Wednesday, 29 October 2003

1. With the month of October, the Year of the Rosary comes to an end.

I am deeply grateful to God for this period of grace, in which the entire Ecclesial Community has been able to deepen the value and importance of the Rosary as a Christological and contemplative prayer.

"To contemplate with Mary the face of Christ" (Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae,
RVM 3). These recurring words in the Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae have become, as it were, the "motto" of the Year of the Rosary. They sum up the authentic meaning of this prayer that is both simple and profound. At the same time, they emphasize the continuity between what the Rosary proposes and the path pointed out to the People of God in my previous Apostolic Letter, Novo Millennio Ineunte.

2. If, in fact, Christians at the beginning of the third millennium are called to grow as "contemplators of the face of Christ" (cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte NM 16), and Ecclesial Communities are asked to become "genuine "schools' of prayer" (ibid., NM 33), the Rosary constitutes the "Marian Way", hence, a privileged means of achieving this twofold goal. Wishing to be more and more transparent to the "mystery" of Christ in order to meditate on the "mysteries" of his Gospel, the Church learns at the school of Mary. This is "Mary's Way" (cf. ibid., NM 24), the one she took on her exemplary pilgrimage of faith as the first disciple of the incarnate Word. At the same time, it is the way of genuine Marian devotion, totally centred on the bond that exists between Christ and his Blessed Mother (cf. ibid. NM 34).

3. During this Year, I wanted to entrust two important prayer intentions to the People of God: peace and the family.

The 21st century, born under the banner of the Great Jubilee of Reconciliation, unfortunately inherited many smouldering hotbeds of war and violence from the past. The alarming attacks of 11 September 2001 and its repercussions in the world have built up tension on a global level. In the face of this disturbing situation, the recitation of the Rosary is not a passive withdrawal but a conscious choice of faith: as we contemplate the Face of Christ, our Peace and our Reconciliation, let us implore God for the gift of peace through the intercession of Mary Most Holy. Let us ask her for the necessary strength to be builders of peace, starting with daily life in the family.

The family! The family nucleus must be the very first place in which Christ's peace is welcomed, fostered and safeguarded. In our day, however, without prayer it becomes more and more difficult for families to fulfil this vocation of theirs. This is why it would be truly helpful to return to the beautiful custom of reciting the Rosary at home, as was the practice of past generations. "The family that prays together stays together" (Rosarium Virginis Mariae RVM 41).

4. I entrust these intentions to Our Lady, so that she may protect families and obtain peace for individuals and for the whole world.

I hope that all believers, together with the Virgin, may start out with determination on the path of holiness, keeping their gaze fixed on Jesus and meditating, with the Rosary, on the mysteries of salvation. This will be the most precious fruit of this year dedicated to praying the Rosary.

78 To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims here today, including the groups from England, Ireland, Finland, Japan and the United States. May Mary, Queen of the Rosary, protect you and lead you ever more closely to her Son.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

I now address an affectionate greeting to the young people, to the sick, and to the newly-weds.
I urge you all to base your lives on the Word of God, to be builders of the civilization of love that is eloquently symbolized by the Cross of Christ, a source of light, comfort and hope for people in every age.

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Wednesday, 5 November 2003 - Psalm 141£[140] - "Prayer in danger"

79 Ps 141

1. In previous catecheses, we gave an overall look at the structure and value of the Liturgy of Vespers, the great ecclesiastical prayer of the evening. We now journey into its interior. It will be like making a pilgrimage to that "holy land" made up of the Psalms and Canticles. One by one we will reflect on each of those poetic prayers, which God has sealed with his inspiration. They are invocations which the Lord himself desires should be addressed to him, for he loves to listen to them, hearing in them the heartbeat of his beloved children.

Let us begin with Psalm 141[140], which opens Sunday Vespers of the first of the four weeks when, following the Second Vatican Council, the evening prayer of the Church was adopted.

