Wednesday, 21 July 2004 - 14th strophe of Psalm 119£[118]

Your word is a lamp for my steps and a light for my path

1. At this General Audience, after the interval I spent in the Valle d'Aosta, let us now continue on our journey through the Psalms proposed by the Liturgy of Vespers. Today we come to the 14th of the 22 strophes that make up Psalm 119[118], a grandiose hymn to the Law of God and an expression of his will. The number of the strophes corresponds to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and suggests fullness; each one is composed of eight verses and of words that begin with the corresponding letter in alphabetical order.

In our case, the first words of the verses we have just heard begin with the Hebrew letter nun. This strophe is illuminated by the shining image in its first line: "Your word is a lamp for my steps and a light for my path" (
Ps 119,105). Man ventures on life's often dark journey, but all of a sudden the darkness is dispelled by the splendour of the Word of God.

Psalm 19[18] compares the Law of God to the sun, when it says that "the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes" (Ps 19,9 [18]). Then in the Book of Proverbs it is reasserted that "the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light" (Pr 6,23). Christ was also to present himself as a definitive revelation with exactly the same image: "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (Jn 8,12).

2. The Psalmist then continues his prayer, calling to mind the suffering and danger in the life he has to lead, in which he stands in need of enlightenment and support: "Lord, I am deeply afflicted: by your word give me life.... Though I carry my life in my hands, I remember your law" (Ps 119,107 Ps 119,109 [118]).

A dark image pervades the strophe: "the wicked try to ensnare me" (Ps 119,110), the person praying again intimates, making use of a hunting image well known to the Psalter. The faithful know that they are advancing on the highways of the world amid danger, anxiety and persecution; they know that trials are lying in wait. Christians, for their part, know that every day they must carry the Cross up the hill of their Calvary (cf. Lc 9,23)

3. However, the just keep their fidelity intact: "I have sworn and have made up my mind to obey your decrees... I remember your law... I do not stray from your precepts" (Ps 119,106 Ps 119,109 Ps 119,110 [118]). A conscience at peace is the strength of believers; their constancy in obeying the divine commandments is the source of their serenity.

The final declaration is therefore consistent: "Your will is my heritage for ever, the joy of my heart" (Ps 119,111) It is this that is the most precious reality, the "heritage", the "reward" (cf. Ps 119,112) which the Psalmist cherishes with vigilant and ardent love: the teaching and commandments of the Lord. He wants to be totally faithful to the will of his God. On this path he will find peace of soul and will succeed in getting through the dark tangle of trials and reaching true joy.

4. In this regard, St Augustine's words are enlightening. He begins his commentary on Psalm 119[118] by developing the theme of the happiness that derives from observing the Law of the Lord. "From the very beginning, this very long Psalm invites us to happiness, which, as everyone knows, constitutes the hope of every man. Indeed, could there (was there or will there) ever be anyone who did not desire to be happy? And if this is so, what need is there to invite people to a goal that the human soul spontaneously strives for?... Might not the reason be that although we all aspire to happiness, most of us do not know how to attain it? Yes, this is precisely the lesson that is taught by the One who says: "Blessed are those who are undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord'. It seems to say: "I know what you desire; I know you are seeking happiness; if, then, you wish to be happy, be undefiled. All seek the former, whereas few trouble about the latter: however, without it, what all wish for cannot be attained. But where can anyone be undefiled, except in the way, which is none other than the Law of the Lord? Hence, it is those who are undefiled in the way, those who walk in the laws of the Lord who are happy! This exhortation is not superfluous but necessary to our spirit" (Esposizioni sui Salmi, III, Rome, 1976, p. 1113).

Let us make our own the conclusion of the great Bishop of Hippo who reaffirms the continual timeliness of the happiness promised to those who strive faithfully to do God's will.

To special groups

I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including members of the General Chapter of the Congregation of Holy Cross. I also greet the young Ursulines from all over the world gathered here in Rome, as well as groups from England, Ireland, the Philippines and the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of Our Lord, and I wish you a happy stay in Rome.

Lastly, as usual, I greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. Dear brothers and sisters, I hope that you will make the most of this summer period to intensify your contact with God in prayer, quietly listening to his Word.

