GENERAL AUDIENCE 2003 11


Wednesday 19 February 2003 - Third chapter of the Book of Daniel (vv. 52-57)

Bless the Lord all you works of the Lord

12 Da 3,52-57

1. "These three [young men] in the furnace with one voice sang, glorifying and blessing God..." (Da 3,51). This sentence introduces the famous Canticle that we just heard in a fundamental passage. It is found in the Book of Daniel, in the section that has come down to us only in Greek, and is intoned by courageous witnesses of the faith, who did not wish to bow down in adoration to a statue of the king and preferred to face a tragic death: martyrdom in the fiery furnace.

They are three young Jewish men, whom the sacred author places in the historical context of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, the terrible Babylonian sovereign who destroyed the holy city of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and deported the Israelites to "the streams of Babylon" (cf. Ps 137 [136]). Even in extreme danger, when the flames are already licking their bodies, they find the strength to "praise, glorify and bless God", certain that the Lord of the cosmos and history will not abandon them to death and nothingness.

2. The biblical author, who wrote several centuries later, portrays this heroic event to encourage his contemporaries to hold high the banner of the faith during the persecutions of the Syrian-Hellenistic kings of the second century B.C. Precisely then the courageous reaction of the Maccabees took place, combatants for the freedom of the faith and of the Hebrew tradition.

The Canticle, traditionally known as "of the three young men", is similar to a flame that lights up the darkness of the time of oppression and persecution, a time that has often been repeated in the history of Israel and of Christianity itself. We know that the persecutor does not always assume the violent and grim face of an oppressor, but often delights in isolating the just person with mocking and irony, asking him sarcastically: "Where is your God?" (Ps 42,4 Ps 42,11 [41],4.11).

3. All creatures are involved in the blessing that the three young men raise to the Almighty Lord from the crucible of their trial. They weave a sort of multicoloured tapestry where the stars shine, the seasons flow, the animals move, the angels appear, and, above all, "servants of the Lord" sing, the "holy" and "the humble of heart" (cf. Da 3,85 Da 3,87).

13 The passage that was just proclaimed precedes this magnificant evocation of all creation. It constitutes the first part of the Canticle, that evokes the glorious presence of the Lord, transcendent yet close. Yes, because God is in heaven, where "he looks into the depths" (cf. Da 3,55), and he is also "in the temple of holy glory" of Zion (cf. Da 3,53). He is seated on the "throne" of his eternal and infinite "kingdom" (cf. Da 3,54) but is also "throned upon the cherubim" (cf. Da 3,55) in the ark of the covenant placed in the Holy of Holies in the temple of Jerusalem.

4. He is a God who is above us, capable of saving us with his power; but also a God close to his People, in whose midst he willed to dwell in his "glorious holy temple", thus manifesting his love. A love that he will reveal fully in making his Son "full of grace and truth", "dwell among us" (cf. Jn 1,14). He will reveal the fullness of his love by sending his Son among us to share, in all things except sin, our condition marked by trials, oppression, loneliness and death.

The praise of the three young men to God our Saviour continues in various ways in the Church. For example, at the end of his Letter to the Corinthians, St Clement of Rome includes a long prayer of praise and confidence. It is woven throughout with biblical references and, perhaps echoes the early Roman liturgy. It is a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord who, despite the apparent triumph of evil, guides history to a happy end.

Prayer of Thanksgiving of St Clement of Rome

5. Here is a passage:

"You have opened the eyes of our hearts (Ep 1,18) to recognize that / you alone (Jn 17,3) are highest in the highest heavens, / ever remaining holy among the holy. / You humble the violence of the arrogant (cf. Is 13,11), / overthrow the calculations of the nations (cf. Ps 33,10 [32],10), / raise up the humble and humble the proud (cf. Jb 5,11); / you make rich and make poor, / kill and make alive (cf. Dt 32,39); / you alone are the benefactor of spirits and / the God of all flesh / You fathom the depths (cf. Da 3,55) and observe men's deeds; / you are the aid of those in peril, Saviour of those in despair (cf. Jdt 9,11), / the Creator of every spirit and its Custodian. / You multiply the nations upon the earth and / from them all you have chosen those who love you / through Jesus Christ your beloved Servant, / through whom you have educated, sanctified, and honoured us" (Clement of Rome, Letter to the Corinthians, 59,3, in The Apostolic Fathers, 1978, Thomas Nelson Inc., Nashville, Tennessee, USA, p. 50).
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To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's audience, especially those from England, Japan and the United States. Upon you and your families, I cordially invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