2. "Let my prayer come like incense before you; the lifting up of my hands, like the evening sacrifice". Verse two of this Psalm can be considered as the distinctive sign of the entire hymn and as the apparent justification of the fact that it has been included in the Liturgy of Vespers. The idea expressed reflects the spirit of prophetic theology that intimately unites worship with life, prayer with existence.

The same prayer made with a pure and sincere heart becomes a sacrifice offered to God. The entire being of the person who prays becomes a sacrificial act, a prelude to what St Paul would suggest when he invited Christians to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God: this is the spiritual sacrifice acceptable to him (cf. Rm 12,1).

Hands raised in prayer are a bridge to communication with God, as is the smoke that rises as sweet odour from the victim during the sacrificial rite of the evening.

3. The Psalm continues in a tone of supplication, transmitted to us by a text which in the original Hebrew is unclear and presents certain interpretative difficulties (especially in vv. Ps 141,4-7).

The general sense may, however, be identified and transformed into meditation and prayer. Above all else, the person praying calls upon the Lord that He not permit his lips (cf. Ps 141,3) and the motions of his heart to be attracted and enticed by evil, thus inclining him to commit "wicked deeds" (cf. Ps 141,4). In fact, a person's words and actions express his or her moral choice. Evil exercises such an attraction that it easily provokes even the faithful to taste "the delights" that sinners can offer, sitting down at their table; that is, taking part in their perverse actions.

The Psalm even acquires the character of an examination of conscience, which is followed by the commitment to always choose the ways of God.

4. At this point, however, the person praying starts by bursting out with a passionate declaration that he will not associate with the evildoer; he will not be a guest of the sinner, nor let the fragrant oil that is reserved for privileged guests (cf. Ps 23,5 [22]) bear witness to his connivance with the evildoer (cf. Ps 141,5 [140]). To express his downright disassociation from the wicked with greater vehemence, the Psalmist then declares an indignant condemnation in his regard, in vivid images of vehement judgment.

It is one of the typical imprecations of the Psalter (cf. Ps 58 [57] and Ps 109 [108]), whose purpose is to affirm, in a realistic and even picturesque way, hostility towards evil, the choice of good and the certainty that God intervenes in history with his judgment of severe condemnation of injustice (cf. Ps 141,6-7).

5. The Psalm closes with a final invocation of trust (cf. Ps 141,8-9): it is a hymn of faith, thankfulness and joy in the certainty that the faithful one will not be engulfed by the hatred that the perverse reserve for him and will not fall into the trap they set for him, after having noted his firm choice to do what is right. In this way, the righteous person is able to surmount every deceit unscathed, as it is said in another Psalm: "We were rescued like a bird from the fowler's snare; broken was the snare, and we were freed" (Ps 124,7 [123]).

Let us end our reading of Psalm 141[140] by returning to the first image: that of evening prayer as a sacrifice pleasing to God. John Cassian, a great spiritual master and native of the East, who lived between the fourth and fifth centuries and spent the last part of his life in Southern Gaul, re-read these words in a Christological vein: "Indeed, in them, one perceives an allusion made to the evening sacrifice in a more spiritual way, brought to fulfilment by the Lord and Saviour during his Last Supper and consigned to the Apostles when he sanctioned the beginning of the Church's holy mysteries. Or (might one perceive an allusion) to that same sacrifice that he offered of himself the following day in the evening, with the raising of his own hands: a sacrifice prolonged until the end of time for the salvation of the whole world" (cf. Le Istituzioni Cenobitiche [The Cenobitic Institutions], Abbey of Praglia, Padua 1989, p. 92).

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

To the young people, the sick and the newly-weds: may you always feel the presence of Christ alive, to follow him with joy on the way of holiness.

To the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims

I extend a special greeting to the group from the Pontifical Irish College accompanied by Cardinal Connell and other Irish Bishops. I welcome all the English-speaking visitors here today including groups from England, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the United States. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, 12 November 2003 - Psalm 142£[141] - "I cry with my voice to the Lord!'


