GENERAL AUDIENCE 2002 67
68 Ps 86
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. Psalm 85  just recited, which will be the theme of our reflection, offers an impressive description of the Psalmist. He comes before God with these words: I am "your servant" and "the son of your handmaid" (Ps 86,16). Certainly, the expression can belong to the language of court ceremonial, but was used to indicate the servant adopted as a son by the head of a family or tribe. In this light the Psalmist, who defines himself as "the faithful" of the Lord (cf. Ps 86,2), feels he is bound to God by a bond, not just of obedience, but also of familiarity and communion. For this reason his prayer expresses confident abandonment and hope.
Let us now follow this prayer which the Liturgy of Lauds sets out for us at the beginning of a day that will probably bring with it not just work and fatigue, but also misunderstanding and problems.
2. The Psalm begins with an intense appeal which the Psalmist directs to the Lord, trusting in his love (cf. Ps 86,1-7). At the end he expresses again the certainty that the Lord is a "God of mercy, compassionate, slow to anger, full of love, faithful God" (Ps 86,15; cf. Ex 34,6). The repeated and convinced expressions of confidence reveal a faith that is intact and pure with an act of abandonment to the "Lord, good ... full of love to all who call on him" (Ps 86,5 ,5).
At the centre of the Psalm, a hymn is sung to the Lord that alternates feelings of thanksgiving with a profession of faith in the works of salvation that God displays before the peoples (cf. Ps 86,8-13).
3. Against every temptation to idolatry, the Psalmist proclaims the absolute uniqueness of God (cf. Ps 86,8). In the end he expresses the bold hope that one day "all the nations" shall adore the God of Israel (Ps 86,9). This wonderful prospect finds its fulfillment in the Church of Christ because he sent his apostles to teach "all nations" (Mt 28,19). No one but the Lord can offer a full liberation because all depend on him as creatures and all must turn to him in an attitude of adoration (cf. Ps 86,9 ,9). In fact, he manifests in the cosmos and in history his wonderful works, that give witness to his absolute lordship (cf. Ps 86,10).
At this point the Psalmist presents himself before God with an intense and pure appeal: "Show me, Lord, your way so that I may walk in your truth; give me a simple heart to fear your name" (Ps 86,11).
The petition to be able to know the will of God is wonderful as is the prayer to obtain the gift of "a simple heart" like that of a child, who without duplicity and calculation entrusts himself fully to the Father to direct him on the path of life.
4. Then, from the lips of the faithful flows praise of the merciful God who does not allow him to fall into despair and death, evil and sin (cf. Ps 86,12-13; Ps 15,10-11).
Psalm 85  is a prayer that is dear to Judaism, that inserted it into the liturgy of one of the most important solemnities, Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. The Book of the Apocalypse, in turn, extracted a verse from it (cf. Ps 86,9), placing it in the glorious heavenly liturgy at the heart of the "song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb": "All nations shall come and worship you" and the Apocalypse adds: "for your [just] judgments have been revealed" (Ap 15,4).
St Augustine dedicated a long and passionate commentary to our psalm in his Expositions on the Psalms transforming it into a song of Christ and of the Christian. The Latin translation, in v. 2, in conformity with the Greek version of the Septuagint instead of the term "faithful" uses the word "holy one": "Preserve my life for I am holy". In reality, only Christ is holy. However, St Augustine reasons, even the Christian can apply these words to himself: "I am holy for you have sanctified me; because I received, not because I had [it of myself]; because you gave it to me, not because I merited it". Therefore, "every Christian by himself, therefore also the whole Body of Christ may say it, may cry everywhere, while it bears tribulations, many temptations and offences: "Preserve my soul because I am holy. Save your servant, my God, who hopes in you'. See, this holy man is not proud since he puts his trust in God" (Esposizioni sui Salmi, vol. II, Rome 1970, p. 1251. For an English translation, cf. Expositions on the Book of Psalms, vol. IV, Oxford 1850, p. 189).
5. The holy Christian opens himself to the universality of the Church and prays with the Psalmist: "All the nations that you have created shall come and adore you, O Lord" (Ps 86,9 ,9). Augustine comments: "All the nations in the one Lord are one people, this is true oneness. As there is the Church and churches, and those are churches which are also the Church, so that is a "people' which was peoples; formerly, peoples, many peoples, now only one people. Why only one people?