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

Thinking of the Feast of the Chair of St Peter, which we will celebrate next Saturday, I invite you, dear young people, to be everywhere apostles of fidelity to the Church; I urge you, dear sick people, to offer the Lord your sufferings for the unity of all who believe in Christ; and I encourage you, dear newly-weds, to nourish your family on that faith that is founded on the witness of Peter and the other Apostles.






Wednesday 26 February 2003 - Psalm 150

Music, hymnody should be worthy of the greatness of the Liturgy

14 Ps 150

1. Psalm 150, which we have just proclaimed, rings out for the second time in the Liturgy of Lauds: a festive hymn, an "alleluia" to the rhythm of music. It sets a spiritual seal on the whole Psalter, the book of praise, of song, of the liturgy of Israel.

The text is marvelously simple and transparent. We should just let ourselves be drawn in by the insistent call to praise the Lord: "Praise the Lord ... praise him ... praise him!". The Psalm opens presenting God in the two fundamental aspects of his mystery. Certainly, he is transcendent, mysterious, beyond our horizon: his royal abode is the heavenly "sanctuary", "his mighty heavens", a fortress that is inaccessible for the human being. Yet he is close to us: he is present in the "holy place" of Zion and acts in history through his "mighty deeds" that reveal and enable one to experience "his surpassing greatness" (cf. Ps 150,1-2).

2. Thus between heaven and earth a channel of communication is established in which the action of the Lord meets the hymn of praise of the faithful. The liturgy unites the two holy places, the earthly temple and the infinite heavens, God and man, time and eternity.

During the prayer, we accomplish an ascent towards the divine light and together experience a descent of God who adapts himself to our limitations in order to hear and speak to us, meet us and save us. The Psalmist readily urges us to find help for our praise in the prayerful encounter: sound the musical instruments of the orchestra of the temple of Jerusalem, such as the trumpet, harp, lute, drums, flutes and cymbals. Moving in procession was also part of the ritual of Jerusalem (cf. Ps 118,27 [117],27). The same appeal echoes in Psalm 46[47],8): "Sing praise with all your skill!".

3. Hence, it is necessary to discover and to live constantly the beauty of prayer and of the liturgy. We must pray to God with theologically correct formulas and also in a beautiful and dignified way.
In this regard, the Christian community must make an examination of conscience so that the beauty of music and hymnody will return once again to the liturgy. They should purify worship from ugliness of style, from distasteful forms of expression, from uninspired musical texts which are not worthy of the great act that is being celebrated.

In this connection in the Epistle to the Ephesians we find an important appeal to avoid drunkenness and vulgarity, and to make room for the purity of liturgical hymns: "Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father" (Ep 5,18-20).

15 4. The Psalmist ends with an invitation to "every living being" (cf. Ps 150,5), to give praise, literally "every breath", "everything that breathes", a term that in Hebrew means "every being that breathes", especially "every living person" (cf. Dt 20,16 Jos 10,40 Jos 11,11 Jos 11,14). In the divine praise then, first of all, with his heart and voice, the human creature is involved. With him all living beings, all creatures in which there is a breath of life (cf. Gn 7,22) are called in spirit, so that they may raise their hymn of thankgiving to the Creator for the gift of life.

Following up on this universal invitation, St Francis left us his thoughtful "Canticle of Brother Sun", in which he invites us to praise and bless the Lord for all his creatures, reflections of his beauty and goodness (cf. Fonti Francescane [Franciscan Sources], 263).

