GENERAL AUDIENCE 2003 54


Castelgandolfo: Wednesday, 6 August 2003 - Pope Pius X: "total fidelity to Christ and passionate love for his Church'

Pope Paul VI: "lofty stature as a teacher and defender of the faith'

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1. My Predecessor St Pius X was elected 100 years ago on 4 August 1903. Giuseppe Sarto was born in Riese, a small town in the Pre-Alps Veneto region which had remained deeply Christian, and he spent all his life in the Veneto until his election as Pope. I greet with affection the large group of pilgrims from Treviso who, accompanied by their Bishop, have come to pay homage to their illustrious fellow countryman.

Your presence, dear brothers and sisters, gives me the opportunity to speak about the important role of this Successor of Peter in the history of the Church and of humanity at the beginning of the 20th century. In raising him to the honours of the altar on 29 May 1954, a Marian Year, Pius XII described him as an "invincible champion of the Church and a providential Saint of our times", whose work "looked like the struggle of a giant defending a priceless treasure, the inner unity of the Church in the deepest of her foundations: the faith" (Acta Apostolicae Sedis XLVI [1954], 308). May this holy Pontiff, who left us an example of total fidelity to Christ and passionate love for his Church, continue to watch over this Church.

2. I would also like to commemorate another great Pope. Indeed, today is the 25th anniversary of 6 August 1978, on which the Servant of God Pope Paul VI passed away in this same Castel Gandolfo residence. It was the evening of the day on which the Church celebrates that mystery of light, the Transfiguration of Christ, "the Sun that never sets" (Liturgical hymn). It was a Sunday, the weekly Easter, the Day of the Lord and of the gift of the Spirit (cf. Apostolic Letter Dies Domini, n. 19).

I have already had the opportunity to reflect on the stature of Paul VI at a recent General Audience on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of his election as Bishop of Rome. Today, in the very place where he ended his life on earth, I would like in spirit to listen once again, together with you, dear brothers and sisters, to his spiritual testament, that last supreme word which was, precisely, his death.

56 At his last General Audience, four days before his death on Wednesday, 2 August, he spoke to the pilgrims about faith as the strength and light of the Church (cf. Homily, 2 August 1978; ORE, 10 August 1978, p. 4). Furthermore, in the text he had prepared for the Angelus of 6 August, which he was unable to deliver, turning his gaze to the transfigured Christ, he wrote: "That light, which bathes [him], is and also will be our share of inheritance and of splendour. We are called to share such great glory because we are "partakers of the divine nature' (2P 1,4)" (Angelus, 6 August 1978; ORE, 17 August 1978, p. 1).

3. Paul VI was aware of the importance of adapting the acts and decisions of each day to the "great departure" for which he had been gradually preparing himself. This is borne out by what he wrote, for example, in Pensiero alla Morte (a thought on death). In it, we read one phrase among others that reminds us precisely of today's feast, the Transfiguration: "So", he wrote, "I would like, in ending, to be in the light.... In my last glance I realize that this fascinating and mysterious scene [of the world] is a reverberation, a reflection of the one and only Light... an invitation to view the invisible Sun, quem nemo vidit umquam (cf. Jn 1,18): unigenitus Filius, qui est in sinu Patris, Ipse enarravit (whom no one has ever seen: the only Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known). So be it, Amen" (Pensiero alla Morte, pp. 24-25).

For believers, death is like the final "amen" of their earthly existence. So it certainly was for the Servant of God Paul VI, who in the "great departure" made manifest his most exalted profession of faith. He, who at the closure of the Year of the Faith had solemnly proclaimed: "I believe in the People of God", sealed it with his last, utterly personal "amen", as the crowning of a commitment to Christ, which had given his whole life meaning.

4. "The light of the faith never fades". So we sing in a liturgical hymn. Let us thank God today because these words came true in my beloved Predecessor. Twenty-five years after his passing, his lofty stature as a teacher and defender of the faith appear ever more resplendent to us at this dramatic time in the history of the Church and of the world. Thinking back to what he wrote with regard to our time, that is, that people of our time listen more willingly to witnesses than to teachers (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi EN 41), let us remember him with devout gratitude as an authentic witness of Christ Our Lord, in love with the Church and ever perceptive in interpreting the signs of the times in contemporary culture.