1. On the evening of 3 October 1226, St Francis of Assisi lay dying: his last prayer was, precisely, the recitation of Psalm 142[141] that we have just heard. St Bonaventure recalls that Francis "burst out with the exclamation of the Psalm: "I cry with my voice to the Lord, with my voice I make supplication to the Lord', and recited it to the very last verse: "The righteous will surround me; for you will deal bountifully with me'" (Legenda Maior, XIV, 5, in: Fonti Francescane, Padua, Assisi, 1980, p. 958).

The Psalm is an intense petition, marked by a series of verbs of entreaty addressed to the Lord. "I cry... to the Lord", "I make supplication to the Lord", "I pour out my complaint before him", "I tell my trouble" (
Ps 142,1-2). The central part of the Psalm is dominated by trust in God who is not indifferent to the suffering of his faithful (cf. Ps 142,3-7). With this attitude, St. Francis approached his end.

2. God is called upon with [the familiar form of] "you" as a person who provides security: "You are my refuge" (Ps 142,5). "You know my path!", that is, the journey of my life, a route marked by the choice of justice. However, on that path the wicked have set a hidden snare (cf. Ps 142,3); this typical image taken from hunting scenes recurs in the Psalms of petition to indicate the dangers and threats to which the just are subjected.

Facing this nightmare, the Psalmist, as it were, sounds the alarm so that God may see his situation and intervene: "I look to the right and watch" (Ps 142,4). In the Eastern tradition, the person would have on his right his defender or favourable witness in a court or, in the case of war, his bodyguard. Hence, the believer feels lonely and abandoned: "there is none who takes notice of me"; and he makes an anguished observation: "no refuge remains to me, no man cares for me" (Ps 142,4).

3. A cry then immediately reveals the hope that dwells in the heart of the person of prayer. Henceforth, his only protection, his only effective closeness, is to be found in God: "You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living" (Ps 142,5). The "portion" or "destiny" in biblical language is the gift of the promised land, a sign of God's love for his people. The Lord now remains the last and only foundation to depend on, the only possibility of life, the supreme hope.

81 The Psalmist calls upon him insistently, because he has been "brought very low" (Ps 142,6). He entreats the Lord to intervene to break the chains of his prison of solitude and hostility (cf. Ps 142,7) and to bring him out of the abyss of trial.

4. As in other Psalms of petition, the final prospect is the thanksgiving that will be offered to God when he has anwered the prayer: "Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name!" (ibid. Ps 142,7). When he has been saved, the faithful one will thank the Lord in the midst of the liturgical assembly (cf. ibid. Ps 142,7). The righteous will surround him and will see the salvation of their brother as a gift that is also offered to them.

This atmosphere must also pervade Christian celebrations. The suffering of the individual must echo in the hearts of all; likewise, the joy of each one must be vibrant in the whole of the praying community. "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity" (Ps 133,1 [132]), and the Lord Jesus said: "Where two or three are gathered in my name there am I in the midst of them" (Mt 18,20).

5. Christian tradition has applied Psalm 142[141] to the persecuted and suffering Christ. In this perspective, the luminous goal of the Psalm's plea is transfigured into a paschal sign on the basis of the glorious outcome of the life of Christ and of our destiny of resurrection with him. This is also what St Hilary of Poitiers, a famous fourth-century Doctor of the Church, says in his Treatise on the Psalms.

He comments on the Latin translation of the last verse of the Psalm, which speaks of a reward for the person of prayer and the expectation of being with the just: "Me expectant iusti, donec retribuas mihi". St Hilary explains that "the Apostle teaches us what reward the Father gave to Christ: "God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father' (Ph 2,9-11). This is the reward: to the body that has ascended is given the everlasting glory of the Father".

