GENERAL AUDIENCE 2003




January 2003


Wednesday 8 January 2003 - Psalm 99 - In prayer we abandon ourselves to God's embrace

1 Ps 100 (99)

1. In the spirit of joy and celebration that continues in this last week of the Christmas season, we want to resume our meditation on the Liturgy of Lauds. Today we reflect on Psalm 99[100], just proclaimed, which is a joyful invitation to praise the Lord, the shepherd of his people.

Seven imperatives are scattered throughout the psalm and call the faithful community to celebrate and worship the God of love and of the covenant: extol, serve, come before, acknowledge, enter his gates, praise him, bless him. One thinks of a liturgical procession that is about to enter the Temple of Zion to perform a rite in honour of the Lord (cf. Ps 14 Ps 23 Ps 94).

In the Psalm certain characteristic terms are repeated for exalting the bond of the covenant that exists between God and Israel. Above all, there emerges the assertion of a complete belonging to God: "we belong to him, we are his people" (Ps 100,3 [99]), an affirmation full of both pride and humility, since Israel is presented as "the sheep of his pasture" (ibid. Ps 100,3). We later find an expression of relationship: "For he [the Lord] is our God" (Ps 95,7 [94]). Then we discover the richness of the relationship of love, his "mercy" and "fidelity", joined with his "goodness" (cf. Ps 100,5 [99]), which, in the original Hebrew are formulated with the typical terms of the covenant that binds Israel to her God.

2. The coordinates of space and time are also reviewed. In fact, on the one hand, the entire earth is presented to us as joined in the praise of God (cf. Ps 100,2); then the horizon shifts to the sacred area of the Temple of Jerusalem with its courts and gates (cf. Ps 100,4), where the community is gathered in prayer. On the other hand, reference is made to time in its three basic dimensions: the past of creation ("the Lord our God, he made us", Ps 100,3), the present of the covenant and worship ("we belong to him, we are his people, the sheep of his pasture", ibid.)and finally, the future, in which the Lord's merciful fidelity extends "from age to age" revealing itself to be "eternal" (Ps 100,5).

3. We will now reflect briefly on the seven imperatives that make up the long invitation to praise God and take up the whole Psalm (Ps 100,2-4) before we discover, in the last verse, their motivation in the exaltation of God, contemplated in his intimate and profound identity.

The first appeal consists in the festive acclamation that involves the whole earth in the song of praise to the Creator. When we pray, we should feel in tune with all those who pray exalting the one Lord in different languages and ways. As the Prophet Malachi says, "For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and everywhere they bring sacrifice to my name and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts" (Ml 1,11).

4. Then come several calls using liturgical and ritual terms "serve", "come before" and "go within the gates" of the temple. These are verbs which in alluding to royal audiences, describe the various gestures the faithful perform when they enter the sanctuary of Zion to take part in the community's prayer. After the cosmic hymn, the liturgy is celebrated by the people of God "the sheep of his pasture", his "possession among all peoples" (Ex 19,5).

2 The invitation to "go within his gates, giving thanks" and to "enter his courts with songs of praise" reminds us of a passage from The Mysteries of St Ambrose, in which he describes the baptized as they approach the altar: "The cleansed people, [rich in these insignia], hasten to the altar of Christ, saying: "I will go to the altar of God, the God who gives joy to my youth' (Ps 43,4 [42],4). For the people, having put aside the defilements of ancient error, renewed in their youth as an eagle, hasten to approach the heavenly banquet. So they come, and, when they see the sacred altar properly prepared, they exclaim: ["You have prepared a table in my sight'. David introduces these people as speaking when he says], "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul' (Ps 23,1-2 [22],1-2)" (St Ambrose, Theological and Dogmatic Works, pp. 20-21, CUA Press, 1963).

5. The other imperatives that enrich the Psalm repeat the fundamental religious attitudes of the person at prayer: acknowledge, praise, bless. The verb to acknowledge expresses the content of the profession of faith in the one God. In fact, we must proclaim that only "the Lord is God" (Ps 100,3 [99],3), combatting all idolatry, pride and human power opposed to him.

The object of the other verbs praise and bless, is also "the name" of the Lord (cf. Ps 100,4), or his person, his effective and saving presence.

