Lenten Retreat 2004: Following Jesus, the Light of Life

From Feb. 29-March 6, Pope John Paul II and officials of the Roman Curia listened to four meditations daily as a focus of the Holy Father's annual Lenten retreat.

The Pope canceled his regular Wednesday catechesis and all other public audiences and meetings during the week to dedicate himself to prayer.

The retreat meditations were held in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Vatican, with John Paul listening to the meditations from the adjoining St. Lawrence Oratorio. The reflections ended every day with the rosary, Eucharistic adoration and Benediction.

Msgr. Bruno Forte, a theologian and president of the School of Theology of Southern Italy, preached this year's meditations on the theme “Following You, Light of Life.”

The following is excerpted from passages of the four days of the meditations that were broadcast on Vatican Radio.

Day 1: Freedom Means Obedience

Msgr. Forte dedicated the first day's meditations to the topic “Called to Freedom: Jesus, a History of Freedom.”

“In the life of Jesus, as in every truly human history,” there are “options that orient decisively the whole of life,” Msgr. Forte said.

That choice “is called a fundamental option, the meaning of life,” he said. From this option of life, he said, stems the “option of the moment” — that is, the various decisions made in the course of daily life.

These daily options, Msgr. Forte said, “produce the lifestyle of a person.”

The preacher then asked: Was there a fundamental option in Jesus' life? “Jesus' fundamental option can be understood in all his actions,” the preacher said. “Jesus makes us understand that no one is as free as the one who is free of his own freedom.

“The cause of Jesus' life is God, his Kingdom. And these also help us to understand Jesus' lifestyle. Jesus' lifestyle was his poverty and radical freedom, his unconditional trust in his Father, sign of intense love for life and a complete, total trust in God.”

Day 2: Foot of the Cross

The second day of Msgr. Forte's Lenten meditations were dedicated to the theme “On the Way Toward the Cross.”

The cross is “the place where God speaks in silence, illuminating the darkness of our hearts, thirsty for him,” Msgr. Forte said.

Moreover, Jesus' whole life is oriented toward the cross. “If we want to know who God is, we must kneel at the foot of the cross,” the preacher said.

The cross is the key to understanding the Gospel, seeing how each one of its passages is as an introduction to understand that mystery, the priest said.

In an afternoon meditation, Msgr. Forte focused on the Gospel parable of the prodigal son, which he said presents a humble, courageous, maternal God.

“Who are we before this God?” he asked. “The youngest son, who took everything and left home and went to a land where he dissipated everything.”

“The prodigal son's return home represents the extraordinary moment of conversion,” which requires an understanding of one's “alienation” caused by sin as well as “the recognition of the love of God,” Msgr. Forte said. Conversion is the awareness of the tragedy of having gone away from Jesus and recognition of the way that leads back to the Lord, the preacher concluded.

Day 3: A Life-Changing Meeting

The resurrection of Jesus, a “meeting that changes life,” was the theme of the third day of Msgr. Forte's meditations. He highlighted the resurrection of Christ as the “full revelation of the love of God” realized through the effusion of the Spirit.

“At the beginning there was the experience of a meeting. Jesus appeared alive to the fearful fugitives of Good Friday; everything begins with this meeting,” the papal preacher said.

“Fear was followed by courage, and the fugitives became witnesses to the end of a life given for the one they betrayed in the hour of darkness,” Msgr. Forte said.

“Between Good Friday and the dawn of Easter there is an empty space in which something so important happened that it gave origin to Christianity in history,” the preacher explained.

“The announcement recorded in the New Testament confesses the meeting with the Risen One as an experience of grace,” he said.

One of the emphases of Msgr. Forte's meditations was “the contemplation of the presence of the persons of the Trinity in the mysteries of the life of Jesus.”

“The resurrection is a Trinitarian event in which the Father infuses the Spirit on the Crucified One and resurrects him,” he said.

Day 4: Church of Love

After the death and resurrection of Christ, a new relation takes place in the Church between God and every person, Msgr. Forte said in his Day 4 morning meditation on the theme, “In the Communion of the Church: The Church, Image of the Trinity.”

The gift of participation in the life of the Trinity is expressed in a new relation between God and man, Msgr. Forte said. The central element of this relation is the Church, he added.

“The Church, which Jesus came to establish on earth, is the community of the sons who are such in the Son, loved in the beloved. It is the Church of love,” he said.

“Everything in the Church comes from the love of the Trinity,” he continued. The heart of the Church is the “agape,” the love that comes from on high and returns on high, becoming the rule of life of Jesus' disciples.

“The Church comes from God, from the Trinity. God has had time for man, and man's days have become the penultimate time, that span that takes place between the first coming and his return,” the preacher said.

Msgr. Forte dedicated the lectio divina to the contemplation of the Blessed Virgin's visitation to her cousin Elizabeth. “In the school of Mary,” he said, “we learn to act following the One who has revealed to us the Triune God of love; that is, in charity.”

(From combined Zenit reports.)