May every member of the People of God - and I mean every man and every woman of good will - honour his venerable memory with the commitment to a sincere and constant search for the truth. That truth which shines in its fullness on the face of Christ, and which the Virgin Mary, as Paul VI liked to recall, helps us to understand and to live better, through her tender, motherly intercession.
***


To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

To the English-speaking pilgrims present at this Audience, especially those from England, Ireland and Malta, I offer special greetings. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the grace and peace of Jesus Christ.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

Lastly, I greet you, dear young people, sick people and newly-weds, and I hope that the light of Christ transfigured which we contemplate today may brighten your lives and fill your hearts with the joy that is based on Christian hope.




Castelgandolfo, Wednesday, 13 August 2003 - Canticle of Tobit - "Give thanks worthily to the Lord'

57
1. The Liturgy of Lauds has gathered among its Canticles a fragment of a hymn, that is placed as a seal on the history narrated in the biblical Book of Tobit: to which we listened a few moments ago. The rather long and solemn hymn is an expression typical of Judaic prayer and spirituality, which draws on other texts in the Bible.

The Canticle develops by means of a double invocation. Above all, what emerges is a repeated invitation to praise God (cf.
Tb 13,3 Tb 13,4 Tb 13,7) for the purification he carries out is by means of exile. The "sons of Israel" are exhorted to welcome this purification with a sincere conversion (cf. Tb 13,6 Tb 13,8). If conversion will flower in the heart, the Lord will make the dawn of liberation rise on the horizon. It is precisely in this spiritual atmosphere that the Liturgy has chosen to set the Canticle it has taken from the broader context of Tobit's hymn in chapter 13.

2. The second part of the text intoned by the elderly Tobit, who throughout the Book is the protagonist with his son, Tobias, is an authentic and characteristic celebration of Zion. It reflects the impassioned nostalgia and the ardent love that is experienced by the Hebrew in the diaspora regarding the Holy City (cf. Tb 13,9-18) and this aspect also shines out from the passage that has been chosen as the morning prayer in the Liturgy of Lauds.Let us dwell on these two themes: the purification of sin through trial and the expectation of the encounter with the Lord in the light of Zion and of his holy temple.

3. Tobit presses sinners to convert and act with justice: this is the path to take to rediscover that divine love which gives serenity and hope (cf. Tb 13,8).

Jerusalem's very history is a parable which teaches everyone what choice to make. God punished the city because he could not remain indifferent before the evil committed by his children. Now, however, seeing that many have converted and become faithful and righteous children, he will once again show his merciful love (cf. Tb 13,10).

Throughout the Canticle of chapter 13 of Tobit this firm conviction is repeated often: the Lord "afflicts, and he shows mercy;... will afflict us for our iniquities; and again he will show mercy.... He will afflict you for the deeds of your sons, but again he will show mercy to the sons of the righteous" (Tb 13,2 Tb 13,5 Tb 13,9). God's punishment is a way to make sinners who are deaf to other appeals turn back to the right path. However, the last word of the righteous God remains a message of love and of forgiveness; he profoundly desires to embrace anew the wayward children who return to him with a contrite heart.

4. With regard to the elect people, divine mercy manifests itself with the reconstruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, carried out by God himself "so that his tent may be rebuilt in you with joy" (Tb 13,10). Thus, Zion, the second theme, appears as a holy place on which not only the returning Hebrews converge, but also those on pilgrimage seeking God. And so, a universal perspective opens: the rebuilt temple of Jerusalem, sign of the divine word and presence, will shine with a planetary light dispelling the darkness so that "many nations, the inhabitants of all the limits of the earth" (cf. Tb 13,11), may begin marching, bearing their gifts and singing their joy at participating in the salvation that the Lord bestows in Israel.

Therefore the Israelites are marching with all peoples toward a single finality of faith and of truth. On them, the hymnist calls down a repeated blessing, saying to Jerusalem: "How blessed are those who love you! They will rejoice in your peace" (Tb 13,14). Happiness is authentic when it is rediscovered in the light that shines from heaven on all who seek the Lord with a purified heart and a deep yearning for truth.

58 5. It is toward this Jerusalem, free and glorious, sign of the Church in the last stage of her hope, a prefiguration of Christ's Paschal sacrifice, that St Augustine turns with fervour in his book of Confessions.

