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ROME — This week Pope Francis is in the hillside town of Ariccia just south of Rome for a Lenten retreat with members of the Roman Curia.
The pope departed the Vatican on Sunday by bus for the House of the Divine Master, in Ariccia, after reciting the noonday Angelus with faithful and pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
The small medieval town is not far from the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo.
This year the retreat meditations are being offered by Fr. Ermes Ronchi, of the Order of the Servants of Mary. They focus on 10 questions posed by the Gospel.
On Monday morning, day two of the spiritual exercises, Fr. Ronchi reflected on the Gospel passage of the calming of the sea, in which Jesus asks the disciples, “Why are you afraid, have you no faith?” (Mark 4:40).
Fear: lack of trust in God
“Fear and faith,” Fr. Ermes Ronchi said, are “the two antagonists that eternally argue over the human heart. The Word of God, from the beginning to the end of the bible, comforts and urges, repeating over and over again: Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid!” Fear, he stressed, is not so much a lack of courage as it is “a lack of trust.” It is a fear of God because we have the wrong picture of him, like Adam and Eve who believed in “a God who takes away and not in a God who gives”:
“They believe in a God that steals freedom, rather than offering possibilities; they believe in a God for whom his own law is more important that his children’s joy; a God with a judgmental gaze, who they want to run from rather than run to, a God, in the end, not to be trusted. The first of all sins is a sin against faith. And a mistaken image of God gives rise to the fear of fears: Adam’s fearful heart comes from the face of a fearsome God. And Jesus came to fill both with light, with the sun.”
God does not save us from the cross
The fear of the storm comes when we feel abandoned and “God seems to be sleeping” while “we would like him to intervene right away.” But he does intervene, next to us:
“God does not act in our place. He does not take us out of the storms but supports us in the storms. This saying of Dietrich Bonhoeffer [a German Lutheran pastor, theologian and anti-Nazi dissident] helps me very much: God does not save us from suffering, but in suffering; he does not protect us from pain but in pain; he does not save us from the cross, but in the cross (…). God does not bring the solution to our problems, he brings himself and in giving himself to us he gives us everything, as St. Catherine of Siena said. I thought, perhaps we thought that the Gospel would solve the world’s problems or at least decrease the violence and crises throughout history, but it isn’t so. Indeed, the Gospel has brought rejection, persecution, other crosses: just think of the four sisters killed in Aden.”
Faith covered in fear
“Jesus,” Fr. Ermes Ronchi observed, “teaches us there is only one way to conquer fear: it is faith!” And the Church’s mission, also internally, he said, is to liberate people from the fear that makes us wear different masks with our family, coworkers, and superiors. Whoever hands on the faith must form people not to be afraid:
“For a long time the Church has transmitted a faith covered in fear, which revolved around the paradigm of blame and punishment, rather than of flowering and fullness. Fear was born in Adam’s heart because he wasn’t able even to imagine mercy and its fruit, which is the joy (…). Fear produces a sad Christianity and a God without joy. And so freeing people from fear means working actively to lift this shroud of fear that covers the hearts of so many people: the fear of others, today the fear of foreigners. Passing from hostility, which can also be instinctive, to hospitality, from xenophobia to philoxenia, from hostility to hospitality, and freeing believers from the fear of God, as his angels have done throughout the course of salvation history: be angels who free people from fear.”
During his Lenten retreat, Pope Francis has suspended all public meetings and audiences, including this week’s Wednesday general audience.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.