In this light the Psalm leads in the end to a solemn exaltation of God, that is a kind of profession of faith: the Lord is good and his fidelity never abandons us because He is always ready to sustain us with his merciful love. With this confidence the person praying abandons himself to the embrace of his God: "Taste and see that the Lord is good!" and the Psalmist also says, "happy are those who take refuge in him" (Ps 34,9 [33],9; cf. 1P 2,3).
***


To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims present today, including the groups from Denmark, New Zealand and the United States of America. Upon all of you and your families, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Happy New Year!

To the Italian-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I address a cordial thought to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I greet the new priests of the Institute of the Legionaries of Christ, present with their entire Roman community. Dear friends, I urge you to draw from daily prayer a renewed spiritual vigour, in order to proclaim and witness untiringly to the Gospel at the service of the People of God.

I greet the faithful of the Parish of Our Lady of the Assumption in Balze di Verghereto, which, this year too has provided the moss for the crib in St Peter's Square and for the other cribs displayed in the Vatican. I then address a special thought to the Medrano Circus artists, and encourage them always to live joyfully their faith in Christ.

To young people, the sick and the newly-weds

Finally, my thoughts go to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. Dear friends, in these days that mark the feast of the Epiphany let us continue to meditate on the manifestation of Christ to all peoples. The Church invites you, dear young people, to be enthusiastic apostles of Christ among your peers; he urges you, dear sick people, to spread his light every day with serene patience; and he encourages you, dear newly-weds, to be a sign, with your faithful love, of his renewing presence.




Wednesday 15 January 2003 - Psalm 118 [119] - Begin the day with prayer: let Christ be light of day

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1. In our already long journey through the Psalms that the Liturgy of Lauds presents, we come to one strophe - to be precise, the 19th - of the longest prayer of the Psalter, Psalm 118[119]. It is a part of an immense alphabetical hymn. In a play on style, the Psalmist divides his work into 22 strophes corresponding to the sequence of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each strophe has eight verses and the first word of each verse uses a Hebrew word that begins with the same letter of the alphabet.

The stanza we have just heard is a strophe marked by the Hebrew letter qf, that portrays the person at prayer who expresses his intense life of faith and prayer to God (cf.
Ps 119,145-152).

2. The invocation of the Lord is relentless because it is a continuing response to the permanent teaching of the Word of God. On the one hand, in fact, the verbs used in prayer are multiplied: "I cry to you", "I call upon you", "I cry for help", "hear my voice". On the other hand, the Psalmist exalts the word of the Lord that proposes decrees, teachings, the word, promises, judgment, the law, the precepts and testimonies of God. Together they form a constellation that is like the polar star of the Psalmist's faith and confidence. Prayer is revealed as a dialogue that begins when it is night before the first gleam of dawn (cf. Ps 119,147), and continues through the day, particularly in the difficult trials of life. In fact, at times the horizon is dark and stormy: "In betrayal my persecutors turn on me, they are far from your law" (Ps 119,150). But the person praying has a steadfast certainty: the closeness of God, with his word and his grace: "But you, O Lord, are close" (Ps 119,151). God does not abandon the just in the hands of persecutors.

3. At this point, having outlined the simple but incisive message of the stanza of Psalm 118[119] - a suitable message for the beginning of the day - we will turn for our meditation to a great Father of the Church, St Ambrose who, in his Commentary on Psalm 118[119], devotes 44 paragraphs to explaining the stanza we have just heard.

Taking up the ideal invitation to sing praise of God from the early hours of the morning, he reflects in particular on verses 147-148: "I rise before dawn and cry for help.... My eyes greet the night watches". From the Psalmist's declaration, St Ambrose intuits the idea of a constant prayer that embraces all the hours of the day: "Whoever calls upon the Lord must act as if he does not know the existence of any special time to be dedicated to implore the Lord, but always remains in that attitude of supplication. Whether we eat or drink, let us proclaim Christ, pray to Christ, think of Christ, speak of Christ! May Christ be ever in our heart and on our lips!" (Commentary on the Psalm 118[119],2: SAEMO 10, p. 297).

