Audiences 2005-2013 10611

Wednesday, 1 June 2011


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As we read the Old Testament we note one figure who stands out from among the others: Moses, precisely, as a man of prayer. Moses, the great prophet and leader at the time of the Exodus, carried out his role as mediator between God and Israel by making himself a messenger to the people of God’s words and divine commands, by leading it towards the freedom of the Promised Land and by teaching the Israelites to live obeying God and trusting in him during their long sojourn in the desert. However, I would say also, and above all, by praying.

Moses prayed for the Pharaoh when God, with the plagues, was endeavouring to convert the Egyptians’ hearts (cf.
Ex 8-10); Moses asked the Lord to heal his sister Miriam, afflicted with leprosy (cf. Nb 12,9-13); he interceded for the people which had rebelled fearful of what those who had spied out the land would report (cf. Nb 14,1-19); he prayed when fire was about to burn down the camp (cf. Nb 11,1-2), and when poisonous serpents decimated the people (cf. Nb 21,4-9); he addressed the Lord and reacted by protesting when the burden of his mission became too heavy (cf. Nb 11,10-15); he saw God and spoke “to him face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (cf. Ex 24,9-17 Ex 33,7-23 Ex 34,1-10 Ex 34,28-35).

And on Sinai, even while the people were asking Aaron to make a golden calf, Moses prayed, explaining with symbols his own role as intercessor. The episode is recounted in chapter 32 of the Book of Exodus and there is a parallel account in chapter 9 of Deuteronomy.

It is this episode on which I would like to reflect in today’s Catechesis and, in particular, on Moses’ prayer which we find in the Exodus narrative. The people of Israel were at the foot of Sinai whereas Moses, on the mountain, was waiting for the gift of the Tables of the Law, fasting for 40 days and 40 nights (cf. Ex 24,18 Dt 9,9). The number 40 has a symbolic value and suggests the totality of the experience, whereas fasting indicates that life comes from God, that it is he who sustains it.

Indeed, the act of eating entails the assumption of the nourishment that keeps us going; hence fasting, giving up all food, in this case acquires a religious significance: it is a way of showing that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (cf. Dt 8,3). By fasting Moses showed that he was awaiting the gift of the divine Law as a source of life: this Law reveals God’s will and nourishes the human heart, bringing men and women to enter into a covenant with the Most High, who is the source of life, who is life itself.

Yet, while the Lord, on the mountain, was giving the Law to Moses, at the bottom of the mountain the people were violating it. Unable to endure waiting and the absence of their mediator, the Israelites turned to Aaron: “make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Ex 32,11). Weary of the journey with an invisible God, now that Moses, their mediator, had disappeared, the people clamoured for an actual, tangible presence of the Lord, and in the calf of molten metal made by Aaron found a god made accessible, manageable and within human reach.

This is a constant temptation on the journey of faith: to avoid the divine mystery by constructing a comprehensible god who corresponds with one’s own plans, one’s own projects.

What happened on Sinai shows the sheer folly and deceptive vanity of this claim because, as Psalm 106[105] ironically affirms: “they exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass” (Ps 106,20). So it was that the Lord reacted and ordered Moses to come down from the mountain, revealing to him what the people were doing and ending with these words: “now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; but of you I will make a great nation” (Ex 32,10).

As he had to Abraham with regard to Sodom and Gomorrah, now too God revealed to Moses what his intentions were, almost as though he did not want to act without Moses’ consent (Am 3,7).

He said: “let... my wrath ... burn hot”. In fact these words “let... my wrath burn hot” were spoken so that Moses might intervene and ask God not to do it, thereby revealing that what God always wants is salvation.

Just as for the two cities in Abraham’s day, the punishment and destruction — in which God’s anger is expressed as the rejection of evil — demonstrate the gravity of the sin committed; at the same time, the request of the intercessor is intended to show the Lord’s desire for forgiveness. This is God’s salvation which involves mercy, but at the same time also the denunciation of the truth of the sin, of the evil that exists, so that the sinner, having recognized and rejected his sin, may let God forgive and transform him. In this way prayers of intercession make active in the corrupt reality of sinful man divine mercy which finds a voice in the entreaty of the person praying and is made present through him wherever there is a need for salvation.

Moses’ supplication was wholly based on the Lord’s fidelity and grace. He referred first to the history of redemption which God began by bringing Israel out of Egypt and then recalled the ancient promise made to the Fathers. The Lord brought about salvation by freeing his people from slavery in Egypt; so “why”, Moses asked, “should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth?’” (Ex 32,12).