"Then the same Apostle teaches us what the expectation of the just consists in, saying: "Our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself' (Ph 3,20-21). Indeed, the just await his coming so that he will reward them, that is, by changing them to be like his glorious body that is blessed for ever and ever. Amen" (PL 9, 833-837).

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

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

May the grace of the Lord encourage you, dear young people, in the effort to be craftsmen of justice and reconciliation. May it sustain you, dear sick people, so that you do not lose hope at the moment of trial. And may it illumine you, dear newly weds, to be generous witnesses of the Gospel of life.

To the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims

I offer special greetings today to the participants in the NATO Defense College: may you ever be strengthened in your commitment to build peace and increase stability in the world. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present, especially those from England, Malawi and the United States of America, I invoke the grace and peace of the Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, 19 November 2003 - Canticle of the first Sunday of Vespers, Philippians 2: 6-11

"Christ, servant of God"

82 Ph 2,6-11

1. In addition to the Psalms, the Liturgy of Vespers includes certain Biblical Canticles. The Canticle just proclaimed is undoubtedly one of the most significant and theologically rich. It is a hymn placed in the second chapter of the Letter of St Paul to the Christians of Philippi, the Greek city that was the Apostle's first stop of missionary proclamation in Europe. The Canticle is thought to be an expression of the original Christian Liturgy and it is a joy for our generation, after two millennia, to join in the prayer of the Apostolic Church.

The Canticle unfolds in a double vertical trajectory: a first movement is one of descent followed by ascension. Indeed, on one hand, there is the humiliating descent of the Son of God when, in the Incarnation, he becomes man out of love for humankind. He plummets into the kenosis, the "emptying" of his divine glory, pushed to the point of death on the Cross, the punishment of slaves who were least among men, thus making him a true brother of suffering humanity, sinful and rejected.

2. On the other hand, there is the triumphant ascension which takes place on Easter Day, when the Father reinstates Christ in the divine splendour and he is celebrated as Lord by the entire cosmos and by all men and women now redeemed. We are placed before a magnificent re-reading of Christ's mystery, primarily the Paschal one. St Paul, along with proclaiming the Resurrection (cf. 1Co 15,3-5), defines Christ's Paschal mystery as the "exaltation", "raising up", "glorification".

Therefore, from the bright horizon of divine transcendence, the Son of God crossed the infinite distance between Creator and creature. He did not grasp on, as if to a prey, to his "equality with God", which was due to him by nature and not from usurpation. He did not want to claim jealously this prerogative as a treasure, nor use it for his own interests. Rather, Christ "emptied", "humbled" himself and appeared poor, weak, destined for the shameful death of crucifixion; it is precisely from this extreme humiliation that the great movement of ascension takes off, described in the second part of the Pauline hymn (cf. Ph 2,9-11).

3. God now "exalts" his Son, conferring upon him a glorious "name" which, in Biblical language, indicates the person himself and his dignity. Now this "name" Kyrios or "Lord", the sacred name of the Biblical God, is given to the Risen Christ. This places heaven, earth and hell, according to the division of the universe into three parts, in a state of adoration.

In this way, at the close of the hymn, Christ appears in glory as the Pantocrator, that is, the omnipotent Lord triumphantly enthroned in the apses of the Palaeochristian and Byzantine basilicas. He still bears the signs of the passion, of his true humanity, but now reveals the splendour of divinity. Near to us in suffering and death, Christ now draws us to himself in glory, blessing us and letting us share in his eternity.

4. Let us conclude our reflection on the Pauline hymn with the words of St Ambrose, who often uses the image of Christ who "emptied himself", humiliating himself and, as it were, annihilating himself (exinanivit semetipsum) in the Incarnation and his oblation on the Cross.