Because one faith, one hope, one charity, one expectation. Finally, why one people if only one country? Our country is heavenly, our country is Jerusalem.... This people from east to west, from north to the sea, is extended through the four quarters of the whole world" (ibid., p. 1269).
69 In this universal light our liturgical prayer is transformed into a breath of praise and a hymn of glory to the Lord in the name of every creature.
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors
I extend a special greeting to the pilgrims from Gibraltar, accompanied by their Bishop, and to the members of the Cathedral Choir from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today's audience - in particular those from England, Wales, Ireland, Gibraltar, Vietnam, Canada and the United States of America - I invoke grace and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.
To Lithuanian-speaking pilgrims and visitors
In this year of the Rosary which we have just begun, I invite you to rediscover the efficacy of the prayer of the Rosary for peace in the world and in families.
To young people, sick, newly-weds
Today the liturgy reminds us of the Franciscan priest St John of Capistrano, who gave himself with great generosity for the salvation of souls. May his glorious evangelical witness sustain you, dear young people, in your dedication to daily fidelity to Christ; may it encourage you, dear sick persons, to follow Christ on the path of trial and suffering; may it help you, dear newly-weds, to make of your home the place for the living meeting with the love of God and of your neighbour.
70 Is 33
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. We find the brief text proclaimed today among the biblical Canticles that are interwoven with the Psalms in the Liturgy of Lauds. It is taken from the 33rd chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, his extensive and wonderful collection of divine oracles.
In the verses that precede those quoted (cf. Is 33,10-12), the canticle begins by proclaiming God's powerful and glorious entry onto the stage of human history: ""Now I will arise', says the Lord, "now I will lift myself up; now I will be exalted'" (Is 33,10). God's words are addressed to those who are "far off" and to those who are "near", that is, to all the nations of the earth, even the most remote, and to Israel, the people "close" to the Lord, because of the Covenant (cf. Is 33,13).
Another passage of the Book of Isaiah says: "I will place on my lips: Peace, peace, to the far and to the near, says the Lord; and I will heal them" (Is 57,19). Now, instead, the Lord's words grow harsh and acquire the tone of judgement on the evil of both the "far off" and the "near".
2. In fact see how immediately after, fear spreads among the inhabitants of Zion in whom sin and wickedness have taken root (Is 33,14). They are conscious of living alongside the Lord who dwells in the temple, who has chosen to walk with them through history and has transformed himself into the "Emmanuel", "God-with-us" (cf. Is 7,14). But the just and holy Lord cannot tolerate unholiness, corruption, injustice. As a "consuming fire" and "everlasting flame" (Is 33,14), he lashes out against evil to destroy it.
Isaiah had already warned in chapter 10: "The light of Israel will become a fire, and his Holy One a flame; and it will burn and devour" (Is 10,17). The psalmist also sang: "As wax melts before fire, so the wicked will perish before God" (Ps 67,3). In the context of the economy of the Old Testament, this means that God is not indifferent to good and evil and shows himself to be indignant and angry in the face of wickedness.
3. Our Canticle does not end with this dark scene of judgement. On the contrary, its principal and most intense part is devoted to holiness, received and lived as a sign of the conversion and of reconciliation brought about with God. In continuity with some Psalms, such as 14 and 23, that bring to light the conditions the Lord requires for living in joyful communion with him in the liturgy of the temple, Isaiah lists six moral duties for the true believer who is faithful and just (cf. Is 33,15) and can dwell unharmed in the divine fire, that is for him a source of benefits.
The first duty consists of "walking in justice", that is, of seeing divine law as the lamp that lights the path of life. The second one coincides with loyal and sincere speech, the sign of correct and genuine social relations. As the third duty, Isaiah suggests "spurning what is gained by oppression", thus combatting the oppression of the poor, as well as unjust riches. The believer then is determined to condemn political and judicial corruption, "brushing his hands free of contact with a bribe", a provocative image that illustrates the refusal of gifts made to deflect the application of the law and the course of justice.
4. The fifth moral duty is expressed with the meaningful gesture of "stopping your ears", when acts of bloodshed or of violence to be performed are proposed. The sixth and last commitment is expressed with an image which at first sight we find disconcerting. When we speak of "turning a blind eye", we want to say "to pretend not to see so as not to have to intervene"; instead, the prophet says that the honest person "closes his eyes in order not to see evil" as a sign of his complete refusal to have anything to do with evil.
