Wednesday, 14 April 2004 - Reflection on the Octave of Easter

1. The Easter Sequence takes up the proclamation of hope that rang out at the solemn Easter Vigil: "The Lord of life was dead; now, alive, he triumphs", and gives it a new impact. These words guide the reflection of our meeting which is taking place in the luminous atmosphere of the Octave of Easter.

Christ triumphs over evil and death. This is the cry of joy that bursts from the heart of the Church during these days. Victorious over death, Jesus offers to those who accept and believe in him the gift of life that dies no longer. His death and his Resurrection therefore constitute the foundations of the Church's faith.

2. The Gospel narratives refer, sometimes in rich detail, to the meetings of the Risen Lord with the women who hurried to the tomb, and later, with the Apostles. As eye-witnesses, it is precisely they who were to be the first to proclaim the Gospel of his death and Resurrection. After Pentecost, they were to affirm fearlessly that what the Scriptures say about the Promised Messiah is fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth.

The Church, the depository of this universal mystery of salvation, passes it on from generation to generation to the men and women of every time and place. In our time too, with the commitment of believers, we must make the proclamation of Christ, who through the power of his Spirit now lives triumphant, ring out clearly.

3. So that Christians may properly carry out this mandate entrusted to them, it is indispensable that they have a personal encounter with Christ, crucified and risen, and let the power of his love transform them. When this happens, sadness changes to joy and fear gives way to missionary enthusiasm.

John the Evangelist, for example, tells us of the Risen Christ's moving meeting with Mary Magdalene, who, having gone very early to the tomb, finds the sepulchre open and empty. She fears that the body of the Lord may have been stolen, so she is upset and weeps. But suddenly someone whom she supposes to be "the gardener" calls her by name: "Mary!". She then recognizes him as the Teacher, "Rabboni", and recovering quickly from her distress and bewilderment, runs immediately to announce this news enthusiastically to the Eleven: "I have seen the Lord" (cf.
Jn 20,11-18).

4. "Christ my hope is arisen". With these words, the Sequence highlights an aspect of the paschal mystery that men and women today need to understand more deeply. Perturbed by latent threats of violence and death, people are in search of someone who will give them peace and security. But where can they find peace other than in the innocent Christ who reconciled sinners with the Father?
On Calvary, Divine Mercy manifested his face of love and forgiveness for everyone. In the Upper Room after his Resurrection, Jesus entrusted the Apostles with the task of being ministers of this mercy, a source of reconciliation among men and women.

In her humility, St Faustina Kowalska was chosen to proclaim this message of light that is particularly fitting for the world of today. It is a message of hope that invites us to abandon ourselves in the hands of the Lord. "Jesus, I trust in you!", the saint liked to repeat.

May Mary, Woman of Hope and Mother of Mercy, obtain for us to personally encounter her Son, who died and rose! May she make of us tireless workers for his mercy and his peace.

23 To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I am pleased to greet the newly-ordained deacons of the Pontifical Irish College, together with their families and friends. May you always be joyful witnesses of the Risen Lord and humble servants of God's People! Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Ireland, Norway, Australia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Canada and the United States, I cordially invoke the fullness of Easter joy and peace in Jesus Christ our Saviour. Happy Easter!

To young people, the sick and the newly-weds

Lastly, my thoughts go to the young people, the sick people and the newly-weds.

I invite you, dear young people - and especially the great numbers of you who have come from various parishes in the Archdiocese of Milan and who will be making your "Profession of faith" this year - to renew your faith in the Risen Saviour. Be his enthusiastic witnesses in the Church and in society!

Dear sick people, may the light of the Resurrection that is a comfort and support to believers brighten and make fruitful your daily existence.

And may you, dear newly-weds, draw daily from the Paschal Mystery the spiritual strength to nourish your families and to help them grow spiritually.

