Audiences 2005-2013 14125

Wednesday, 14 December 2005 - Psalm 139[138] "O where can I go?' Evening Prayer - Wednesday of the Fourth Week


1. The Liturgy of Vespers - on whose Psalms and Canticles we are meditating - offers us in two separate phases the reading of a sapiential hymn of clear beauty and strong emotional impact: Psalm 139[138]. Today, we have before us the first part of the composition (cf. vv. 1-12), that is, the first two strophes which respectively exalt God's omniscience (cf. vv. 1-6) and his omnipresence in space and in time (cf. vv. 7-12).

The purpose of the forceful images and expressions is to celebrate the Creator: "If the greatness of the works created is immense", said Theodoret of Cyr, a Christian writer of the fifth century, "how much greater their Creator must be!" (Discorsi sulla Provvidenza, 4: Collana di Testi Patristici, LXXV, Rome, 1988, p. 115). The Psalmist's meditation sought above all to penetrate the mystery of God, transcendent yet close to us.

2. The substance of the message he offers us is straightforward: God knows everything and is present beside his creature who cannot elude him. However, his presence is neither threatening nor inspectorial; of course, he also looks reprovingly at evil, to which he is not indifferent.

Yet the basic element is that of a saving presence which can embrace the whole being and the whole of history. In practice, this is the spiritual scenario to which St Paul alluded at the Areopagus of Athens, with recourse to a quotation from a Greek poet: "In him we live and move and have our being" (
Ac 17,28).

3. The first part (cf. Ps 139[138]: 1-6), as I said, is the celebration of the divine omniscience: in fact, verbs suggesting knowledge are repeated, such as "scrutinize", "know", "discern", "penetrate", "understand", "be wise".

As is well known, biblical knowledge exceeds pure and simple intellectual learning and understanding; it is a sort of communion between the One who knows and the one known: hence, the Lord is intimately close to us while we are thinking and acting.

On the other hand, the second part of our Psalm (cf. vv. 7-12) is dedicated to the divine omnipresence. The illusory desire of human beings to flee from that presence is vividly described in it. The whole of space is steeped in it: there is first of all the vertical axis "heaven-hell" (cf. v. 8), which gives way to the horizontal dimension which extends from dawn, that is, from the East, and reaches as far as the Mediterranean "sea's furthest end", that is, the West (cf. v. 9). Every sphere of space, even the most secret, contains God's active presence.

The Psalmist continues, also introducing the other reality in which we are immersed: time, symbolically portrayed by night and by light, by darkness and by day (cf. vv. 11-12).

The gaze and the manifestation of the Lord of being and time even penetrates the darkness, in which it is difficult to move about and see. His hand is always ready to grasp ours, to lead us on our earthly journey (cf. v. 10). This is not, therefore, a judgmental closeness that inspires terror, but a closeness of support and liberation.

And so we can understand what the ultimate, essential content of this Psalm is: it is a song of trust. God is always with us. Even in the darkest nights of our lives, he does not abandon us. Even in the most difficult moments, he remains present. And even in the last night, in the last loneliness in which no one can accompany us, the night of death, the Lord does not abandon us.

He is with us even in this final solitude of the night of death. And we Christians can therefore be confident: we are never left on our own. God's goodness is always with us.

4. We began with a citation by the Christian writer Theodoret of Cyr. Let us end by entrusting ourselves once again to him and to his Fourth Discourse on Divine Providence, because in the ultimate analysis this is the theme of the Psalm. He reflects on v. 6, in which the person praying exclaims: "Too wonderful for me, [your] knowledge, too high, beyond my reach".

Theodoret comments on this passage by examining the interiority of the conscience and personal experience, and says: "Having turned to me and become intimate with me, after removing me from the external din, he wanted to immerse me in contemplation of my nature.... Reflecting on these things and thinking of the harmony between the mortal and the immortal natures, I am won over by so much wonder and, not succeeding in contemplating this mystery, recognize my defeat; furthermore, while I proclaim the victory of the Creator's knowledge and sing hymns of praise to him, I cry: "Too wonderful for me, [your] knowledge, too high, beyond my reach" (Collana di Testi Patristici, LXXV, Rome, 1988, pp. 116,117).
* * *

To special groups

I am pleased to welcome the English-speaking pilgrims present at this Audience, especially those from the United States of America. In a special way I greet the group of Buddhists from Japan. Upon all of you I invoke the Lord's Blessings of peace and joy.