Wednesday, 28 July 2004 - Psalm 16£[15]

44 My happiness lies in you alone (Ps 16)

1. After hearing it and making it a prayer, we have the opportunity to meditate on a Psalm that is charged with strong spiritual tension. Despite the difficulties the original Hebrew text presents, especially in the first verses, Psalm 16[15] is a luminous canticle with a mystical dimension, as the profession of faith at the beginning immediately suggests: "You are my God. My happiness lies in you alone" (Ps 16,2). Thus, God is seen as the only good, and so the person of prayer chooses to rank himself with the community of all those who are faithful to the Lord: "He has put into my heart a marvellous love for the faithful ones who dwell in his land" (Ps 16,3). This is why the Psalmist radically rejects the temptation of idolatry with its offerings of blood and its blasphemous invocations (cf. Ps 16,4).

It is a clear and decisive choice of sides that seems to echo the choice expressed in Psalm 72, another hymn of trust in God acquired through a strong and deeply-felt moral choice. "What else have I in heaven but you? Apart from you I want nothing on earth.... To be near God is my happiness. I have made the Lord God my refuge" (Ps 73,25 Ps 73,28 [72]).

2. Our Psalm develops two themes that are expressed through three symbols.

First of all, there is the symbol of the "heritage", a term that serves as the framework of verses 5 and 6: indeed, the Psalm speaks of "heritage", "cup", "lot". These words were used to describe the gift of the Promised Land to the People of Israel. We now know that the Levites were the only tribe that did not receive a portion of land because the Lord himself constituted their heritage. Indeed, the Psalmist declares: "O Lord, it is you who are my portion.... The lot marked out for me is my delight" (Ps 16,5 Ps 16,6 [15]). Thus, he gives us the impression that he is a priest proclaiming his joy in being dedicated to serving God without reserve.

St Augustine comments: "The Psalmist does not say: O God, give me a heritage! What would you ever give me as a heritage? Instead, he says: all that you can give me other than yourself is vile. May you yourself be my heritage. It is you I love.... Hoping for God from God, being filled with God by God. He is sufficient; besides him, nothing can satisfy you" (Sermone 334, 3: PL 38, 1469).

3. Perfect and continuous communion with the Lord constitutes the second theme. The Psalmist expresses the firm hope that he will be preserved from death and be able to stay close to God, something that is no longer possible in death (cf. Ps 6,6 Ps 88,6 [87]:). Yet, his words set no limits on this preservation; on the contrary, they can be understood along the lines of a victory over death that is an assurance of eternal intimacy with God.

Two symbols are used by the person of prayer. In the first place it is the body he calls to mind: exegetes tell us that the original Hebrew (cf. Ps 16[15]: 7-10) refers to "loins", a symbol of the most secret passions and hidden inner feelings, to the "right hand", a sign of strength, to the "heart", the seat of the conscience, even to the "liver" that expresses emotionality, to "flesh" that points to the frail existence of human beings and lastly, to the "breath of life".

This is consequently a representation of the "whole being" of the person who is not absorbed or annihilated in the corruption of the grave (cf. v. 10), but is kept fully alive and happy with God.

45 4. Here, then, is the second symbol of Psalm 16[15]: the "path": "you will show me the path of life" (Ps 16,11). It is the way that leads to "fullness of joy in your [the divine] presence", "at your [the Lord's] right hand, happiness for ever". These words fit perfectly into an interpretation that broadens the prospect to the hope of communion with God beyond death, in eternal life.

At this point it is easy to perceive that the New Testament incorporated this Psalm in connection with the Resurrection of Christ. In his discourse on Pentecost, St Peter quotes precisely from the second part of the hymn with an enlightening paschal and Christological application: "God raised him [Jesus of Nazareth] up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it" (Ac 2,24).

St Paul refers to Psalm 16[15] in his announcement of the Passover of Christ during his speech at the Synagogue in Antioch Pisidian. In this light, let us also proclaim him: ""You will not let your Holy One see corruption'. For David, after he had served the counsel of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption; but he whom God raised up", that is, Jesus Christ, "saw no corruption" (Ac 13,35-37).

