GENERAL AUDIENCE 2005
1. Dear Brothers and Sisters, I am pleased to welcome you to this first General Audience of 2005. In this holy season we contemplate the great mystery of the birth of Jesus, in whom God definitively enters history and offers salvation to men and women of all times and places.
It is precisely this universal dimension of salvation that tomorrow’s Solemnity of the Epiphany celebrates: the Son of God is recognized and adored by the Magi, who represent the entire human race.
2. The good news of salvation is thus intended from the very beginning for all peoples of the world. We commend this missionary task of all Christians to Mary, Mother of the Church. We also place under her protection this new year, marked as it is by a deep concern for the sufferings which the people of South-East Asia are presently undergoing. We ask Our Lady to watch over the whole world, praying that ancient Marian hymn sung at the beginning of this Audience:
3. Loving Mother of the Redeemer,
Queen of Peace,
assist your people,
defend them from all danger,
be with the Church
2 on her journey to our heavenly home. Amen!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience. I greet particularly the Vincentians from India and the groups from Australia and the United States of America. I cordially invoke upon you the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ in this Christmas Season. I wish you all a happy New Year!
I also extend my greeting, as usual, to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds.
This day, in Europe, is dedicated to mourning the numerous victims of the tsunami that tragically struck Southeast Asia. Once again, I ask you all to join me in praying for the many deceased and for the populations in serious difficulty.
Let us pray, singing the Our Father.
1. The hymn that has just resounded ideally comes down from heaven. In fact, the Book of Revelation that presents it links the first part (cf. Ap 11,17-18) to the "twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God" (Ap 11,16), and in the second strophe (cf. Ap 12,10-12) to "a loud voice in heaven" (Ap 12,10).
We are thus involved in a grandiose portrayal of the divine court where God and the Lamb, that is, Christ, surrounded by the "Council of the Crown", judge human history in good and in evil but also reveal history's ultimate end of salvation and glory. The role of the Canticles that spangle the Book of Revelation is to illustrate the topic of the divine lordship that controls the often bewildering flow of human events.
2. In this regard, the first passage of our Canticle is significant. It is set on the lips of the 24 elders who seem to symbolize God's Chosen People in their two historical phases, the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 Apostles of the Church.
Now, the almighty and eternal Lord God "has taken [his] great power and begun to reign" (Ap 11,17). His entry into history does not only aim to curb the violent reactions of rebels (cf. Ps 2,1 Ps 2,5), but above all to exalt and reward the just. These are defined with a series of words used to describe the spiritual features of Christians. They are "servants" who comply faithfully with the divine law; they are "prophets", endowed with the revealed word that interprets and judges history; they are "saints", consecrated to God, who revere his name, that is, they are ready to adore him and to do his will. Among them there are "small and great", an expression dear to the author of the Book of Revelation (cf. Ap 13,16 Ap 19,5 Ap 19,18 Ap 20,12) which he uses to designate the People of God in its unity and variety.
3. Thus, let us move on to the second part of our Canticle. After the dramatic scene of the woman with child "clothed with the sun" and the terrible red dragon (cf. Ap 12,1-9), a mysterious voice intones a hymn of thanksgiving and joy.
The joy derives from the fact that Satan, the ancient enemy whose role at the heavenly court was that of the "accuser of our brethren" (Ap 12,10), as we see in the Book of Job (cf. Jb 1,6-11 Jb 2,4-5), was "thrown down" from heaven. Henceforth, therefore, he no longer possesses such great power. He knows "that his time is short" (Ap 12,12), for history is nearing the radical turning point of liberation from evil and he consequently reacts with "great wrath".
On the other side towers the risen Christ, whose blood is the principle of salvation (cf. Ap 12,11). He has received from the Father a royal authority over the entire universe; in him are fulfilled "the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God" (Ap 12,10).
Associated with Christ's victory are the Christian martyrs who chose the way of the Cross, neither succumbing to evil nor giving in to its virulence but keeping themselves for the Father, united with the death of Christ through a witness of self-giving and courage that has brought them to "[love] not their lives even unto death" (Ap 12,11). We seem to hear an echo of Christ's words: "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (Jn 12,25).
