Lenten Retreat: Reflection on Resistance to Grace and Idolatry

March 3 Homilies

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In the third and fourth meditations of the Roman Curia’s Spiritual Exercises in Ariccia, Italy, the preacher, Jesuit Father Pietro Bovati, reflected on resistance to grace and on sin, reported Vatican News.

Pope Francis, who is recovering from a cold, followed the March 3 meditations from the Vatican’s Casa Santa Marta.

“Pharaonic Model”

 In the first meditation of March 3, 2020, the Jesuit preacher pointed out that in Exodus, with Moses, no is said to the “pharaonic model,” which held that the good is the good of the Egyptians, but the God of Israel promotes “a radical change of perspective, when He highlights the rights of foreigners, of the oppressed and of the exploited.”

Reflecting on the Readings of the day, which narrate episodes of Exodus, together with Matthew’s Gospel and the Psalms, Father Bovati put his listeners on guard about the risk of “resisting grace and opposing the Spirit.” In the “language of the Spirit,” others are first and the first are the last, and, “resistance to grace is expressed in fact in the rejection of this inversion of values (. . .).

The Pharaoh “represents the embodiment of power as a destructive power against opponents.” A tyranny that is also reflected in the contemporary reality and is a source “of great suffering for men.” “Be careful of responding with the same arms of today’s “pharaohs.’ In fact, every form of prideful arrogance must be totally uprooted form our life, leaving room for meekness, martyrdom.”

Disobedience to God

 The priest explained that in the contemporary world a different form of arrogance has developed, which rejects obedience to God and to His prophets.” It is a “rejection of God as evident affirmation of atheism, considered almost as the only reasonable option, as religious indifference, as ethical relativism, and as any other lifestyle that becomes an absolutization of one’s feeling, one’s opinion, one’s choices” and, to opposes it implies, for Christians, marginalization.

In this connection, Father Bovati invited to reflect on this phenomenon of disobedience, to understand its causes and rejection of grace.

Paladins of the Established Order

 There is another complex way of resistance to grace, that of those that, like Pharaoh, “erect themselves as paladins of the established order, of the canonized form of the law, of the present-day practice, considered the only perfect and immutable expression of the good and, therefore, they oppose the changes required by the prophets, disdained with insolent titles such as ”madmen, visionaries, undisciplined, turbulent, heretical.”

The preacher stressed that “it’s not enough to appeal to Tradition, to what has always been done, what in the past was considered valid,” rejecting “the ferments of reform, of theological and institutional renewal, and faulting “a priori the proposals for change in the different ambits of the life of the Church, in the liturgy, in catechetical practice, in pastoral” ministry.

Other Temptations

 Sin, the preacher stressed, also consists in the absolutization of the productive system as sole value. Given this reality, the priest spoke about “the temptation to live tranquilly, as well as the acceptance of the abuse of power, which is considered preferable to a courageous liberating act,” with all the risks that this implies.

The preacher then referred to the Gospel parable of the sower, stating that the “resistance to grace” then “takes the form of jealousies of those that have a greater gifts than ours; or pride, thinking that we are better than others because we produce more fruit,” or are content with giving some fruit, ”perhaps presented as a form of modesty and humility, but which “should be considered as an insidious resistance to grace, which doesn’t allow love to grow or a growing service of donation.”


 In the next meditation, the theologian reflected further on sin, not as a transgression of God’s Law, but as a “lack of faith.” The first Commandment refers to not having other gods, and idolatry continues being “a capital sin denounced in the whole tradition of the Old Testament.”

The sin of idolatry is “a sin that can’t be cured because it’s not recognized, more than that, it denies it.” Therefore, “it’s like the sin against the Spirit, without remedy. And, in this line, he referred to hypocrisy as shown in Matthew’s Gospel. ”Hypocrisy is unable to judge, unable to know true discernment. It’s blind, it doesn’t know justice, mercy, fidelity <and> identifies goodness with material practices and compliances.”

Drawing on chapter 32 of the Book of Exodus, the Jesuit referred to the people’s adoration of the golden calf in connection with the phenomenon of idolatry, the desire for certainties, the preference to “see” rather than to listen to the voice of the invisible God. However, if belief is substituted by knowledge, if one ceases to adhere to God, one ends up believing that one possesses the truth, instead of seeking it and listening to it with humble docility.

The Way to Overcome Blindness

 Applying the image of the golden calf to our days, Father Bovati called attention to the importance given today to the public image in the present virtual world in which we live, in which frequently we become followers of an idolatrous object.

Therefore, the priest also warned against the risk of practicing worship that, although in theory is devout and splendid, in its execution is unable to receive the Word of God, which is transforming. “Well-done ceremonies aren’t sufficient if they aren’t based on genuine prayer, which is, first of all, to listen to God.”

Finally, he referred to Matthew’s Gospel, in particular, the temptation in the desert, in which “Jesus came out victorious and teaches us the way to overcome our blindness. And Psalm 106 also reminds us that in the history of Israel, God always intervenes with gestures of salvation.

Translation by Virginia M. Forrester

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