In his commentary on Isaiah, St Jerome develops this concept with a reflection that takes in the entire passage: "Every iniquity, oppression and injustice is a decision for bloodshed: if one does not kill with the sword, one kills by intention "and shuts one's eyes, to blot out the evil': happy the conscience that does not listen to nor contemplate evil! Whoever is like this will dwell "on high", that is, in the Kingdom of Heaven, or in the highest cavern of the soundest Rock, in Christ Jesus" (In Isaiam prophetam, 10,33: PL 24, 437, p. 367).
Thus Jerome introduces us to a correct understanding of that "closing of the eyes" referred to by the Prophet: it is an invitation to reject absolutely any complicity with evil. As it is easy to perceive, the principal senses of the body are challenged: indeed, the hands, feet, eyes, ears and tongue are involved in human moral behaviour.
71 5. Whoever chooses to follow this path of honesty and justice will have access to the temple of the Lord where he will receive the security of the exterior and interior well-being which God gives to those who are in communion with Him. The Prophet uses two images to describe this happy ending (cf. Is 33,16): security in impregnable fortresses and the abundance of bread and water, symbols of the prosperous and happy life.
Tradition has spontaneously interpreted the symbol of water as an image of Baptism (cf. for example, the Letter of Barnabas, 11,5), whereas the bread is transfigured, for Christians, into the sign of the Eucharist. This is what we read, for example, in the commentary of St Justin the Martyr, who sees Isaiah's words as prophesying the Eucharistic "bread", the "memorial" of Christ's redeeming death (cf. Dialogo con Trifone, Paoline 1988, p. 242; Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 70, p. 262, CUA Press, 1948).
After his commentary on the Canticle, the Holy Father then greeted the pilgrims and gave a summary of his commentary in the major European languages.
To English-speaking pilgrims and visitors:
I extend a warm welcome to the priests of the Institute for Continuing Theological Education at the Pontifical North American College. I also greet the delegation from the Port Authority Police Department of New York and New Jersey, who honour their fellow officers who gave their lives in last year’s terrorist attack on New York City. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, especially those from England, Ireland, Canada and the United States, I invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.
I cordially greet the Italian pilgrims, particularly, the deacons from the Diocese of Milan. Dear friends, I urge you to build your life on the Word of God, in order to be its courageous heralds to the people of our time.
I also greet the volunteer doctors and dentists who assist the Comboni Missionaries in their work with emigrants and refugees.
To young people, the sick and newly-weds:
Lastly I greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds.
May the upcoming celebrations of the Solemnity of All-Saints and the Commemoration of All-Souls motivate the faithful to think about the final and decisive realities that await us.
Dear young people, pursue as your primary goal holiness of life in order to prepare a future filled with every good thing.
Dear sick people, may the example of virtue of the saints and their intercession help you face with courage the trials of life.
Dear newly-weds, may the thought of our heavenly homeland, to which we are called, direct your family to fidelity to Christ and to the full and mutual communion of love.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. Psalm Ps 98 , just proclaimed, belongs to a kind of hymn we have already met during the spiritual journey we are undertaking in the light of the Psalter.
This is a hymn to the Lord King of the universe and of history (cf. Ps 98,6). It is described as a "new song" (cf. Ps 98,1), which, in biblical language, means a perfect, full, solemn song accompanied by festive music. In fact, in addition to the choral song, the Psalmist evokes "the melodious sound" of the lyre (cf. Ps 98,5), the trumpet and the horn (cf. Ps 98,6), and also a kind of cosmic applause (cf. Ps 98,8).
Moreover, the name of the "Lord" resounds repeatedly (six times), invoked as "our God" (Ps 98,3). Hence, God is at the centre of the scene in all his majesty, while he carries out salvation in history and is awaited to "govern" the world and the peoples (cf. Ps 98,9). The Hebrew verb that indicates "judgment" also means "to govern": so all await the effective action of the Sovereign of the entire earth who will usher in peace and justice.
73 2. The Psalm opens with the proclamation of divine intervention at the heart of the history of Israel (cf. Ps 98,1-3). The images of the "right hand" and the "holy arm" refer to Exodus, to the deliverance from the slavery of Egypt (cf. Ps 98,1). Instead, the covenant with the chosen people is remembered through the two great divine perfections: "love" and "faithfulness" (cf. Ps 98,3).