4. The words of the Book of Revelation about those who have conquered Satan and evil "by the blood of the Lamb", ring out in a splendid prayer attributed to Simeon, the Catholicos of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in Persia. Before dying on 17 April 341, a martyr with many other companions during the persecution of King Shapur II, he addressed the following petition to Christ:
"Lord, give me this crown: you know how I have loved you with all my heart and all my life. I will be happy to see you and you will give me rest.... I want to persevere heroically in my vocation, fulfilling with fortitude the task assigned to me and setting an example to all your people in the East.... I will receive the life that knows no suffering, apprehension or anguish, that knows neither persecutor nor persecuted, oppressor nor oppressed, tyrant nor victim. There I will no longer see the intimidation of kings, the terror of prefects or anyone who cites me at the tribunal and frightens me more and more, or who entices and terrifies me. O path of all pilgrims, my sore feet will be healed in you; in you the weariness of my limbs will find rest, Christ, the chrism of our anointing. In you, the cup of our salvation, will the sorrow of my heart dissolve; in you, our comfort and joy, the tears in my eyes will be wiped away" (A. Hamman, Preghiere dei Primi Cristiani, Milan, 1955, pp. 80-81).
I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims present at this Audience, especially those from Finland, New Zealand and the United States of America. Upon you and your loved ones, I invoke the Lord's Blessings of health and joy. Happy New Year!
My thoughts also go to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. May the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord that we celebrated last Sunday help you, dear young people, to rediscover with joy the gift of faith in Christ; may it make you, dear sick people, strong in trial; and may it encourage you, dear newly-weds, to make your family a true domestic church.
I greet and bless you all. A happy New Year to everyone!
4 A group of Lutherans from Helsinki, accompanied by their Bishop.
From New Zealand:
A group of pilgrims from New Zealand.
From the United States of America:
Students and teachers from the University of St Thomas in St Paul, Minnesota; students from St Olaf's College, Northfield, Minnesota.
Ap 11,17-18 Ap 12,10-12:
We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who are and who were, that you have taken your great power and begun to reign.
The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great.
Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.
And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Rejoice, then, O heaven, and you that dwell therein.
1. The "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity" began yesterday. These days of reflection and prayer are particularly timely for reminding Christians that the re-establishment of full unity among them, in accordance with the will of Jesus, involves every baptized person, all pastors and all the faithful (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio UR 5).
The "Week" is being celebrated a few months after the 40th anniversary of the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, a key text that placed the Catholic Church firmly and irrevocably on the path of the ecumenical movement.
2. This year, the theme sets before us a basic truth for every ecumenical commitment: Christ is the Church's one foundation. The Council strongly recommended prayer for unity as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio UR 8). Since the reconciliation of Christians "transcends human powers and gifts" (ibid., UR 24), our prayer expresses the hope that does not disappoint us and the trust in the Lord who makes all things new (cf. Rm 5,5 Ap 21,5). This prayer, however, must be accompanied by the purification of the mind, sentiments and memory. It will thus become an expression of that "interior conversion" without which there can be no true ecumenism (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio UR 7). In short, unity is a gift of God to be tirelessly implored with humility and truth.
3. The desire for unity is spreading and becoming deeper, affecting new milieus and new contexts and inspiring a multitude of acts, initiatives and reflections. The Lord also recently granted his disciples to make important contacts through dialogue and collaboration. The pain of our separation is more and more acutely felt as we face the challenges of a world that expects a clear and unanimous Gospel witness on the part of those who believe in Christ.
4. As is the custom, the "Week" in Rome will end with the celebration of Vespers on 25 January, in the Basilica of St Paul-Outside-the-Walls. I thank Cardinal Walter Kasper who will be representing me at this liturgical encounter in which representatives of the other Christian Churches and Confessions will also take part. I will be joining them in spirit, and I ask you to pray that the whole family of believers may achieve the full communion that Christ desired as soon as possible.
To special groups
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience. I greet particularly the members of the Servite Secular Institute and the groups from Scotland, Finland, Australia and the United States of America. Wishing you a pleasant and fruitful stay in Rome, I cordially invoke upon you the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I wish you all a happy New Year!
I address a special thought to the Patriarch of Cilicia for Armenians, His Beatitude Nerses Bedros XIX, and to the Bishops accompanying him, the members of the Lions Clubs of Puglia and the representatives of the "Circolo Didattico di Somma Vesuviana", gathered here with the Archbishop of Nola.