Lastly, my greeting goes to the young people, the sick and the newly weds.

Today's Memorial of St John of the Cross invites us, dear friends, to turn the heart's gaze on the mystery hidden in Christ Jesus, remembering that those who truly desire divine wisdom, desire first of all to enter into "the depths of the Cross".

With these sentiments, let us prepare to live Christmas, now at hand.

A good Advent season to you all!

Wednesday, 21 December 2005 - Psalm 139[138] "The wonder of my being' Evening Prayer - Wednesday of the Fourth Week


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today's General Audience is taking place in an atmosphere of glad and excited expectation for the Christmas festivities, now at hand. Come, Lord Jesus! This is what we repeat in prayer during these days, preparing our hearts to taste the joy of the Redeemer's birth. In this last week of Advent in particular, the liturgy accompanies and sustains us on our inner journey with repeated invitations to welcome the Saviour and to recognize him in the humble Child lying in a manger.

This is the mystery of Christmas, which a wealth of symbols helps us to understand better. These include the symbol of light, which is one of the symbols richest in spiritual significance and on which I would like briefly to reflect.

In our hemisphere, the Feast of Christmas coincides with the days of the winter solstice, after which the daylight time gradually lengthens, in accordance with the sequence of the seasons.

This helps us understand better the theme of light that overcomes the darkness. It is an evocative symbol of a reality that touches the innermost depths of the human being: I am referring to the light of good that triumphs over evil, the light of love that overcomes hatred, the light of life that defeats death. Christmas makes us think of this inner light, the divine light that returns to propose anew to us the proclamation of the definitive victory of God's love over sin and death.

Therefore, in the Novena of Holy Christmas that we are now making, there are many and significant evocations of light. The antiphon we sang at the beginning of our meeting also reminds us of light. The Saviour awaited by the people is hailed as the "Rising Star", the star that points out the way to men and women and guides them as they journey through the shadows and dangers of the world toward the salvation promised by God and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

As we prepare to celebrate the Saviour's Birth joyfully in our families and our Ecclesial Communities, while a certain modern, consumerist culture tends to do away with the Christian symbols of the celebration of Christmas, may it be everyone's task to grasp the value of the Christmas traditions that are part of the patrimony of our faith and our culture, in order to pass them on to the young generations.

Let us remember in particular, as we look at the streets and squares of the cities decorated with dazzling lights, that these lights refer us to another light, invisible to the eyes but not to the heart. While we admire them, while we light the candles in churches or the illuminations of the crib and the Christmas tree in our homes, may our souls be open to the true spiritual light brought to all people of good will. The God-with-us, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, is the Star of our lives!

"O rising Star, splendour of eternal light, sun of justice: shine on those lost in the darkness of death!". Making our own this invocation of today's liturgy, let us ask the Lord to hasten his glorious coming among us, among all those who are suffering, for in him alone can the genuine expectations of the human heart find fulfilment.

May this Star of light that never sets communicate to us the strength to follow always the path of truth, justice and love! Let us live these last days before Christmas intensely, together with Mary, the Virgin of silence and listening.

May she who was totally enveloped by the light of the Holy Spirit help us to understand and live to the full the mystery of Christ's Nativity. With these sentiments, exhorting you to keep alive the inner wonder in fervent expectation of the celebration of the Saviour's birth that is now at hand, I am pleased to express from this moment my most cordial good wishes for a holy and happy Christmas to all of you present here, to your relatives, to your communities and to all your loved ones.

Merry Christmas to everyone!

To special groups

I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims here today. May your stay in Rome, during this most special of seasons, be a time of uplifting spiritual joy. I wish you and your loved ones at home a happy and holy Christmas!