5. All the faithful should join in this hymn in a special way, as the Epistle to the Colossians suggests: "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (Col 3,16).

On this subject, in his Expositions on the Psalms (Enarrationes in Psalmos), St Augustine sees the musical instruments as symbolizing the saints who praise God: "You are the trumpet, lute, harp, tambourine, choir, strings, organ, and cymbals of jubilation sounding well, because sounding in harmony. You are all of these. Do not here think of anything vile, anything transitory or anything ridiculous"... "every spirit (who) praises the Lord" is a voice of song to God (cf. Exposition on the Psalms, vol. VI, Oxford, 1857, p. 456).

So the highest music is what comes from our hearts. In our liturgies this is the harmony God wants to hear.
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To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I extend special greetings to the Marist Brothers taking part in a renewal programme in Rome, and to the participants in a Workshop for Pilgrimage Coordinators and Shrine Directors. I also thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from England, Ireland, Japan and the United States of America, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

I now address the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. Tomorrow is the liturgical memorial of St Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother, a young Passionist religious.

Dear young people, whom I see here in such large numbers today, may you draw from his shining example the courage to be faithful disciples of Christ and to follow him without compromises in the places where you live. I urge you, dear sick people, to face every trial with a spirit of faith and Gospel hope. Finally, I hope that you, dear newly-weds, will always find in the mystery of the Cross, as St Gabriel did, the divine love that consecrates your union.

I greet the Bishops of Romania, who have come on their ad limina visit and are present at the Audience. With joy, I remember the warm greeting they gave me on occasion of my Apostolic Visit to their country four years ago. I assure you and the faithful in your pastoral care of my remembrance in prayer.




Ash Wednesday, 5 March 2003 - The reconciled will be effective peacemakers

16
1. With the words of the Apostle Paul, on Ash Wednesday, the liturgy addresses to all the faithful a vigorous invitation to conversion: "We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (
2Co 5,20). Lent is the more favourable spiritual season to receive this exhortation because it is a season of more serious prayer, penance, and greater attention to the needs of our brothers and sisters.

With today's rite of the imposition of ashes, we recognize that we are sinners and, showing a sincere desire for conversion, ask God's pardon. Thus we begin an austere ascetical journey that will lead us to the Easter Triduum, the heart of the liturgical year.

2. In keeping with the ancient tradition of the Church, today all the faithful are bound to abstain from eating meat, and all, with the sole exception of those who are justifiably prevented for reasons of health or age, must fast. Fasting has great value in the life of Christians. It is a spiritual need, in order to relate better to God. In fact, the external aspects of fasting, though important, do not convey the full measure of the practice. Joined to the practice should be a sincere desire for inner purification, readiness to obey the divine will and thoughtful solidarity with our brothers and sisters, especially the very poor.

There is also a close link between fasting and prayer. Prayer means listening to God; fasting favours this openness of heart.

3. As we enter the Lenten season, we need to be aware of today's international situation, troubled by the tensions and threats of war. It is necessary that everyone consciously assume responsibility and engage in a common effort to spare humanity another tragic conflict. This is why I wanted this Ash Wednesday to be a Day of Prayer and Fasting to implore peace for the world. We must ask God, first of all, for conversion of heart, for it is in the heart that every form of evil, every impulse to sin is rooted; we must pray and fast for the peaceful coexistence of peoples and nations.

At the beginning of our gathering, we heard the encouraging words of the Prophet: "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they train for war again" (Is 2,4); and again: "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks" (ibid. Is 2,4). Above the upheavals of history there is the sovereign presence of God who judges human decisions. Let us open our hearts to him who will "judge between the nations", and "decide for many peoples" (cf. ibid. Is 2,4) and implore him to grant a future of justice and peace for all. This thought should stimulate each one of us to persevere in unceasing prayer and in an effective dedication to build a world in which selfishness may give way to solidarity and love.

4. I also wanted to repropose the pressing invitation to conversion, penance and solidarity in the Message for Lent, published a few days ago, whose theme is the beautiful sentence from the Acts of the Apostles: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (cf. Ac 20,35).

