GENERAL AUDIENCE 2002 17


Wednesday 20 March 2002 - The humble hope in God, rejoice in him

The canticle of Anna, the mother of Samuel

18
1. The voice of a woman leads us today in the prayer of praise to the Lord of Life. In fact, in the story of the First Book of Samuel, it is Anna who sings the hymn we have just proclaimed, after offering her child, the little Samuel to the Lord. He was to be a prophet in Israel and his action was to mark the transition of the Hebrew people to a new form of government, monarchy, in which the unfortunate King Saul and the glorious King David would play the lead. Anna had a history of suffering in her past, for, as the story says, the Lord "had closed her womb" (
1S 1,5).

In ancient Israel, a barren woman was considered as a withered branch, a dead presence, in part because she prevented her husband from having continuity in the memory of the generations to follow, an important factor in what was a hazy and uncertain vision of the hereafter.

2. But Anna had put her trust in the God of life and prayed: "O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your maidservant and remember me and not forget your maidservant, but will give your maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life" (1S 1,11). And God heard the cry of this humiliated woman and gave her Samuel: a living shoot that sprang from the dry trunk (cf. Is 11,1); what had been impossible in human eyes had become a tangible reality in that child who was to be consecrated to the Lord.

The hymn of thanksgiving that sprang from the lips of the mother was to be taken up and expressed anew by another Mother, Mary, who while remaining a virgin conceived by the power of the Spirit of God. In fact, in the Magnificat of the Mother of Jesus we can perceive an echo of Anna's canticle which for this reason is known as "the Magnificat of the Old Testament".

3. In fact, scholars note that the sacred author has placed on Anna's lips a sort of royal psalm laced with citations or allusions to other Psalms.

In the foreground, the image of the Hebrew king emerges, assailed by more powerful adversaries, but who in the end is saved and triumphs because the Lord who is at his side breaks the bows of the mighty (cf. 1S 2,4). The finale of the canticle is significant, in which the Lord enters the scene in a solemn epiphany: "The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed" (1S 2,10). In Hebrew the last word is precisely "messiah", meaning "anointed one", which enables us to transform this royal prayer into a song of messianic hope.

19 4. We wish to underline in this hymn of thanksgiving two themes that express Anna's feelings. The first will also be dominant in Mary's Magnificat: it is the reversal of destinies that God brings about. The bows of the mighty are broken but the feeble "gird on strength". Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry sit at a sumptuous banquet with princes; the poor are raised up from the dust and given "a seat of honour" (cf. 1S 2,4 1S 2,8).

In this ancient prayer it is easy to follow the thread of the seven actions that Mary sees accomplished in the history of God the Saviour: "He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel ..." (Lc 1,51-54).

This is a profession of faith spoken by both mothers before the Lord of history, who arrays himself to defend the least, the poor and the suffering, the offended and humiliated.

5. The other theme we would like to highlight is connected even more closely with Anna: "The barren has born seven, but she who has many children is forlorn" (1S 2,5). The Lord who reverses destinies is also at the root of life and of death. Anna's sterile womb was like a tomb; yet God was able to make it bring forth life, because "in his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind" (Jb 12,10). Immediately after, in this connection, Anna sings: "The Lord kills and brings to life, he brings down to Sheol and raises up" (1S 2,6).

At this point hope does not only concern the life of the child who is born, but also the life God can bring back after death. Hence an almost "paschal" horizon of resurrection opens. Isaiah was to sing: "Your dead shall live, their bodies shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and on the land of the shades you will let it fall" (Is 26,19).
*****


I am pleased to offer warm greetings to all the English-speaking visitors present at this Audience. In particular, I greet the Delegation from the Ministry for Home Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand. Upon all of you, especially those from Denmark, Japan and the United States of America, I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.





Wednesday 27 March 2002

20


1. The Easter Triduum which will make us relive the central event of our salvation begins tomorrow. These will be days of more intense prayer and meditation in which, with the help of the moving rites of Holy Week, we will reflect on the passion, death and resurrection of Christ.

