Audiences 2005-2013 10812
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today is the Liturgical Memorial of St Alphonsus Mary Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, Founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer — the Redemptorists — and patron saint of moral theology scholars and confessors. St Alphonsus is one of the most popular saints of the 18th century because of his simple, immediate style and his teaching on the sacrament of Penance. In a period of great rigorism, a product of the Jansenist influence, he recommended that confessors administer this sacrament expressing the joyful embrace of God the Father, who in his infinite mercy never tires of welcoming the repentant son.
Today’s Memorial offers us the opportunity to reflect on St Alphonsus’ teaching on prayer which is particularly valuable and full of spiritual inspiration. His Treatise on The Great Means of Prayer, which he considered the most useful of all his writings, dates back to the year 1759. Indeed, he describes prayer as “a necessary and certain means of obtaining salvation, and all the graces that we require for that object ” (Introduction). This sentence sums up the way St Alphonsus understood prayer.
First of all, by saying that it is a means, he reminds us of the goal to be reached. God created us out of love in order to be able to give us life in its fullness; but this goal, this life in fullness, has as it were become distant because of sin — we all know it — and only God’s grace can make it accessible. To explain this basic truth and to make people understand with immediacy how real the risk of “being lost” is for human beings, St Alphonsus coined a famous, very elementary maxim which says: “Those who pray will be saved and those who do not will be damned!”. Commenting on this lapidary sentence, he added, “In conclusion, to save one’s soul without prayer is most difficult, and even (as we have seen) impossible... But by praying our salvation is made secure, and very easy” (II, Conclusion). And he says further: “if we do not pray, we have no excuse, because the grace of prayer is given to everyone... if we are not saved, the whole fault will be ours; and we shall have our own failure to answer for, because we did not pray” (ibid.).
By saying, then, that prayer is a necessary means, St Alphonsus wanted us to understand that in no situation of life can we do without prayer, especially in times of trial and difficulty. We must always knock at the door of the Lord confidently, knowing that he cares for all his children, for us. For this reason we are asked not to be afraid to turn to him and to present our requests to him with trust, in the certainty of receiving what we need.
Dear friends, this is the main question: what is really necessary in my life? I answer with St Alphonsus: “Health and all the graces that we need” (ibid.). He means of course not only the health of the body, but first of all that of the soul, which Jesus gives us. More than anything else we need his liberating presence which makes us truly fully human and hence fills our existence with joy. And it is only through prayer that we can receive him and his grace, which, by enlightening us in every situation, helps us to discern true good and by strengthening us also makes our will effective, that is, renders it capable of doing what we know is good. We often recognize what is good but are unable to do it. With prayer we succeed in doing it. The disciple of the Lord knows he is always exposed to temptation and does not fail to ask God’s help in prayer in order to resist it.
St Alphonsus very interestingly cites the example of St Philip Neri who “the very moment when he awoke in the morning, said to God: ‘Lord, keep Thy hands over Philip this day; for if not, Philip will betray Thee’” (III, 3). What a great realist! He asks God to keep his hands upon him. We too, aware of our weakness, must humbly seek God’s help, relying on his boundless mercy. St Alphonsus says in another passage: “We are so poor that we have nothing; but if we pray we are no longer poor. If we are poor, God is rich” (II, 4). And, following in St Augustine’s wake, he invites all Christians not to be afraid to obtain from God, through prayer, the power they do not possess that is necessary in order to do good, in the certainty that the Lord will not refuse his help to whoever prays to him with humility (cf. III, 3).
Dear friends, St Alphonsus reminds us that the relationship with God is essential in our life. Without the relationship with God, the fundamental relationship is absent. The relationship with God is brought into being in conversation with God, in daily personal prayer and with participation in the sacraments. This relationship is thus able to grow within us, as can the divine presence that directs us on our way, illuminates it and makes it safe and peaceful even amidst difficulties and perils. Many thanks.
