Papal retreat to focus on listening to God as prophetic experience

In preparation for the annual retreat of Pope Francis and the Roman Curia, from 1-6 March in Ariccia, Fr. Peter Bovati, SJ., the retreat director, speaks on the dynamics of the Spiritual Exercises.

Source: Vatican News

Pope Francis and the Roman Curia are making their annual retreat next week. The theme is “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”.

The Spiritual Exercises take place from 1 – 6 March at the Divine Master House in Ariccia, in the Alban hills near Rome.  In this interview, Vatican Radio’s Amedeo Lomonaco speaks to the retreat director, Fr. Pietro Bovati, Jesuit priest and Secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

The theme of this retreat touches on our experience of God, represented by Moses’ encounter with God and hearing his voice from the burning bush. It is this voice that illuminates the lives of people and tells them the way of life. The spiritual exercises are, fundamentally, a help to this personal encounter of the soul with God. The task of the spiritual guide is to foster this encounter of each person with God in order that they may listen, in a personal way, to the Word of the Lord. Only He can give each person directions that are both normative and consoling.

What is the itinerary of the spiritual exercises?

I think it is to make each person listen to the Word of God which is given in the Holy Scriptures following the itinerary of the prophets. Listening to God in prayer is in fact a prophetic experience. That is precisely what Moses experienced when he heard the voice of God. And the same thing Jesus Christ did, who throughout his life manifested that He spoke because He is God. We will therefore go through some texts of Scripture showing how Moses and Christ disposed themselves to listen to the Word in such a way, then, as to help their brothers and sisters in a prophetic experience.

Will prophecy and prayer be the focus of these spiritual exercises?

The theme of prayer and prophecy will guide the itinerary that I will try to offer by essentially following some texts from the book of Exodus and some passages from the Gospel of Matthew. Also, as an expression of the Lenten dynamism, during Lent we are invited to spiritually retrace the journey of the people in the desert towards the mountain of God – towards the Easter experience.

So it will be a journey in the light of the Word of God…

This is basically what I will try to do. I will go over some themes such as vocation, resistance to God’s grace, and then illustrate some tasks that have been particularly entrusted to those in the community who have roles of responsibility. I plan to conclude with the consoling experience of God’s presence close to the people who follow him; leading them and transforming them into people capable of radiating God’s light.

Listening to the word of God is the fundamental step for a personal encounter with Jesus and for an authentic prophetic experience…

I see that prayer, many times, is interpreted as a conversation, an expression of one’s soul to God. This is one dimension of prayer, but its deeper, more authentic dimension is that of the person who speaks to the Lord and says: your servant listens to you. It is that moment when Moses enters the tent and God speaks to him as a man does with his friend. This familiarity of listening to God is a prophetic experience. In this encounter one knows God’s will, one hears that what God says is good. This, therefore, places humanity into a dimension of obedience, of fidelity, of faith which constitutes the authentic religious experience. This is what people must try to live in prayer. Not simply to interpret it as a request, or as a recitation of words that he addresses to God. The first fundamental thing is to listen: “Listen to his voice today, do not harden your hearts as you did in the desert”.

The man who lives in prayer listens to the Word of God. How can the Lord speak to us as he did to Moses?

We think that the experience of Moses is an entirely extraordinary experience, like that of the prophets, that of Jesus Christ, and also of the first apostles. But this is not true. These stories are meant to tell us what actually happens when people dispose themselves in prayer and receive the Spirit. That is, people are ready to be made capable of receiving the intimate Word that the Lord addresses to each one in their hearts. This is the Pentecostal experience of every believer. The authentic experience that makes people capable of entering into a personal relationship with the Lord.

How can this relationship be fostered?

By receiving the prophetic Word. That is, the same Word of God that is given in the Scriptures and trying to assimilate it because by speaking to us through the prophets, God speaks to us through His Word. It is a Word full of Spirit and not outdated. A Word that reaches us today because every inspired word is useful to tell us what God wants in our lives.

The Word reaches us today, in our lives, but it also illuminates the meaning of history, the meaning of the times…

It helps us to understand and interpret the meaning of history which is not only a theoretical and general vision. It helps us to see history as it is fulfilled in the present. It also enables us not only to adequately live out what God wants from each of us, but also to become instruments of light, guidance and encouragement. To witness to our brothers and sisters in such a way as to be that lamp, that light and that leaven that the Lord wants for his Church. For those who have ecclesial responsibilities, then, this is of extraordinary importance.

The presence of the Pope and the Curia will also be a special source of inspiration for you…

There’s almost a sense of awe at being in this situation. But my humble task as a brother is to transmit that religious experience that I have gained from listening to the Word of God and to give some help, some inspiration for prayer, so that one may experience this beauty, this depth, this truth of the Word of God. A Word that reaches us deeply and personally.

Enlightened words and new hearts. This is the fundamental bond…

It is the Word of God which, in a certain sense, has this function of softening hearts, of renewing them from within, of making the heart ever more capable of that spiritual depth and of that tenderness, of that mercy, of that compassion which we know to be the very heart of God’s revelation for humanity: to go to meet people in order to help them, to make them become ever more capable of welcoming the mystery of life to its eschatological fullness.

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