Once the work of salvation has been begun it must be brought to completion; were God to let his people perish, this might be interpreted as a sign of God’s inability to bring the project of salvation to completion. God cannot allow this: he is the good Lord who saves, the guarantor of life, he is the God of mercy and forgiveness, of deliverance from sin that kills.

Hence Moses appealed to God, to the interior life of God against the exterior judgement. But, Moses then argued with the Lord, were his Chosen People to perish, even though guilty, God might appear incapable of overcoming sin. And this he could not accept.

Moses had a concrete experience of the God of salvation; he was sent as a mediator of divine liberation and then, with his prayers; he made himself the interpreter of a twofold anxiety; he was worried about his people’s future and at the same time he was also worried about the honour due to the Lord, about the truth of his name. In fact the intercessor wanted the People of Israel to be saved because this people was the flock which had been entrusted to him, but also because it was in this salvation that the true reality of God was manifest.

The prayer of intercession is permeated by love of the brethren and love of God, they are inseparable. Moses, the intercessor, is the man torn between two loves that overlap in prayer in a single desire for good.

Moses then appealed to God’s faithfulness, reminding him of his promises: “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said... ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and all this land [of which I have spoken] I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever” (Ex 32,13). Moses recalls the founding story of the origins, of the Fathers of the people and of their being totally freely chosen, a choice in which God alone took the initiative. Not for their own merits did they receive the promise, but because of God’s free choice and his love (cf. Dt 10,15).

And Moses then asked the Lord to continue in fidelity his record of choosing and salvation, by forgiving his people. The intercessor did not ask for his people to be excused of their sin, he did not list any presumed merits, either the people’s or his own, but appealed to God’s bounty: a free God, total love, who does not cease to seek out those who have fallen away, who is always faithful to himself, who offers the sinner a chance to return to him and, through forgiveness, to become righteous and capable of fidelity. Moses asked God to show himself more powerful than sin and death, and with his prayer elicited this divine revelation of himself.

As a mediator of life, the intercessor showed solidarity with the people: anxious solely for the salvation that God himself desires, he gave up the prospect of it becoming a new people pleasing to the Lord. The sentence that God had addressed to him, “of you I will make a great nation”, was not even taken into consideration by the “friend” of God, who, instead, was ready to take upon himself not only the guilt of his people, but also all its consequences.

When, after the destruction of the golden calf, he returned to the mountain to ask salvation for Israel once again, he was to say to the Lord: “But now, if you will, forgive their sin — and if not, blot me, I pray you, out of your book which you have written” (Ex 32,32).

With prayer, wanting what God wanted, the intercessor entered more and more deeply into knowledge of the Lord and of his mercy, and became capable of a love that extended even to the total gift of himself. In Moses, on the summit of the mountain face to face with God, who made himself an intercessor for his people and offered himself — “blot me out” — the Fathers of the Church saw a prefiguration of Christ who from the very top of the Cross was truly before God, not only as a friend but as Son. And not only did he offer himself — “blot me out” — but with his pierced heart he had himself blotted out, he himself became sin, as St Paul himself says, he took upon himself our sins to ensure our salvation. His intercession was not only solidarity but identification with us: he bears all of us in his Body. And thus his whole life as a man and as Son is a cry to God’s heart, it is forgiveness, but forgiveness that transforms and renews.

I think we should meditate upon this reality. Christ stands before God and is praying for me. His prayer on the Cross is contemporary with all human beings, contemporary with me. He prays for me, he suffered and suffers for me, he identified himself with me, taking our body and the human soul. And he asks us to enter this identity of his, making ourselves one body, one spirit with him because from the summit of the Cross he brought not new laws, tablets of stone, but himself, his Body and his Blood, as the New Covenant. Thus he brings us kinship with him, he makes us one body with him, identifies us with him. He invites us to enter into this identification, to be united with him in our wish to be one body, one spirit with him. Let us pray the Lord that this identification may transform and renew us, because forgiveness is renewal and transformation.

I would like to end this Catechesis with the Apostle Paul’s words to the Christians of Rome: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?... neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities... nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God, [which is] in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm 8,33-35 Rm 8,38 Rm 8,39).

