VATICAN CITY, MAR. 5, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Christian life is simply the response to God Who first loved us. This response, especially in the consumerist era, exacts detachment from everything that does not lead us to him.
That is a summary of the first two meditations given this morning by Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago, to John Paul II and his collaborators of the Roman Curia, at the beginning of their spiritual exercises. During this week, the Pontiff has put aside all official business to dedicate himself to his annual retreat.
Sunday afternoon, Cardinal George set out the objective of the 22 meditations, which make up the spiritual exercises, delving into their common theme: "A Faith for All Peoples: Conversion, Freedom and Communion with Christ."
The preacher began with man's freedom to choose God, to have a personal faith lived in full awareness. To live this experience means "a conversion of heart," and, to be converted presupposes "detachment."
Cardinal George gave the example of Peter, the first Pope, who after a very bad night fishing, agreed to throw his nets into the lake again, trusting in Jesus' word, Whom he then did not know. Henceforth, Peter "lived in detachment. That is, he agreed to leave everything: family, customs, the consolation of daily things, including his own language, the way he expressed himself."
Detachment is, in fact, "the price of the Christian," something felt especially by the one whose role is to lead the universal community of believers.
"Many of you, while serving the Church in the context of the Curia, know by personal experience what the cost is, you feel the pain that follows from detachment of so many things that can be considered legitimate and natural attachments," Cardinal George explained, speaking in perfect Italian, but with a marked American accent.
"It is neither easy nor simple to remove ourselves from all that is so close and dear," he said. "It was like this for Peter, and so it is for us. To give up other strong and natural ties to follow the Lord, continues to be a constant challenge, which always requires conversion, the liberating grace of God."
However, when Peter returns with his nets filled to the brim, he feels unworthy. "He returns weighed down by his sinfulness; he is a man who needs God's grace," Cardinal George said during this morning's second meditation.
Therefore, detachment from things is not enough to guarantee man's full communion with God. Man's action is preceded by a preventive and free act of love on God's part, because "conversion is always a gift."
The abundance of grace always precedes man in his history, the archbishop of Chicago said. By way of example, he referred to Africa over the past 100 years. The extraordinary spiritual growth in the continent is a clear example of God's action, as such a work cannot be attributed to human effort.
"Conversion, therefore, is something extremely dynamic, it moves between man's choice and God's grace," the cardinal said.
Christians "are called to discover and rediscover and never tire of discovering that we are loved and forgiven by God," he said. "This means to listen, reflect and pray over the word that proclaims the Good News. It means to make the firm decision, with God's grace, to effect those changes that are the logical consequence of our response to such great love."