These signs of salvation are revealed "before the eyes of the peoples" and to "all the ends of the earth" (Ps 98,2 Ps 98,3) so that all humanity may be attracted to God the Saviour and open to his word and to his saving work.
3. The reception reserved for the Lord, who intervenes in history is marked by a universal praise: in addition to the orchestra and the hymns of the Temple of Zion (cf. Ps 98,5-6), the universe, as a kind of cosmic temple, also participates.
There are four singers of this immense choir of praise. The first is the roaring sea, that seems to be the constant basso of this grandiose hymn (cf. Ps 98,7). The earth and the entire world (cf. Ps 98,4 Ps 98,7) with all its inhabitants follow united in solemn harmony. The third personification is that of the rivers, that are considered the arms of the sea which, with their rhythmic flow, seem to clap hands in applause (cf. Ps 98,8). Finally, there are the mountains that seem to dance for joy before the Lord, even though they are the most massive and imposing creatures (cf. Ps 98,8; Ps 29,6 ,6; Ps 114,6 ,6).
So we have a colossal choir that has only one purpose: to exalt the Lord, King and just Judge. As mentioned, the end of the Psalm, in fact, presents God, "who comes to govern (and to rule) the earth ... with justice and equity" (Ps 98,9 ,9).
This is our great hope and our petition: "Your Kingdom come" - a kingdom of peace, justice, and serenity, that will re-establish the original harmony of creation.
4. In this Psalm, with deep joy the Apostle Paul has recognized a prophecy of the work of God in the mystery of Christ. Paul made use of verse 2 to express the theme of his important Letter to the Romans: in the Gospel, the "justice of God is revealed" (cf. Rm 1,17), "is manifested" (cf. Rm 3,21).
Paul's interpretation confers on the Psalm a greater fullness of meaning. Read in the perspective of the Old Testament, the Psalm proclaims that God saves his people and that all the nations, seeing this, are in admiration. However, in the Christian perspective, God works salvation in Christ, Son of Israel; all the nations see him and are invited to benefit from this salvation, since the Gospel "is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, for the Jew first, and then for the Greek", namely the pagan (Rm 1,16). Moreover, "all the ends of the earth" not only "have seen the victory of our God" (Ps 98,3 ,3), but have received it.
5. In this perspective, Origen, a Christian writer of the third century, in a text quoted by St Jerome, interprets the "new song" of the Psalm as an anticipated celebration of the Christian newness of the crucified Redeemer. Now let us listen to his commentary in which he combines the song of the Psalmist with the proclamation of the Gospel.
"A new song is the Son of God who was crucified - something that had never before been heard of. A new reality must have a new song. "Sing to the Lord a new song'. He who suffered the Passion is in reality a man; but you sing to the Lord. He suffered the Passion as a man, but saved as God". Origen continues: Christ "did miracles in the midst of the Jews: he healed paralytics, cleansed lepers, raised up the dead. But other prophets also did this. He changed a few loaves into an enormous number, and gave countless people something to eat. But Elisha did this. Now, what new thing did he do to merit a new song? Do you want to know what new thing he did? God died as a man so that men might have life; the Son of Man was crucified to raise us up to heaven" (74 Omelie sul libro dei Salmi [74 Homilies on the Book of Psalms], Milan, 1993, pp. 309-310).
74 To English-speaking pilgrims and visitors
I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Denmark, Malta, India and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I invoke an abundance of divine blessings.
To the Italian-speaking pilgrims
I extend a cordial greeting to the Italian pilgrims. I want to single out those taking part in the "Course for the ongoing formation of missionaries", promoted by the Pontifical Salesian University. Dearly beloved, I hope that these days of study on topics connected with missionary work may renew in you a deep zeal to proclaim Christ to all peoples.
I also greet the representatives of the Community of Sant'Egidio who have come to Rome from several continents for the international convention on the theme "The Gospel of Peace". Dearly beloved, may this gathering inspire in each of you the resolution to promote justice and peace in every situation.