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

I hope that everyone will prepare themselves to live a holy and happy Christmas, making their hearts ready to receive the Infant Jesus who comes to fill with joy and peace all who, like the Virgin Mary, await him with faith.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 28 December 2005 - Psalm 139[138] "The wonder of my being' Evening Prayer - Wednesday of the Fourth Week

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. At this General Audience on Wednesday of the Octave of Christmas, the liturgical Feast of the Holy Innocents, let us resume our meditation on Psalm 139[138], proposed in the Liturgy of Vespers in two distinct stages. After contemplating in the first part (cf. vv. 1-12) the omniscient and omnipotent God, the Lord of being and history, this sapiential hymn of intense beauty and deep feeling now focuses on the loftiest, most marvellous reality of the entire universe: man, whose being is described as a "wonder" of God (cf. v. 14).

Indeed, this topic is deeply in tune with the Christmas atmosphere we are living in these days in which we celebrate the great mystery of the Son of God who became man, indeed, became a Child, for our salvation.

After pondering on the gaze and presence of the Creator that sweeps across the whole cosmic horizon, in the second part of the Psalm on which we are meditating today God turns his loving gaze upon the human being, whose full and complete beginning is reflected upon.

He is still an "unformed substance" in his mother's womb: the Hebrew term used has been understood by several biblical experts as referring to an "embryo", described in that term as a small, oval, curled-up reality, but on which God has already turned his benevolent and loving eyes (cf. v. 16).

2. To describe the divine action within the maternal womb, the Psalmist has recourse to classical biblical images, comparing the productive cavity of the mother to the "depths of the earth", that is, the constant vitality of great mother earth (cf. v. 15).

First of all, there is the symbol of the potter and of the sculptor who "fashions" and moulds his artistic creation, his masterpiece, just as it is said about the creation of man in the Book of Genesis: "the Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground" (
Gn 2,7).

Then there is a "textile" symbol that evokes the delicacy of the skin, the flesh, the nerves, "threaded" onto the bony skeleton. Job also recalled forcefully these and other images to exalt that masterpiece which the human being is, despite being battered and bruised by suffering: "Your hands have formed me and fashioned me.... Remember that you fashioned me from clay...! Did you not pour me out as milk and thicken me like cheese? With skin and flesh you clothed me, with bones and sinews knit me together" (Jb 10,8-11).

3. The idea in our Psalm that God already sees the entire future of that embryo, still an "unformed substance", is extremely powerful. The days which that creature will live and fill with deeds throughout his earthly existence are already written in the Lord's book of life.

Thus, once again the transcendent greatness of divine knowledge emerges, embracing not only humanity's past and present but also the span, still hidden, of the future. However, the greatness of this little unborn human creature, formed by God's hands and surrounded by his love, also appears: a biblical tribute to the human being from the first moment of his existence.

Let us now entrust ourselves to the reflection that St Gregory the Great in his Homilies on Ezekiel has interwoven with the sentence of the Psalm on which we commented earlier: "Your eyes beheld my unformed substance; in your book were written every one of them [my days]" (v. 16). On those words the Pontiff and Father of the Church composed an original and delicate meditation concerning all those in the Christian Community who falter on their spiritual journey.

And he says that those who are weak in faith and in Christian life are part of the architecture of the Church. "They are nonetheless added... by virtue of good will. It is true, they are imperfect and little, yet as far as they are able to understand, they love God and their neighbour and do not neglect to do all the good that they can. Even if they do not yet attain spiritual gifts so as to open their soul to perfect action and ardent contemplation, yet they do not fall behind in love of God and neighbour, to the extent that they can comprehend it.

"Therefore, it happens that they too contribute to building the Church because, although their position is less important, although they lag behind in teaching, prophecy, the grace of miracles and complete distaste for the world, yet they are based on foundations of awe and love, in which they find their solidity" (2, 3, 12-13, Opere di Gregorio Magno, III/2, Rome, 1993, pp. 79,81).

St Gregory's message, therefore, becomes a great consolation to all of us who often struggle wearily along on the path of spiritual and ecclesial life. The Lord knows us and surrounds us all with his love.

* * *

To special groups

I am pleased to welcome the English-speaking pilgrims present at this Audience, especially those from Japan and the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke the Blessings of this Christmas Season.

I also greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. May the light of Christ that shone upon humanity on Christmas Night shine upon each one of you, dear friends, and guide you in the effort to give a courageous Christian witness.