Referring to the verses that speak of the specific moment of the morning, and alluding to the expression of the Book of Wisdom that prescribes that we are "to give [the Lord] thanks before the sunrise" (Sg 16,28), St Ambrose comments: "It would be serious indeed if the rays of the rising sun were to surprise you lying lazily in bed with insolent impudence and if an even brighter light wounded your sleepy eyes, still sunk in torpor. It is a disgrace for us to spend so long a period of time without even the least devotional practice, without offering a spiritual sacrifice during a night with nothing to do" (ibid., op. cit., p. 303).

4. Then St Ambrose, contemplating the rising sun - as he did in another of his famous hymns, "at the crack of dawn", Aeterne rerum conditor, included in the Liturgy of the Hours, counsels us in this way: "Perhaps, you do not know, O man, that every day you owe to God the first fruits of your heart and voice? The harvest ripens every day; every day the fruit ripens. So run to meet the rising sun.... The sun of justice wishes to be anticipated and does not expect anything else.... If you rise before the sun you will receive Christ as your light. He Himself will be the first light that shines in the secret of your heart. He Himself will be ... who will make the light of dawn shine for you in the hours of the night, if you will meditate on God's Word. While you meditate, the light rises.... Early in the morning hasten to church and in homage take the firstfruits of your devotion. And then, if the affairs of the world call you, nothing will prevent you from saying: "My eyes anticipate the watches of the night to meditate on your promises'; and, with a good conscience, you will betake yourself to your affairs. How beautiful it is to begin the day with hymns and songs, with the beatitudes you read in the Gospel! How promising that the Lord's words should descend on you as a blessing; and that as you sing, you repeat the blessings of the Lord, that you be gripped by the need to practice some virtue, if you also want to perceive within you something that makes you feel worthy of the divine blessing!" (ibid., op. cit. , pp. 303 309 311 313).

4 Let us respond to St Ambrose's call, and every morning open our eyes to daily life, to its joys and worries, calling on God to be close to us and guide us with his words that ensure serenity and grace.
***


To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I welcome the pilgrims from St Joseph's Parish in Santa Ana, and the students from St Mary's College in Moraga, California. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience I cordially invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.

To young people, the sick and the newly-weds

My thoughts also go to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. May the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord which we celebrated last Sunday, be an incentive to you, dear young people, to witness joyfully to your faith in Christ; may it be for you, dear sick people, a comfort and relief in trial; may it impel you, dear newly-weds, to deepen and to witness courageously to your faith, in order to pass it on faithfully to your children.




Wednesday 22 January 2003 - Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

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All the baptized have duty to seek full unity

Brothers and Sisters,

1. The Lord founded the "one" and "only" Church. In the Nicene Creed we profess: "I believe [in] the one holy catholic and apostolic Church". The Second Vatican Council reminds us: "Yet many Christian communions present themselves to men as the true heritage of Jesus Christ. To be sure, all proclaim themselves to be the disciples of the Lord, but their convictions clash and their paths diverge as if Christ himself were divided" (Unitatis redintegratio
UR 1).

Unity is a great gift, a gift that we bear in fragile and breakable vessels of clay. How realistic this affirmation is, has been shown by the vicissitudes of the Christian community down through the centuries.

In virtue of the faith that unites us, all of us Christians are bound, each according to his own vocation, to re-establish full communion, the valuable "treasure" left us by Christ. With a pure and sincere heart, we should work tirelessly to accomplish this evangelical mandate. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity brings us back to this basic task and offers us the chance to gather for prayer in our own Churches and ecclesial communities, and in joint gatherings with Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, so that with one voice and heart we may pray for the precious gift of full unity.

2. "We have this treasure in vessels of clay" (2Co 4,7). St Paul says this when speaking about the apostolic ministry that consists in making the splendour of the Gospel shine forth for humanity and observes: "We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; as for ourselves, we are your servants for the sake of Jesus Christ" (ibid., 2Co 4,5). He knows the burden and difficulty of evangelization, as well as human frailty. He knows well that the treasure of the Christian kerygma entrusted to us in vessels of clay is transmitted by weak instruments, "to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us" (ibid., 2Co 4,7). No enemy will ever succeed in supplanting the proclamation of the Gospel or in suppressing the voice of the Apostle who confesses: "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed" (2Co 4,8). He added, "We too believe and so we speak" (2Co 4,13).