Making reference to the prayer which he intends to raise in his "[inner] chamber", he describes for us "songs of love... between groaning with groanings unutterable, which in my wayfaring, made me remember Jerusalem, with heart lifted up towards it, Jerusalem my country, Jerusalem my mother, and You that rule over it, the Enlightener, Father, Guardian, Husband, the pure and strong delight, and solid joy, and all good things unspeakable". And he ends with a promise: "Nor will I be turned away, until You gather all that I am, from this dispersed and disordered estate, into the peace of that our most dear mother, where the first-fruits of my spirit be already (whence I am ascertained of these things), and You conform and confirm it forever, O my God, my Mercy" (cf. Confessions, 12,16,23).
***


To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from Malta, Japan, Sri Lanka and the United States. I cordially invoke upon all of you joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

To you, dear young people, dear sick people and dear newly-weds, I invite you to imitate the heroic example of St Maximilian Mary Kolbe, whom we will commemorate tomorrow. Make the effort to live the Christian vocation as he did, with consistent authenticity.






Castelgandolfo: Wednesday, 20 August 2003 - Psalm 147 - "Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem!'

59
1. The Psalm now offered for our reflection makes up the second part of the preceeding Psalm 147[146]. However, the ancient Greek and Latin translations, followed by the Liturgy, considered it as an independent hymn, since its opening is clearly distinguishable from what goes before it. This beginning has also become famous because it has often been put to music in Latin: Lauda, Jerusalem, Dominum.These opening words comprise the typical invitation of psalmody to celebrate and praise the Lord: now Jerusalem, a personification of the people, is summoned to exalt and glorify her God (cf.
Ps 147,12).

Mention is made, first of all, of the reason for which the praying community must raise its praise to the Lord. Its nature is historic: it was He, the Liberator of Israel from the Babylonian exile, who gave security to his people by "strengthening the bars of the gates" of the city (cf. Ps 147,13).

When Jerusalem had fallen under the assault of King Nebuchadnezzar's army in 586 B.C., the Book of Lamentations presents the Lord himself as the judge of Israel's sin, as he "determined to lay in ruins the wall of the daughter of Zion.... Her gates have sunk into the ground; he has ruined and broken her bars" (Lm 2,8). Now, instead, the Lord returns as the builder of the Holy City; in the restored temple He blesses his sons and daughters once again. Thus mention is made of the work carried out by Nehemiah (cf. Ne 3,1-38), who restored the walls of Jerusalem, so that it would become again an oasis of serenity and peace.

2. Indeed, peace, shalom, is evoked without hesitation, as it is contained symbolically in the very name of Jerusalem. The prophet Isaiah had already promised the city: "I will make your overseers peace and your taskmakers righteousness" (Is 60,17).

However, other than repairing the walls of the city, blessing and reconciling her in security, God offers Israel other essential gifts described at the end of the Psalm. Here, indeed, the gifts of Revelation, the Law and the divine regulations are recalled: "He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel" (Ps 147,19).

In this way, the election of Israel and her sole mission among the peoples is celebrated: to proclaim to the world the Word of God. It is a prophetic and priestly mission, because "what great nation is there that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?" (Dt 4,8). It is through Israel and, therefore, also through the Christian community, namely the Church, that the Word of God resounds in the world and becomes instruction and light for all peoples (cf. Ps 147,20).

3. So far, we have described the first reason to give praise to the Lord: it is a historical reason, one linked to the liberating and revealing action of God with his people.

There remains, however, another reason for exultation and praise: it is of a cosmic nature, connected to the divine creative action. The divine Word bursts in to give life to being. Like a messenger, it runs from one corner of the earth to the other (cf. Ps 147,15). And suddenly, there is a flowering of wonders.

Now winter arrives, its climatic phenomena painted with a touch of poetry: the snow is like wool because of its whiteness, the frost with its delicate particles is like the dust of the desert (cf. Ps 147,16), the hail is like morsels of bread thrown to the ground, the ice congeals the earth and halts vegetation (cf. Ps 147,17). It is a winter scene that invites one to discover the wonders of creation which will be taken up again in a very picturesque page of another book of the Bible, that of Sirach (Si 43,18-20).