Lastly, I join in the memory that associates in these days the beloved peoples struck a year ago by the tsunami that claimed countless human lives and caused immense environmental damage. Let us pray to the Lord for them and for everyone, also in other regions of the world, who have suffered natural disasters and are awaiting our practical and effective solidarity.

Wednesday, 4 January 2006 - Canticle in St Paul's Letter to the Colossians (1: 3, 12-20) "All the fullness of God' Evening Prayer - Wednesday of the Fourth Week

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. At this first General Audience of the New Year let us pause to meditate on the famous Christological Hymn contained in the Letter to the Colossians which constitutes, as it were, the solemn entrance into the wealth of this Pauline text; it is also a doorway through which to enter this year.

The hymn proposed for our reflection is framed by a rich expression of thanks (cf. vv. 3, 12-14). It helps us to create the spiritual atmosphere required to live well these first days of 2006 and our long journey throughout the new year (cf. vv. 15-20).

The praise of the Apostle, together with our praise, rises up to "God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (cf. v. 3), the source of that salvation which is described using negative and positive images: first as having "delivered us from the power of darkness" (cf. v. 13), that is, as "redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (v. 14), and then re-presented as "the inheritance of the saints in light" (v. 12) and as the entrance "to the Kingdom of his beloved Son" (v. 13).

2. At this point the great and full Hymn unfolds: its centre is Christ and it exalts his primacy and work both in Creation and in the history of Redemption (cf. vv. 15-20). Thus, the Canticle has two movements. In the first movement, Christ is presented as the Firstborn of all creation, Christ "generated before every creature" (cf. v. 15). Indeed, he is "the image of the invisible God" and this expression has the same impact that the "icon" has in Eastern culture: it is not only the likeness that is emphasized but the profound intimacy with the subject that is represented.

Christ visibly re-proposes among us the "invisible God". In him we see the face of God through the common nature that unites them. By virtue of his most exalted dignity, Christ precedes "all things", not only because of his eternity, but also and especially in his creative and provident work: "in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible... and in him all things hold together" (cf. vv. 16-17). Indeed, they were also created "for him" (v. 16).

And so St Paul points out to us a very important truth: history has a destination, a direction. History moves toward humanity united in Christ and thus moves in the direction of the perfect man, toward the perfect humanism.

In other words, St Paul tells us: yes, there is progress in history. There is, we could say, an evolution of history. Progress is all that which brings us closer to Christ and thus closer to a united humanity, to true humanism. And so, hidden within these indications there is also an imperative for us: to work for progress, something that we all want. We can do this by working to bring others to Christ; we can do this by personally conforming ourselves to Christ, thereby taking up the path of true progress.

3. The second movement of the Hymn (cf. Col
Col 1,18-20) is dominated by the figure of Christ the Saviour within the history of salvation. His work is revealed first of all in his being "the head of the Body, the Church" (v. 18): this is the privileged salvific horizon that manifests the fullness of liberation and redemption, the vital communion that joins the head and the members of the body, that is, between Christ and Christians. The Apostle's gaze extends to the ultimate goal towards which history converges: Christ, "the first-born from the dead" (v. 18), is the One who opens the doors to eternal life, snatching us from the limits of death and evil.

Here, in fact is that pleroma, that "fullness" of life and grace that is in Christ himself and that was given and communicated to us (cf. v. 19). With this vital presence that allows us to share in his divinity, we are interiorally transformed, reconciled, and peace is reestablished: this is the harmony of the entire redeemed being, in whom henceforth God will be "all in all" (1Co 15,28). To live as Christians means allowing ourselves, in this way, to be interiorly transformed into the likeness of Christ. Here, reconciliation and peace are achieved.

4. Let us now give this grandiose mystery of Redemption a contemplative look, borrowing the words of St Proclus of Constantinople, who died in 446. In his First Homily on Mary, Mother of God, he presents the mystery of Redemption anew, as a consequence of the Incarnation.

Indeed, God, the Archbishop recalls, was made man in order to save us and thus to snatch us from the powers of darkness and bring us back to the Kingdom of the Beloved Son, exactly as this Canticle of the Letter to the Colossians recalls: "The One who redeemed us", Proclus observes, "is not purely human; indeed, the whole of the human race was enslaved to sin; but he was also not merely a God deprived of human nature: he actually had a body. If he had not been clothed in my flesh he would not have saved me. Having been formed in the Virgin's womb, he was clad in the guise of one condemned. In a wonderful exchange, he gave his spirit and took on flesh" (8: Testi mariani del primo millennio, I, Rome, 1988, p. 561).