A close look shows that it is only by being converted to this logic that it is possible to build a social order which is not based on a precarious balance of conflicting interests, but by a just and solidary pursuit of the common good. Christians, in the manner of leaven, are called to live and spread a style of generosity in every realm of life, thus promoting genuine moral and civil social progress. On this topic I wrote: "Giving not only from our abundance, but sacrificing something more in order to give to the needy, fosters that self-denial which is essential to authentic Christian living" (Message for Lent, n. 4; ORE, 12 February 2003, p. 6).

17 5. May this day of prayer and fasting for peace with which we begin Lent be translated into concrete acts of reconciliation. From the family circle to the international realm, may each person feel and be co-responsible for building peace. Then the God of peace who examines the intentions of hearts and calls his children to be peacemakers (cf. Mt 5,9) will not fail to reward us (cf. Mt 6,4 Mt 6,6 Mt 6,18).

Let us entrust these wishes of ours to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Queen of the Rosary and Mother of Peace. May she take us by the hand and accompany us during the next 40 days on our way to Easter, to contemplate the Risen Lord.
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To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims present today, especially those from England, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Japan, and the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. May everyone have a blessed and fruitful season of Lent!

To Polish pilgrims

This year Ash Wednesday is also a day of prayer and fasting to implore peace for the world. I believe, that when peace is at stake, it is never too late for dialogue. For this reason, I asked for the prayer and fasting. May these be concrete gestures of co-responsibility by those who believe in the mission of reminding the world that it is never too late for peace.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

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

Dear brothers and sisters, may the Lenten season which we begin today be a journey of conversion to Christ. According to each one's life situation, may it be the favourable time to express in daily life the sentiments of our Saviour who gave his life for us on the Cross. May we find comfort and support in his sacrifice, offered for the salvation of all humanity.




Solemnity of Saint Joseph

Wednesday, 19 March 2003 - St Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church

18
1. Today we are celebrating the Solemnity of St Joseph, the Husband of Mary (
Mt 1,24 Lc 1,27). Scripture points him out to us as the "father" of Jesus (Lc 2,27 Lc 2,33 Lc 2,41 Lc 2,43 Lc 2,48), prepared to carry out the divine plan, even when it eluded human understanding. To him, "son of David" (Mt 1,20 Lc 1,27), God entrusted the safekeeping of the Eternal Word, made man by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. St Joseph is described in the Gospel as a "just man" (Mt 1,19), and for all believers he is a model of life in faith.

2. The word "just" evokes his moral rectitude, his sincere attachment to the practice of the law and his attitude of total openness to the will of the heavenly Father. Even in difficult and sometimes tragic moments, the humble carpenter of Nazareth never claimed for himself the right to dispute God's plan. He awaited the call from on High and in silence respected the mystery, letting himself be guided by the Lord. Once he received the mission, he fulfils it with docile responsibility. He listens attentively to the angel, when he is asked to take as his wife the Virgin of Nazareth (cf. Mt 1,18-25), in the flight into Egypt (cf. Mt 2,13-15) and in the return to Israel (cf. ibid., Mt 2,19-23). In few, but significant strokes, the Evangelists describe him as the caring guardian of Jesus, an attentive and faithful husband, who exercises his family authority in a constant attitude of service.

Nothing else is said about him in the Sacred Scriptures, but this silence contains the special style of his mission: a life lived in the greyness of everyday life, but with steadfast faith in Providence.

3. Every day St Joseph had to provide for the family's needs with hard manual work. Thus the Church rightly points to him as the patron of workers.

Today's solemnity is also a wonderful occasion to reflect on the importance of work in the life of the human person, the family and the community.

The human being is the subject and the primary agent of work, and in the light of this truth, we can clearly perceive the fundamental connection between the person, work and society. Human activity - the Second Vatican Council recalls - proceeds from the human person and is ordered to the person. According to God's design and will, it must serve the true good of humanity and allow "man as an individual and as a member of society to cultivate and carry out his integral vocation" (cf. Gaudium et spes GS 35).