The meaning and fulfilment of human history lies in the Paschal Mystery. "Therefore", the Catechism of the Catholic Church emphasizes, "Easter is not simply one feast among others, but the "Feast of Feasts', the "Solemnity of Solemnities', just as the Eucharist is the "Sacrament of Sacraments' (the great Sacrament). St Athanasius calls Easter "the Great Sunday' (Easter Letter 329) and the Eastern Churches call Holy Week "the Great Week'. The mystery of the Resurrection, in which Christ crushed death, permeates with its powerful energy our old time until all is subjected to him" (
CEC 1169).

2. Tomorrow, Holy Thursday, we will contemplate Christ who in the Upper Room, on the eve of his Passion, made a gift of himself to the Church, instituted the ministerial priesthood and left to his disciples the new commandment, the commandment of love. Thus he wished to remain with us in the sacrament of the Eucharist, making himself the food of our salvation. After the moving Mass of the Lord's Supper, we will keep a vigil of adoration with the Lord, obeying the desire that he expressed to the Apostles in the Garden of Olives: "Remain here and keep watch with me" (Mt 26,38).

On Good Friday, we will revisit the tragic chain of events of the Passion of our Redeemer leading to his crucifixion on Golgotha. The Adoration of the Cross will enable us to understand more acutely the infinite mercy of God. By willingly experiencing that immense sorrow, the Only-Begotten Son of God became the definitive proclamation of salvation for humanity. The way of the Cross is difficult indeed! Yet it is only there that we receive the mystery of the Death that gives life.
Then the prayerful, silent atmosphere of Holy Saturday will offer us the opportunity to await the glorious event of the Resurrection, in prayer with Mary, already beginning to savour its deep joy.

During the Easter Vigil, singing the "Gloria" the splendour of our destiny will be revealed: to forge a new humanity, redeemed by Christ who died and rose for us.

When on Easter Day, in the Churches in every corner of the earth rings out the "Dux vitae mortuus regnat vivus", "the Lord of life was dead, now alive he triumphs" (Sequence), we will be able to understand and love the Cross of Christ forever; on it Christ overcame sin and death forever!

3. In the Easter Triduum, we will fix our gaze more intensely on the face of Christ, a face of suffering and agony, that helps us understand better the drama of the events and situations that are afflicting humanity even in these days. His is a Face radiant with light that gives renewed hope to our lives.

In my Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio ineunte I wrote: "Two thousand years after these events, the Church relives them as if they had happened today. Gazing on the face of Christ, the Bride contemplates her treasure and her joy. "Dulcis Iesu memoria, dans vera cordis gaudia': how sweet is the memory of Jesus, the source of the heart's true joy!" (NM 28).

At Gethsemane we will especially be one with those who stagger beneath the burden of anxiety and loneliness. In meditating on the trial to which Jesus was subjected, we will remember all who are persecuted for their faith and for the sake of justice.

As we go with Christ on the sorrowful way to Golgotha, we will also raise our confident prayer for those who are burdened in body and soul by the weight of evil and sin.

At the supreme hour of the sacrifice of the Son of God, let us confidently lay at the foot of the Cross the longing that dwells in every heart: the desire for peace!

The Blessed Virgin Mary, who faithfully followed her Son all the way to the cross, will lead us after we have contemplated together with her the suffering face of Christ, to enjoy the light and joy that radiate from the splendour of the face of the Risen Christ.

This is my hope: may it be a really holy Triduum, full of the joys and consolations of Easter!


*****


To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I warmly greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today, especially those from England, Norway and the United States of America. May these holy days be a time of peace for you and your families. May it be a time of peace for the whole world! Happy Easter to you all!



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Wednesday 3 April 2002 - Psalm 96 £[97] - The Glory of the Lord, Judge of the world

21
Ps 97

1. The light, joy and peace that fill the community of the disciples of Christ at Easter and that spread throughout creation, pervade our gathering that is taking place during the joyful days of the Octave of Easter. In these days it is Christ's triumph over evil and death that we celebrate. With His Death and Resurrection the Kingdom of justice and love that God desires is definitively established.

Today we will focus on the Kingdom of God in our catechesis given over to a reflection on Psalm 96 [97]. The Psalm begins with the solemn announcement: "The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad", and is defined as a celebration of the divine King, the Lord of the cosmos and of history. We could say that this is an "Easter" Psalm.