We therefore stand before the work of God who brought about Redemption precisely because he was also a man. He was at the same time the Son of God, the Saviour, but also our brother, and it is with this closeness that he pours forth in us the divine gift.

It is truly God-with-us. Amen!

* * *

To special groups

I welcome the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including groups from Korea and the United States of America. In particular, I greet the delegates attending the General Chapter of the Congregation of the Brothers of St Gabriel. I pray that the time you spend here in Rome will help you to grow in your love for the Lord. As the New Year begins, I ask God to bless all of you, as well as your friends and families at home.

Lastly I address a special greeting to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds.May Jesus, whom we contemplate in the mystery of Christmas, be a sure guide for everyone, in the new year that has just begun. Best wishes!

Wednesday, 11 January 2006 - Psalm 144[143] "He is my stronghold' Evening Prayer - Wednesday of the Fourth Week

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. Our journey through the Psalter used by the liturgy of Vespers now comes to a royal hymn, Psalm 144[143], the first part of which has just been proclaimed: in fact, the liturgy divides this hymn into two separate sections.

The first part (cf. vv. 1-8) shows clearly the literary character of this composition: the Psalmist has recourse to citations of other texts of psalms, presenting them in a new project of song and prayer.

Precisely because the Psalm is of a later epoch, it is easy to imagine that the king who is exalted might no longer possess the features of the Davidic sovereign, since the Jewish royal house came to an end with the Babylonian Exile in the sixth century B.C., but rather represents the shining and glorious figure of the Messiah, whose triumph is no longer an event of war or politics but an intervention of liberation from evil. The "messiah" - a Hebrew word that means "anointed one", as was a sovereign - thus gives way to the "Messiah" par excellence, who in the Christian interpretation has the Face of Jesus Christ, "son of David, son of Abraham" (cf.
Mt 1,1).

2. The hymn opens with a blessing, that is, with an exclamation of praise addressed to the Lord, celebrated with a brief litany of saving titles: he is the rock, safe and sound, he is loving grace, he is the protected fortress, the stronghold of defence, liberation, the shield that keeps at bay any assault by evil (cf. 144[143]: 1-2). There is also the martial image of God who trains his faithful one for battle so that he will be able to face the hostilities of the environment, the dark powers of the world.

Before the all-powerful Lord, the person of prayer feels weak and frail, despite his royal dignity. He therefore makes a profession of humility that is formulated, as was said, with words from Psalms 8 and 39[38]. Indeed, he feels like "a breath", similar to a fleeting shadow, ephemeral and inconsistent, plunged into the flow of time that rolls on and marked by the limitations proper to the human creature (cf. Ps 144[143]: 4).

3. Here then, is the question: why does God care for and think about this creature who is so wretched and ephemeral?

This question (cf. v. 3) elicits the great manifestation of the divine, the so-called theophany that is accompanied by a procession of cosmic elements and historical events, directed at celebrating the transcendence of the supreme King of being, of the universe and of history.

Here, mountains smoke in volcanic eruptions (cf. v. 5), lightning like arrows routs the wicked (cf. v. 6), here are the "mighty waters" of the ocean that are the symbol of the chaos from which, however, the king is saved by the action of the divine hand itself (cf. v. 7).

In the background remain the wicked who tell "lies" and swear false oaths (cf. vv. 7-8): a practical depiction, in the Semitic style of idolatry, of moral perversion and evil that truly oppose God and his faithful.

4. Now, for our meditation, we will reflect initially on the profession of humility made by the Psalmist, and entrust ourselves to the words of Origen, whose commentary on our text has come down to us in St Jerome's Latin version.

"The Psalmist speaks of the frailty of the body and of the human condition", because "with regard to the human condition, the human person is nothing. "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity', said Ecclesiastes".

But the marvelling, grateful question returns: ""Lord, what is man that you manifested yourself to him?'... It is a great happiness for men and women to know their Creator. In this we differ from wild beasts and other animals, because we know we have our Creator, whereas they do not".