Particularly in his Explanatio super Psalmos CXVIII [Comment on Psalm CXVIII], the Bishop of Milan says: "Christ, hung on the tree of the Cross... was pierced by the lance, whereby blood and water flowed out, sweeter than any ointment, from the victim acceptable to God, spreading throughout the world the perfume of sanctification.... Thus, Jesus, pierced, spread the perfume of the forgiveness of sins and of redemption. Indeed, in becoming man from the Word which he was, he was very limited and became poor, though he was rich, so as to make us rich through his poverty (cf. 2Co 8,9). He was powerful, yet he showed himself as deprived, so much so that Herod scorned and derided him; he could have shaken the earth, yet he remained attached to that tree; he closed the heavens in a grip of darkness, setting the world on the cross, but he had been put on the Cross; he bowed his head, yet the Word sprung forth; he was annihilated, nevertheless he filled everything. God descended, man ascended; the Word became flesh so that flesh could revindicate for itself the throne of the Word at God's right hand; he was completely wounded, and yet from him the ointment flowed. He seemed unknown, yet God recognized him" (III, 8, Saemo IX, Milan-Rome 1987, pp. 131,133).

To special groups

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

Dear young people, put Jesus at the centre of your lives, and you will receive from him the light for all of your choices. Dear sick people, entrust yourselves to Christ and you will understand the redemptive value of suffering lived in union with him. And to you, dear newly-weds, place the Lord at the heart of your family to participate in the construction of his kingdom of justice, love and peace.

Annual Day for the Cloistered

This Friday, 21 November, the liturgical Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple, the Day of Cloistered Nuns is observed. I wish to assure my special closeness, together with that of the entire ecclesial community, to these Sisters of ours whom the Lord has called to the contemplative life.

At the same time I renew the invitation to all believers to provide cloistered monasteries with the necessary spiritual and material support. Indeed, we are indebted to these persons who are entirely consecrated to ceaseless prayer for the Church and the world!

To the English-speaking visitors

I offer a cordial greeting to the members of the International Council of Jewish War Veterans. I also thank the various choirs for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from Japan and the United States, I invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.

Wednesday, 26 November 2003 - Psalm 110£[109] - "Sit at my right hand!'

1. We have just listened to one of the most famous Psalms in Christian history. Indeed, Psalm 110[109], which the Liturgy of Vespers presents to us every Sunday, is cited frequently in the New Testament. Verses 1 and 4 in particular are applied to Christ in the wake of the ancient Judaic tradition that has transformed this Davidic hymn of royal praise into a Messianic Psalm.

This prayer's popularity is also due to its constant use at Sunday Vespers. Psalm 110[109], therefore, in its Latin Vulgate version, has been the subject of many splendid musical compositions that have marked the history of western culture. The Liturgy, in accordance with the procedures decided upon by the Second Vatican Council, has omitted the violent verse 6 from the original Hebrew text of this Psalm, which, moreover, is composed of only 63 words. It is very close in tone to the so-called "Cursing Psalms" and describes the Jewish king advancing in a sort of military campaign, crushing his adversaries and judging the nations.

2. Since we will have an opportunity to return to this Psalm on other occasions, after thinking about its use in the Liturgy, we will now be satisfied with an overall glance at it.

We will be able to distinguish clearly two parts in it. The first (cf.
Ps 110,1-3) contains an oracle addressed by God to the one the Psalmist calls "my lord", that is, the sovereign of Jerusalem. The oracle proclaims the enthronement at God's "right hand" of David's descendent. In fact, the Lord speaks to him, saying: "Sit at my right hand" (Ps 110,1). It is quite likely that this is an allusion to a rite that required the person chosen to sit on the right of the Ark of the Covenant, to receive the power of government from the supreme king of Israel, in other words, the Lord.

3. Against this background we can sense the presence of hostile forces that have been neutralized by a victorious conquest: the enemies are portrayed at the feet of the sovereign, who solemnly advances among them bearing the sceptre of his authority (cf. Ps 110,1-2). This undoubtedly reflects a real political situation, recorded at the time when one king handed over his power to another with the uprising of a few subordinates or an attempt to conquer. Henceforth, however, the text refers to a general contrast between the plan of God, who works through his Chosen People, and the scheming of those who would like to assert their own hostile and counterfeit power. Here, then, we have the eternal conflict between good and evil that takes place in the context of historical events through which God manifests himself and speaks to us.