Wednesday, 21 April 2004 - Psalm 27£[26]: 1-6

24 "The Lord is my light and my help!' (Ps 27,1-6)

1. Today we continue on our journey through Vespers with Psalm 27[26], which the liturgy separates into two different passages. Let us now follow the first part of this poetical and spiritual diptych (Ps 27,1-6) whose background is the Temple of Zion, Israel's place of worship. Indeed, the Psalmist speaks explicitly of the "house of the Lord", his "temple" (Ps 27,4) of "safety, a dwelling, a house" (cf. Ps 27,5-6). Indeed, in the original Hebrew, a more precise meaning of these terms is "tabernacle" and "tent", that is, the inner sanctuary of the temple where the Lord reveals himself with his presence and his words. The "rock" of Zion (cf. Ps 27,5) is also recalled, a place of safety and shelter, and an allusion is made to the celebration of thanksgiving sacrifices (cf. Ps 27,6).

If, therefore, the liturgy is the spiritual atmosphere in which this Psalm is steeped, the guiding thread of prayer is trust in God, both on the day of rejoicing and in time of fear.

2. The first part of the Psalm we are now meditating upon is marked by a deep tranquillity, based on trust in God on the dark day of the evildoers' assault. Two types of images are used to describe these adversaries, symbols of the evil that contaminates history. On the one hand, we seem to have the imagery of a ferocious hunt; the evildoers are like wild beasts stalking their prey to pounce on it and tear away its flesh, but they stumble and fall (cf. Ps 27,2). On the other hand, there is the military symbol of an assault by a whole army: a raging battle is waged, sowing terror and death (cf. Ps 27,3).

The believer's life is often subjected to tension and disputes, sometimes also rejection and even persecution. The conduct of the righteous person is troubling, for it conveys tones of reproof to the arrogant and the perverse. The ungodly described in the Book of Wisdom recognize this without mincing their words: "He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange" (Sg 2,14-15).

3. The faithful know that being consistent creates ostracism and even provokes contempt and hostility in a society that often chooses to live under the banner of personal prestige, ostentatious success, wealth, unbridled enjoyment. They are not alone, however, and preserve a surprising interior peace in their hearts because, as the marvellous "antiphon" that opens the Psalm says, "the Lord is light and salvation... the stronghold of life" (cf. Ps 27,1 [26]) of the just. He continuously repeats: "Whom shall I fear?", "Of whom shall I be afraid?", "My heart shall not fear", "Yet I will trust" (cf. Ps 27,1 Ps 27,3).

It almost seems as though we were hearing the voice of St Paul proclaiming: "If God is for us, who is against us?" (Rm 8,31). But inner calm, strength of soul and peace are gifts obtained by seeking shelter in the temple, that is, by recourse to personal and communal prayer.

4. Indeed, the person praying entrusts himself to God's embrace, and another Psalm also expresses that person's dream: "I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever" (cf. Ps 23,6 [22]). There he will be able to "savour the sweetness of the Lord" (Ps 27,4 [26]), to contemplate and admire the divine mystery, to take part in the sacrificial liturgy and sing praise to God who sets him free (cf. Ps 27,6). The Lord creates around his faithful a horizon of peace that blocks out the clamour of evil. Communion with God is a source of serenity, joy and tranquillity; it is like reaching an oasis of light and love.

5. To conclude our reflection, let us now listen to the words of the Syrian monk Isaiah who lived in the Egyptian desert and died in Gaza around the year 491. In his Asceticon he applies our Psalm to prayer during temptation:

"If we see our foes surrounding us with their cunning, their spiritual sloth, weakening our souls with pleasure, or failing to contain our anger against our neighbour when he acts contrary to his duty, or tempting our eyes with concupiscence, or if they want to entice us to taste the pleasures of gluttony, if they make our neighbour's words to us like poison, if they incite us to belittle what others say or if they induce us to distinguish between our brethren by saying: "This one is good, this one is bad'; therefore, even if all these things surround us, let us not lose heart but cry out bravely like David: "The Lord is the stronghold of my life!' (Ps 27,1 [26])" (Recueil Ascétique, Bellefontaine, 1976, p. 211).