We know the importance that Jesus attached to the proclamation of the Kingdom of God in his preaching. It is not just the creature's recognition of his dependence on his Creator; it is also the conviction that within history there is at work a plan, a design, a strategy of harmony and good desired by God. The Paschal Mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus have brought this to fulfillment.

22 2. Let us now read through the Psalm that the liturgy presents for our celebration of Lauds. Immediately after the acclamation to the Lord as King that rings out like a trumpet blast, a great divine epiphany unfolds before the person at prayer. Resorting to the use of quotations, allusions to other passages of the psalms or of the prophets, especially Isaiah, the psalmist describes the coming of the great King onto the world scene who appears surrounded by a series of cosmic ministers or attendants: clouds, thick darkness, fire, lightning.

Alongside of them, another series of attendants personifies his action in history: justice, right and glory. Their entry onto the scene makes all creation quake. The earth rejoices everywhere, including the islands, considered the most remote region (cf.
Ps 97,1 [96],1). Flashes of light light up the whole world and an earthquake makes the world tremble (cf. Ps 97,4). The mountains, that, according to biblical cosmology, incarnate the most ancient and solid reality, melt like wax (cf. Ps 97,5), as the Prophet Micah sang: "Behold, the Lord is coming forth out of his place ... and the mountains will melt under him and the valleys will be cleft, like wax before the fire" (Mi 1,3-4). Angels fill the heavens with songs of praise that exalt justice, the work of salvation brought about by the Lord for the just. Finally, all humanity contemplates the revelation of the divine glory, the mysterious reality of God (cf. Ps 97,6 [96],6), while the "enemies", the wicked and the unjust, give way before the irresistible power of the judgement of the Lord (cf. Ps 97,3).

3. After the theophany of the Lord of the universe, the Psalm describes two kinds of reaction to the great King and his entry into history. On the one hand, idolaters and idols topple to the ground shamed and defeated; on the other, the faithful, who have gathered in Zion for the liturgical celebration in honour of the Lord, joyfully raise a hymn of praise. The scene of the "worshippers of idols" (cf. Ps 97,7-9) is essential; the idols bow down before the one God and their followers are covered with shame. The just exult in the divine judgement that does away with lies and false piety, sources of moral misery and slavery. They intone a profession of clear faith: "For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods" (Ps 97,9).

4. Against the picture showing the victory over the idols and their worshippers there is set the portrayal of what could be called, the splendid day of the faithful (Ps 97,10-12). Indeed a light that dawns for the just person is described (cf. Ps 97,11): it is the rising of a dawn of joy, festivity and hope, because - as is well known - light is a symbol of God (cf. 1Jn 1,5).

The Prophet Malachi declared, "For you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays" (Ml 3,20). Light and happiness go together: "Joy for the upright in heart. Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!" (Ps 97,11-12 [96],11-12).

The Kingdom of God is a source of peace and serenity that overpowers the empire of darkness. A Jewish community in the time of Jesus sang: "Godlessness draws back before justice, just as darkness shrinks from light; godlessness will vanish forever and justice, like the sun, will be shown to be the beginning of the order of the world" (Libro dei misteri di Qumrln [Book of the Mysteries of Qumran]: 1Q 27, I, 5-7).

5. However, before we leave Psalm 96 [97], it is important that we rediscover, along with the face of the Lord the King, the profile of the faithful. Seven features are described, the sign of perfection and fullness. Those who await the coming of the great divine King hate evil, love the Lord, are the hasÓdÓm, the faithful (cf. Ps 97,10), who walk in the path of justice, are upright of heart (cf. Ps 97,11), rejoice in the works of God and give thanks to the holy name of the Lord (cf. Ps 97,12). Let us ask the Lord to make these spiritual features shine in our faces.
*****


The Holy Father then addressed the faithful in French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Hungarian, Croatian and Italian, with a special word for the young people, the sick and the newly-wed. To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors he said:

I offer a warm welcome to the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn in pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi. I also thank the many Choirs present for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at todayís Audience, especially those from England, Ireland, Japan and the United States, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of the Risen Lord.