4. Behold, then, the reblossoming of springtime, always through the action of the divine Word: the ice melts, the warm wind blows and the waters flow (cf. Ps 147,18), repeating the perennial cycle of the seasons and therefore the same possibility of life for men and women.

Naturally, metaphorical readings of these divine gifts are not lacking. The "finest of wheat" makes one think of the immense gift of the Eucharistic bread. Indeed, Origen, the great Christian writer of the third century, identified that wheat as a sign of Christ himself and, in particular, of Sacred Scripture.

60 This is his commentary: "Our Lord is the grain of wheat that falls to the earth, and multiplies itself for us. But this grain of wheat is supremely copious. The Word of God is supremely copious, it encloses all delights in itself. All that you see, comes from the Word of God, in the same way as the Jews recount: when they ate the manna, it took on the taste in the mouth that each one desired. So also with the flesh of Christ, which is the word of the teaching, namely, understanding of the Sacred Scriptures, the greater our desire, the greater the nourishment we receive. If you are holy, you find refreshment; if you are a sinner, you find torment" (Origen-Jerome, 74 omelie sul libro dei Salmi [74 Homilies on the Book of Psalms], Milan 1993, pp. 543-44).

5. The Lord, therefore, acts with his Word not only in creation but also in history. He reveals himself with the silent language of nature (cf.
Ps 19,2-7 [18]), but expresses himself in an explicit way through the Bible and his personal communication through the prophets and fully through the Son (cf. He 1,1). They are two different but converging gifts of His love.

For this reason, our praise must rise to heaven each day. It is our gratitude which blossoms at dawn in the prayer of Lauds to bless the Lord of life and freedom, of existence and faith, of creation and redemption.
***


To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from Scotland, the United States of America, Japan and Hong Kong. Upon all of you I cordially invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

I also greet with affection the young people, the sick people and the newly-weds. Calling to mind the admirable figure of St Bernard, abbot and doctor of the Church, whom we are commemorating today, I hope that each one grows always more in the love of God, who gives full meaning to youth, to suffering and to family life.

PEACE APPEAL

The tragic news that is arriving from Baghdad and from Jerusalem can only cause in our heart profound sadness and unanimous reproof. While we entrust to divine mercy the people who lost their lives and implore consolation for those who mourn, we pray to the God of peace that wisdom will prevail in hearts and that those responsible for public affairs will be able to break this fatal spiral of hatred and violence.






Castelgandolfo: Wednesday, 27 August 2003

Pope John Paul I, master of clear faith

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1. In the late afternoon of Saturday, 26 August 1978, my Venerable Predecessor John Paul I was elected Pope. Yesterday marked 25 years since that event.

I evoke those moments today, which I had the joy of experiencing with profound emotion. I recall how deeply his words touched the hearts of all who filled St Peter's Square. From the moment of his first appearance in the central balcony of the Vatican Basilica, he established with those present a current of spontaneous sympathy; his smiling face, his trusting and open gaze conquered the hearts of Romans and faithful throughout the world.

He came from the illustrious ecclesial community of Venice, which had already given the Church two great Pontiffs in the 20th century: St Pius X, the centenary of whose election as Pope we commemorated precisely this year, and Blessed John XXIII, the 40th anniversary of whose death we observed in June.

2. "We open ourselves with great trust to the asssistance of the Lord", the new Pope said in his first radiomessage. He was above all a master of clear faith, without giving in to passing and worldly fads. He strove to adapt his teachings to the sensibility of the people, but was careful always to keep the doctrine clear and consistent in its application to life.

But, what was the secret of his charm if not an uninterrupted contact with the Lord? "You know, I try to maintain a continual conversation with You", he noted in one of his writings in the form of a letter to Jesus. "What is important is that Christ be imitated and loved": here is the truth that, translated into lived experience, makes it possible for "Christianity and joy to go together".

3. The day after his election, in the Angelus of Sunday, 27 August, after having called to mind his Predecessors, the new Pope said: "I have neither the sapientia cordis [wisdom of the heart] of Pope John, nor the preparation and culture of Pope Paul, but I am in their place. I must seek to serve the Church".