To special groups

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking visitors present at this Audience, particularly the pilgrims from England, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Ghana, New Zealand, Indonesia, Canada and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke the Risen Lord's gifts of grace and peace.

Lastly, I greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. May the Spirit of the risen Christ spur you, dear young people, to be courageous apostles of his Gospel; may he encourage you, dear sick people, peacefully to hold fast to the divine designs of salvation; and may he make you, dear newly-weds, more and more faithful to the mission entrusted to you in the Church and in society.

Wednesday, 28 April 2004 - Psalm 27£[26]

Confidence in God in times of tribulation (Ps 27)

1. The Liturgy of Vespers has divided Psalm 27[26] into two parts, following the text's structure which is similar to a diptych. We have just proclaimed the second part of this hymn of trust that is raised to the Lord on the dark day of the assault of evil. Verses 7 to 14 of the Psalm open with a cry directed to the Lord: "Have mercy [on me] and answer" (
Ps 27,7), and then express an anxious search for the Lord with the heart-rending fear of being abandoned by him (cf. Ps 27,8-9). Lastly, a moving horizon unfolds before our eyes, where family affections themselves fail (cf. Ps 27,10) as "enemies" (Ps 27,11), "adversaries" and "false witnesses" (cf. Ps 27,12) advance.

However, even now, as in the first part of the Psalm, the decisive element is the trust of the person of prayer in the Lord, who saves in time of trial and is a refuge during the storm. Very beautiful, in this respect, is the appeal the Psalmist addresses to himself at the end: "Hope in him, hold firm and take heart. Hope in the Lord!" (Ps 27,14; cf. Ps 42,6 Ps 42,12 [41]; Ps 43,5 [42]).

In other Psalms too, there was living certainty that one obtains strength and hope from the Lord: "He guards his faithful, but the Lord will repay to the full those who act with pride. Be strong, let your heart take courage, all who hope in the Lord" (Ps 31,24-25 [30]). The prophet Hosea also exhorts Israel in this way: "Remain loyal and do right and always hope in your God" (Os 12,7).

2. We will limit ourselves now to highlighting three symbolic elements of great spiritual intensity. The first, a negative one, is the nightmare of enemies (cf. Ps 27,12 [26]), looked upon as wild animals who "eagerly await" their prey and then, in a more direct way, as "false witnesses" who seem to blow violence from their nostrils, just like wild beasts before their victims.

Therefore, there is an aggressive evil in the world which is led and inspired by Satan, as St Peter reminds us: "Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1P 5,8).

3. The second image illustrates clearly the serene trust of the faithful one, despite being abandoned even by his parents. "Though father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me" (Ps 27,10 [26]).

Even in solitude and the loss of the closest ties of affection, the person of prayer is never completely alone since the merciful God is bending over him. Our thought goes to a well-known passage from the prophet Isaiah, who attributes to God sentiments of compassion and tenderness that are more than maternal: "Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you" (Is 49,15).

Let us remind all elderly persons, the sick, those neglected by everyone, to whom no one will ever show tenderness, of these words of the Psalmist and the prophet, so that they may feel the fatherly and motherly hand of the Lord silently and lovingly touch their suffering faces, perhaps furrowed with tears.

26 4. And so we come to the third and final symbol, repeated more than once in the Psalm: ""Seek his face'. It is your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your face [from me]" (Ps 27,8-9). Therefore, God's face is the point of arrival on the spiritual quest of the person of prayer. At the end an unspoken certainty surfaces: that of being able to "contemplate the Lord's goodness" (cf. Ps 27,13).

In the language of the Psalms, to "seek the face of the Lord" is often synonymous with entering into the temple to celebrate and experience communion with the God of Zion. However, the expression also includes the mystical need of divine intimacy through prayer. In the liturgy, then, and in personal prayer we are given the grace to look upon that face which we could otherwise never see directly during our earthly life (cf. Ex 33,20). But Christ has revealed the divine face to us in an accessible way and has promised that in the final encounter of eternity, as St John reminds us, "We shall see him as he is" (1Jn 3,2). And St Paul adds: "Then we shall see face to face" (1Co 13,12).