To special groups:

I welcome the many school and university students present at today’s Audience. I offer a cordial greeting to the pilgrimage group of NATO soldiers stationed in Germany. I also greet the students and staff of Father Agnelo Higher Secondary School in Vashi, Mumbai. My welcome also goes to the seminarians of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Sweden, South Africa, India, Malaysia, the Philippines and the United States, I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Lord.

St. Peter's Square

Wednesday, 8 June 2011 - Apostolic Journey to Craotia

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today I would like to speak to you about my Pastoral Visit to Croatia, which I made last Saturday and Sunday. It was a short Apostolic Journey that took place entirely in the capital, Zagreb, yet it was full of meetings and especially of an intense spirit of faith, since the Croats are a deeply Catholic people.

I renew my most heartfelt thanks to Cardinal Bozanic, Archbishop of Zagreb, to Archbishop Srakic, President of the Bishops’ Conference and to the other Bishops of Croatia, as well as to the President of the Republic, for the warm welcome they offered me. I extend my gratitude to all the civil authorities and to all who collaborated in various ways in this event, especially to people who offered prayers and sacrifices for this intention.

Together in Christ”: this was the motto of my visit. It expresses first of all the experience of everyone meeting in the name of Christ, the experience of being Church, demonstrated by the People of God gathering round the Successor of Peter. However, “Together in Christ” in this case had a special reference to the family: indeed, the main purpose of my visit was the First National Day of Croatian Catholic Families, which culminated in the Eucharistic concelebration on Sunday morning, which saw the participation, in the Hippodrome of Zagreb, at which a great multitude of the faithful participated. It was very important to me to strengthen in the faith especially families, which the Second Vatican Council called “of the domestic Church” (cf. Lumen Gentium
LG 11). Bl. John Paul II, who visited Croatia three times gave great prominence to the role of the family in the Church; so, with this journey, I wanted to give continuity to this aspect of his Magisterium. In Europe today, the nations with a solid Christian tradition have a special responsibility in defending and promoting the value of the family founded on marriage, which in any case remains crucial in both the educational and social spheres. This message therefore had special importance for Croatia which, with its rich spiritual, ethical and cultural patrimony, is preparing to enter the European Union.

The Holy Mass was celebrated in the spiritual atmosphere peculiar to the Novena of Pentecost. As in a great “Upper Room”, open to the sky, the Croatian families gathered in prayer, invoking together the gift of the Holy Spirit. This enabled me to underline the gift of, and commitment to, communion in the Church, as well as to encourage married couples in their mission. In our day, while unfortunately the increase in separation and divorce can be seen, the fidelity of spouses has become in itself an important witness to Christ’s love that makes it possible to experience Marriage for what it is, namely, the union of a man and a woman who, with Christ’s grace, love each other and help each other throughout their lives, in joy and in suffering, in health and in sickness. The first education in faith consists precisely in witnessing this fidelity to the conjugal pact; from it, children learn without words that God is faithful, patient, respectful and generous love.

Faith in God who is Love, is transmitted primarily with the witness of a fidelity to conjugal love which is naturally expressed in love for the children, the fruit of this union. But this fidelity is impossible without the grace of God, without the support of faith and of the Holy Spirit. This is why the Virgin Mary never ceases to intercede with her Son so that — as the wedding at Cana — he may continually replenish the gift to the married couple of “good wine”, that is of his grace which enables them to live as “one flesh” in the different stages and situations of life.

The Vigil with the young people fitted very well into this context of great attention to the family. It was held on Saturday evening in Jelacic Square, the heart of the city of Zagreb. There I was able to meet the new generation of Croats and I perceived the full force of their youthful faith, enlivened by a great impetus towards life and its meaning, towards good, towards freedom, in other words towards God. It was beautiful and moving to hear these young people singing with joy and enthusiasm, and then, in the moments of listening and praying, to see them meditating in profound silence! I repeated to them the question that Jesus asked his first disciples: “What do you seek?” (Jn 1,38), but I told them that God looks for them first and even before they themselves seek him. This is the joy of faith: discovering that God loves us first! It is a discovery which always keeps us as disciples, and therefore ever young in spirit! This mystery, during the Vigil, was experienced in the prayer of Eucharistic adoration: in silence, our being “together in Christ” found its fullness. Thus my invitation to follow Jesus was an echo of the Word that he himself addresses to the hearts of the young.