3. At the Last Supper, Jesus prayed for his disciples "that they all might be one as you Father are in me and I in you" (Jn 17,20-21). Unity is the "treasure" that he gave them. It is a treasure that presents two characteristics. On the one hand, unity expresses fidelity to the Gospel, and, on the other, as the Lord himself stated, it is a condition that all might believe that he is the one sent by the Father. For this reason, the unity of the Christian community is oriented to the evangelization of all peoples.

Despite the sublimity and greatness of this gift, human weakness has brought about its incomplete acceptance and appreciation. In the past, the relations between Christians have at times been characterized by opposition, and even at times, by mutual hatred. As the Second Vatican Council rightly recalled, all that is a "stumbling block" for the world and "damage" for the preaching of the Gospel (cf. Unitatis redintegratio UR 1).

4. Yes, the gift of unity is contained in "vessels of clay" that can break and for this reason demand the greatest care. It is necessary to cultivate among Christians a love that is dedicated to overcoming the differences; it is necessary to make the effort to overcome every barrier with unceasing prayer, with persevering dialogue, and with fraternal and concrete cooperation in helping the poorest and the neediest.

The strong yearning for unity must never be wanting in the daily life of the Churches and ecclesial communities nor in the life of the faithful. From this perspective, I thought it useful to suggest a joint reflection on the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, established as "perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity" (Lumen gentium LG 23) in order "to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation" (Ut unum sint UUS 95). May the Holy Spirit enlighten the pastors and theologians of our Churches in this patient and certainly profitable dialogue.

5. Looking at the whole ecumenical scene, I feel duty bound to thank the Lord for the distance travelled till now, both for the quality of the fraternal relations knitted among the different communities and for the results of the theological dialogues, even if they are different in their methods and levels. We can say that today Christians are more close-knit and solidary, even if the road toward unity continues to be uphill with its obstacles and bottlenecks. Following the path indicated by the Lord, they advance with confidence, because they know that they are accompanied by the Risen Lord, as the disciples of Emmaus, toward the goal of full ecclesial communion that actually leads to the common "breaking of the Bread".

6. Dearest Brothers and Sisters,

St Paul invites us to vigilance, perseverance and confidence, indispensable dimensions of the ecumenical mandate.

To this end, we pray together to the Lord in this "Week of Prayer" with the prayer taken from the prepared text: "Holy Father, despite our weakness, you have made us witnesses of hope, faithful disciples of your Son. We carry this treasure in vessels of clay and we fear we may fail in the face of sufferings and evil. At times, we even doubt the power of the word of Jesus, who said, "that they all may be one'. Give us again the experience of the glory that shines on the face of Christ, so that in all our actions, our dedication, and our life we may proclaim to the world that He is alive and at work among us". Amen.

To the English-speaking pilgrims

I am pleased to extend a warm greeting to the English-speaking pilgrims present at today's audience, particularly those from Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, Japan and the United States. I invite all of you to offer special prayers for Christian unity during this week, and I gladly invoke upon you the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

To young persons, the sick and newly-weds

My greeting to you, young persons, sick and newly-weds. Beloved, in this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, let our prayer to the Lord be intense so that as soon as possible we may reach the full communion of all the disciples of Christ.

In this spirit I invite all of you, dear young persons, to be everywhere, especially with your peers, apostles of faithful loyalty to the Gospel. I ask you, dear sick persons, to offer your sufferings for the cause of Christian unity. I exhort you, dear newly-weds, to become ever more one heart and one mind at the heart of your families.




Wednesday 29 January 2003 - Book of Wisdom (9,1-6.9-11) - True wisdom is a participation in the mind of God

29103 Sg 9,1-6 Sg 9,9-11

1. The canticle we just heard now presents a great part of a long prayer placed on the lips of Solomon, who in the biblical tradition is considered the just and wise king par excellence. It is offered to us in the ninth chapter of the Book of Wisdom, an Old Testament work that was written in Greek, perhaps at Alexandria, Egypt, at the dawn of the Christian era. In it we can perceive tones of the lively, open Judaism of the Jewish Diaspora in the Hellenistic world.

