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Jesus Asks: “Who Am I for You?” On Retreat With Pope Francis


Image: By Hans Memling (c. 1430-1494) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Diane Montagna - published on 03/08/16

A stirring and challenging examination of the Lover's call to each of us

ROME —  Pope Francis heard powerful words from the papal retreat master on Tuesday morning at the “Divine Master” retreat house in Ariccia, just south of Rome, as he and members of the Curia entered the second full day of their Lenten retreat.

Fr. Ronchi’s reflection was inspired by the Gospel account of Peter’s profession of faith in Christ (Luke 9:20).

Jesus addresses his question to the disciples in a “secluded place.” For a few moments there are no large gatherings or cries from the crowd but only “silence, solitude and prayer.” Only a moment of intimacy “between them and God.” In this silence, Jesus asks them a question that resembles an “opinion poll”: “Who do people say that I am?”

The best deal of my life

In the silence of the papal retreat in Ariccia, Fr. Ermes Ronchi posed the same question to Pope Francis and members of the Curia, emphasizing the “but” with which Jesus directs the same question to the disciples, searching their souls: “But you, who do you say that I am?” It was a way of telling them not to settle for what the crowds say, because “faith is not fed on hearsay”:

“The response Jesus is looking for isn’t one of words. He is looking for people. Not definitions, but involvement. ‘What happened to you when you met me?’ he wants to know. Jesus is the Master of hearts. Jesus does not give lessons … he leads you gently to look inside yourself. And I would like to answer: Meeting you has been the best deal of my life! You are the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Our hearts can be God’s cradle or his tomb

“Who am I for you?” is a question lovers ask, the preacher of the papal retreat said. And what’s striking is that Jesus doesn’t “indoctrinate anyone.” The disciples don’t have to be afraid of giving ready-made answers; “there is no Creed to compose,” Fr. Ronchi said. Jesus is interested in knowing if their hearts are open. Professing that Christ is “the Son of the living God,” as Peter does, is a truth that makes sense if Christ “is alive within us,” he said. “Our heart can be God’s cradle or his tomb.”

“Do you truly want to know something about me, Jesus said, and at the same time, know something about yourselves? I am giving you an appointment: with a man on the Cross, held aloft. Before that, on Thursday, they will have another appointment with Christ, at the lowest place. Girded in a towel, he stoops to wash the feet of his disciples (…) Paul is right: Christianity is a scandal and a folly. Now we understand who Jesus is: He is a kiss to the one who betrays him. He does not break anyone; he breaks himself. He does not shed the blood of anyone; he sheds his own blood. He does not sacrifice anyone; he sacrifices himself.”

Shining the light on Christ

Until the time this question is asked in the silence, the disciples had not yet yet understood what was going to happen to their Master. This is why Jesus gives strict orders not to tell the people. A “strict order” for “the entire Church,” Fr. Ronchi said, “because sometimes we have preached a deformed face of God.” Fr. Ronchi noted we clerics “all seem the same” — the same gestures, words, clothes. But people ask us: “Tell me your experience of God.” Christ, he continued, “is not what I say about him, but what I live of him.”

We are not mediators between God and humanity; the true Mediator is Jesus,” Fr. Ronchi concluded. Like John the Baptist, we have to prepare the way and “step aside”:

“Consider the beauty of a Church that doesn’t shine the spotlight on herself, like in the days gathered here, but on Another. We still have a way to go to decrease (…) Jesus does not say ‘take up my cross,’ but one’s own, everyone takes up one’s own (…) God’s dream is not an endless procession of men, women and children each with his cross on his shoulder, but rather people walking toward a life that is good, happy and creative. A life bought at the hard price of commitment and perseverance. But also a sweet price of light: on the third day he will rise again.”

Read the 10 questions Pope Francis and the Roman curia are contemplating during their Lenten retreat, here. Find the full week’s coverage of meditations under “Papal Retreat.”

Diane Montagnais Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.

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