To special groups:
I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from England and the United States. Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St Alphonsus Liguori, the Founder of the Redemptorists, a great moral theologian and a master of prayer. St Alphonsus teaches us the beauty of daily prayer, in which we open our minds and hearts to the Lord’s presence and receive the grace to live wisely and well. By his example and intercession, may you and your families come to know God’s saving love and experience his abundant blessings!
Lastly, I greet the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. I urge you all to bear a joyful Gospel witness everywhere.
Piazza della Libertà, Castel Gandolfo8082
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of St Dominic Guzmán, Priest and Founder of the Order of Preachers, known as the Dominicans. In a previous Catechesis I have already illustrated this distinguished figure and his fundamental contribution to the renewal of the Church in his time. Today, I would like to shed light on one of the essential aspects of his spirituality: his life of prayer. St Dominic was a man of prayer. In love with God, he had no other aspiration than the salvation of souls, especially those who had fallen into the net of the heresies of his time; a follower of Christ, he radically embodied the three evangelical counsels by combining the witness of a life of poverty with the proclamation of the Word. Under the Holy Spirit’s guidance he made headway on the path of Christian perfection. At every moment prayer was the power that renewed his apostolic work and made it ever more fruitful.
Blessed Jordan of Saxony († 1237), his successor as head of the Order, wrote: “During the day, no one was friendlier than he... conversely, at night no one watched in prayer more diligently than he. He dedicated the day to his neighbour, but gave the night to God” (P. Filippini, San Domenico visto dai suoi contemporanei, Bologna 1982, p. 133). In St Dominic we can see an example of harmonious integration between contemplation of the divine mysteries and apostolic work. According to the testimonies of people close to him, “he always spoke with God and of God”. This observation points to his profound communion with the Lord and, at the same time, to his constant commitment to lead others to this communion with God. He left no writings on prayer, but the Dominican tradition has collected and handed down his living experience in a work called: The Nine Ways of Prayer of St Dominic. This book was compiled by a Dominican friar between 1260 and 1288; it helps us to understand something of the Saint’s interior life and also helps us, with all the differences, to learn something of how to pray.
There are, then, nine ways to pray, according to St Dominic, and each one — always before Jesus Crucified — expresses a deeply penetrating physical and spiritual approach that fosters recollection and zeal. The first seven ways follow an ascending order, like the steps on a path, toward intimate communion with God, with the Trinity: St Dominic prayed standing bowed to express humility, lying prostrate on the ground to ask forgiveness for his sins, kneeling in penance to share in the Lord’s suffering, his arms wide open, gazing at the Crucifix to contemplate Supreme Love, looking heavenwards feeling drawn to God’s world.
Thus there are three positions: standing, kneeling, lying prostrate on the ground; but with the gaze ever directed to our Crucified Lord. However the last two positions, on which I would like to reflect briefly, correspond to two of the Saint’s customary devotional practices. First, personal meditation, in which prayer acquires an even more intimate, fervent and soothing dimension. After reciting the Liturgy of the Hours and after celebrating Mass, St Dominic prolonged his conversation with God without setting any time limit. Sitting quietly, he would pause in recollection in an inner attitude of listening, while reading a book or gazing at the Crucifix. He experienced these moments of closeness to God so intensely that his reactions of joy or of tears were outwardly visible. In this way, through meditation, he absorbed the reality of the faith. Witnesses recounted that at times he entered a kind of ecstasy with his face transfigured, but that immediately afterwards he would humbly resume his daily work, recharged by the power that comes from on High.
Then come his prayers while travelling from one convent to another. He would recite Lauds, Midday Prayer and Vespers with his companions, and, passing through the valleys and across the hills he would contemplate the beauty of creation. A hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God for his many gifts would well up from his heart, and above all for the greatest wonder: the redemptive work of Christ.