This Book offers us three currents of theological thought: blessed immortality as the final end of the life of the just (cf. cc. Sg 1-5); wisdom as a divine gift and guide of life and of the decisions of the faithful (cf. cc. Sg 6-9); the history of salvation, especially the fundamental event of the Exodus from Egyptian oppression, as a sign of that struggle between good and evil that leads to full salvation and redemption (cf. cc. Sg 10-19).

2. Solomon lived about ten centuries before the inspired author of the Book of Wisdom, but has been considered the founder and ideal author of all later sapiential thought. The prayer in the form of a hymn placed on his lips is a solemn invocation addressed to "the God of my fathers, Lord of mercy" (Sg 9,1), that he would grant the precious gift of wisdom.

In our text there is a clear allusion to the scene narrated in the First Book of Kings when Solomon, at the beginning of his reign, goes up on the heights of Gibeon where there was a sanctuary. After celebrating a grandiose sacrifice, he has a revelation in a dream at night. To the request of God himself, who invited him to ask for a gift, he replies: "Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong" (1R 3,9).

3. The starting point offered by Solomon's prayer is developed in our Canticle in a series of appeals to the Lord to grant the irreplaceable treasure of wisdom.

In the passage presented by the Liturgy of Lauds we find these two prayers: "Give me Wisdom ... send her forth from your holy heavens and from your glorious throne" (Sg 9,4 Sg 9,10). Without this gift we are conscious that we lack a guide, as if we were without a polar star to direct us in the moral choices of life: "I am ... a man weak and short-lived and lacking in comprehension of judgement and of laws ... if Wisdom, which comes from you be not with [me] [I] shall be held in no esteem" (Sg 9,5-6).

It is easy to intuit that this "wisdom" is not mere intelligence or practical ability, but rather a participation in the very mind of God who "with his wisdom [has] established man" (cf. Sg 9,2). Thus it is the ability to penetrate the deep meaning of being, of life and of history, going beyond the surface of things and events to discover their ultimate meaning, willed by the Lord.

4. Wisdom is a lamp that enlightens the moral choices of daily life and leads us on the straight path "to understand what is pleasing in [the] eyes [of the Lord] and what is comformable with your commands" (cf. Sg 9,9). For this reason the Liturgy makes us pray with the words of the Book of Wisdom at the beginning of the day, so that God may be close to us with his wisdom and "assist us and support us in our (daily) toil" (cf. Sg 9,10), revealing to us the good and evil, the just and unjust.

Taking the hand of divine Wisdom, we go forward confidently in the world. We cling to her loving her with a spousal love after the example of Solomon who, according to the Book of Wisdom, confessed: "I loved and sought after her from my youth; I sought to take her for my bride and was enamoured of her beauty" (Sg 8,2).

The Fathers of the Church identified Christ as the Wisdom of God, following St Paul who defined Christ as "the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1Co 1,24).

Let us conclude with the prayer St Ambrose addresses to Christ: "Teach me words rich in wisdom for you are Wisdom! Open my heart, you who have opened the Book! Open the door that is in Heaven, for you are the Door! If we are introduced through you, we will possess the eternal Kingdom. Whoever enters through you will not be deceived, for he cannot err who enters the dwelling place of Truth" (Commento al Salmo 118/1 [Comment on Psalm 118]: SAEMO 9, p. 377).
***


To English-speaking visitors and pilgrims

I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including the groups from Denmark, Australia and the United States. May your visit to Rome be a time of spiritual enrichment. Upon all of you, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

Finally, I address the young people, the sick, and the newly-weds.

The day after tomorrow we will be celebrating the liturgical memorial of St John Bosco, priest and educator. Turn to him, dear young people, as an authentic teacher of life and holiness. Dear sick persons, learn from his spiritual experience how in every circumstance to put your trust in the crucified Christ. And you, dear newly-weds, ask his intercession so that he may help you to take up generously your mission as spouses.



February 2003


Wednesday 5 February 2003 - Psalm 116[117] - Prayer is ray of light in self-sufficient world

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1. Continuing our meditation on the texts of the Liturgy of Lauds, we consider again a Psalm already presented, the shortest of all the Psalms. It is Psalm 116[117] which we have just heard, a short hymn or an aspiration that becomes a universal praise of the Lord. It proclaims what is expressed in two fundamental words: covenant love and faithfulness (cf.
Ps 117,2).

