demons that had taken possession of the man; their request least to be sent into the nearby heard of swine; and their entrance into the herd, which caused them to rush down the steep bank into the sea, where they drowned.

The herdsmen's reaction to these events remind us of what is happening in the world today, Msgr. De Donatis said. Indeed, no one even took note of the young man who had been liberated from the demon; they were more concerned by the economic disaster which had been caused by the death of 2,000 pigs. They even begged Jesus to depart from their neighborhood; and he left in silence. Thus, he concluded, it was ecomonic ideology that prevented them from encountering Jesus.

Religion stands in the face of this pagan economic ideology. Jesus casts out the demon, and the young man is freed, liberated by Christ. He is no longer afraid, he has been set free from fear. God has saved him. He saved him not because he had done something extraordinary, but so that he might know God's merciful love.

To attain to this love, Msgr. De Donatis explained, we need the help of the Holy Spirit. For without him it would be an impossible undertaking. It is not primarly our works, he said, that help us to attain to God; what is most necessary and essential is Christ's love.

On Monday, the preacher of the papal Lenten retreat dedicated a lengthy afternoon meditation to the relationship between man's works and God's grace. Drawing upon St Paul's Letter to the Ephesians (2:1-10), Msgr. De Donatis recalled that our task is not to show what the Church accomplishes, what priests accomplish, what Christians accomplish. Rather, our task is to show what God accomplishes through us. In fact, he added, when we place our efforts and works at the centre we run the risk of becoming worldly.

Therefore, we need to commit ourselves to recognizing that we are all only “pardoned sinners”. “By grace” we are saved, as St Paul repeatedly reminds us, and not through “the works of the law”. We therefore need free ourselves from the temptation of feeling that we always have to do something, forgetting that we have been saved through God's free and loving initiative.

The papal preacher concluded by inviting all those present to change persective and to see that, in pastoral ministry today “everything should flow forth as the fruit of the Holy Spirit”.