Dear friends, St Dominic reminds us that prayer, personal contact with God is at the root of the witness to faith which every Christian must bear at home, at work, in social commitments and even in moments of relaxation; only this real relationship with God gives us the strength to live through every event with intensity, especially the moments of greatest anguish. This Saint also reminds us of the importance of physical positions in our prayer. Kneeling, standing before the Lord, fixing our gaze on the Crucifix, silent recollection — these are not of secondary importance but help us to put our whole selves inwardly in touch with God. I would like to recall once again the need, for our spiritual life, to find time everyday for quiet prayer; we must make this time for ourselves, especially during the holidays, to have a little time to talk with God. It will also be a way to help those who are close to us enter into the radiant light of God’s presence which brings the peace and love we all need. Thank you.
To special groups:
I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Macau, Japan and the United States. Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Dominic, the Founder of the Order of Preachers. In his life, Saint Dominic was able to combine constant prayer and zealous activity in the service of the Lord and his Church. By his example and intercession, may all of us rediscover the importance and beauty of daily prayer, and bear joyful witness to our faith in Christ the Saviour!
I extend a warm greeting to the Italian pilgrims, especially to the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood and to the newlywed couples. Thank you! In thanking you for coming, I am happy to invoke upon each one of you an abundance of the Holy Spirit’s gifts for a renewed spiritual and apostolic fervour. Thank you for your presence and for your attention; have a good day and a good week. Thank you and a happy vacation, as well, to you all.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today is the liturgical Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, invoked by the title: “Queen”. It is a recently instituted feast, although its origins and the devotion to her are ancient. It was in fact established in 1954, at the end of the Marian Year, by Venerable Pius XII who fixed the date as 31 May (cf. Encyclical Letter Ad Caeli Reginam, 11 October 1954: AAS 46 , 625-640). On this occasion the Pope said that Mary was Queen more than any other creature because of the sublime dignity of her soul and the excellence of the gifts she received. She never ceases to bestow upon humanity all the treasures of her love and tender care (cf. Discourse in honour of Mary Queen, 1 November 1954). Now, after the post-conciliar reform of the liturgical calendar, this feast is set eight days after the Solemnity of the Assumption to emphasize the close link between Mary’s royal nature and her glorification in body and soul beside her Son. In the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church we read: Mary “was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory... and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son” (Lumen Gentium LG 59).
This is the origin of today’s feast: Mary is Queen because she is uniquely conformed to her Son, both on the earthly journey and in heavenly glory. Ephrem the Syrian, Syria’s great saint, said of Mary’s queenship that it derives from her motherhood: she is Mother of the Lord, of the King of kings (cf. Is Is 9,1-6) and she points Jesus out to us as our life, our salvation and our hope. In his Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus the Servant of God Paul VI recalled: “In the Virgin Mary everything is relative to Christ and dependent upon him. It was with a view to Christ that God the Father, from all eternity, chose her to be the all-holy Mother and adorned her with gifts of the Spirit granted to no one else” (n. 25).
Now however, let us ask ourselves: what does “Mary Queen” mean? Is it solely a title, together with others, a crown, an ornament like others? What does it mean? What is this queenship? As mentioned above, it is a consequence of her being united to the Son, of her being in heaven, that is, in communion with God; she shares in God’s responsibility for the world and in God’s love for the world. There is a worldly or common idea of a king or queen: a person with great power and wealth. But this is not the kind of royalty of Jesus and Mary. Let us think of the Lord; the royalty and kingship of Christ is interwoven with humility, service and love. It is above all serving, helping and loving. Let us remember that Jesus on the Cross was proclaimed king with this inscription written by Pilate: “The King of the Jews” (cf. Mc 15,26). On the Cross, at that moment, he is shown to be King; and how is he King? By suffering with us and for us, by loving to the end, and in this way governing and creating truth, love and justice. Let us also think of another moment: at the Last Supper he bows down to wash the feet of his followers.