5. Commenting on this Psalm, Origen, the great Christian writer of the third century, noted: "If a man seeks the face of the Lord, he will see the glory of the Lord unveiled and, having been made similar to the angels, he will continually behold the face of the Father who is in heaven" (PG 12,1281). St Augustine, in his commentary on the Psalms, continues in this way the prayer of the Psalmist: "I have not asked from you some sort of prize outside of you, but your face. "Your face, O Lord, I seek'. I shall persevere in this quest; indeed, I do not seek something of little worth, but your face, O Lord, to love you freely, since I find nothing else of greater worth.... "Do not turn away, angry with your servant', so that in my seeking you, I am taken up with something else. What can be a greater sorrow than this for one who loves and seeks the truth of your face?" (Expositions on the PS 26, 1, 8-9, Rome, 1967, pp. 355,357).

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today's Audience. I greet in a special way the participants in the Buddhist-Christian Symposium, and also visitors from the Orthodox Church of Finland. I am also pleased to greet the several groups from England, Japan, South Korea, Canada and the United States of America. Upon all of you, I cordially invoke joy and peace in the Risen Lord.

To young people, the sick and the newly-weds

Lastly, my thought goes to the young people, the sick people and the newly-weds.
Tomorrow we shall celebrate the feast of St Catherine of Siena, patroness of Italy and of Europe. May the example of this great saint help each of us to persevere in faith, and to give a generous witness to Christ and his Gospel in every situation.

                                                                                  May 2004

Wednesday, 5 May 2004 - Christological hymn in the first chapter of St Paul's Letter to the Colossians

1. We have just heard the wonderful Christological hymn of the Letter to the Colossians. The Liturgy of Vespers presents it in all four weeks in which the liturgy unfolds and offers it to the faithful as a Canticle, returning the text to what was perhaps its original form. Indeed, many scholars think that the Canticle might be a citation from a hymn of the Church in Asia Minor, which Paul inserted into the Letter he addressed to the Christian community of Colossae, then a flourishing and densely populated city.

The Apostle, however, never went to this centre of Phrygia, a region that is now part of Turkey. The local Church was founded by one of his disciples who came from the region whose name was Epaphras. He is mentioned briefly at the end of the Letter, together with Luke the Evangelist, "the beloved physician" as St Paul calls him (
Col 4,14), and another figure, Mark, "the cousin of Barnabas" (Col 4,10), perhaps the same Mark who was the companion of Barnabas and Paul (cf. Ac 12,25 Ac 13,5 Ac 13,13) and later became the Evangelist.

2. Since we will have several occasions to return to this Canticle, let us be content here with an overview of it, recalling a spiritual commentary on it by a famous Father of the Church, St John Chrysostom (fourth century A.D.), a noted orator who was also Bishop of Constantinople. The grandiose figure of Christ, Lord of the cosmos, stands out in this hymn. Like divine creative Wisdom, extolled in the Old Testament (cf. for example, Pr 8,22-31), "he is before all things, and in him all things hold together"; indeed, "all things were created through him and for him" (Col 1,16 Col 1,17).

Thus, a transcendent design unfolds in the universe that God puts into practice through the work of the Son. John also proclaims it in the Prologue to his Gospel when he says: "all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made" (Jn 1,3). Even matter, with its energy, life and light, bears the imprint of the Word of God, "his beloved Son" (Col 1,13). The revelation of the New Testament casts new light on the words of the wise man of the Old Testament, who declared that "from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator" (Sg 13,5).

3. The Canticle in the Letter to the Colossians presents another function of Christ: he is also the Lord of the history of salvation who makes himself manifest in the Church (cf. Col 1,18) and is fulfilled in "the blood of his cross" (Col 1,20), a source of peace and harmony for the whole of human life.