6 I also greet the priests, seminarians and lay people of the Neocatechumenal Way. Dear friends, I thank you for your generous commitment to the new evangelization. I hope that the reflections of these days will help you to deepen communion in heartfelt compliance, both with the Pastors of the local Churches and the competent Institutions of the Holy See. Thus, you will be able to make a more and more effective contribution to the cause of the Gospel.
Lastly my thoughts go to the young people, to the sick and to the newly-weds. I entrust you all to the motherly protection of the Virgin Mary.
From various Countries:
Members of the Servite Secular Institute.
Pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Glasgow.
Members of the choirs: Chorus Cantorum from the Lutheran Cathedral in Turku and the Schola Cantorum Aboensis.
Students from Santa Maria College in Perth, Western Australia.
From the United States of America:
A group of: seminarians and faculty from Mundelein Seminary in the Archdiocese of Chicago; seminarians and faculty from the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington, New York; young pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Atlanta; pilgrims from the following parishes: Holy Spirit in Pensacola, Florida; St John the Evangelist in Ozark, Alabama; St Patrick in Norcross, Georgia; St John the Evangelist in Binghamton, New York; students and faculty from: the University of St Thomas in St Paul, Minnesota; Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia; students from: the University of Maryland, Baltimore; Pepperdine University, Florence Campus; the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Austin College in Sherman, Texas.
1. In Psalm 116 that has just been proclaimed, the voice of the Psalmist expresses gratitude and love for the Lord after he has granted his anguished plea: "I love the Lord for he has heard the cry of my appeal; for he turned his ear to me in the day when I called him" (vv. 1-2). This declaration of love is immediately followed by a vivid description of the mortal dread that has gripped the man in prayer (cf. Ps 116,3-6).
The drama is portrayed through the symbols customarily used in the Psalms. The snares that enthral life are the snares of death, the ties that enmesh it are the coils of hell, which desire to entice the living of whom it can never have "enough" (cf. Pr 30,15-16).
2. The image is that of the prey which has fallen into the trap of a relentless hunter. Death is like a vice that tightens its grip (cf. Ps 116,3 ). Behind the praying person, therefore, lurked the risk of death, accompanied by an agonizing psychological experience: "they caught me, sorrow and distress" (Ps 116,3). But from that tragic abyss the person praying cried out to the only One who can stretch out his hand and extricate him from that tangle: "O Lord, my God, deliver me!" (Ps 116,4).
This is the short but intense prayer of a man who, finding himself in a desperate situation, clings to the one rock of salvation. Thus, in the Gospel, just as the disciples cried out during the storm (cf. Mt 8,25), so Peter cried to the Lord when, walking on the water, he began to sink (cf. Mt 14,30).
3. Having been saved, the person praying proclaims that the Lord "is gracious... and just", indeed, he has "compassion" (Ps 116,5 ). In the original Hebrew, the latter adjective refers to the tenderness of a mother whose "depths" it evokes.
Genuine trust always perceives God as love, even if it is sometimes difficult to grasp the course of his action. It remains certain, however, that "the Lord protects the simple hearts" (Ps 116,6). Therefore, in wretchedness and abandonment, it is always possible to count on him, the "father of the fatherless and protector of widows" (Ps 68,6 ).
4. A dialogue of the Psalmist with his soul now begins and continues in the following Psalm 116, which should be seen as a whole with our Psalm. The Judaic tradition created Psalm 116 as a single psalm, according to the Hebrew numbering of the Psalter. The Psalmist invites his soul to turn back, to rediscover restful peace after the nightmare of death (cf. Ps 116,7 ).
The Lord, called upon with faith, stretched out his hand, broke the cords that bound the praying person, dried his tears and saved him from a headlong fall into the abyss of hell (cf. Ps 116,8). Henceforth, the turning point is clear and the hymn ends with a scene of light: the person praying returns to the "land of the living", that is, to the highways of the world, to walk in the "presence of the Lord". He joins in the community prayer in the temple, in anticipation of that communion with God which awaits him at the end of his life (cf. Ps 116,9).
8 5. To conclude, let us re-examine the most important passages of the Psalm, letting ourselves be guided by Origen, a great Christian writer of the third century whose commentary in Greek on Ps 116 has been handed down to us in the Latin version of St Jerome.