With these terms the Psalmist describes synthetically the Covenant between God and Israel, stressing the deep, loyal and trusting relationship between the Lord and his people. We hear the echo of the words that God himself spoke on Mount Sinai when he appeared to Moses: "The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Ex 34,6).

2. Despite its brevity and conciseness, Psalm 116[117] captures the essence of prayer, which consists in coming together and entering into lively personal conversation with God. In such an event, the mystery of the Divinity is revealed as faithfulness and love.

The Psalmist adds a special aspect of prayer: the experience of prayer should be radiated in the world and become a witness for those who do not share our faith. Indeed, it begins by expanding the horizon to embrace "all peoples" and "all nations" (cf. Ps 117,1 [116],1), so that before the beauty and joy of faith, they too may be overcome by the desire to know, meet and praise God.

9 3. In a technological world menaced by an eclipse of the sacred, in a society that delights in a certain self-sufficiency, the witness of the person at prayer is like a ray of light in the darkness.
Initially, it can only awaken curiosity; then it can induce the thoughtful person to wonder about the meaning of prayer, and, finally, it can give rise to the growing desire to have the experience. For this reason, prayer is never an isolated event, but tends to expand until it involves the whole world.

4. Let us now accompany Psalm 116[117] with the words of a great Father of the Eastern Church, St Ephrem the Syrian, who lived in the fourth century. In one of his Hymns on Faith, the 14th, he expresses his desire to praise God without ceasing, involving "all who understand the (divine) truth".

This is his witness:
"How can my harp, O Lord, cease to praise you?
How could I teach my tongue infidelity?

Your love has given confidence to my embarrassment, but my will is still ungrateful" (strophe 9).
"It is right that man should recognize your divinity, it is right for heavenly beings to praise your humanity; the heavenly beings were astonished to see how much you emptied yourself, and those on earth to see how you were exalted" (strophe 10: L'Arpa dello Spirito [The Harp of the Spirit], Rome 1999,
PP 26-28).

5. In another hymn (Hymns on Nisibis, 50), St Ephrem confirms his task of unceasing praise and finds the reason for it in God's love and compassion for us, just as our Psalm suggests.

"In you, Lord, may my mouth make praise come from silence. May our mouths not be lacking in praise, may our lips not be lacking in confessing; may your praise vibrate in us!" (strophe 2).

"Since it is on the Lord that the root of our faith is grafted, although he is far-removed, yet he is near in the fusion of love. May the roots of our love be fastened to him, may the full measure of his compassion be poured out upon us" (strophe 6: ibid. , pp. PP 77 PP 80).
***


To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I offer a cordial greeting to the pilgrims from Saint Mary the Virgin Parish in Arlington, Texas. Upon you and your families, and upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

I would now like to address my thoughts to you, dear young people, sick people and newly-weds.

Today we are celebrating the liturgical memorial of St Agatha. May the courage of this virgin martyr help you, young people, to open your hearts to the heroism of holiness. May it sustain you, sick people, to offer the precious gift of prayer and suffering for the Church. And may it give you, newly-weds, the strength to instil Christian values in your family.




Wednesday 12 February 2003 - Psalm 117[118]

In all our trials, God has the last word

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1. The sequence of Psalms from 112[111] to 117[118] was sung during the most important and joyful feasts of ancient Judaism, especially during the celebration of the Passover. This series of hymns of praise and thanksgiving to God were called the "Egyptian Hallel" because, in one of them, Psalm 114 A [113], the exodus of Israel from the land of oppression, Pharaonic Egypt, and the marvelous gift of the divine covenant are recalled in a visual poetic way. The last Psalm that seals this "Egyptian Hallel" is the Psalm 117[118], just proclaimed, which we have already meditated on in an earlier commentary (cf. General Audience, 5 December 2001; ORE, 12 December 2001, p. 11).

2. This hymn clearly reveals its liturgical use in the Temple of Jerusalem. In fact, as it unfolds, we see a procession going forward, from among "the tents of the just" (
Ps 118,15), that is, the homes of the faithful. They exalt the protection of the divine hand, that can protect the just and believing, even when invaded by cruel adversaries. The Psalmist uses expressive imagery: "They compassed me about like bees; they blazed like a fire among the thorns. In the Lord's name I crushed them" (Ps 118,12).