It is worth thinking a bit about these words of Origen, who sees the fundamental difference between the human being and the other animals in the fact that man is capable of recognizing God, his Creator, that man is capable of truth, capable of a knowledge that becomes a relationship, friendship. It is important in our time that we do not forget God, together with all the other kinds of knowledge we have acquired in the meantime, and they are very numerous! They all become problematic, at times dangerous, if the fundamental knowledge that gives meaning and orientation to all things is missing: knowledge of God the Creator.

Let us return to Origen. He says: "You will not be able to save this wretch that is man unless you take it upon yourself. "Lord..., lower your heavens and come down'. Your lost sheep cannot find healing unless it is placed on your shoulders.... These words are addressed to the Son: "Lord, lower your heavens and come down'.... You have come down, lowered the heavens, stretched out your hand from on high and deigned to take our human flesh upon yourself, and many believed in you" (Origen-Jerome, 74 Homilies on the Book of Psalms, Milan, 1993, pp. 512-515).

For us Christians God is no longer a hypothesis, as he was in the philosophy that preceded Christianity, but a reality, for God "lowered the heavens and came down". Heaven is God himself and he came down among us.

Origen rightly sees in the Parable of the Lost Sheep that the shepherd takes upon his shoulders the Parable of God's Incarnation. Yes, in the Incarnation, he came down and took upon his shoulders our flesh, we ourselves.

Thus, knowledge of God became reality, it became friendship and communion. Let us thank the Lord because he "lowered the heavens and came down", he took our flesh upon his shoulders and carries us on our journey through life.

The Psalm, having started with our discovery that we are weak and far from divine splendour, ends up with this great surprise of God's action: beside us, with us, is God-Emmanuel, who for Christians has the loving Face of Jesus Christ, God made man, God made one of us.

To special groups:

I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today, including groups from Finland, Japan and the United States of America. Upon you and your loved ones at home, I invoke the joy and peace of Christ our Lord! I wish to offer my heartfelt greetings to the students and teachers of The Ecumenical Institute of Bossey in Switzerland. I hope that your visit to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, together with your meetings, will be a stimulus to strengthen your commitment to the vital task of promotion of unity among Christians.

Lastly, my thoughts go to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. May the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord that concluded the Christmas season be an incentive to you, dear friends, so that in remembering your Baptism you will be ready to witness joyfully to faith in Christ in every situation, in health and in sickness, in the family, at work and in all environments.

Wednesday, 18 January 2006 - Catechesis on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

"If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven" (
Mt 18,19). This solemn assurance of Jesus to his disciples also sustains our prayer.

The "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity", by now a tradition, begins today. It is an important event for reflecting on the tragedy of the division of the Christian community and to ask with Jesus himself "that they may all be one... so that the world may believe" (Jn 17,21). We also do so here today, in harmony with a great multitude throughout the world.

Indeed, prayer "for the union of all" involves Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, brought together in different forms, times and ways by the same faith in Jesus Christ, the one Lord and Saviour.

Prayer for unity is part of the central nucleus which the Second Vatican Council calls "the soul of the whole ecumenical movement" (Unitatis Redintegratio UR 8), a nucleus that includes public and private prayers, conversion of heart and holiness of life. This vision takes us back to the heart of the ecumenical problem, which is obedience to the Gospel in order to do God's will with his necessary and effective help.

The Council explicitly pointed this out to the faithful, declaring: "The closer their union with the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, the more deeply and easily will they be able to grow in mutual brotherly love" (ibid.,n. 7).

The elements that, despite the persistent division, still unite Christians, make it possible to raise a common prayer to God. This communion in Christ sustains the entire ecumenical movement and indicates the very purpose of the search for unity of all Christians in God's Church. It is what distinguishes the ecumenical movement from any other initiative of dialogue and relations with other religions and ideologies.

In this too, the teaching of the Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism is precise: "Taking part in this movement, which is called ecumenical, are those who invoke the Triune God and confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour" (ibid.,n. 1).

The common prayers that are prayed throughout the world, particularly in this period or around Pentecost, also express the desire for a common commitment to re-establish communion among all Christians. These prayers in common "are certainly a very effective means of petitioning for the grace of unity" (ibid.,n. 8).