In reading that "the Lord has turned his ear to me", he remarks: "We are little and low; we can neither stretch out nor lift ourselves up, so the Lord turns his ear to us and deigns to hear us. In the end, since we are men and cannot become gods, God became man and bowed down, as it has been written: "He bowed the heavens, and came down' (Ps 18,10 )".
Indeed, the Psalm continues, "the Lord protects the simple hearts" (Ps 116,6 ). "If someone is great and becomes haughty and proud, the Lord does not protect him; if someone thinks he is great, the Lord has no mercy on him; but if someone humbles himself, the Lord takes pity on him and protects him. Hence, it is said, "Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me' (Is 8,18). And further, "I was helpless so he saved me'".
So it is that the one who is little and wretched can return to peace and rest, as the Psalm says (cf. Ps 116,7 ), and as Origen himself comments: "When it says: "Turn back, my soul, to your rest', it is a sign that previously he did have repose but then he lost it.... God created us good, he made us arbiters of our own decisions and set us all in paradise with Adam. But since, through our own free choice, we pitched ourselves down from that bliss and ended in this vale of tears, the just man urges his soul to return to the place from which it fell.... "Turn back, my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has been good'. If you, my soul, return to paradise, it is not because you yourself deserve it, but because it is an act of God's mercy. It was your fault if you left paradise; on the other hand, your return to it is a work of the Lord's mercy. Let us also say to our souls: "Turn back to your rest'. Our rest is in Christ, our God" (Omelie sul Libro dei Salmi, Milan, 1993, pp. 409,412-413).
To special groups:
I extend a special welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including groups from Denmark, Canada and the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke the peace and joy of our Lord, and I wish you a happy stay in Rome.
I then greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. Today, we are celebrating the liturgical memorial of Sts Timothy and Titus. Dear friends, may their example spur you always to follow Jesus, the authentic teacher of life and holiness.
Students from Sct Ibs Skole, Horsens.
Pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Toronto.
From the United States of America:
The 1980 Ordination Class, St Charles Borromeo Seminary, Archdiocese of Philadelphia; a group of Church Music Directors; pilgrims from: St Andrew Parish, Avenel, New Jersey; St Gabriel Parish, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Sacred Heart Parish, Watertown, Massachusetts.
From his Private Library, the Holy Father met with the faithful gathered in the Vatican's Paul VI Audience Hall via television.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I greet you all with affection, gathered in this Hall for our customary Wednesday meeting. I cordially thank you for coming.
We are making our Lenten journey, helped and stimulated by the liturgy that urges us to be particularly committed to prayer, fasting and penance, and to showing the poor and the needy greater solidarity.
Let us open our hearts to the inner promptings of grace. May selfishness give way to love, so that we may experience the joy of forgiveness and intimate reconciliation with God and with our brothers and sisters.
To special groups
I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims here today, and thank you for your prayers. May your time in Rome be filled with joy and deepen your love of the universal Church. God bless you all!
I cordially greet the French-speaking pilgrims. May your pilgrimage to Rome make you grow in the love of Christ and of his Church!
I warmly greet the German-speaking pilgrims and visitors. Our help comes from the Lord. May the Blessing of God go with you! Have a good day!
I greet with affection the Spanish-speaking pilgrims. May your pilgrimage to Rome help you to increase your love for Christ and his Church.
I cordially greet the Italian-speaking pilgrims, especially the group of Italian missionaries abroad who have gathered here for a study meeting; the faithful from the Diocese of Faenza-Modigliana, accompanied by their Bishop; the many young people present in the Square. I wish them all every good they desire.
I greet my fellow compatriots and impart to them my heartfelt Blessing!
I greet the Italian-speaking pilgrims, and especially the boys and girls from the Diocese of Milan who have come to the tomb of Peter to express their faith in Christ who died and rose. Dear friends, may friendship with Jesus, our Redeemer, always illumine your lives! Stay united to him by listening to his Word and actively participating in the Eucharistic Banquet. Be his faithful witnesses, especially among your peers. I renew my Easter greetings to you all with affection.
I address an Easter greeting to the German-speaking pilgrims and visitors. May the peace of the Risen One be with you always!
I greet the pilgrims from Poland. Thank you for coming here, for your kind wishes and for accompanying me with your prayers. I think gratefully of all my fellow Poles, in our Homeland and abroad. I wholeheartedly bless you all.
GENERAL AUDIENCE 2005