In an interview with the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Albert Vanhoye, former secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and the Pope’s choice to lead the Lenten retreat for the Roman Curia, said the Spiritual Exercises are necessary for renewing one’s Christian vocation.

“The solitude of every retreat is necessary for personal deepening.  To encounter oneself alone before the presence of God facilitates profound reflection.  In solitude man becomes aware of his own intimate aspirations, his weaknesses and of the possibility of getting in tune with God,” the cardinal explained.

The cardinal said a central theme of the Lenten retreat would be “the most amazing aspect of Jesus: the Son of God who became the brother of sinners, without, obviously, the slightest participation in sin.  Nevertheless, he accepted the condition brought about by human sin.  He did not desire for himself an existence separate from common mortals, rather, on the contrary, he sought out a humble existence.”

The Jesuit cardinal stressed that Jesus Christ is the high priest because “he transformed the condemnation to death into the occasion of greatest docility towards the Father and greatest solidarity with mankind.  These are the two dimensions of the sacrifice of Christ that correspond to the two dimensions of the Cross.”

Cardinal Vanhoye revealed that he has centered his entire retreat on the Letter to the Hebrews, “the only book of the Bible which specifically develops the priesthood of Christ.”  He explained that the application of the title “high priest” to Christ is an initiative of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, who uses the term archierèus, which means “priest-head.” “Applied to Christ, the term indicates perfect fulfillment of the concept of priest in Christ.  Christ is the perfect mediator between God and us. He brings us into his communion with the Father.”

The biblical expert concluded by pointing out that the Spiritual Exercises are a “practice that every Christian community should experience” in order to bring us back into contact with the Lord.  Their purpose is to instill an attitude of readiness and to shed light on which path we must take.  Thanks to this more intense period of contact with the Lord, the person finds his path easier and sees that which he must abandon.”

“The exercises are a sort of vivification of the spiritual life, which is always useful, so that in daily life contact with the Lord is encouraged,” he said.