Lenten Retreat: ‘Keep Together Love of God and That of the Poor’

Silence, Anointing and the Two Loves

Ariccia, Spiritual Exercices © PHOTO.VA - OSSERVATORE ROMANO

“Jesus’ last words at the beginning of His Passion,” in Saint Matthew, were the object of the second and third meditations proposed by Father Giulio Michelini, OFM, during Pope Francis’ retreat and that of his collaborators, at Arriccia on Monday, March 6, 2017. The Franciscan recommended that prayer and aid to the poor, the love of God and that of the poor not be separated, indicated Vatican Radio’s summary in Italian.

The Silence of Jesus and Human Silences

Father Michelini meditated first on Jesus’ silence before His accusers. He noted that words sometimes are useless, when the interlocutors are powerful opponents or because power does not allow one to express oneself. Francis of Assisi recommended to his Brothers to be in the midst of infidels in two ways: either proclaiming the Gospel if they could or with their simple vivifying presence.

Quoting Rabbi Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), considered the founder of modern Hassidism, he noted that the words that come out of the mouth of masters, or of those who pray without having a heart turned to heaven do not rise, but fill the house from one wall to the other and from the floor to the ceiling.”

Jesus, continued the preacher, was silent before those who accused him of being a blasphemer and wanted to destroy Him. It was a silence broken by the cry with which Jesus ended His earthly life and by the thrust of the lance.

However, the Franciscan observed, there are different forms of silence: the silence of rancor that ponders vengeance, or the silence of one, as Elie Wiesel said, who ”never helps the victims.”

Jesus’ silence, he added, is “disarming,” “disarmed” and “serene.” But beyond that, there is the “most burning” silence,” that of God. And Jesus entrusted Himself to the Father’s silence.

My Silences and the Professionals of the Sacred 

The preacher invited to examine: How could I consider my silences? “Thinking of that of Jesus, I ask myself first of all if I communicate the faith by words or if my life is evangelizing…”

Father Michelini then evoked the different personages that appear in this passage of Matthew: Caiaphas, the chief priests and the elders of the people, who decided to arrest Jesus, but not during the feast to avoid a revolt. He immediately observed that in no case is it about stigmatizing the Jews because this attitude concerns a religious hierarchy that can represent all sorts of religious institutions: it is an attitude that loses the right perspective believing that it serves God. It is the confrontation between two logics: on one side there is Jesus, a practicing Jew but a “layman” who is preparing to celebrate the Passover, and on the other the great priests who are preparing to kill an innocent, who are concerned with the feast in the sense of its exterior unfolding.

The preacher invited to pose oneself the question: am I a “professional of the sacred,” admitting compromises to save face, the institution, to the detriment of persons’ rights?

The Anointing at Bethany or the Two Loves

Father Michelini recalled that the anointing at Bethany comes just after the authorities’ decision aimed at Jesus: a woman pours precious perfume on Jesus’ head. The four Gospels report the scene, though there are differences. Jesus defends the woman who seems to be the only one who understands what is going to happen to Jesus and she carries out an intensely symbolic gesture.

The anointing is at once royal and funerary. Jesus praises the woman’s gesture and rejects the arguments of him who felt that the perfume could have been sold to give the money to the poor, or it was the moment to “serve Jesus” Italian biblicist Sergio Quinzio (1927-1996) observed.

The poor are numerous, noted the preacher: those who do not take part in the liturgies because they are aged or sick, or those who knock on our doors only asking to be heard.

“And many are those who do not have the courage to knock on our doors and to whom we should go. And if we are sincere it is because we examine ourselves interiorly, we cannot place ourselves among the poor: at bottom each one is a poor one for the other. Jesus’ words say that His mission is not finished with his historical existence and, in fact, it advances with the engagement of the believing community towards all the poor, ourselves included.”

Then Father Michelini quoted the comment of a Poor Clare on the anointing, regarding the “waste” of the precious perfume. The preacher stressed that, with their whole life the nun and all cloistered Sisters render visible the gift that we were the first to receive from Jesus, who offered himself totally for us.

Therefore, he invited to keep together the love of God and the love of neighbor: “I ask myself if I chose what most corresponds to me, or what is ‘easier,’ and then I anoint Jesus’ feet with the liturgy, with prayer, but neglect the poor or, rather, do I consecrate myself to the poor, but forget to pray, and to render Him honor. Or am I able to keep together the love of God and that of the poor?”

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