To youth, the sick, newly weds
Finally, I address you young people, sick persons and newly-weds. Dear young people, plan your future in full fidelity to the Gospel and grow according to the teaching and example of Jesus. Dear sick persons, offer your sufferings to the Lord so that, thanks to your sharing in his sufferings, he may extend his saving work throughout the world. Dear newly-weds, in the life you have begun, may you be guided by a living faith, so that your family may be inspired by an intense apostolic fervour.
1. The hymn to Jerusalem, city of peace and universal mother, which we have just heard is unfortunately at variance with the historical experience the city is living. But the task of prayer is to sow confidence and give birth to hope.
The universal perspective of Psalm 86 can call to mind the hymn of the Book of Isaiah, who sees all the nations converging toward Zion to hear the Word of the Lord and rediscover the beauty of peace, beating their "swords into ploughshares" and their "spears into pruning hooks" (cf. Is 2,2-5).
In reality, the Psalm is placed in a very different perspective: that of a movement, that instead of converging on Zion, goes out from Zion. The Psalmist sees in Zion the origin of all peoples. After declaring the primacy of the Holy City, not for its historical or cultural merits, but only because of the love God poured out on it (cf. Ps 87,1-3 ,1-3), the Psalm opens to a real celebration of this universality, which makes all peoples brothers and sisters.
2. Zion is sung as mother, not just of Israel, but of all humanity. Such an affirmation is extremely daring. The Psalmist is aware of this and draws attention to it: "Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God" (Ps 87,3). How could the modest capital of a small nation be portrayed as the origin of peoples who are far more powerful? How can Zion make this immense claim? The answer is given in the same sentence: Zion is mother of all humanity because she is the "city of God"; she is at the foundation of God's plan.
All the cardinal points of the earth are situated in relation with this mother: Rahab, that is, Egypt, the great western state; Babylon, the well-known eastern power; Tyre, which personifies the commercial people of the north, while Ethiopia represents the deep south and Palestine, the central area, also a daughter of Zion.
In the spiritual register of Jerusalem, all the peoples of the earth are registered: three times the formula is repeated "This one was born there; that one [was] born in her" (Ps 87,4 Ps 87,5 Ps 87,6). It is the official juridical expression which at that time declared that a person was a native of a specific city, and as such, entitled to enjoy all the civil rights of that people.
3. It is striking to observe even nations considered hostile to Israel going up to Jerusalem and to be welcomed not as foreigners but as "relatives". Indeed, the Psalmist transforms the procession of these peoples towards Zion into a choral song and a joyful dance: they rediscover their "source" (cf. Ps 87,7) in the city of God from which a river of living water flows that makes the whole world fruitful, in line with what the prophets proclaimed (cf. Ez 47,1-12 Za 13,1 Za 14,8 Ap 22,1-2).
In Jerusalem, all people must discover their spiritual roots, feel they are in their homeland, meet again as members of the same family and embrace one another as brothers and sisters who have come back home.
4. A page of interreligious dialogue, Psalm 86 sums up the universal heritage of the prophets (cf. Is 56,6-7 Is 60,6-7 Is 66,21 Jos 4,10-11 Ml 1,11, etc.) and anticipates the Christian tradition that applies this Psalm to the "Jerusalem above", which St Paul proclaims, "is free and she is our mother" and has more sons than the earthly Jerusalem (cf. Ga 4,26-27). The Apocalypse says the same when it sings of "Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God" (Ap 21,2 Ap 21,10).
Along the lines of Psalm 86, the Second Vatican Council sees in the universal Church the place in which "all the just from the time of Adam" are reunited, "from Abel the just one to the last of the elect". The Church will be brought to "glorious completion at the end of time" (Lumen gentium LG 2).
5. This ecclesial interpretation of the Psalm is open, in the Christian tradition, to a reinterpretation in a Mariological key. Jerusalem, for the Psalmist, was a real "metropolis" that is, a "mother-city", in which the Lord himself was present (cf. So 3,14-18). In this light, Christianity sings of Mary as the living Zion in whose womb is conceived the Incarnate Word, and consequently the children of God reborn. The voices of the Fathers of the Church - from Ambrose of Milan to Athanasius of Alexandria, from Maximus Confessor to John Damascene, from Chromatius of Aquileia to Germanus of Constantinople - agree on this Christian re-reading of Psalm 86.