4. The second part of the Psalm, however, contains a priestly prayer whose protagonist is still the Davidic king (Ps 110,4-7). Guaranteed by a solemn divine oath, the dignity of kingship also unites in itself the dignity of priesthood. The reference to Melchisedek, the priest-king of Salem, that is, of ancient Jerusalem (cf. Gn 14), is perhaps a way to justify the specific priesthood of the king beside the official Levitical priesthood of the Temple of Zion. Additionally, it is also well known that the Letter to the Hebrews starts, precisely, with this oracle: "You are a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedek" (Ps 110,4 [109]), in order to illustrate the special and perfect priesthood of Jesus Christ.

We will examine Ps 110[109] in greater detail later, going through it verse by verse and making a careful analysis.

5. To conclude, however, let us reread the first verse of the Psalm that contains the divine oracle: "Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool". And let us read it with St Maximus of Turin (fourth-fifth century A.D.), who commented on it in his Sermon on Pentecost: "Our custom has it that the sharing of the footstool is offered to the one who, having accomplished some feat, deserves to sit in the place of honour as champion. So too, the man Jesus Christ, overcoming the devil with his passion, opening underground realms with his Resurrection, arriving victorious in heaven as one who has brought some undertaking to a successful conclusion, listens to God the Father inviting him: "Sit at my right hand'. Nor must we be surprised if the Father offers to share with us the seat of the Son who, by nature, is consubstantial with the Father.... The Son sits on his right because, according to the Gospel, the sheep will be on the right; on the left, on the other hand, will be the goats. The first Lamb, therefore, must sit on the same side as the sheep, and the immaculate Head must take possession in advance of the place destined for the immaculate flock that will follow him" (40, 2: Scriptores circa Ambrosium, IV, Milan-Rome, 1991, p. 195).

To young people, the sick and the newly-weds

Lastly, I greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. May the figure of the Apostle St Andrew, whose feast we will be celebrating in the coming days, be for you all a model of Christian witness to follow.

To the English-speaking visitors

I am pleased to greet the members of the Anglican clergy visiting Rome for a renewal course. My greetings also go to the pilgrims from Melbourne, Australia. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Wednesday, 3 December 2003 - Psalm 114£[113A] - "They all sang with one voice'

85 Ps 114

1. The joyful and triumphant song we have just proclaimed recalls Israel's Exodus from the oppression of the Egyptians. Psalm 114[113A] belongs to the collection that Jewish tradition has called the "Egyptian Hallel". These are Psalms 112-117[113-118], a selection of songs used especially in the Jewish Passover liturgy.

Christianity has taken Psalm 114-[113A] with the same paschal connotation, but opened it to the new interpretation derived from Christ's Resurrection. The Exodus celebrated by the Psalm becomes, therefore, the symbol of another, more radical and universal liberation. Dante, in his Divine Comedy, places this hymn, in its Latin Vulgate version, on the lips of the souls in Purgatory: "In exitu IsraŽl de Aegypto / they all sang together with one voice..." (Purgatory II, 46-47). In other words, he saw in the Psalm the song of expectation and hope of those who are on the way, after purification from every sin, towards the final goal of communion with God in Paradise.

2. Let us now follow the thematic and spiritual line of this short, prayerful composition. It opens (cf. Ps 114,1-2) by recalling the Exodus of Israel from Egyptian oppression until its entry into that Promised Land which is God's "sanctuary"; that is, the place of his presence in the midst of his people. In fact, land and people are fused together: Judah and Israel, terms with which the Holy Land or the Chosen People were designated, come to be considered as the seat of the presence of the Lord, his special property and inheritance (cf. Ex 19,5-6).