Wednesday 10 April 2002 - Psalm 79£[80] - Shepherd of Israel, come to our aid!

23 Ps 80

1. The Psalm we just heard is a song of lament, a plea from the entire people of Israel.

The first part makes use of a famous biblical symbol, the shepherd. The Lord is invoked as "the shepherd of Israel", who "leads Joseph like a flock" (Ps 80,2). From high above the Ark of the Covenant, enthroned among the cherubim, the Lord guides his flock, that is, his people, and protects them in danger.

He did this during the crossing of the desert. Now, however, he seems absent, as though asleep or indifferent. He feeds the flock he must lead and nourish (cf. Ps 22) only with the bread of tears (cf. Ps 80,6 [79],6). Enemies scoff at this humiliated, despised people; yet God does not seem to be moved nor "to be stirred up" (Ps 80,3), nor does he reveal his might, arrayed to defend the victims of violence and oppression. The repetition of the antiphonal invocation (cf. Ps 80,4 Ps 80,8), seeks virtually to rouse God from his detached attitude, so that he will return to be the shepherd and defender of his people.

2. In the second part of the prayer, full of tension and charged with trust, we find another symbol dear to the Bible: the vine. It is an image easy to understand because it belongs to the vision of the Promised Land and is a sign of fruitfulness and joy.

As the Prophet Isaiah teaches in one of his most exalted poetic passages (cf. Is 5,1-7), the vine is the incarnation of Israel. It illustrates two fundamental aspects: on the one hand, since it has been planted by God (cf. Is 5,2 Ps 80,9-10 [79],9-10), it represents the gift, grace and love of God; on the other, it demands the labour of the farmer that enables it to produce grapes that yield wine, and thus symbolize the human response: personal effort and the fruit of good deeds.

3. Through the imagery of the vine, the psalm recalls the major milestones of Hebrew history: their roots, the experience of the Exodus from Egypt, their entry into the promised land. The vine attained its full level of extension, extending over the whole of Palestine and beyond, during Solomon's reign. Indeed, it reached out from the northern mountains of Lebanon with their cedars as far as the Mediterranean Sea, almost to the great River Euphrates (cf. Ps 80,11-12).

But this splendid flourishing was shattered. The Psalm reminds us that a tempest struck God's vineyard: in other words, Israel suffered a harsh trial, a brutal invasion that devastated the Promised Land. As though he were an invader, God himself broke down the walls surrounding the vineyard, letting the plunderers break in who are represented by the wild boar, held by an ancient tradition to be a fierce and impure animal. Associated with the ferocity of the boar are all wild beasts, the symbol of an enemy horde that ravages everything (cf. Ps 80,13-14).

4. The Psalmist then directs a pressing appeal to God to come back and defend the victims, to break his silence: "Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine" (Ps 80,15). God will again be the defender of the vital stump of this vine, subjected to such a violent storm, and will scatter all those who have tried to tear it up or set fire to it (cf. Ps 80,16-17).

At this point, the Psalm opens to messianic hope. Indeed, in verse 18 the Psalmist prays: "Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!". Perhaps his first thought is of the Davidic king who, with the Lord's help, will lead the uprising for freedom. But confidence in the future Messiah is implicit, that "Son of Man" who would be sung by the Prophet Daniel (cf. Da 7,13-14), a title Jesus would choose as his favorite to define his work and messianic being. Indeed, the Fathers of the Church were unanimous in pointing out that the vine that the psalm describes is a prophetic prefiguration of Christ "the true vine" (Jn 15,1), and of his Church.

5. Of course, if the face of the Lord is to shine once again, Israel must be converted through fidelity and prayer to God Our Saviour. This is what the Psalmist says, when he declares: "Then we will never withdraw from you" (Ps 80,19 [79],19).

24 So Psalm 79[80] is a song that is strongly marked by suffering but also by indestructible trust. God is always ready to "return" to his people, but his people must also "return" to him in fidelity. If we turn away from sin, the Lord will be "converted" from his intention to punish: this is the Psalmist's conviction that finds an echo in our hearts and opens them to hope.
*****


To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I am pleased to extend a special welcome to the officials from the NATO Defense College, as well as to the seminarians from Saint Cuthbertís College in England. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present, particularly those from England, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Canada and the United States of America, I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Saviour.