Consequently Jesus’ kingship has nothing to do with that of the powerful of this earth. He is a King who serves his servants; he demonstrated this throughout his life; and the same is true of Mary. She is Queen in her service to God for humanity, she is a Queen of love who lives the gift of herself to God so as to enter into the plan of man’s salvation. She answered the Angel: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord” (cf. Lc 1,38) and in the Magnificat she sings: God has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden (cf. Lc 1,48). She helps us. She is Queen precisely by loving us, by helping us in our every need; she is our sister, a humble handmaid.
And so we have already reached this point: how does Mary exercise this queenship of service and love? By watching over us, her children: the children who turn to her in prayer, to thank her or to ask her for her motherly protection and her heavenly help, perhaps after having lost our way, or when we are oppressed by suffering or anguish because of the sorrowful and harrowing vicissitudes of life. In serenity or in life’s darkness let us address Mary, entrusting ourselves to her continuous intercession so that she may obtain for us from the Son every grace and mercy we need for our pilgrimage on the highways of the world.
Through the Virgin Mary let us turn with trust to the One who rules the world and holds in his hand the future of the universe. For centuries she has been invoked as the celestial Queen of Heaven; in the Litany of Loreto after the prayer of the holy Rosary, she is implored eight times: as Queen of Angels, of Patriarchs, of Prophets, of Apostles, of Martyrs, of Confessors, of Virgins, of all the Saints and of Families. The rhythm of these ancient invocations and daily prayers, such as the Salve Regina, help us to understand that the Blessed Virgin, as our Mother beside her Son Jesus in the glory of heaven, is always with us in the daily events of our life.
The title “Queen” is thus a title of trust, joy and love. And we know that the One who holds a part of the world’s destinies in her hand is good, that she loves us and helps us in our difficulties.
Dear friends, the devotion to Our Lady is an important element of spiritual life. In our prayers let us not fail to address her with trust. Mary will not fail to intercede for us with her Son. Looking at her, let us imitate her faith, her full availability to God’s plan of love, her generous acceptance of Jesus. Let us learn how to live from Mary. Mary is the Queen of Heaven who is close to God but she is also the Mother who is close to each one of us, who loves us and listens to our voice. Thank you for your attention.
To special groups:
I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience, especially the groups from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Japan and the United States of America. I also greet the young altar servers from Malta and their families. Today the Church celebrates the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary. May the prayers of Our Lady guide us along our pilgrimage of faith, that we may share in her Son’s victory and reign with him in his eternal Kingdom. Upon all of you I invoke the Lord’s abundant blessings!
Lastly, I address a cordial greeting to the Italian-speaking pilgrims; in particular to the Sisters of Mary Most Holy Consoler, who have gathered for their General Chapter, and the Chaldean Sisters, Daughters of Mary Immaculate, who are involved in a generous and valuable service to the peoples of Iraq. I greet those taking part in the meeting of the Association of Rogationist Families and in the summer meeting for Major Seminarians, as well as the couples of newlyweds.I ask everyone to spend time on Christian formation, in order to be faithful disciples of Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. And now let us sing the “Our Father” together.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This last Wednesday of the month of August is the liturgical Memorial of the martyrdom of St John the Baptist, the Precursor of Jesus. In the Roman Calendar, he is the only saint whose birth and death, through martyrdom, are celebrated on the same day (in his case, 24 June). Today’s Memorial commemoration dates back to the dedication of a crypt in Sebaste, Samaria, where his head had already been venerated since the middle of the fourth century. The devotion later extended to Jerusalem, both in the Churches of the East and in Rome, with the title of the Beheading of St John the Baptist. In the Roman Martyrology reference is made to a second discovery of the precious relic, translated for the occasion to the Church of San Silvestro in Campo Marzio, Rome.
These small historical references help us to understand how ancient and deeply-rooted is the veneration of John the Baptist. His role in relation to Jesus stands out clearly in the Gospels. St Luke in particular recounts his birth, his life in the wilderness and his preaching, while in today’s Gospel St Mark tells us of his dramatic death. John the Baptist began his preaching under the Emperor Tiberius in about 27-28 A.D., and the unambiguous invitation he addressed to the people, who flocked to listen to him, was to prepare the way to welcome the Lord, to straighten the crooked paths of their lives through a radical conversion of heart (cf. Lc 3,4).