It is therefore not only our external horizons that are marked by the effective presence of Christ, but also the most specific reality of human creatures: history. It is not at the mercy of blind and irrational forces, but even in sin and evil is supported and guided toward fullness by Christ's action. This is how the whole of reality is "reconciled" with the Father through the Cross of Christ (cf. Col 1,20).

Thus, the hymn paints a marvellous fresco of the universe and of history, inviting us to trust. We are not useless grains of dust, irrelevantly scattered in space and time, but are part of a wise plan conceived by the Father's love.

28 4. As we announced, we will now let St John Chrysostom speak so that he may crown this reflection. In his Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, he reflects extensively on our Canticle. At the beginning, he underlines the gratuitousness of the gift of God "who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light" (Col 1,12). "Why does he say "inheritance'?" Chrysostom asks himself, stating: "To show that no one can attain the Kingdom with his own works. Here too, as it does more often than not, the word "inheritance' means "fortune'. No one's behaviour is such as to deserve the Kingdom, but all things are a gift from the Lord. For this reason, [the Lord] says: "When you have finished doing everything, say: We are useless servants. We have done all that we had to do'" (PG 62,312).

This kind and powerful free-giving comes to the fore once again when we later read that it is in Christ that all things were created (cf. Col 1,16). "It is on him that the substance of all things depends", the Bishop explains. "Not only does he make them pass from not existing to existing, but it is again he who supports them so that if they were removed from his providence they would perish and be dispelled.... They depend on him: indeed, turning towards him is enough to sustain and strengthen them" (PG 62,319).

What Christ accomplishes for the Church, of which he is the Head, is an even clearer sign of his gratuitous love. At this point (cf. Col 1,18), Chrysostom explains, "After speaking of Christ's dignity, the Apostle also speaks of his love for men and women: "He is the head of his body which is the Church', desiring to demonstrate his intimate communion with us. Indeed, he who is so exalted, who is above all things, unites himself with those who are beneath him" (PG 62,320).

To special groups

I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, especially the Vozrozhdeniye Choir from Moscow and other groups from England, Thailand, Japan and the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of the Risen Lord, and I wish you a happy stay in Rome.

I then greet the young people, the sick people and the newly-weds, and in this month of May that has just begun, I invite them to renew their devotion to Our Lady.

I hope that you, dear young people, will come to know Mary better, so that you may accept her as your spiritual Mother and model of fidelity to Christ. I entrust you, dear sick people, to the Salus Infirmorum: may her closeness help you to live even the most difficult times of trial with patience and love. May you, dear newly-weds, learn from the Virgin of Nazareth the evangelical style of the family, impressed with faithful and sincere love.

Wednesday, 12 May 2004 - Psalm 30£[29]

A hymn of thanksgiving for deliverance from death and from the experience of trial and crisis (
Ps 30)

1. From the heart of the person of prayer, thanksgiving rises to God, profound and sweet after the nightmare of death has been dispelled. This is the sentiment that emerges forcefully from Psalm 30[29], which re-echoes at this moment not only in our ears but certainly also in our hearts.

This hymn of thanksgiving has a remarkable literary finesse; it relies on a series of contrasts that express in symbols the liberation granted by the Lord. Thus, "sinking into the grave" is offset by "raising my soul from the dead" (cf. Ps 30,4); God's "anger of a moment" is replaced by "his favour all through life" (Ps 30,6); the "tears" during the night give way to the "joy" that comes with the dawn (ibid. Ps 30,6); "mourning" turns into "dancing", the dress of "sackcloth" to that of "gladness" (cf. Ps 30,12).

After the night of death has passed away, the dawn of the new day arises. Christian tradition has thus interpreted this Psalm as an Easter hymn. This is testified to in the opening words that the edition of the liturgical text for Vespers has taken from a great fourth-century monastic writer, John Cassian: "Christ gives thanks to the Father for his glorious Resurrection".