In order to fulfil this mission, a "tested spirituality of human work" must be cultivated that is firmly rooted in the "Gospel of work" and believers are called to proclaim and to witness to the Christian meaning of work in their many activities and occupations (cf. Laborem exercens LE 26).

4. May St Joseph, such a great and humble saint be an example that inspires Christian workers, who should call on him in every circumstance. Today I wish to entrust to the provident guardian of the Holy Family of Nazareth the young people who are training for their future profession, the unemployed, and those who are suffering from the hardship of the shortage of employment, families and the whole world of work, with the expectations and challenges, the problems and prospects that characterize it.

May St Joseph, the Patron of the universal Church, watch over the entire ecclesial community and, as the man of peace that he was, may he obtain for all humanity, especially for the peoples threatened at this time by war, the precious gift of harmony and peace.
***


To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including the groups from England, Denmark, Korea, Japan and the United States and, particularly, to the Choir of St Cecilia Parish in Houston, Texas. 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 greet the young people, the sick, and the newly-weds.

Dear young people, who are here in large numbers, and especially you students coming from many schools, pray to St Joseph to help you follow day by day the Lord's desires for you. You, dear sick people, pray to him to support you in suffering, accepted as a way to cooperate with the salvation of the world. And you, dear newly-weds, at the school of the chaste husband of the Virgin Mary, nourish your heart with prayer and daily docility to the divine plan.






Wednesday, 26 March 2003 - Psalm 89[90] - Teach us to number our days aright

19 Ps 90

1. The verses that have just echoed in our ears and in our hearts are a sapiential meditation which, however, has the tone of a supplication. In fact, in Psalm 89[90] the one who prays the Psalm puts at the heart of his prayer one of the topics most explored by philosophy, most sung by poetry and most felt by human experience in all ages and in all the regions of the earth: human frailty and the passing of time.

It is enough to think of certain unforgettable pages of the Book of Job, which present our frailty. In fact, we are like those who "dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed more easily than the moth. Between morning and evening they are destroyed; they perish for ever without anyone regarding it" (cf. Jb 4,19-20). Our life on earth is "but a shadow" (Jb 8,9). Again, Job continues to confess: "My days are swifter than a runner; they flee away, they see no happiness. They shoot by like skiffs of reed, like an eagle swooping on its prey" (Jb 9,25-26).

2. At the beginning of his song, which is akin to an elegy (cf. Ps 90,2-6 [89],2-6), the Psalmist insistently contrasts the eternity of God with the fleeting time of humanity. This is his most explicit declaration: "For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch of the night" (Ps 90,4).

20 As a consequence of original sin, by divine command, man returns to the dust from which he was taken, as already affirmed in the account of Genesis: "You are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Gn 3,19 cf. Gn 2,7). The Creator, who shapes the human creature in all his beauty and complexity, is also the One who "turns men back into dust" (cf. Ps 90,3 [90],3). And "dust" in biblical language is also a symbolic expression for death, the lower regions, the silence of the tomb.
Judgement, sin, death

3. The sense of human limitation is intense in this entreaty. Our existence has the frailty of the grass that springs up at dawn; suddenly it hears the whistle of the sickle that reduces it to a heap of hay. The freshness of life all too soon gives way to the aridity of death (cf. Ps 90,5-6; cf. Is 40,6-7 Jb 14,1-2 Ps 103,14-16 [102],14-16).

As often occurs in the Old Testament, the Psalmist associates this radical weakness with sin. In us there is finiteness but also culpability. For this reason, the Lord's anger and judgement seem to overshadow our lives. "Truly we are consumed by your anger, filled with terror by your wrath. Our guilt lies open before you.... All our days pass away in your anger" (Ps 90,7-9 [89],7-9).