He was very attached to the two Popes who had preceeded him. He made himself small before them, manifesting that humility which was always the first rule of life for him. Humility and optimism were the characteristics of his existence. Thanks precisely to these gifts, in his fleeting passage among us, he left a message of hope that found welcome in many hearts. "To be optimistic in spite of everything", he loved to repeat, "trust in God must be the pivot of our thoughts and actions". And he observed with a realism based on faith: "The principal persons in our life are two: God and each one of us".

4. His word and person entered into the heart of all, and for this reason the news of his unexpected death, which occurred on the night of 28 September 1978, was particularly overwhelming. The smile of a Pastor, close to the people, who knew how to dialogue with the culture and the world with serenity and balance, had vanished.

The few talks and writings he has left us as Pope enrich the considerable collection of his texts which, 25 years after his death, retain suprising actuality. On one occasion he said: "Progress with men who love one another, considering themselves brothers and sons of the one Father, God, can be a marvellous thing. Progress with men who do not recognize in God the only Father, becomes a constant danger". How much truth there is in these words, also useful for the men and women of our time!

5. May humanity come to accept such a wise lesson and extinguish the numerous hotbeds of hatred and violence present in many parts of the earth, to build up... in solidarity a more just and humane world!

62 Through the intercession of Mary, of whom John Paul I always professed himself a tender and devoted son, we pray to the Lord that he may welcome his faithful servant into his Kingdom of peace and joy. We also pray that his teaching, which touches the reality of daily events, be light for believers and for every person of good will.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from Scotland, Malta, the Philippines and the United States. Upon all of you I cordially invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

To the Polish-speaking pilgrims and visitors

Today's catechesis was dedicated to the person of Pope John Paul I. Indeed, yesterday, 25 years were completed since his election to the Chair of Peter. I also participated in that Conclave. I remember the then-elected Pope as a master of simple faith full of devotion lived according to the rule: "What is important is that Christ be imitated and loved". May this be the rule of life for us all.
Praised be Jesus Christ!

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

Lastly, as is customary, I direct my thoughts to you, dear young people, sick people and newly-weds. May the example of St Monica, whom we commemorate today, and her son St Augustine, whom we shall celebrate tomorrow, help you look with unyielding trust upon Christ, light in difficulty, support in time of trial and guide in every moment of life. I impart my Blessing to all.



September 2003

Wednesday, 3 September 2003 - Psalm 92[91] Good vs evil

63 Ps 92

Faithful persons walk the spiritual path of light and joy;
the wicked live blinded by the world, doomed to destruction and death

1. The canticle just presented to us is the song of a man faithful to Holy God. It is in Psalm 92[91] which, as the ancient title of the composition suggests, was used by Jewish tradition "for the Sabbath". The hymn opens with a general appeal to celebrate and praise the Lord in music and song. It seems to be a never-ending stream of prayer, for divine love must be exalted in the morning when the day begins, but it must also be declared during the day and through the hours of the night.

It was the reference to musical instruments that the Psalmist makes in the introductory invitation that moved St Augustine to meditate in his exposition on Psalm 92[91]: "What does it mean, brothers, to sing praise with the psaltery? The psaltery is a musical instrument with strings. Our psaltery is our work. Those who do good work with their hands praise God with the psaltery. Those who confess with their lips, praise him with their singing! Song is on their lips! They praise him with their actions!... So who are those who sing? Those who delight in doing good. Indeed, singing is a sign of cheerfulness. What does the Apostle say? "God loves a cheerful giver' (2Co 9,7). Whatever you do, do it joyfully. Then you will be doing good and doing it well. On the other hand, if you are cast down while you work, even if good is done through you, it is not you who do it: you have your lute in your hands, you are not singing" (cf. Esposizioni sui Salmi, III, Rome 1976, pp. 192-195).

2. Through St Augustine's words we can enter the heart of our reflection and deal with the fundamental theme of the Psalm: good and evil. Both are scrutinized by the just and holy God, "on high for ever", who is eternal and infinite, who lets no human action escape him.

Thus, two opposite forms of conduct are repeatedly compared. In his conduct, the faithful person is devoted to celebrating the divine works and plumbing the depths of the Lord's thoughts, and on this path his life is radiant with light and joy. By contrast, the Psalmist outlines the dullness of the wicked person, incapable as he is of understanding the hidden meaning of human events. Ephemeral good fortune makes him arrogant, but in fact he is basically weak and doomed after his fleeting success to destruction and death. The Psalmist, using an interpretative key dear to the Old Testament, that is, retribution, is convinced that God will already reward the righteous in this life, giving them a happy old age, and that he will punish evildoers before long.