2. The person of prayer turns repeatedly to the "Lord", addressing him no less than eight times to declare that he will sing praises to him (cf. Ps 30,2 and Ps 30,13), to remind him of how he cried out to him when he was put to the test (cf. Ps 30,3 and Ps 30,9) and of God's liberating intervention (cf. Ps 30,2-4 Ps 30,8 Ps 30,12), or to invoke his mercy again (cf. Ps 30,11). In another passage, the person of prayer invites the faithful to sing praises to the Lord and give him thanks (cf. Ps 30,5).

The mood constantly oscillates between the terrible memory of the nightmare experienced and the joy of liberation. Of course, the danger he had left behind him is grave and still causes shuddering; the memory of past suffering is still clear and vivid; the tears in his eyes have only just been wiped away. But now the dawn of a new day has broken; death has given way to prospects of a life that continues.

3. So it is that the Psalm shows us we must never let ourselves be ensnared by the dark confusion of despair, when it seems that everything is already lost. Nor, of course, is there any need to fall into the illusion that we can save ourselves with our own resources. Indeed, the Psalmist is tempted by pride and self-sufficiency: "I said to myself in my good fortune: "Nothing will ever disturb me'" (Ps 30,7).

The Fathers of the Church also reflected on this temptation that creeps in at times of prosperity and saw the time of trial as a divine appeal for humility. This is what Fulgentius, Bishop of Ruspe (467-532) said in his Epistle 3, addressed to the Religious Proba and in which he comments on the passage of our Psalm: "The Psalmist confessed that he was sometimes proud of being healthy, as though this were one of his virtues, and that in this he discovered the danger of a very grave illness.

In fact, he says: "In my prosperity, "I shall never be moved"'. And for having said this he was abandoned by the support of divine grace and, disturbed, having precipitated into his infirmity, continued saying: "In your goodness, O Lord, you have placed me on a secure mountain, but when you hid your face, I was disturbed'. Moreover, to show that the help of divine grace, even though he already had it, must nevertheless be invoked humbly and without interruption, he adds: "To you I cry out, Lord, I ask my God for help'. No one asks for help if he does not recognize his need, nor does he think he can keep what he has by trusting only in his own virtue" (Fulgentius of Ruspe, Le Lettere, Rome, 1999, p. 113).

4. After confessing his temptation to pride during the time of his prosperity, the Psalmist recalls the trial that followed, saying to the Lord: "You hid your face and I was put to confusion" (Ps 30,8).

The person of prayer then remembers how he prayed to the Lord (cf. Ps 30,9-11): he cried out, beseeched him for help, begged to be saved from death, justifying his plea by the fact that death brings no profit to God since the dead cannot praise him, nor have they any reason to proclaim their fidelity to God since he has abandoned them.

We find the same argument in Psalm 88[87], in which the one praying, who is close to death, asks God: "Is your love proclaimed in the grave, your fidelity in the tomb?" (Ps 30,12). Likewise, King Hezekiah, who had been gravely ill and then cured, said to God: "For it is not the nether world that gives you thanks, nor death that praises you.... The living, the living give you thanks" (Is 38,18-19).

In this way, the Old Testament expresses the intense human longing for God's victory over death and cites many cases in which God is victorious: people threatened by dying of starvation in the desert, prisoners who escaped the death penalty, sick people who were healed and sailors at sea saved from shipwreck (cf. Ps 107,4-32 [106]). However, these victories were not definitive. Sooner or later, death always managed to get the upper hand.

Yet the aspiration to victory has always existed in spite of all, and in the end it became a hope of resurrection. The satisfaction of this powerful aspiration was fully assured by the Resurrection of Christ, for which we can never thank God enough.


To special groups

I welcome the personnel of the NATO Defense College and I offer prayerful good wishes for their efforts to promote international peace and security. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Finland and the United States of America, I invoke an abundance of joy and peace in the Risen Lord.