Another moment we might say, of the “Upper Room” was the celebration of Vespers in the Cathedral with the bishops, priests, religious and young people studying in the Seminaries and in the Novitiates. Here too, in a particular way, we experienced our being “family” as an ecclesial community. The monumental tomb of Bl. Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, Bishop and Martyr, is located in the Cathedral of Zagreb. In Christ’s name he courageously opposed first the abuses of Nazism and Fascism and later, those of the Communist regime. He was imprisoned and confined to the village of his birth. Created a Cardinal by Pope Pius XII, he died in 1960 from an illness he contracted in prison. In the light of his witness, I encouraged the bishops and priests in their ministry, urging them to communion and to apostolic dynamism. I proposed anew to the consecrated men and women the beauty and radicalism of their form of life. I invited the seminarians and novices to follow joyfully Christ who has called them by name. This moment of prayer, enriched by the presence of so many brothers and sisters who have dedicated their life to the Lord, was a great comfort to me, and I pray that Croatian families may always be fertile ground for the birth of numerous holy vocations at the service of the Kingdom of God.

Another significant meeting was with the representatives of civil society, of the political, academic, cultural and business worlds, with the diplomatic corps and with the religious leaders, gathered in the National Theatre of Zagreb. In that context I had the joy of paying homage to the great Croatian cultural tradition, inseparable from its history of faith and from the living presence of the Church, which down the centuries promoted many institutions, and above all formed distinguished seekers of the truth and of the common good.

Among them I recalled in particular the Jesuit, Fr Ruder Boškovic, a great scientist, the third centenary of whose birth falls this year. Once again the deepest vocation of Europe appeared clearly to all of us: to safeguard and to renew a humanism which has Christian roots and can be described as “catholic”, that is, universal and integral. A humanism which puts at the centre the conscience of the human being, his openness to the transcendent and at the same time his historical reality, capable of inspiring political projects that are different but converge in the construction of a real democracy, founded on the ethical values rooted in human nature itself.

In looking at Europe from the viewpoint of a nation with an ancient and solid Christian tradition — which is an integral part of the European civilization — while it is preparing to enter the political Union, we felt anew the urgency of the challenge that today faces all the people of this continent: in other words, not to be afraid of God, of the God of Jesus Christ, who is Love and Truth and who takes nothing from freedom but restores it to the continent and gives it a horizon of trustworthy hope.

Dear friends, every time the Successor of Peter makes an Apostolic Journey the whole ecclesial body participates in a certain way in the dynamism of communion and mission proper to his ministry. I thank all those who have accompanied and sustained me with prayers, ensuring the success of my Pastoral Visit. Now, as we thank the Lord for this great gift, let us ask him, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Queen of Croats, that all I have been able to sow may bear abundant fruit, for Croatian families, for the entire nation and for the whole of Europe.

To special groups:

I am pleased to greet the members of the seminar on Christianity and culture sponsored by Seton Hall University. I also welcome the Council of International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services. My greeting also goes to the International Leadership Program for Lasallian Universities, to the Sisters of St Paul of Chartres, and to the delegates to the World Congress on Menopause. Upon all present, especially the pilgrims from England, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, India, Singapore, the Philippines and the United States, I invoke God’s Blessings of lasting joy and peace.

Lastly I greet the young people, the sick and the newlyweds present. Next Sunday we shall celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost. I exhort you, dear young people, to invoke frequently the Holy Spirit, who makes you undaunted witnesses of Christ. May the Consoler Spirit help you, dear sick people, to welcome with faith the mystery of suffering and to offer it for the salvation of all humanity and may it sustain you, dear newlyweds, in building your family on the sound foundation of the Gospel.

St. Peter's Square

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The prophets, with their teaching and their preaching, had great importance in the religious history of ancient Israel. Among them the figure of Elijah stands out, impelled by God to bring the people to conversion. His name means “the Lord is my God”, and his life develops in accordance with this name, entirely dedicated to kindling in the people gratitude to the Lord as the one God.

The Book of Sirach [Ecclesiastes] says of Elijah: “then the prophet Elijah arose like a fire, and his word burned like a torch” (
Si 48,1). With this flame Israel found its way back to God. In his ministry Elijah prayed; he called upon the Lord to restore to life the son of a widow who had given him hospitality (cf. 1R 17,17-24), he cried out to God in his weariness and anguish while fleeing to the desert, for Queen Jezabel sought to kill him (cf. 1R 19,1-4), however it was on Mount Carmel in particular that he showed his full power as an intercessor when, before all Israel, he prayed the Lord to show himself and to convert the people’s hearts. This is the episode recounted in chapter 18 of the First Book of Kings, on which we are reflecting today.