To special groups

I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including the many students as well as other groups from Canada, Ireland and the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke the peace and joy of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Happy holidays!

I now express a cordial greeting to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I greet in particular the Sisters, Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus who are taking part in the General Chapter of their Institute, which I hope will never cease to grow in its commitment to witness to Christ and his merciful love. I greet the Chapter Sisters of the Congregation of the Daughters of the Immaculate Virgin Mary from Savona and I ask them to continue generously on their journey of authentic renewal in complete fidelity to their charism. I also offer an affectionate greeting to the Ursuline Sisters of the Canadian Union.

In addition, I greet the altar boys from the pre-seminary school of St Pius X, who are serving in these days in the Vatican Basilica, and the members of the Italian National Sports Centre, Libertas.

Lastly, I greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. Dear friends, may your visit to the tombs of the Apostles be an encouragement and an incentive to you to live your faith with ever greater awareness.

My Blessing to you all.

                                                                                  August 2004

Wednesday, 4 August 2004 - Canticle in Philippians (2: 6-11)

He emptied himself! (
Ph 2,6-11)

1. On our journey through the Psalms and Canticles that make up the Liturgy of the Hours we have come to the Canticle in Philippians (Ph 2,6-11) that is a feature of First Vespers on all of the four Sundays that the Liturgy covers.

We are meditating upon it for the second time, exploring more deeply the wealth of its theology. These verses shine with the Christian faith of the origins, centred on the figure of Jesus, recognized and proclaimed our brother in humanity but also Lord of the universe. Thus, it is a real confession of Christological faith that mirrors clearly the thought of St Paul but may also echo the voice of the Judeo-Christian community before the Apostle's time.

2. The Canticle starts from the divinity of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the divine "nature" and condition are his - in Greek, morphé - that is, the essential transcendent reality of God (cf. Ph 2,6). Yet he does not consider his supreme and glorious identity as a proud privilege of which to boast nor as a sign of power and mere superiority.

Our hymn clearly moves downwards, that is, towards humanity. It is on this path of "emptying" himself, or as it were, stripping himself of that glory to take on the morphé, in other words, the reality and condition of a servant, that the Word takes on in order to enter the horizon of human history. Indeed, he assumes the "likeness" of human beings (cf. Ph 2,7) and even goes so far as to accept the sign of limitation and finality which death is. It is an extreme humiliation, for he even accepted death on the cross, which the society in his time held to be the vilest form (Ph 2,8).

3. Christ chose to lower himself from glory to death on a cross; this is the first movement of the Canticle to which, in order to reveal its other nuances, we will have occasion to return.

The second movement is in the opposite direction: from below it ascends to the heights, from humiliation it rises towards exaltation. It is now the Father who glorifies the Son, snatching him from the clutches of death and enthroning him as Lord of the universe (cf. Ph 2,9). St Peter too, in his discourse at Pentecost, declares that "God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified" (Ac 2,36). Easter, therefore, is the solemn Epiphany of the divinity of Christ, which is at first concealed by his condition as a servant and a mortal.

47 4. Before the grandiose figure of Christ glorified and enthroned, let everyone fall to their knees in adoration. A powerful profession of faith is raised not only from within the whole horizon of human history, but also from heaven and from hell (cf. Ph 2,10): "Jesus Christ is Lord" (Ph 2,11) "We see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone" (He 2,9).

Let us end our brief analysis of the Canticle in Philippians, to which we will need to return, by listening to the words of St Augustine who, in his Commentary on the Gospel according to St John (Commento al Vangelo di San Giovanni), refers to the Pauline hymn to celebrate the life-giving power of Christ who brings about our resurrection, snatching us from our mortal end.