However, John the Baptist did not limit himself to teaching repentance or conversion. Instead, in recognizing Jesus as the “Lamb of God” who came to take away the sin of the world (Jn 1,29), he had the profound humility to hold up Jesus as the One sent by God, drawing back so that he might take the lead, and be heard and followed. As his last act the Baptist witnessed with his blood to faithfulness to God’s commandments, without giving in or withdrawing, carrying out his mission to the very end. In the 9th century the Venerable Bede says in one of his Homilies: “St John gave his life for [Christ]. He was not ordered to deny Jesus Christ, but was ordered to keep silent about the truth” (cf. Homily 23: CCL 122, 354). And he did not keep silent about the truth and thus died for Christ who is the Truth. Precisely for love of the truth he did not stoop to compromises and did not fear to address strong words to anyone who had strayed from God’s path.
We see this great figure, this force in the Passion, in resistance to the powerful. We wonder: what gave birth to this life, to this interiority so strong, so upright, so consistent, spent so totally for God in preparing the way for Jesus? The answer is simple: it was born from the relationship with God, from prayer, which was the thread that guided him throughout his existence. John was the divine gift for which his parents Zechariah and Elizabeth had been praying for so many years (cf. Lc 1,13); a great gift, humanly impossible to hope for, because they were both advanced in years and Elizabeth was barren (cf. Lc 1,7); yet nothing is impossible to God (cf. Lc 1,36). The announcement of this birth happened precisely in the place of prayer, in the temple of Jerusalem, indeed it happened when Zechariah had the great privilege of entering the holiest place in the temple to offer incense to the Lord (cf. Lc 1,8-20). John the Baptist’s birth was also marked by prayer: the Benedictus, the hymn of joy, praise and thanksgiving which Zechariah raises to the Lord and which we recite every morning in Lauds, exalts God’s action in history and prophetically indicates the mission of their son John: to go before the Son of God made flesh to prepare his ways (cf. Lc 1,67-79).
The entire existence of the Forerunner of Jesus was nourished by his relationship with God, particularly the period he spent in desert regions (cf. Lc 1,80). The desert regions are places of temptation but also where man acquires a sense of his own poverty because once deprived of material support and security, he understands that the only steadfast reference point is God himself. John the Baptist, however, is not only a man of prayer, in permanent contact with God, but also a guide in this relationship. The Evangelist Luke, recalling the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, the Our Father, notes that the request was formulated by the disciples in these words: “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his own disciples” (cf. Lc 11,1).
Dear brothers and sisters, celebrating the martyrdom of St John the Baptist reminds us too, Christians of this time, that with love for Christ, for his words and for the Truth, we cannot stoop to compromises. The Truth is Truth; there are no compromises. Christian life demands, so to speak, the “martyrdom” of daily fidelity to the Gospel, the courage, that is, to let Christ grow within us and let him be the One who guides our thought and our actions. However, this can happen in our life only if we have a solid relationship with God. Prayer is not time wasted, it does not take away time from our activities, even apostolic activities, but exactly the opposite is true: only if we are able to have a faithful, constant and trusting life of prayer will God himself give us the ability and strength to live happily and serenely, to surmount difficulties and to witness courageously to him. St John the Baptist, intercede for us, that we may be ever able to preserve the primacy of God in our life. Thank you.
To special groups:
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Indonesia, Japan and Malta. Today, the Church celebrates the Martyrdom of St John the Baptist. John, whose birth we celebrate on 24 June, gave himself totally to Christ, by preparing the way for him through the preaching of repentance, by leading others to him once he arrived, and by giving the ultimate sacrifice. Dear friends, may we follow John’s example by allowing Christ to penetrate every part of our lives so that we may boldly proclaim him to the world. May God bless all of you!