With this affirmation, the Second Vatican Council basically interprets what Jesus said to his disciples when he assured them that if two of them were to agree on earth about anything for which they were to ask the Father who is in Heaven, he would grant it, "because" where two or three are gathered in his name he is in their midst.

After the Resurrection he assured them further that he would be with them "always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28,20). It is Jesus' presence in the community of disciples and in our prayer itself which guarantees its effectiveness, to the point that he promised: "whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Mt 18,18).

However, let us not limit ourselves to imploring. We can also thank the Lord for the new situation that, with effort, has been created in ecumenical relations among Christians in brotherhood rediscovered through the establishment of strong ties of solidarity, the growth of communion and the forms of convergence achieved - certainly, in an unequal manner - between the various dialogues.

There are many reasons to give thanks. And if there is still so much to hope for and to do, let us not forget that God has given us a great deal on our way towards unity. Let us therefore be grateful to him for these gifts.

The future lies before us. The Holy Father John Paul II of happy memory - who did and suffered so much for the ecumenical cause - has opportunely taught us that "an appreciation of how much God has already given is the condition which disposes us to receive those gifts still indispensable for bringing to completion the ecumenical work of unity" (Ut Unum Sint UUS 41).

Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us continue to pray, because we know that the holy cause of the restoration of Christian unity exceeds our poor human efforts and that unity, finally, is a gift of God.

In this regard and with these sentiments, I will be following in John Paul II's footsteps next Wednesday, 25 January, the Feast of the Conversion of the Apostle to the Gentiles, in the Basilica of St Paul Outside-the-Walls to pray with our Orthodox and Protestant brethren: to pray to thank the Lord for what he has granted us; to pray that the Lord will guide us in the footprints of unity.

In addition, my first Encyclical will finally be published that same day, 25 January; its title is already known: "Deus Caritas Est", "God is love". The theme is not directly ecumenical, but the context and background are ecumenical because God and our love are the condition for Christian unity. They are the condition for peace in the world.

In this Encyclical I desire to show the concept of love in its various dimensions. Today, in the terminology with which we are familiar, "love" often appears very far from what a Christian thinks when he speaks of charity.

For my part, I would like to show that this is a single impulse with various dimensions. The "eros", this gift of love between a man and a woman, comes from the same source, the Creator's goodness, as the possibility of a love that gives itself for the sake of the other. The "eros" becomes "agape" to the extent that the two truly love each other and no longer seek themselves, their own joy and their own pleasure, but seek above all the good of the other.

Thus, this love which is "eros" is transformed into charity in a process of purification and deepening. From its own family it is opened to the greater family of society, the family of the Church, the family of the world.

I also endeavour to show that the very personal act that comes to us from God is a unique act of love. It must also be expressed as an ecclesial and organizational act.

If it is true that the Church is an expression of God's love, of that love God feels for his human creature, it must also be true that the fundamental act of faith, which creates and unites the Church and gives us the hope of eternal life and of God's presence in the world, gives rise to an ecclesial act. In practice, the Church must also love as a Church, as a community, institutionally.

And this so-called "Caritas" is not a mere organization like other philanthropic organizations, but a necessary expression of the deepest act of personal love with which God has created us, awakening in our hearts the impulse to love, a reflection of the God-Love who makes us in his image.

It took time to prepare and translate the text. It now seems to me a gift of Providence, the fact that the text should be published on the very day on which we will pray for Christian unity. I hope that it will be able to illuminate and help our Christian life.

To special groups

I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, and in particular to the groups from Sweden, South Korea and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.

I would also like to offer a special greeting to the circus people present in Rome in these days. I thank them for the beautiful performance and I encourage them always to show their faith in Christ joyfully.

Lastly, my thoughts go to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. Dear friends, during these days of prayer for Christian unity I ask you, dear young people, to be everywhere, and especially among your peers, apostles of faithful adherence to the Gospel; I ask you, dear sick people, to offer your suffering for the full communion of all Christ's disciples; I urge you, dear newly-weds, to become more and more of one heart and one mind and to live in your families the "commandment of love".

Audiences 2005-2013 14125