5. These are the words of the great Father of the Church: "Christ, "though his nature was divine, did not jealously keep his equality with God to himself'. What would have become of us, here below in the abyss, weak and attached to the earth, hence, incapable of reaching God? Could we have been left to ourselves? Absolutely not. He "emptied himself, taking the form of a servant', but without abandoning his divine form. Consequently, he who was God, made himself man, taking on what he was not without losing what he was; thus, God became man. Here, on the one hand, you find help in your weakness, and on the other, you find what you need to attain perfection. Christ raises you up by virtue of his humanity, he guides you by virtue of his human divinity and leads you to his divinity. All Christian preaching, O brothers, and the economy of salvation centred on Christ is summed up in this and in nothing else: in the resurrection of souls and the resurrection of bodies.

Both died: the body because of its weakness, the soul because of its wickedness; both were dead and both, the soul and the body, had to be raised. By virtue of whom is the soul raised if not by Christ as God? By virtue of whom is the body raised, if not by Christ as Man?... Your soul rises from wickedness by virtue of his divinity and your body rises from corruption by virtue of his humanity" (Commento al Vangelo di San Giovanni, 23, 6, Rome, 1968, p. 541).
* * *

To special groups

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience. I greet particularly the groups from Ireland and Japan. Wishing you a pleasant stay in Rome, I cordially invoke upon you joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ. Happy vacation!

I now offer a warm welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I greet in particular the Apostolic Oblates founded by Mons. Guglielmo Giaquinta, who are taking part in their Institute's General Assembly, and the faithful of Biancavilla who are commemorating the fourth centenary of the inauguration of their parish church. I invite them all to witness with new dynamism to the Gospel of charity.

Lastly, I address the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. Dear friends, today's liturgy commemorates a priest who was deeply loved by his contemporaries: St John Mary Vianney, the holy Curé d'Ars.

May his example and intercession be an incentive to you, dear young people, to respond generously to the invitations of grace; may it help you, dear sick people, to understand better and better the value of suffering accepted out of love for the Lord; may it make you appreciate, dear newly-weds, the virtue of humility that is the basis of harmony in the family.

Wednesday, 11 August 2004 - Pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine of Lourdes

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. Next Saturday and Sunday, I will be making an Apostolic Pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine of Lourdes. In that blessed place, I shall have the joy of celebrating the Solemnity of the Assumption into Heaven of Mary Most Holy.

The reason for my pilgrimage is the 150th anniversary of the dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, proclaimed by Bl. Pope Pius IX on 8 December 1854. Four years later, the Virgin appeared to St Bernadette in the grotto at Massabielle, introducing herself precisely as "the Immaculate Conception". I therefore consider this opportunity to return to Lourdes in consonance with this luminous truth of faith as a special gift of Providence.

In a single act of praise to God and to the Virgin, I will embrace the two great Marian mysteries: the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption into Heaven in body and soul. In fact, they constitute the beginning and the end of Mary's earthly life, combined in the eternal present of God who called her to take part in a very special way in the saving event of the Redemption brought about by Our Lord Jesus Christ.

2. The pilgrimage will have three public moments: on Saturday afternoon, the recitation of the Holy Rosary; in the evening the traditional aux flambeaux (torchlight) procession; lastly, on Sunday morning, the solemn Eucharistic Concelebration. In addition, on arriving at the Shrine and before leaving it, I will have the opportunity to pray in silence at the Grotto. On every occasion I will carry in my heart the thanksgiving and supplication of the whole Church, and, I would say, of the whole world, which can find peace and salvation in God alone.

Indeed, what message did the Lord want to address to humanity through Our Lady of Lourdes? Briefly, it can be summed up in a famous saying from Sacred Scripture: God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live (cf.
Ez 33,11). In addressing young Bernadette, Mary wanted to recall this fundamental Gospel message: prayer and penance are the way through which to affirm Christ's victory in every individual person and in society.

3. To change our conduct, however, we must listen to the voice of our conscience in which God has inculcated the sense of good and evil. Unfortunately, in a certain way modern men and women sometimes exhibit a loss of the sense of sin. It is essential to implore for them an inner reawakening that will enable them to rediscover to the full the holiness of God's law and the moral commitments that derive from it.

I am preparing to depart for the Shrine of the Virgin Mary in Lourdes with these intentions in mind. I ask you all to accompany me in spirit, so that the pilgrimage of the Successor of Peter may bear abundant fruits for the entire People of God.

