At this hour, one of the weightier weeks of his five-year reign now behind, the Pope and his senior Curia are beginning their weeklong Lenten Retreat, during which much of the Vatican 's workload grinds to a halt.
While the traditional papal exercises for the penitential season were long grist for the Roman buzzmill given the habit of both Paul VI and John Paul II to tap high-profile papabili to preach it, the reigning pontiff has largely curtailed the chatter by choosing his retreat masters from a more improbable mold -- at least, as advancement goes.
Since his election, Benedict first turned to a string of four retired cardinals to guide the week. This year, however, the at least a bit of the old buzz is back as the preaching honors have fallen to no retiree, but a 59 year-old Salesian, Fr Enrico dal Covolo -- a longtime consultor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith... and even more tellingly, another confrere of the Secretary of State to get a prominent turn on the Vatican stage.
All that said, before heading into six days of conferences on "'Lessons' of God and the church on the priestly vocation," the Pope made his lone appearance of the week for his noontime Angelus:
Benedict XVI explained the significance of [Lent] as "a time of spiritual renewal," with a personal commitment so the "the world may improve is we start from each one of ourselves, changing, thanks to the grace of God, what is wrong in our lives".PHOTO: Reuters
In this the faithful should follow the example of Jesus who struggled "in first person against the Tempter, right to the Cross." "Christ - the Pope said - came into the world to free us from sin and the ambiguous lure of planning our lives devoid of God."
The pontiff referred to the temptations of Christ (recounted in today’s Gospel, Luke 4, 1-13): the first, which "takes its origin from hunger, ie from material need" and the second, with "the deception of power that Jesus unmasks and rejects "the third, in which “the Tempter offers Jesus to perform a spectacular miracle".
"Referring to the Sacred Scripture - explained the pope - He [Jesus] places the sole authentic criterion ahead of all human criteria: obedience to God's will. This too, is a key lesson for us: if we bear the Word of God in mind and heart, if it enters into our lives, then we can reject any kind of deception of the tempter. Also, the image of Christ, emerges from the episode, as the new Adam, the Son of God, humble and obedient to the Father, unlike Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden who had succumbed to the seductions of the spirit of evil".
"Lent - concluded Benedict XVI - is like a long 'retreat', during which we gather in reflection to meditate and listen to the voice of God, to overcome the temptations of the devil. A time of spiritual 'agonism' to experience with Jesus, not with pride and conceit, but using the weapons of faith, that is prayer, listening to the Word of God and repentance. In this way we can celebrate Easter in truth, ready to renew the promises of our Baptism. "