Actually, as Job affirmed and Jesus was to teach, history can never be so clearly interpreted. Thus, the Psalmist's vision becomes a plea to the just God "on high for ever", to enter into the sequence of human events, to judge them and make good shine forth.

3. The contrast between the righteous and the wicked is subsequently taken up once again by the person praying. On the one hand, there are the "enemies" of the Lord, the "evildoers", once again doomed to dispersal and destruction. On the other, the faithful appear in their full splendour, embodied by the Psalmist who describes himself with picturesque images taken from Oriental symbology. The righteous person has the irresistible strength of the wild ox and is ready to challenge any adversity; his glorious forehead is anointed with the oil of divine protection that becomes, as it were, a shield to defend the chosen one and guard him. From the heights of his strength and safety, the person praying sees the wicked hurled into the abyss of their ruin.

Psalm 92[91] thus is replete with happiness, confidence and optimism: gifts that we must ask God for precisely in our time when the temptation of distrust and even despair can easily creep in.

4. At the end, in the atmosphere of profound peace that permeates it, our hymn casts a glance at the old age of the righteous and predicts that they will be equally serene. Even when these days loom on his horizon, the spirit of the praying person will still be vital, happy and active, and feel flourishing and fruitful like the palms and cedars planted in the courtyards of the temple of Zion.

The righteous are radicated in God himself, from whom they absorb the sap of divine grace. The life of the Lord nourishes them and makes them flourish and vigorous, that is, able to give to others and to witness to their own faith. The Psalmist's final words in this description of a just, hard-working life and an intense and active old age, are in fact linked to the declaration of the Lord's eternal fidelity. At this point, therefore, we can conclude by proclaiming the canticle that is raised to the glory of God in the last Book of the Bible, Revelation, the book of the terrible struggle between good and evil, but also of hope in Christ's final victory: "Great and wonderful are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the peoples!... For you alone are holy. All nations shall come and worship you, for your judgments have been revealed.... Just are you in these your judgments, you who are and were, O Holy One.... Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!" (cf. Ap 15,3-4 Ap 16,5 Ap 16,7).
***


64 To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from India, Japan and the United States. Upon all of you I cordially invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

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

Dear young people, resuming your normal daily activities after the holiday period, may you be witnesses of hope and peace in every circumstance.

Dear sick people, find comfort in the suffering Lord, who continues his work of redemption in every person's life.

Dear newly-weds, make your love ever truer, showing greater solidarity to others.
***


The Holy Father's affectionate prayer for the worker who died in St Peter's Square and for all victims of industrial accidents

Together with you, I would now like to remember our dear brother Costantino Marchionni, who died while at work in St Peter's Square last Monday. To the Lord, we raise our prayer for him and for those who mourn him as well as for all the victims of work-related incidents. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine!



Wednesday, 10 September 2003 - Canticle of Ezekiel 36: 24-28 - "I will be your God!'

65 Ez 36,24-28

1. The Canticle that has just echoed in our ears and hearts was composed by one of the great prophets of Israel, Ezekiel, a witness of one of the most tragic ages the Jewish people lived through: the destruction of the Kingdom of Judea and its capital, Jerusalem, followed by the bitter exile in Babylon (sixth century B.C.). The passage that has become part of the Christian prayer of Lauds is an extract from chapter 36 of Ezekiel.

The context of this passage, transformed into a liturgical hymn, seeks to capture the deep meaning of the tragedy that the people lived in those years. The sin of idolatry had contaminated the land that the Lord had given to Israel as an inheritance. In the final analysis it was this more than anything else that was responsible for the loss of the homeland and dispersal among the nations. In fact, God is not indifferent to good and evil; he enters the history of humanity mysteriously with his judgment that sooner or later unmasks evil, defends its victims and points out the way of justice.

2. However, the goal of God's action is never the ruin, the pure and simple condemnation or elimination, of the sinner. It was the Prophet Ezekiel himself who cited these divine words: "Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?... For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone; so return, and live" (Ez 18,22 Ez 18,23).