Let us now listen to a teacher of the Armenian tradition, Gregory of Narek (c. 950-1010), who in his Panegyric Address to the Blessed Virgin Mary says to her: "Taking refuge under your most worthy and powerful intercession, we are protected, O holy Mother of God, finding refreshment and repose under the shadow of your protection as if we were protected by a heavily fortified wall: an ornate wall, gracefully inset with the purest diamonds; a wall encircled by fire, therefore impenetrable to the assaults of thieves; sparkling, blazing, insurmountable and inaccessible to cruel traitors; a wall surrounded on all sides, according to David, whose foundations were laid by the Most High (cf. Ps 87,1 Ps 87,5 , 1.5); a mighty wall of the heavenly city, according to Paul (cf. Ga 4,26 He 12,22), where you welcome everyone as its inhabitants because through the corporeal birth of God, you made the children of Jerusalem on earth into children of the heavenly Jerusalem.
76 Therefore their lips bless your virginal womb and all profess you as the dwelling place and temple of the One who is consubstantial with the Father. Justly, then, what the prophet said rightly applies to you: "You were for us a house of refuge and our help against the torrents on the days of anguish' (cf. Ps 46,2 ,2)" Testi mariani del primo millennio, IV, Rome 1991, p. 589).
To English-speaking pilgrims and visitors
I extend a special welcome to the students of the Bossey Ecumenical Institute in Switzerland, to the members of the NATO Defense College, and to the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowships. May these days spent in Rome strengthen you in your spiritual lives and in your commitment to your respective callings. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, especially those from Mauritius and the United States of America, I invoke the abiding peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
To young people, the sick and newly-weds
Lastly I greet the young people, the sick and newly-weds.
Dear friends, may the Lord's grace help you to fulfil your Christian vocation every day. May it encourage you, dear young people, in your effort to be artisans of justice and reconciliation.
May it sustain you, dear sick people, so that you may not lose your trust in God who never abandons us in our trials. And may it enlighten you, dear newly-weds, so that you may find in the Gospel the joy of generously accepting and serving life, a great divine gift.
Appeal for peace in Colombia
The constant flow of sad news from Colombia this time concerns the kidnapping of Bishop Jorge Enrique Jiménez Carvajal of Zipaquirá, President of the Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM), together with a priest who accompanied him.
This fact, which intensifies the atmosphere of the violation of human rights and deeply afflicts the civilian population and the Church, impels me to condemn once again every form of violence and the violation of human dignity, which is never the way to peace. As I forcefully call for the release of all the kidnapped and ask that these pastors be able to return to their service to the People of God, I pray that God may grant the peace, much needed to Colombia.
77 (Is 40,10-17)
1. The book of the great prophet Isaiah, who lived in the eighth century B.C., also contains the voices of other prophets who were his disciples and successors. This is the case of the one whom Biblical scholars have called "Deutero-Isaiah", the prophet of Israel's return from the Babylonian exile which took place in the sixth century B.C. His work forms the chapters 40-55 of the Book of Isaiah and it is from one of these chapters that the Church has taken the Canticle just proclaimed that has become part of the Liturgy of Lauds.
This Canticle consists of two parts: the first two verses come from the end of a magnificent oracle of consolation that proclaims the return of the exiles to Jerusalem, under the leadership of God himself (cf. Is 40,1-11). The subsequent verses form the beginning of an apologetic discourse that exalts God's omniscience and omnipotence and also subjects to harsh criticism the makers of idols.
2. Thus at the beginning of the liturgical text, the powerful figure of God appears, who returns to Jerusalem preceded by his trophies, just as Jacob had returned to the Holy Land preceded by his flocks (cf. Gn 31,17 Gn 32,17). God's trophies are the exiled Hebrews whom he snatched out of the hands of their conquerors. God is then depicted "like a shepherd" (Is 40,11). Frequently in the Bible and in other ancient traditions, this image evokes the idea of leadership and kingship, but here his traits are above all gentle and cherishing, for the shepherd is also the travelling companion of his sheep (cf. Ps 23 ). He cares for his flock, not only by feeding it and caring that it does not go stray, but also tenderly bending over his lambs and his ewes with their young (cf. Is 40,11).
3. When the description of the entry of the Lord, King and Shepherd onto the scene is over, there is a reflection on his way of acting as Creator of the universe. No one can match him in this grandiose, colossal work: certainly no man and even less so the idols, dead and impotent beings. The prophet then makes use of a series of rhetorical questions which already contain their answers.