Lastly a thought for the young people, the sick and the newlyweds.May the radicalism of the faith and the life of St John the Baptist inspire your being as believers; dear young people, show openly in all contexts that you belong to Christ and to the Church; dear sick people, draw on the power of prayer to alleviate your suffering; and you, dear newlyweds, always put the Lord Jesus at centre of your family life.
To the 2,600 French altar servers:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, I greet you with affection dear altar servers who have come from France on your national pilgrimage to Rome, as well as Bishop Breton, the other bishops present and those who have accompanied this large group. Dear young people, the service you carry out faithfully enables you to be particularly close to Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. You have the enormous privilege of being close to the altar and close to the Lord. Be aware of the importance of this service to the Church and to you yourselves. May it give you the opportunity to develop a friendship, a personal relationship with Jesus. Do not be afraid of communicating to those around you the joy you receive from his presence! May your whole life shine with the happiness of this closeness to the Lord Jesus! And if one day you hear his call to follow him on the path of the priesthood or the religious life, respond to him generously! I wish you all a good pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul. Many thanks. Have a good pilgrimage. God bless you.
Paul VI Audience Hall50912
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, after the holiday break, we resume the Audiences at the Vatican, continuing with the “school of prayer”, which I am sharing with you in these Wednesday Catecheses.
Today I would like to talk to you about a prayer in the Book of Revelation, which, as you know, is the last one in the New Testament. It is a complex book, but one containing great richness. It puts us in touch with the vital, vibrant prayer of the Christian assembly, gathered “on the Lord’s day” (Ap 1,10): indeed, the text unfolds into this basic premise.
A speaker presents to the assembly a message which the Lord has entrusted to the Evangelist John. The reader and the assembly are, so to speak, the two protagonists of the book’s development; right from the start a festive greeting is addressed to them: “blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear” (Jn 1,3). A symphony of prayer wells up from the ongoing dialogue between them and develops with a great variety of forms until it reaches its conclusion. On hearing the speaker deliver the message, on hearing and observing the assembly’s reaction, their prayer tends to become our own.
The first part of Revelation (Ap 1,4-3,22), presents three successive stages in the attitude of the assembly which is praying. The first stage (Ap 1,4-8) consists of a dialogue which — the only one in the New Testament — takes place between the assembly that has just gathered and the reader, who greets it with a blessing: “Grace to you and peace” (Ap 1,4). The speaker continues, emphasizing the provenance of this greeting: it comes from the Trinity: from the Father, from the Holy Spirit, from Jesus Christ, involved together in carrying ahead the creative and saving plan for humanity. The assembly listens and when it hears Jesus Christ named it jumps for joy, as it were, and responds enthusiastically, raising the following prayer of praise: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (Ap 1,5-6). The assembly, steeped in Christ’s love, feels set free from the bonds of sin and proclaims itself the “kingdom” of Jesus Christ, which belongs totally to him.
It recognizes the great mission which has been entrusted to it through Baptism: to bring God’s presence to the world. And, looking once again directly at Jesus and with mounting enthusiasm, its ends this celebration of praise, recognizing his “glory and dominion” that will save humanity. The final “amen” concludes the hymn of praise to Christ. These first four verses are already full of instructions for us; they tell us that our prayer must first and foremost consist in listening to God who speaks to us. Submerged by torrents of words, we are not very used to listening, or, especially, being receptive by creating silence, either within ourselves or 0utside us, so as to be able to pay attention to what God wants to tell us. These verses also teach us that our prayers, especially if they are only prayers of petition, must first of all praise God for his love, for the gift of Jesus Christ who brought us strength, hope and salvation.