To special groups

I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including groups from Scotland, Ireland, Malta and the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and I wish you many blessings during your stay in Rome. Happy vacation!

I address a cordial welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I greet you in particular, dear faithful of Bergamo, who have gathered here with your Bishop on the occasion of the centenary of the Ordination to the Priesthood of Bl. John XXIII. As I once again recall the fruitful ministry of my venerable Predecessor, a distinguished son of the Bergamo region, I hope that his teachings will continue to give rise to new resolutions of Gospel witness, especially in the people of his own province.

In greeting the pilgrims from Latin America, I particularly remember today Venezuela, and I ask the Lord to bless and guide all her citizens by granting them a future open to progress and hope. Moreover, I call for a serene climate of peace and reconciliation in this dear Nation, which I will commend to the Virgin Mary in the coming trip to Lourdes.

My cordial thoughts are now addressed to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. Today we are celebrating the memorial of St Clare of Assisi, a shining model of a young woman who knew how to live courageously her total attachment to Christ. Dear friends, imitate her example, so that you may be ready, like her, to respond faithfully to the Lord's call.

I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including groups from Scotland, Ireland, Malta and the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and I wish you many blessings during your stay in Rome. Happy Vacation!

Wednesday, 18 August 2004 - Psalm 110£[109]

"Sit on my right: your foes I will put beneath your feet" (
Ps 110)

1. Continuing an ancient tradition, Psalm 110[109] which has just been proclaimed constitutes the primary component of Sunday Vespers. It is proposed in all four of the weeks into which the Liturgy of the Hours is divided. Its brevity is further accentuated by the exclusion in Christian liturgical usage of verse 6, which contains a curse. This does not do away with the difficulties it presents for exegesis or for its interpretation. The text is presented as a royal Psalm connected to the Davidic dynasty and probably refers to the rite of the sovereign's enthronement. Yet the Judaic and Christian tradition has seen in the consecrated king the profile of the Consecrated One par excellence: the Messiah, Christ.

Precisely in this light, the Psalm becomes a luminous hymn that the Christian Liturgy raises to the Risen One on the festive day that commemorates the Passover of the Lord.

2. Psalm 110[109] has two parts, both of which are characterized by the presence of a divine oracle. The first oracle (cf. Ps 110,1-3) is addressed to the sovereign on the day of his solemn enthronement "at the right hand" of God. that is, next to the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple of Jerusalem. The reminder that the king was "begotten" by the Lord was part of the official protocol for his coronation, and acquired for Israel the symbolic value of investiture and protection, since the king was God's lieutenant in the defence of justice (cf. Ps 110,3).

Of course, in the Christian interpretation, that divine "begetting" actually takes place and presents Jesus Christ as the true Son of God. This is likewise what happened in the Christian interpretation of another famous royal-messianic psalm, the second in the Psaltery, where one reads this divine oracle: "You are my Son. It is I who have begotten you this day" (Ps 2,7).

50 3. On the other hand, the second oracle in Psalm 110[109] has a priestly connotation (cf. Ps 110,4). The office of king formerly also included ritual functions, not only according to the Levitic priesthood but also following another connection: that of the priesthood of Melchizedek, the sovereign-priest of Salem, the pre-Israelitic Jerusalem (cf. Gn 14,17-20).

In the Christian vision, the Messiah becomes the model of a perfect, supreme priesthood. The Letter to the Hebrews, in its central section, exalted this priestly ministry "after the order of Melchizedek" (He 5,10), seeing it fully incarnate in the person of Christ.

4. The first oracle is taken up several times in the New Testament to celebrate Jesus' messianic role (cf. Mt 22,44 Mt 26,64 Ac 2,34-35 1Co 15,25-27 He 1,13). Christ himself, before the high priest and the Hebraic Sanhedrin, was to refer explicitly to our Psalm, proclaiming that he would henceforth "sit at the right hand of divine power", as it also says in Psalm 110[109] (Mc 14,62 cf. Mc 12,36-37).

We will return to this Psalm on our journey through the texts of the Liturgy of the Hours. Now, at the end of our brief presentation of this messianic hymn, let us reaffirm its Christological interpretation.