They are uttered in a kind of public trial: no one can compete with God nor claim for himself his immense power, his unlimited wisdom.
No one can measure the vast universe created by God. The prophet makes us understand how human instruments are ridiculously inadequate for the task. Furthermore, God was a solitary architect; no one was able to help or advise him in so immense a project as the creation of the cosmos (cf. Is 40,13-14).
In his 18th Baptismal Catechesis, on the basis of our canticle, St Cyril of Jerusalem suggests that we not measure God with the measure of our human limitations: "To you, poor weak man that you are, India is far from the land of the Goths, Spain from Persia. But to God, who holds the whole earth in the hollow of His hand, all things are near". (Le catechesi, Rome 1993, p. 408; Catechesis 18, The Works of St Cyril of Jerusalem, vol. 2P 121, CUA Press, 1970).
78 4. After celebrating God's omnipotence in creation, the prophet describes his lordship over history, namely, over the nations, over humanity who populates the earth. The inhabitants of the known territories, but also those of the remote regions that the Bible calls the distant "isles", are a microscopic reality in relation to the Lord's infinite greatness. The images are brilliant and intense: the nations are compared to "a drop in the bucket", the "rust on the scales", "powder" (in Italian, a grain of dust) (Is 40,15).
No one would be able to offer a sacrifice worthy of this grandiose Lord and King: all the sacrificial victims of the earth would not suffice, nor all the forests of the cedars of Lebanon to fuel the fire of this holocaust (cf. Is 40,16). The prophet brings the human being to the consciousness of his limitations before the infinite grandeur and sovereign omnipotence of God. The conclusion is lapidary: "All the nations are a nothing before him, as nothing and emptiness are they accounted by him" (Is 40,17).
5. The faithful person is therefore invited from the beginning of the day to adore the Almighty Lord. St Gregory of Nyssa, a Father of the Church of Cappadocia (fourth century) meditated on the Canticle of Isaiah this way: "When we hear the word "almighty', our conception is this, that God sustains in being all intelligible things as well as all things of a material nature. For this reason he sits upon the circle of the earth, for this reason, he holds the ends of the earth in his hands, for this reason he measures out heaven with the span and measures the waters in the hollow of his hand.
For this reason he comprehends in himself all the intelligible creation, that all things may remain in existence controlled by His encompassing power" (Teologia trinitaria, Milan 1994; Against Eunomius, p. 120, col. 1, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Wm. B Eerdmans, reprinted 1979).
For his part, St Jerome halts with wonder before another amazing truth: that of Christ who, "though he was in the form of God ... emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man" (Ph 2,6-7). The infinite, all-powerful God, he remarks, made himself small and finite. St Jerome contemplates him in the stable of Bethlehem and exclaims: "He within whose closed fist the whole world is held, is contained by the narrow confines of a manger" (Lettera 22,39 in: Opera scelte, I, Turin 1971, p. 379; The Letters of St Jerome, vol. 1, Letters 1-22, p. 176, Newman Press Paulist Press, Ramsey NJ, 1963).
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors
I extend a special welcome to the pilgrims from Sioux City in the United States accompanied by their Bishop and former Bishop, and to the choir and parishioners of Saint Francis Borgia Parish in the Archdiocese of St Louis. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today's audience, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
World Day for Cloistered Nuns
Tomorrow, the Memorial of the Presentation in the Temple of the Blessed Virgin Mary [21 November], the Church remembers with special affection cloistered nuns. Their prayerful presence in so many parts of the world is a strong reminder for all Christians not to forget the primacy of God in life.
These sisters have chosen to dedicate themselves totally to prayer and to live on whatever Providence provides for them through the generosity of the faithful. As I express my deep appreciation to them for their indispensable contribution to evangelization, I invite everyone to support them by giving them spiritual and material assistance.
To young people, the sick and newly-weds
Lastly I greet the young people, the sick and the newly weds.
Next Sunday, the last in Ordinary Time, we will celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. Dear young people, put Jesus at the centre of your life, and you will receive light from him in all your decisions. May Christ, who made the Cross a royal throne, help you, dear sick people, to accept the redemptive value of suffering lived in union with him. To you, dear newly-weds, I express the wish that you will recognize the Lord's presence in your family, so as to take part in building his Kingdom of love and peace.
GENERAL AUDIENCE 2002 67