A further intervention of the speaker then refers to the assembly, held by Christ’s love, the commitment to accept his presence in its own life. He says: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him” (Ap 1,7a). After being lifted up to heaven on “a cloud”, the symbol of transcendence (cf. Ac 1,9), Jesus Christ will return, just as he was taken up into heaven (cf. Ac 1,11). Then all the peoples will recognize him and, as St John predicts in the fourth Gospel, “they shall look on him whom they have pierced” (Jn 19,37). They will remember their sins, the cause of his crucifixion and, like those who witnessed it directly on Calvary, will beat their breasts (cf. Lc 23,48), asking him to forgive them so as to follow him in life and thus to prepare full communion with him after his final Coming. The assembly reflects on this message and says: “Even so. Amen” (Ap 1,7). The assembly’s “even so” expresses its full acquiescence with of all that has been said to them and they ask that it may truly become reality. It is the prayer of the assembly which meditates on the love of God in its supreme manifestation on the Cross and asks to live consistently as disciples of Christ. And there is God’s answer: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the One who is, who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Ap 1,8). God, who reveals himself as the beginning and the end of history, accepts the assembly’s request and takes it to heart. He was, is and will be present and active in his love in the future, as he was in the past, until the final destination is reached. This is God’s promise. And here we find another important element: constant prayer reawakens within us the sense of the Lord’s presence in our life and in history. His is a presence that sustains us, guides us and gives us great hope, even amidst the darkness of certain human events; furthermore, every prayer, even prayer in the most radical solitude, is never isolation of oneself and is never sterile: rather, it is the life blood of an ever more committed and consistent Christian life.
The second stage in the assembly’s prayer (Ap 1,9-22) examines in greater depth the relationship with Jesus Christ: the Lord makes himself seen, he speaks, acts, and the community, ever closer to him, listens, reacts and understands. In the message presented by the speaker St John recounts his personal experience of an encounter with Christ: he was on the Island of Patmos, on account of the “word of God and of the testimony of Jesus” (Ap 1,9), and it was the “Lord’s day” (Ap 1,10a), Sunday, on which the Resurrection is celebrated. And St John was “in the Spirit” (Ap 1,10a). The Holy Spirit permeated him and renewed him, expanding his ability to receive Jesus who asks him to write. The prayer of the assembly which is listening, gradually takes on a contemplative attitude, punctuated by the verb “to see”, “to look”. that is, it contemplates what the speaker suggests, interiorizing it and making it its own.
John hears “a loud voice like a trumpet” (Ap 1,10b). The voice orders him to send a message “to the seven churches” (Ap 1,11), which are located in Asia Minor and, through them, to all the Churches of all times, together with their Pastors. The words “voice... like a trumpet”, taken from the Book of Exodus (cf. Ex 20,18), recall God’s self-manifestation to Moses on Mount Sinai and indicate the voice of God who speaks from his heaven, from his transcendence. Here the voice is attributed to the Risen Jesus Christ, who speaks to the assembly in prayer from the glory of the Father, with the voice of God. Turning “to see the voice” (Ap 1,12), John sees seven golden lampstands and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man” (Ap 1,12-13), a term particularly dear to John which means Jesus himself. The golden lampstands, with their candles lit, mean the Church of every time, in an attitude of prayer in the Liturgy: the Risen Jesus, the “Son of man” is among them and, clad in the vestments of the high priest of the Old Testament, carries out the priestly role of mediator with the Father. A dazzling manifestation of the Risen Christ, with characteristics proper to God — that recur in the Old Testament — follows in John’s symbolic message.
He describes “hair white as white wool, white as snow” (Ap 1,14), a symbol of God’s eternity (cf. Dan Da 7,14) and of the Resurrection. Fire is a second symbol which, in the Old Testament, often refers to God, to indicate two of his properties. The first of these is the jealous intensity of his love which motivates his Covenant with man (cf. Deut Dt 4,24). And it is this same burning intensity of love that is perceived in the gaze of the Risen Jesus: “his eyes were like a flame of fire” (Ap 1,14). The second property is the uncontainable capacity for overcoming evil, like a “devouring fire” (Dt 9,3). Likewise Jesus’ “feet”, as he walked on to face and destroy evil, are compared to “burnished bronze” (Ap 1,15). Then Jesus Christ’s voice, “like the sound of many waters” (Ap 1,15c), has the impressive roar of “the glory of the God of Israel” moving towards Jerusalem, of whom the Prophet Ezekiel speaks (cf. Ez 43,2). Three other symbolic elements follow. They show all that the Risen Jesus is doing for his Church: he holds her firmly in his right hand — an extremely important image: Jesus holds the Church in his hand — he speaks to her with the penetrating force of a sharp sword and shows her the splendour of his divinity: “His face was like the sun shining in full strength” (Ap 1,16). John is so struck by this wondrous experience of the Risen One that he faints and falls as though dead.