After escaping from this danger, the people of God break into "shouts of joy and victory" (Ps 118,15) in honour of the Lord's right hand [which] was raised and has done wonders (cf. Ps 118,16). Thus there is a consciousness that we are never alone, left to the mercy of the storm unleashed by the wicked. In truth, the last word is always God's, who, even if he permits the trial of his faithful, never hands him over to death (cf. Ps 118,18).

11 3. At this point it seems that the procession reaches the end the Psalmist suggests with the image of "the gates of holiness" (Ps 118,19), that is the Holy Door of the Temple of Zion. The procession accompanies the hero to whom God has granted victory. He asks that the gates be opened to him, so that he may "give thanks to the Lord" (Ps 118,19). With him "the just enter" (Ps 118,20). To express the harsh trial that he has overcome and his consequent glorification, he compares himself to a "stone which the builders rejected" that then "has become the cornerstone" (Ps 118,22).

Christ will use this image and verse, at the end of the parable of the murderous vinedressers, to announce his passion and glorification (cf. Mt 21,42).

4. By applying the Psalm to himself, Christ opens the way for the Christian interpretation of this hymn of confidence and gratitude to the Lord for his hesed, his loving fidelity, that echoes throughout the Psalm (cf. Ps 118,1 Ps 118,2 Ps 118,3 Ps 118,4 Ps 118,29 [117], 1.2.3.4.29).

The Fathers of the Church made use of two symbols. First of all, that of the "gate of justice" on which St Clement of Rome commented in his Letter to the Corinthians: "For many gates stand open: the gate of justice is the gate of Christ, and all are blessed who enter by it and direct their way "in holiness and justice', accomplishing all things without disorder" (48,4: I Padri Apostolici, Rome 1976, p. 81; The Apostolic Fathers, Letter of Clement of Rome to Corinth, Thomas Nelson and Co. 1978, p. 44).

5. The other symbol, linked to the previous one, is the "rock". We will therefore let St Ambrose guide our meditation with his Exposition of the Gospel according to Luke. Commenting on Peter's profession of faith at Cesarea Philippi, he recalls that "Christ is the Rock" and that "Christ did not refuse to give this beautiful name to his disciple so that he too might be Peter, and find in the rock the firmness of perseverance, the steadfast solidity of the faith".

Ambrose then introduces the exhortation: "Try hard also to be a rock. However, to do this, do not seek the rock outside yourself but within yourself. Your rock is your actions, your rock is your thoughts. On this rock your house is built, so that it may never be battered by any storm of the evil spirits. If you are a rock, you will be inside the Church because the Church is on the rock. If you are inside the Church, the gates of hell will not prevail against you" (VI, 97-99: "Opere Esegetiche" IX/II [Exegetical Works], Milan/Rome, 1978: Saemo 12, p. 85).
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To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims present today, especially the groups from Thailand, the United States of America and the students from the University of Dallas. Upon all of you and your families, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

To Italian-speaking pilgrims and groups of religious

I now address an affectionate greeting to the Italian-speaking pilgrims, and, especially, to the group of the religious of the Hospitaller Order of St John of God-Fatebenefratelli; to the SVD Missionaries and to the Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit; to the Sisters of Mary Reparatrix from Madagascar, Uganda, Colombia and Mexico; to the members of the "Associazioni Missionari senza frontiere" (Associations of Missionaries without frontiers) from Naples, and the "Battenti di San Rocco" (Builders of St Rocco) from Paduli, with Archbishop Serafino Sprovieri of Benevento; to the Cultural Group "Donne Bresciane" (Women of Brescia) and to the military personnel of the Italian Air Force School in Caserta.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

Finally, I greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds.

May Our Lady of Lourdes, whose liturgical memorial we celebrated yesterday, help you, dear young people, to understand better the value of sacrifice in your human and Christian formation; may she support you, dear sick people, so that you may face suffering and illness with serenity and fortitude; may she guide you, dear newly-weds, to build your family on the solid foundations of prayer and docile fidelity to God's will.






GENERAL AUDIENCE 2003