It was in the kingdom of the north, in the ninth century before Christ at the time of King Ahab, at a moment when Israel had created for itself a situation of blatant syncretism. Beside the Lord, the people worshipped Baal, the reassuring idol from which it was believed that the gift of rain came, and to which, was therefore attributed the power of making fields fertile and giving life to people and animals.

In spite of claiming to follow the Lord, an invisible and mysterious God, the people were also seeking security in a comprehensible and predictable god from whom they believed they could obtain fruitfulness and prosperity in exchange for sacrifices. Israel was capitulating to the seduction of idolatry, the continuous temptation of believers, deluding itself that it could “serve two masters” (cf. Mt 6,24 Lc 16,13) and facilitate the impracticable routes of faith in the Almighty even by putting its faith in a powerless god, fashioned by men.

It was exactly in order to unmask the deceptive foolishness of this attitude that Elijah gathered the People of Israel on Mount Carmel and confronted it with the need to make a decision: “If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1R 18,21) And the prophet, a herald of God’s love, did not abandon his people as they faced this decision; rather, he helped it by pointing out a sign that would reveal the truth. Both he and the prophets of Baal were to prepare a sacrifice and pray and the true God would reveal himself, responding with fire that would burn the offering. Thus began the confrontation between the prophet Elijah and the followers of Baal, which was in fact between the Lord of Israel, the God of salvation and of life, and the mute idol with no substance which could do nothing, neither good nor evil (cf. Jr 10,5). And so the confrontation also began between two completely different approaches to God and to prayer.

The prophets of Baal, in fact, cried aloud, worked themselves up, danced and leaped about and falling into a state of ecstasy, even going so far as to cut themselves, “with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them” (1R 18,28). They had recourse to themselves in order to call on their god, trusting to their own devices to provoke his answer. In this way the idol’s deceptive reality was revealed: it was thought up by human beings as something that could be used, that could be managed with their own efforts, to which they could gain access through their own strength and their own vital force. Worship of an idol, instead of opening the human heart to Otherness, to a liberating relationship that permits the person to emerge from the narrow space of his own selfishness to enter the dimensions of love and of reciprocal giving, shuts the person into the exclusive and desperate circle of self-seeking. And the deception is such that in worshipping an idol people find themselves forced to extreme actions, in the vain attempt to subject it to their own will. For this reason the prophets of Baal went so far as to hurt themselves, to wound their bodies, in a dramatically ironic action: in order to get an answer, a sign of life out of their god, they covered themselves with blood, symbolically covering themselves with death.

Elijah’s prayerful attitude was entirely different. He asked the people to draw close, thereby involving it in his action and his supplication. The purpose of the challenge he addressed to the prophets of Baal was to restore to God the people which had strayed, following idols; therefore he wanted Israel to be united with him, to become a participator in and a protagonist of his prayer and of everything that was happening. Then the prophet built an altar, using, as the text says, “twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying: ‘Israel shall be your name’” (1R 18,31). Those stones represented the whole of Israel and are the tangible memorial of the story of the choice, predilection and salvation of which the people had been the object. The liturgical gesture of Elijah had crucial importance; the altar was a sacred place that indicated the Lord’s presence, but those stones of which it was made represented the people which now, through the prophet’s mediation was symbolically placed before God, it had become an “altar”, a place of offering and sacrifice.

Yet it was necessary for the symbol to become reality, for Israel to recognize the true God and to rediscover its own identity as the Lord’s People. Elijah therefore asked God to show himself, and those twelve stones that were to remind Israel of its truth also served to remind the Lord of his fidelity, for which the prophet appealed in prayer. The words of his invocation are full of meaning and faith: “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back” (1R 18,36-37). Elijah turned to the Lord, calling him the God of the Fathers, thus implicitly calling to mind the divine promises and the story of the choosing and Covenant that bound the Lord indissolubly to his people. The involvement of God in human history is such that his name was inseparably connected with that of the patriarchs and the prophet spoke that holy Name so that God might remember and show himself to be faithful, but also so that Israel might feel called by name and rediscover its faithfulness. In fact the divine title spoken by Elijah seems somewhat surprising. Instead of using the customary formula, “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”, he used a less known title: “God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel”. The replacement of the name “Jacob” by “Israel” calls to mind Jacob’s struggle at the ford of the Jabbok, with the change of name to which the narrator explicitly refers (cf. Gn 32,31) and of which I spoke in one of the recent catecheses. The substitution acquires a pregnant meaning in Elijah’s invocation. The prophet is praying for the people of the kingdom of the north which was called, precisely, Israel, as distinct from Judah, which indicated the kingdom of the south. And now, this people, which seemed to have forgotten its own origins and privileged relationship with the Lord, heard itself called by name while the name of God, God of the Patriarch and God of the People, was spoken: “O Lord, God... of Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel”.