After this theological description of one of the fundamental elements of faith of the Old Testament, that is, the proclamation of the marvels God worked for his people, the Psalmist reflects more profoundly, spiritually and symbolically on the constitutive events.

3. The Red Sea of the Exodus from Egypt and the Jordan of the entry into the Holy Land are personified and transformed into witnesses and instruments that have a part in the liberation wrought by God (cf. Ps 114,3 Ps 114,5 [113A]).

At the beginning in the Exodus, the sea rolls back to allow Israel to pass, and at the end of the journey through the desert, it is the Jordan which turns back in its course, leaving its bed dry so that the procession of the children of Israel can cross over (cf. Jos 3-4). At the centre there is a reference to Sinai: it is now the mountains that participate in the great divine revelation which takes place on their summits. Likened to living creatures such as rams and lambs, they skip and exult. With a very vivid personification, the Psalmist now asks the mountains about the reason for their confusion: "[Why is it]... you mountains, that you skip like rams? You hills, like the lambs of the flock?" (Ps 114,6 [113A]). Their response is not mentioned: it is given indirectly through an injunction, subsequently addressed to the earth, so that it too should tremble "before the Lord" (cf. Ps 114,7). The confusion of the mountains and the hills, therefore, was a startled adoration in the presence of the Lord, God of Israel, an act of glorious exaltation of the transcendent and saving God.

86 4. This is the theme of the last part of Psalm 114[113A] (cf. Ps 114,7-8), which introduces another important event of Israel's march through the desert, that of the water that gushed from the rock of Meribah (cf. Ex 17,1-7 Nb 20,1-13). God transformed the rock into a spring of water which becomes a lake: at the root of this miracle is his fatherly concern for the people.

This gesture acquires, then, a symbolic meaning: it is a sign of the saving love of the Lord who sustains and regenerates humanity as it advances though the desert of history.

St Paul was known to use this image and, on the basis of a Jewish tradition which claims that the rock accompanied Israel on its journey through the desert, he re-read the event in a Christological key: "All drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ" (1Co 10,4).

5. In this wake, commenting on the Exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt, a great Christian teacher such as Origen conceived of the New Exodus undertaken by Christians. Indeed, this is what he says: "Do not think that it was only then that Moses led the people out of Egypt: now too we have Moses with us..., that is, the law of God wants to bring you out of Egypt; if you listen to it, it wishes to distance you from Pharaoh.... It does not want you to remain in the dark actions of the flesh, but to go out into the desert, that you reach a place apart from the upheavals and instability of the world, that you reach stillness and silence.... So when you have arrived in this place of calm, there you can sacrifice to the Lord, recognize the law of God and the power of the divine voice" (Omelie sull'Esodo, Rome, 1981, pp. 71-72).

Taking up the Pauline image that calls to mind the crossing of the sea, Origen continues: "The Apostle calls this a baptism, realized in Moses in the cloud and sea, so that you too, who have been baptized in Christ, in water and in the Holy Spirit, may know that the Egyptians are pursuing you and want to reclaim you to serve them: namely, the rulers of this world and the evil spirits to whom you were first enslaved. They will certainly seek to follow you, but you will go into the water and escape unharmed, and having washed away the stains of sin, you will come out as a new man ready to sing the new canticle" (ibid., p. 107).

To young people, the sick and the newly-weds

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

I invite you all, dear friends, to look at Jesus, the Son of God whom, in this season of Advent, we are awaiting as Saviour. May he be your strength and your support.

To the English-speaking visitors

I offer special greetings to the participants in the General Assembly of the Conference of International Catholic Organizations. Today I bless the crosses that you will receive at the closing Mass of your Assembly: may they serve as a permanent reminder of the Lord's love and his promise to be with us always, "to the close of the age" (Mt 28,20). Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims present at this Audience, especially those from Malta, Japan and the United States, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of Jesus Christ.