5. Let us do so with the syntheses that St Augustine offers us. In his Exposition on Psalm 109, which he gave during Lent in the year 412, he describes the Psalm as a true prophecy of the divine promises regarding Christ. The famous Father of the Church said: "It was necessary to know the only-begotten Son of God, who was to come among men, to take flesh and become a man through the nature he took on: he was to die, to rise again and to ascend into Heaven, where he was to sit at the right hand of the Father and fulfil all he had promised among the peoples.... All this, therefore, had to be prophesied, had to be foretold, had to be signaled as destined to occur, in order not to give rise to fear by coming like a bolt from the blue, but rather to be anticipated with faith and hope.

This Psalm fits into the context of these promises; it foretells in clear and explicit terms the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, of whom we cannot have the slightest doubt that he was the Christ proclaimed" (Exposizioni sui Salmi, III, Rome, 1976, pp. 951,953).

6. Let us now address our prayer to the Father of Jesus Christ, the one King and perfect and eternal Priest, so that he may make us a people of priests and prophets of peace and love, a people that praises Christ, King and Priest, who sacrificed himself to reconcile in himself, in one body, the whole of humanity, creating the new man (cf. Ep 2,15-16).

To special groups

Dear Brothers and Sisters, I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience. I greet particularly the groups from the United States of America. Wishing you a pleasant stay in Rome, I cordially invoke upon you joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ. Happy vacation!

I extend my greeting to all the young people present, as well as to the sick and the newly-weds. Dear friends, may the light of Christ that we have contemplated reflected in the Assumption to Heaven of Mary Most Holy always brighten your lives and make you authentic witnesses of his Gospel.

Wednesday, 25 August 2004 - Liturgy of the Word in honour of the Icon of the Mother of God of Kazan


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. Today, as I announced last Sunday, our traditional weekly meeting has a special profile. Indeed, here we are gathered in prayer around the venerable Icon of the Mother of God of Kazan, which is on the point of setting out on the return journey to Russia, which it left one day long ago.

After passing through various countries and staying a long time at the Shrine of Fatima in Portugal, it providentially arrived at the Pope's dwelling more than 10 years ago. Since then, it has found a home with me and has accompanied my daily service to the Church with its motherly gaze.

How often since that day have I called on the Mother of God of Kazan, asking her to protect and guide the Russian people who venerate her, and to hasten the moment when all the disciples of her Son, recognizing one another as brothers and sisters, will be able to fully restore the compromised unity.

2. From the very first, I wanted this holy Icon to return to its own Land of Russia, where, according to reliable historical accounts, it was for a great many years the object of profound veneration on the part of entire generations of the faithful. It was around the Icon of the Mother of God of Kazan that the history of that great people developed.

Russia is a Nation which has been Christian for many centuries; it is the Holy Rus'. Even when hostile forces furiously attacked the Church and endeavoured to cancel the holy Name of God from human lives, that people remained profoundly Christian, witnessing in many cases with blood to their fidelity to the Gospel and the values it inspires.

Therefore, deeply moved, I give thanks with you to divine Providence, which today has granted me to send this holy Icon as a gift to the venerable Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.

3. May the ancient image of the Mother of the Lord tell His Holiness Alexei II and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Successor of Peter's affection for them and for all the faithful entrusted to their care. May it speak of his esteem for the great spiritual tradition of which the Holy Russian Church is custodian. May it speak of the desire and firm determination of the Pope of Rome to progress with them on the journey of reciprocal knowledge and reconciliation, to hasten the day of that full unity of believers for which the Lord Jesus ardently prayed (cf.
Jn 17,20-22).

Dear brothers and sisters, join me in invoking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as I entrust her Icon to the Delegation which, in my name, will be taking the Icon to Moscow.

                                                                       September 2004

Wednesday, 1 September 2004 - Psalm 115£[113B]

"We who live bless the Lord!' (
Ps 115)

1. The living God and the lifeless idol are juxtaposed in Psalm 115[113B], one in the series on the Psalms of Vespers, that we have just heard. The ancient Greek translation of the Bible called the Septuagint, followed by the Latin version of the ancient Christian Liturgy, joined this Psalm in honour of the true Lord with the one that precedes it. The result is a single composition which, however, is clearly divided into two distinct texts (cf. Ps 114 [113A] and Ps 115 [113B].

