Benedict XVI Starts Retreat Sunday

French Carmelite to Preach on John Paul II and the Saints

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ROME, MARCH 9, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI will spend next week in prayer as he does his annual Lenten spiritual exercises, this year focused on John Paul II and the theology of the saints.

Discalced Carmelite Father François-Marie Léthel will preach the March 13-19 retreat. Father Léthel is a professor at the Pontifical Theological Faculty (Teresianum), and prelate-secretary of the Pontifical Academy of Theology.

The exercises will begin at 6 p.m. in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel of the Apostolic Palace, with vespers, the introductory meditation, Eucharistic adoration and benediction.

The Holy Father and the Curia will join together for the Divine Office each day of the retreat, and hear three mediations. On the last day, which coincides with the Solemnity of St. Joseph, lauds will be celebrated at 9 a.m., followed by the closing meditation.

All papal audiences are suspended during the Pope's retreat, including the general audience of March 16.

Rich history

A booklet published by the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household gives a detailed program of the retreat. It also includes a chronology of those who have preached spiritual exercises for the Pontiffs and Curia, from Jesuit Fathers Giovanni Oldrà and Alessio Magni in 1925, to Salesian Father Enrico dal Covolo last year.

Father Léthel explained the subject chosen this year and stressed that in the spirit of Lenten conversion, it is an ideal preparation for the May 1 beatification of John Paul II.

According to a report in L'Osservatore Romano, Father Léthel described John Paul II as "inseparably a pastor, a missionary, a mystic, a thinker and a poet. Formed at the school of saints -- especially St. Louis Marie de Montfort, St. John of the Cross and St. Thomas -- in his pontificate he gave a new place to saints, considered not only as examples of Christian perfection, but as the best theologians, that is, knowers of God, even if they had not studied academic theology."

Father Léthel mentioned in this connection the Catechism of the Catholic Church and, above all, the proclamation of St. Thérèse of Lisieux as a doctor of the Church, an "expert of the 'sciencia amoris.'"

Precisely on the occasion of her proclamation, Father Léthel reflected, John Paul II put St. Thérèse near another woman doctor of the Church, St. Catherine of Siena, whom he described as an "eminent representative of the theology lived by the saints."

Following John Paul II, Benedict XVI "has not ceased to develop continually this theology of the saints in his catecheses to the People of God, also proposing it to theologians (Dec. 1, 2009) and to priests (June 10, 2010)," Father Léthel continued. "It is, evidently, one of the fundamental lines of his magisterium. The saints, in fact, help us to rediscover inseparably the 'great reason' and the 'great love,' and not to succumb to the temptation of relativism, characterized instead by 'little reason,' by 'weak thought' and also by weak love."

Holy teachers

During the exercises, the preacher explained, the saints will be the point of reference to look to and the voice to listen to, with particular attention turned to the women.

Among the figures that will be taken into consideration are two saints particularly dear to John Paul II: Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, the inspiration for his motto 'totus tuus,' and Thérèse of Lisieux, who will be the dominant voice of the Exercises: "Doctor of the 'sciencia amoris,' little Thérèse holds hands with two great doctors of the 'sciencia fidei': St. Anselm, theologian of the cross, and St. Thomas, theologian of the light of Christ."

Two other feminine figures of holiness will be the object of reflection: Catherine of Siena, "in her commitment to the reform of the Church, profoundly wounded by the sin of her members," and Joan of Arc, "in her passion and death because of the fault of priests and theologians."

After three saints consecrated in virginity, Father Léthel will propose a wife and mother, Concepción Cabrera de Armida, a 20th century Mexican mystic, declared venerable by John Paul II in 1999: A woman that "offers us a very lofty doctrine regarding maternity with her double experience of natural maternity and spiritual maternity."

To recall the place that the laity and, in particular, young people had in the Polish Pontiff's heart, a young laywoman will then be presented, Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, who died in 1990, at just 18 years of age, offering her sufferings for the Pope, young people and the whole world.

Finally, the preacher will close the exercises with the figure of St. Joseph, "Redemptoris custos," and of Venerable Giuseppe Quadrio, a Salesian priest and theologian who died in 1963 after a life spent in the service of studies and teaching.