The Holy Father ended the General Audience by a strong appeal to the faithful to pray constantly for peace in the Holy Land:

I now invite everyone to join me in prayer to implore from the Lord peace in the Holy Land. Let us ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to intercede, so that the efforts being made by a number of parties to overcome the tragic situation in which those sorely tried peoples are living may enjoy great success.




Wednesday 17 April 2002 - Psalms of Lauds

Canticle of Isaiah 12,1-6 - Draw water with joy at the fountain of salvation

25 Is 12,1-6

1. The hymn just proclaimed appears as a song of joy in the Liturgy of Lauds. It is a concluding seal on the sections of the Book of Isaiah known for their Messianic reading. It includes chapters 6-12, generally known as the "Book of Emmanuel". In fact, at the centre of those prophetic sayings towers the figure of a sovereign, who while belonging to the historic Davidic dynasty, reveals transfigured features and receives glorious titles: "Wonderful counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace" (Is 9,6).

The concrete figure of the king of Judah that Isaiah promises as son and successor of Achaz, the sovereign of the time, known to be far removed from the Davidic ideals, is the sign of a higher promise: that of the Messiah-King who will bring to its fullness the name "Emmanuel", namely, "God-with-us", becoming the perfect presence of the divine in human history. It is easy to understand, then, how the New Testament and Christianity did intuit in the profile of the king the personal features of Jesus Christ, Son of God become man in solidarity with us.

2. Scholars now think that the hymn which we are dealing with (cf. Is 12,1-6), on account of its literary quality and its general tone, to be a composition written at a time later than that of the prophet Isaiah who lived in the eighth century before Christ. It is almost like a quotation, a text that resembles a psalm, thought out, perhaps, for liturgical use, that has been inserted here as the conclusion for the "Book of Emmanuel". In fact, it repeats some of the themes: salvation, trust, joy, divine action, the presence among the people of the "Holy One of Israel", an expression that indicates both the "holy" transcendence of God, and his loving and active closeness on which the people of Israel can rely.

The singer is a person who has lived a bitter experience, felt to be an act of divine judgment. But now the trial is over, the purification has taken place; in the place of the Lord's anger there is a smile, his readiness to save and console.

3. The hymn's two stanzas delineate two moments. In the first (cf. Is 12,1-3), that begins with the invitation to pray: "You will say on that day", the word "salvation" stands out, it is repeated three times and applied to the Lord: "God indeed is my salvation.... He has become my salvation ... the wells of salvation". Let us recall that the name Isaiah like that of Jesus contains the root of the Hebrew verb ylsa', which alludes to bringing about "salvation". For this reason the one praying has the absolute certainty that divine grace is at the root of his liberation and hope.

It is important to note that he refers implicitly to the great salvific event of the exodus from the slavery of Egypt, as he quotes the words of Moses' song of deliverance, "the Lord God is my strength and my song" (Ex 15,2).

4. The salvation granted by God, that can make joy and trust flower even on the dark day of the trial, is portrayed by the classic image in the Bible of water: "You will draw water with joy at the fountain of salvation" (Is 12,3). It reminds us of the scene of the Samaritan woman, when Jesus offers her the possibility of having in herself a "spring of water that will well up to eternal life" (Jn 4,14).

Cyril of Alexandria commented in a marvelous way: "Jesus calls the life-giving gift of the Spirit living water, the only one through which humanity, even though it was completely abandoned, like the tree trunks on the mountains, and dry, and deprived of every kind of virtue by the deceit of the devil, is restored to the former beauty of its nature.... The Saviour calls the grace of the Holy Spirit water, and if one participates in him, he will have in himself the source of divine teachings, so that he will no longer need the advice of others, and will be able to exhort those who are thirsting for the Word of God. Such were the holy prophets and apostles of God and their successors in the ministry while they were alive on earth. Of them it is written: "You will draw water with joy at the fountain of salvation" (Commento al Vangelo di Giovanni [Comment on the Gospel of John], II, 4, Roma 1994, PP 272,19).