After this experience of revelation, the Apostle has before him the Lord Jesus who speaks to him, reassures him, lays his hand on his head, reveals his identity as the Risen Crucified One and entrusts to him the task of passing on his message to the Churches (cf. Rev Ap 1,17-18). This God was just so beautiful that John fainted before him, falling as though dead. He is the friend of life and places his hand on the Apostle’s head. And this is how it will be for us, we are friends of Jesus. Then the revelation of the Risen God, of the Risen Christ, will not be terrible but will be an encounter with the friend. The assembly too, experiences with John the wonderful moment of light before the Lord but is combined with the experience of the daily encounter with Jesus, perceiving the riches of the contact with the Lord, who fills every space in existence.
In the third and last stage of the first part of the Apocalypse (Ap 2-3), the speaker proposes to the assembly a seven-fold message in which Jesus speaks in the first person. Addressed to the Seven churches located in Asia Minor around Ephesus, Jesus’ discourse starts with the specific situation of each Church and then extends to the churches of every era. Jesus immediately enters into the situation in which each Church lives, highlighting the patches of light and shade and addressing to the church a pressing invitation: “Repent” (Ap 2,5 Ap 2,16 Ap 3,19c); “hold fast what you have” (Ap 3,11); “do the works you did at first” (Ap 2,5); be zealous and repent” (Ap 3,19b).... If these words of Jesus are listened to with faith, they immediately begin to take effect. The Church in prayer, on receiving the Word of the Lord, is transformed. All the Churches must listen attentively to the Lord, opening themselves to the Spirit as Jesus asks insistently, repeating this order seven times: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches” (Ap 2,7 Ap 2,11 Ap 2,17 Ap 2,29 Ap 3,6 Ap 3,13 Ap 3,22). The assembly listens to the message, receiving an incentive for repentance, conversion, perseverance, growth in love and guidance on the journey.
Dear friends, the Book of Revelation presents to us a community gathered in prayer because it is precisely in prayer that we become ever more aware of Jesus’ presence with us and in us. The more and the better we pray, with constancy, with intensity, the more like him we shall be, and he will truly enter into our life and guide it, bestowing upon us joy and peace. And the more we know, love and follow Jesus, the more we will feel the need to pause in prayer with him, receiving serenity, hope and strength in our life. Thank you for your attention.
To special groups:
I am pleased to welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present today, including those from England, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, and the United States. I am especially pleased to welcome the group of Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit as well as the young men and women of the Focolare Movement who have been participating in this year’s Genfest in Budapest. Dear young people, you have taken to heart Christ’s call to promote unity in the human family by courageously building bridges. I therefore encourage you: be strong in your Catholic faith; and let the simple joy, the pure love, and the profound peace that come from the encounter with Jesus Christ make you radiant witnesses of the Good News before the young people of your own lands. God bless all of you abundantly!
Lastly I greet all the young people present here, the sick and the newlyweds.Dear young people, on returning from the holidays to your usual daily activities, may you also resume your regular dialogue with God, who instils light in you and around you. Dear sick people, find support and comfort in the Lord Jesus, who continues his work of redemption in the life of every person. And you, dear newlyweds, may you be able to cultivate the spiritual dimension, so that your union will always be solid and profound. Thank you.
Paul VI Audience Hall
Audiences 2005-2013 10812