After the first words addressed to the Lord to illustrate his glory, the Chosen People present their God as the almighty Creator: "Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he wills" (Ps 115,3 [113B]). "Fidelity and grace" are the typical virtues of the God of the Covenant with regard to the people chosen by him, Israel. (cf. Ps 115,1). Thus, the universe and history come under his sovereignty, which is a power of love and salvation.

2."Their [the heathens'] idols" (Ps 115,4) are immediately set against the true God worshipped by Israel. Idolatry is a temptation of all humanity in all lands and in all epochs. The idol is an inanimate object created by human hands, a cold and lifeless statue. The Psalmist ironically describes all seven of its useless members: a mouth that cannot speak, eyes that are blind, ears that are deaf, nostrils that smell nothing, hands that cannot feel, feet that cannot walk, a throat from which no sound comes (cf. Ps 115,5-7).

After this merciless criticism of idols, the Psalmist expresses a sarcastic wish: "Their makers will come to be like them and so will all who trust in them" (Ps 115,8). The formulation of this wish is certainly calculated to produce, with regard to idolatry, a radically dissuasive effect. Those who worship the idols of riches, power and success forfeit their personal dignity. The Prophet Isaiah said: "All who make idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit; their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame" (Is 44,9).

3. On the contrary, the faithful of the Lord know that "their help" and "their shield" are in the living God (cf. Ps 115,9-13 [113B]). They are presented in three categories. First come "the sons of Israel", that is, the entire people, the community that gathers in the temple to pray. They are followed by the "sons of Aaron", which refers to the priests, custodians and preachers of the divine Word, called to preside over worship. Lastly, those who fear the Lord are mentioned, in other words, the authentic and constant faithful who, in the Judaism that followed the Babylonian Exile and even later, also denote those pagans who drew near to the community and faith of Israel with a sincere heart and genuine interest. Such a one, for example, was the Roman centurion, Cornelius (cf. Ac 10,1-2 Ac 10,22), whom St Peter subsequently converted to Christianity.

53 Divine blessings are poured out upon these three categories of true believers (cf. Ps 115,12-15 [113B]). According to the biblical conception, the blessing was a source of fruitfulness: "may the Lord grant increase, to you and all your children" (Ps 115,14). Finally, the faithful, rejoicing in the gift of life that they have received from the living God, the Creator, sing a short hymn of praise, responding to the effective blessing of God with their own grateful and confident blessing (cf. Ps 115,16-18).

4. A lively and evocative reference is made to our Psalm in the fifth Homily on the Canticle of Canticles by St Gregory of Nyssa (fourth century), a Father of the Eastern Church: he describes humanity passing from the "ice of idolatry" to the springtime of salvation. Indeed, St Gregory recalls, human nature had, as it were, been transformed into lifeless, "inert beings" who "were made the object of worship", as we actually find written: "Their makers will come to be like them and so will all who trust in them". "And it was logical that this should be so. In fact, just as those who look at the true God receive in themselves the special features of the divine nature, those who turn to the vanity of idols are transformed into the likeness of what they were gazing at, and from the human beings that they were, become stone. Thus, since human nature, turned to stone by idolatry, remained inanimate, frozen in idol worship even before the best of prospects, the Sun of justice shines upon this tremendous winter and turns it into spring with the breath of wind from the south that melts such ice and warms all who are beneath it with the rays of that rising sun; man, therefore, who had been turned into stone by ice, thawed by the Spirit and warmed by the radiance of the Logos, is once more gushing water for eternal life (Omelie sul Cantico dei Cantici, Rome, 1988, pp.133-134).


To English-speaking pilgrims

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims present at this Audience, especially those from Ireland and the United States of America. Upon you and your loved ones, I invoke the Lord's Blessings of health and joy.

To youth, the sick and newly-weds

Dear friends, I hope that after the holiday period you will resume your customary activities in the knowledge that you are always doing the will of God, the source of our peace.