Unfortunately, humanity often abandons this fountain that will quench the thirst of the entire being of the person, as the Prophet Jeremiah points out with sadness: "They have abandoned me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can not hold water" (Jr 2,13). Even Isaiah, a few pages before, exalted the "waters of Shiloah, that run slowly", symbol of the Lord present in Zion, and threatened the chastisement of the flooding of the "waters of the river, namely, the Euphrates, great and mighty" (Is 8,6-7), symbol of the military and economic might and of idolatry, waters that then fascinated Judah, that would later submerge her.

5. Another invitation, "On that day you will say" the second stanza begins (cf. Is 12,4-6), that is a continual call to joyful praise in honour of the Lord. The commands to praise are multiplied: "Praise, invoke, manifest, proclaim, sing, shout, exult".

At the centre of the praise there is a unique profession of faith in God the Saviour who works in history and is beside his creature, sharing his up's and down's: "The Lord has done great works ... great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel" (Is 12,5 Is 12,6). This profession of faith also has a missionary function: "Among the nations make known his deeds ... let this be known throughout all the earth" (Is 12,4 Is 12,5). The salvation that they have obtained must be witnessed to the world, so that all humanity may run to the fountain of peace, joy and freedom.
*****


At the end of the catechesis the Holy Father addressed the groups of pilgrims in French, English, German, Spanish [see the appeal for Venezuela below], Portuguese, Flemish, Lithuanian, Slovak, and Italian.

I warmly welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially the priests from Vietnam who are returning to their country after studies in Europe. Dear priests: tell your brothers and sisters in the faith that I pray for them every day; I pray for the peace and progress of the whole nation. Upon the pilgrims and visitors from England, Sweden, Denmark, Canada and the United States, I invoke the peace of the Risen Christ. God bless you all!

Appeal for Peace and a Climate of Reconciliation in Venezuela, in the Spanish-language.

The dramatic events that the people of Venezuela have experienced in the last few days move me to make an appeal to the authorities and citizens of that beloved nation so they will make every effort to foster a climate of peaceful coexistence permeated by the spirit of reconciliation. May they put aside every temptation to revenge or violence and, in a spirit of brotherhood, solidarity and collaboration, may they move towards the higher goals of justice, respect for law and genuine progress for all.





Wednesday 24 April 2002 - Psalm 80 £[81] of Lauds - A love that frees the oppressed from their burdens

26
Ps 81

1. "Blow the trumpet at the full moon, on our feast day" (Ps 81,4 [84],4). These words of Psalm 80 [81], that we just proclaimed, refer to a liturgical celebration according to the lunar calendar of ancient Israel. It is difficult to identify the precise festival to which the Psalm refers; what is certain is that the biblical liturgical calendar, although it is based on the cycle of the seasons and thus of nature, it is clearly presented as firmly anchored to the history of salvation and, in particular, to the capital event of the exodus from Egyptian slavery, that is linked to the full moon of the first month (cf. Ex 12,2 Ex 12,6 Lv 23,5). There, God is revealed as Liberator and Saviour.

As verse 7 of the Psalm poetically states, God himself relieved the Hebrew slave in Egypt of the basket on his back, full of the bricks needed to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses (cf. Ex 1,11 Ex 1,14). God had stood beside the oppressed people and with his power removed the bitter sign of slavery, the basket of bricks baked in the sun, a symbol of the forced labour to which the children of Israel were constrained.

2. Let us see how this canticle of the liturgy of Israel develops. It opens with an invitation to celebrate, to sing, to make music. It is the official convocation of the liturgical assembly according to the ancient precept of worship, already established in Egypt with the celebration of the Passover (cf. Ps 81,2-6 [80],2-6a). After this call, the voice of the Lord himself is raised through the oracle of the priest in the temple of Zion, and his divine words fill the rest of the Psalm (cf. Ps 81,6-17).

The theme developed is simple and rotates round two ideal poles. On the one hand there is the divine gift of freedom offered to Israel, oppressed and wretched: "In distress you called, and I delivered you" (Ps 81,8). The Psalm also mentions the Lord's support of Israel on the journey through the desert, that is, the gift of the waters at Meribah, in a context of hardship and trial.