The people for which Elijah prayed was faced with its own truth, and the prophet asked that the truth of the Lord might also be shown and that he intervene to convert Israel, detaching it from the deception of idolatry and thereby bringing it to salvation. His request was that the people might finally realize and know in fullness, who truly is its God, and make a decisive choice to follow him alone, the true God. For only in this way is God recognized for what he is, Absolute and Transcendent, ruling out the possibility of setting him beside other gods, which would deny that he was absolute and relativize him. This is the faith that makes Israel the People of God; it is the faith proclaimed by the well known text of the Shema‘ Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love, the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Dt 6,4-5). The believer must respond to the Absolute of God with an absolute, total love that binds his whole life, his strength, his heart. And it was for the very heart of his people that the prophet, with his prayers, was imploring conversion: “that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back” (1R 18,37). Elijah, with his intercession, asked of God what God himself wanted to do, to show himself in all his mercy, faithful to his reality as the Lord of life who forgives, converts and transforms.

And this is what happened: “then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, ‘The Lord he is God; the Lord, he is God’” (1R 18,38-39). Fire, the element both necessary and terrible, associated with the divine manifestations of the burning bush and of Sinai, then served to mark the love of God that responds to prayer and was revealed to his people. Baal, the mute and powerless God, had not responded to the invocations of his prophets; the Lord on other other hand, responded, and unequivocally, not only by burning the sacrifice but even by drying up all the water that had been poured round the altar. Israel could no longer have doubts; divine mercy came to meet its weakness, its doubts, its lack of faith. Now Baal, a vain idol, was vanquished, and the people which had seemed to be lost, rediscovered the path of truth and rediscovered itself.

Dear brothers and sisters, what does this history of the past tell us? What is the present of this history? First of all the priority of the first Commandment is called into question: worship God alone. Whenever God disappears, man falls into the slavery of idolatry, as the totalitarian regimes demonstrated in our time, and as the various forms of nihilism that make man dependent on idols, on idolatry, also demonstrate; they enslave him. Secondly, the primary aim of prayer is conversion, the flame of God that transforms our heart and enables us to see God and so to live in accordance with God and live for others. And the third point. The Fathers tell us that this history of a prophet is prophetic too if, they say, it foreshadows the future, the future Christ; it is a step on the journey towards Christ. And they tell us that here we see God’s true fire: the love that guided the Lord even to the cross, to the total gift of himself. True worship of God, therefore, is giving oneself to God and to men and women, true worship is love. And true worship of God does not destroy but renews, transforms. Of course, the fire of God, the fire of love burns, transforms, purifies, but in this very way does not destroy but rather creates the truth of our being, recreates our heart. And thus, truly alive through the grace of the fire of the Holy Spirit, of love of God, we are worshippers in spirit and in truth. Many thanks.

To special groups:

I welcome the members of the Catholic-Pentecostal International Dialogue and I offer prayerful good wishes for the next phase of their work. I also welcome the 50th Conference of the International Association of Schools and Institutes of Administration, now meeting in Rome. I thank the choirs, and particularly the University Choir from Indonesia, for their praise of God in song. Finally, I greet the delegates to the General Chapter of the Congregation of the Resurrection. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from the Philippines, Canada and the United States, I invoke the Lord’s blessings of joy and peace.

Lastly, I greet the young people, the sick and the newlyweds present. Dear young people, for many of your peers summer vacation has begun while for others it is exam time. May the Lord help you to live this time with serenity and to experience the enthusiasm of faith. I invite you, dear sick people, to find comfort in the Lord who illumines your suffering with his salvific love. To you, dear newlyweds, I warmly wish that you may learn how to pray together so that your love be evermore true and enduring.

St. Peter's Square

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Audiences 2005-2013 10611