4. At the dawn of the new day, with this Psalm, the liturgy of Lauds rouses us from our illusions and our pride. Human life is limited: "Our span is seventy years or eighty for those who are strong", the Psalmist affirms. Moreover the passing of the hours, days, and months is marked by "sorrow and toil" (cf. Ps 90,10) and the years themselves turn out to be like a "sigh" (Ps 90,9).

This, then, is the great lesson: the Lord teaches us to "count our days" so that by accepting them with healthy realism "we may gain wisdom of heart" (Ps 90,12). But the person praying asks something more of God: that his grace support and gladden our days, even while they are so fragile and marked by affliction. May he grant us to taste the flavour of hope, even if the tide of time seems to drag us away. Only the grace of the Lord can give our daily actions consistency and perpetuity: "Let the favour of the Lord our God be upon us: give success to the work of our hands, give success to the work of our hands" (Ps 90,17).

In prayer let us ask God that a reflection of eternity penetrate our brief lives and actions. With the presence of divine grace in us, a light will shine on the passing of our days, misery will be turned into glory, what seems not to make sense will acquire meaning.

5. Let us conclude our reflection on Psalm 89[90] by leaving the word to early Christian tradition, which comments on the Psalter having in the background the glorious figure of Christ. Thus for the Christian writer Origen, in his Treatise on the Psalms which has been handed down to us in the Latin translation of St Jerome, the Resurrection of Christ gives us the possibility, perceived by the Psalmist, to "rejoice and be glad all our days" (cf. Ps 90,14). This is because Christ's Paschal Mystery is the source of our life beyond death: "After being gladdened by the Resurrection of Our Lord, through whom we believe we have been redeemed and will also rise one day, we now live in joy the days that remain of our life, exulting because of this confidence, and with hymns and spiritual chants we praise God through Jesus Christ Our Lord" (Origen Jerome, "74 Omelie sul libro dei Salmi" [74 Homilies on the Book of the Psalms], Milan 1993, p. 652).
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I extend a special welcome to the priests from the Institute for Continuing Theological Education at the Pontifical North American College and to the visiting Lutheran pastors from Helsinki. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from England, Denmark, Finland and The United States of America, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Dear friends, yesterday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the first of the "joyful mysteries" that celebrates the Incarnation of the Son of God, Prince of Peace. As we prayed the Rosary, we meditated on this mystery, with our hearts oppressed by the news we are receiving from Iraq which is at war, without forgetting the other conflicts that rage around the globe. How important it is, during this Year of the Rosary, that we persevere in reciting the Rosary to ask for peace! I ask that it be continually recited, especially at the Marian shrines. To Mary, Queen of the Rosary, I now entrust my resolution to make a pilgrimage to her shrine at Pompei, next 7 October, for the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. May Mary's maternal intercession obtain justice and peace for the whole world!

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

I ask you too to join me in praying the Rosary for peace, dear young people, sick persons and newly-weds.

Dear young people, may the contemplation of the mystery of the Annunciation make you ready and available for the Father's call, to be in society the leaven of authentic peace. May it renew in you, dear persons who are suffering, the serene and confident acceptance of the Cross, source of humanity's redemption. May Mary's "yes" to the divine will be for you, dear newly-weds, a constant encouragement for your commitment to build a family in which solidarity and peace will reign.





April 2003


Wednesday, 2 April 2003 - 42nd chapter of the Book of Isaiah - "Sing to the Lord a new song!'

21 Is 42

1. In the Book that bears the Prophet Isaiah's name, scholars have identified various voices all of which are placed under the patronage of this great prophet who lived in the eighth century B.C. This is the case with the vigorous hymn of joy and victory that has just been proclaimed as part of the Liturgy of Lauds of the Fourth Week. Exegetes refer to it as the so-called "Second Isaiah", a prophet who lived in the sixth century B.C., at the time of the return of the Hebrews from the Babylonian Exile. The hymn begins with an appeal to "sing to the Lord a new song" (cf. Is 42,10), as in other Psalms (cf. Ps 96,1 [95]: 1 and Ps 98,1 [97]: 1).