27 3. On the other hand, along with the divine gift, the Psalmist introduces another significant element. The Biblical religion is not a solitary monologue of God, an action of God destined not to be performed. Instead, it is a dialogue, a word followed by a response, a gesture of love that calls for acceptance. For this reason ample room is given to the invitations that God addresses to Israel.

The Lord first invites it to observe faithfully the First Commandment, the pillar of the whole Decalogue, that is, faith in the one Lord and Saviour and the rejection of idols (cf.
Ex 20,3-5). The words of the priest speaking in God's name are punctuated by the verb "to listen", dear to the Book of Deuteronomy, which expresses obedient adherence to the Law of Sinai and is a sign of Israel's response to the gift of freedom. In fact, we hear repeated in our Psalm: "Hear, O my people ... O Israel, if you would but listen to me! ... But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would have none of me.... O that my people would listen to me...!" (Ps 81,9 Ps 81,12 Ps 81,14 [80],9.12.14).

Only through faithful listening and obedience can the people receive fully the gifts of the Lord. Unfortunately, God must attest with bitterness to Israel's many infidelities. The journey through the desert, to which the Psalm alludes, is strewn with these acts of rebellion and idolatry which reach their climax in the representation of the golden calf (cf. Ex 32,1-14).

4. The last part of the Psalm (cf. Ps 81,14-17 [80],14-17) has a melancholic tone. In fact, God expresses a longing that has not yet been satisfied: "O that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!" (Ps 81,14).

However, this melancholy is inspired by love and is united with his deep desire to fill the chosen people with good things. If Israel were to walk in the ways of the Lord, he would soon subdue their enemies (cf. Ps 81,15), feed them "with the finest of the wheat" and satisfy them "with honey from the rock" (Ps 81,17). It would be a joyful feast of fresh bread accompanied by honey that seems to run from the rocks of the Promised Land, representing prosperity and total well-being, a recurrent theme in the Bible (cf. Dt 6,3 Dt 11,9 Dt 26,9 Dt 26,15 Dt 27,3 Dt 31,20). In offering this wonderful perspective, the Lord obviously seeks to obtain his people's conversion, a response of sincere and effective love to his own love that is more generous than ever.

In the Christian interpretation, the divine offering is revealed in its fullness. Indeed, Origen gives us this interpretation: the Lord "made them enter into the promised land; there he does not feed them with manna as he did in the desert, but with the wheat that has fallen to the ground (cf. Jn 12,24-25) that is risen.... Christ is the wheat; again, he is the rock whose water quenched the thirst of the people of Israel in the desert. In the spiritual sense, he satisfied them with honey and not with water, so that all who believe and receive this food, may taste honey in their mouths" (Omelia sul Salmo 80, n. 17 [Homily on Psalm 80, n. 17]: Origen-Jerome, 74 Omelie sul Libro dei Salmi, [74 Homilies on the Book of the Psalms] Milan 1993, pp. 204-205).

5. As is always the case in the history of salvation, the last word in the contrast between God and his sinful people is never judgement and chastisement, but love and pardon. God does not want to judge and condemn, but to save and deliver humanity from evil. He continues to repeat to us the words we read in the Book of the Prophet Ezechiel: "Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?... Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God; so return and live" (Ez 18,23 Ez 18,31-32).

The liturgy becomes the privileged place in which to hear the divine call to conversion and return to the embrace of God "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Ex 34,6).

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I am pleased to greet the members of the Gregorian University Foundation from the United States of America. I also greet the pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Colombo in Sri Lanka. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Norway, Sweden, Finland and the United States, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

*****


The Holy Father concluded with a heartfelt appeal to the faithful to pray for peace in the Holy Land and for the religious community and many others who are isolated in the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

My thoughts go constantly to the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where the religious community and many others continue to suffer the siege that has been going on for 22 days. Their conditions, already dramatic due to the lack of water and food, have been further aggravated by having their telephone lines cut off. Let us continue to pray the Lord that a solution to this inhuman situation may be found at last, and that with everyone's help the longed-for peace be achieved in that region, which is so dear to the hearts of all believers.



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GENERAL AUDIENCE 2002 17