In this light we can understand the meaning of our Canticle that is filled with hope and salvation. After purification through trial and suffering, the dawn of a new era is about to break, as the Prophet Jeremiah had already announced, speaking of a "new covenant" between the Lord and Israel (cf. Jr 31,31-34). Ezekiel himself, in chapter 11 of his prophetic book, had proclaimed these divine words: "I will give them a new heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God" (Ez 11,19-20).

In our Canticle (cf. Ez 36,24-28), the prophet takes up this oracle and completes it with a marvellous explanation: the "new spirit" given by God to the children of his people will be his Spirit, the Spirit of God himself (cf. Ez 36,27).

3. Thus, not only is a purification proclaimed, expressed in the sign of the water that washes away the stains on the conscience. There is not only the aspect of liberation from evil and sin (cf. Ez 36,25), necessary though it may be. Ezekiel's message stresses another, far more surprising aspect: humanity is, in fact, destined to be born to new life. The first symbol is that of the "heart" which, in biblical language, suggests interiority, the personal conscience. God will tear from our breasts the "heart of stone" that is cold and hard, a sign of the persistence of evil. Into them he will put a "heart of flesh", that is, a source of life and love (cf. Ez 36,26). The life-giving spirit that brought creatures to life in the creation (cf. Gn 2,7), will be replaced in the new economy of grace by the Holy Spirit, who sustains us, moves and guides us toward the light of truth and pours out "God's love... into our hearts" (Rm 5,5).

4. Thus will emerge that "new creation" which St Paul was to describe (cf. 2Co 5,17 Ga 6,15), when the "old self" in us, the "sinful body", would pass away, so that "we might no longer be enslaved to sin" (Rm 6,6), but new creatures, transformed by the Spirit of the risen Christ: "You have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator" (Col 3,9-10 cf. Rm 6,6). The prophet Ezekiel proclaims a new people which the New Testament would see as having been gathered together by God himself through the work of his Son. This community, possessing "a heart of flesh" and imbued with the "Spirit", would experience the living and active presence of God himself, who would enliven believers, acting in them with his efficacious grace. "All who keep his commandments abide in him", St John was to say, "and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us" (1Jn 3,24).

5. Let us end our meditation on the Canticle of Ezekiel by listening to St Cyril of Jerusalem who, in his Third Baptismal Catechesis, delineates in this prophetic passage the people of Christian Baptism.

"Through Baptism", he recalls, "all sins are forgiven, even the most serious transgressions". The Bishop therefore says to his listeners: "Have faith, Jerusalem, the Lord will remove your wickedness from you (cf. So 3,14-15). The Lord will cleanse you from your misdeeds...; he "will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses' (Ez 36,25). The angels will encircle you rejoicing and they will soon sing: "Who is that coming up from the wilderness', immaculate, and "leaning upon her beloved?' (Sg 8,5). In fact, it is the soul, formerly a slave and now free to address as her adopted brother her Lord, who says to her, accepting her sincere resolution, "Behold, you are beautiful, beautiful!' (Sg 4,1).... Thus, he exclaims, alluding to the fruits of a confession made with a clear conscience,... may heaven deign that you all... keep alive the remembrance of these words and draw fruits from them, expressing them in holy deeds in order to present yourselves faultless before the mystical Bridegroom and obtain from the Father the forgiveness of your sins" (n. 16; Le Catechesi, Rome 1993, pp. 79-80).
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66 To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from Latvia, Denmark, Ireland, Scotland, England and the United States. Upon all of you I cordially invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

Lastly I greet you, young people, sick people and newly-weds.

Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin and the day after tomorrow we will commemorate her Holy Name. May the heavenly Mother of God guide you and sustain you on the way of an ever more perfect adherence to Christ and his Gospel.

Trip to Slovakia: entrustment to the Mother of the Redeemer

With great hope, I am preparing to make tomorrow my third Apostolic Journey to Slovakia, a land enriched by the witness of Christ's heroic disciples who have left eloquent impressions of holiness on that nation's history.

Dearest brothers and sisters, I invite you to accompany me in prayer. I am entrusting the Apostolic Journey to the Mother of the Redeemer, deeply venerated in Slovakia. May she guide my steps and obtain for the Slovak people a new springtime of faith and civil advancement.




GENERAL AUDIENCE 2003 54