Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Lenten Retreat

Well, I took my own advice and bought a copy of To Follow You, Light of Life, the Lenten retreat given to John Paul II and household in 2004 by then-Mons. Bruno Forte, now archbishop of the Abruzzese see of Chieti-Vasto. It just arrived.

Just in case you're curious, the annual Lenten retreat for the Pope and the dicastery heads of the Roman Curia is a weeklong event (Sunday to Saturday), undertaken in early March and held at the Vatican's Redemptoris Mater Chapel. The selection of its preacher is always a buzzed-about topic in Roman circles, as it usually gives a glimpse of the pontiff's mind -- and, if the preacher is in the right disposition, starts papabile buzz around him.

Karol Wojtyla's legendary 1976 retreat to Paul VI raised eyebrows among attendees, and it played a role in increasing the visibility which, two years following, saw him elected to the chair of Peter. Its title is a good nutshell synthesis of everything that followed: A Sign of Contradiction. This year, Benedict XVI confounded everyone -- as he's used to doing -- by picking Cardinal Marco Ce', the retired patriarch of Venice who was one of John Paul's first cardinal-creations in 1979, to give the talks.

As it gave the chattering classes nothing to talk about, they weren't happy with the choice. But who asked them, anyways? It is, after all, the Pope's retreat. Go figure.

I have a collection of papal Lenten spiritual exercises, which I've used during the penitential season over the years -- Schonborn's Loving the Church, Hickey's Mary at the Foot of the Cross, Van Thuan's Testimony of Hope.... I don't know if the retreats given by Cardinals George (2001) and Ratzinger (2003) are available in print... But, regardless, the 2006 slot is taken.

To be honest, I would love to see the talks given at last year's retreat by the Italian Renato Corti, bishop of Novara. The Holy See changed up its usual plans last year, given that it was the year of the Eucharist, and held the closing liturgy in public, in St. Peter's. Given John Paul's ill health, Sodano celebrated, and I distinctly recall Corvi giving a stellar, engaging, very moving homily.

John Paul's message to Forte at the end of the retreat is used as the foreword of the book. In it, the late Pope says "The Lord, for his part, will know to reward you for all this...."

Translation: "I will make you a bishop."