The "newness" of the song that the Prophet invites the Hebrews to sing certainly refers to the unfolding horizon of freedom, a radical turning-point in the history of a people which experienced oppression and exile in a foreign land (cf. Ps 137 [136]).

2. In the Bible, "newness" often has the flavour of a perfect and definitive reality. It is almost the sign of the beginning of an era of saving fullness that seals humanity's tormented history. The Canticle of Isaiah has this exalted tone that is well suited to Christian prayer.

The whole world, including the earth, sea, coastlands, deserts and cities, is invited to sing to the Lord a "new song" (cf. Is 42,10-12). All space is involved, even its furthest horizons that also contain the unknown, and its vertical dimension, which rises from the desert plain, the dwelling place of the nomadic tribes of Kedar (cf. Is 21,16-17), and soars to the mountains. High up, in the territory of the Edomites, we can locate the city of Sela which many people have identified with Petra, a city placed between the rocky peaks.

22 All the Earth's inhabitants are invited to become like an immense choir to acclaim the Lord with exultation and to give him glory.

3. After the solemn invitation to sing (cf.
Is 42,10-12), the Prophet brings the Lord onto the scene, represented as the God of the Exodus, who has set his people free from slavery in Egypt: "The Lord goes forth like a mighty man, like a warrior" (Is 42,13). He sows terror among his foes, who oppress others and commit injustice.

The Canticle of Moses also portrays the Lord during the Red Sea crossing as a "man of war", ready to stretch out his right hand and destroy the enemy (cf. Ex 15,3-8). With the return of the Hebrews from the deportation to Babylon, a new exodus is about to take place, and the faithful must be assured that history is not at the mercy of destiny, chaos or oppressive powers: the last word rests with God who is just and strong. The Psalmist had already sung: "Grant us help against the foe, for vain is the help of man!" (Ps 60,13 [59]: 13).

4. Having entered on the scene, the Lord speaks and his vehement words (cf. Is 42,14-16) combine judgement and salvation. He begins by recalling that "for a long time" he has "held [his] peace": in other words, he has not intervened. The divine silence is often a cause of perplexity to the just, and even scandalous, as Job's long lamentation attests (cf. Jb 3,1-26). However, it is not a silence that suggests absence as if history had been left in the hands of the perverse, or the Lord were indifferent and impassive. In fact, that silence gives vent to a reaction similar to a woman in labour who gasps and pants and screams with pain. It is the divine judgement on evil, presented with images of aridity, destruction, desert (cf. Is 42,15), which has a living and fruitful result as its goal.

In fact, the Lord brings forth a new world, an age of freedom and salvation. The eyes of the blind will be opened so that they may enjoy the brilliant light. The path will be levelled and hope will blossom (cf. Is 42,16), making it possible to continue to trust in God and in his future of peace and happiness.

5. Every day the believer must be able to discern the signs of divine action even when they are hidden by the apparently monotonous, aimless flow of time. As a highly-esteemed modern Christian author has written: "The earth is pervaded by a cosmic ecstasy: in it is an eternal reality and presence which, however, usually sleeps under the veil of habit. Eternal reality must now be revealed, as in an epiphany of God, through all that exists" (R. Guardini, Sapienza dei Salmi, Brescia, 1976, p. 52).

Discovering this divine presence, with the eyes of faith, in space and time but also within ourselves, is a source of hope and confidence, even when our hearts are agitated and shaken "as the trees of the forest shake before the wind" (Is 7,2). Indeed, the Lord enters the scene to govern and to judge "the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth" (Ps 96,13 [95]: 13).
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To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I am pleased to welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Denmark and the United States. Upon you and your families, I cordially invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

Lastly, my thoughts turn to the young people, the sick and newly-weds.

May the Lenten journey on which we have set out on our way to Easter, help you, dear young people, to gain a conscious and mature faith in Christ; may it increase in you, dear sick people, hope in the crucified Jesus, our support and comfort in trial; may it help you, dear newly-weds, to make your life a daily school of faithful and generous love.






GENERAL AUDIENCE 2003 11