I address a special welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular I greet the representatives of the Association Rondine-Cittadella della Pace, accompanied by several Tuscan Bishops. I renew to them and to all those present the invitation to pray for peace in the world, especially in Iraq and in the Middle East. With the support of the international community may those beloved people walk with determination on the paths of reconciliation, dialogue and cooperation.

I also greet the Superiors General of various religious institutes, the group of lawyers from different parts of the world, the faithful from the Parish of San Nicola di Mira, Forchia, and the flag-wavers of Bisignano. Dear friends, I encourage you in your respective milieus of ecclesial and civil commitments to build a civilization inspired by Christian values.

Lastly I address you, young people, sick people and newly-weds. Tomorrow is the memorial of Our Lady of Fatima. Dear friends, I urge you to turn to Our Lady ceaselessly and with confidence, entrusting to her your every need.

Wednesday, 19 May 2004 - Psalm 32£[31]

Happy those who are forgiven! (
Ps 32)

1. "Happy is the man whose offence is forgiven, whose sin is remitted"! This beatitude that opens Psalm 32[31], just read, allows us to understand immediately why it was welcomed by Christian tradition into the series of the seven penitential Psalms. Following the introductory twofold beatitude (cf. Ps 32,1-2), we do not discover a generic reflection on sin and forgiveness, but the personal witness of one who has converted.

The composition of the Psalm is rather complex: after the personal witness (cf. Ps 32,3-5), two verses follow, speaking of distress, prayer and deliverance (cf. Ps 32,6-7); then follows a divine promise of counsel (cf. Ps 32,8) and an exhortation (cf. Ps 32,9). In closing, there is an antithetical "proverb" (cf. Ps 32,10) and an invitation to rejoice in the Lord (cf. Ps 32,11).

2. Now, let us review some of the elements of this composition. Above all, the person praying describes his very distressful state of conscience by keeping it "secret" (cf. Ps 32,3): having committed grave offences, he did not have the courage to confess his sins to God. It was a terrible interior torment, described with very strong images. His bones waste away, as if consumed by a parching fever; thirst saps his energy and he finds himself fading, his groan constant. The sinner felt God's hand weighing upon him, aware as he was that God is not indifferent to the evil committed by his creature, since he is the guardian of justice and truth.

3. Unable to hold out any longer, the sinner made the decision to confess his sin with a courageous declaration that seems a prelude to that of the prodigal son in Jesus' parable (cf. Lc 15,18). Indeed, he said with a sincere heart: "I will confess my offence to the Lord". The words are few but born from conscience: God replies immediately to them with generous forgiveness (cf. Ps 32,5).

The prophet Jeremiah made this appeal to God: "Return, faithless Israel, says the Lord. I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, says the Lord. I will not be angry for ever. Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the Lord your God" (Jr 3,12-13).

In this way, a horizon of security, trust and peace unfolds before "every believer" who is repentant and forgiven, regardless of the trials of life (cf. Ps 32,6-7 [31]). The time of distress could come again, but the high tide of fear will not prevail because the Lord leads his faithful to a place of security: "You are my hiding place, O Lord; you save me from distress. You surround me with cries of deliverance" (Ps 32,7).

4. At this point it is the Lord who speaks in order to promise to guide the now converted sinner. Indeed, it is not sufficient to have been purified; it is necessary to walk on the right path. Therefore, as in the Book of Isaiah (cf. Is 30,21), the Lord promises: "I will instruct you... the way you should go" (Ps 32,8 [31]), and invites docility. The appeal becomes solicitous, "streaked" with a bit of irony using the lively comparison of a mule and horse, symbols of stubbornness (cf. Ps 32,9). Indeed, true wisdom leads to conversion, leaving vice and its dark power of attraction behind. Above all, however, it leads to the enjoyment of that peace which flows from having been freed and forgiven.

In the Letter to the Romans St Paul refers explicitly to the beginning of our Psalm to celebrate Christ's liberating grace (cf. Rm 4,6-8). We could apply this to the sacrament of Reconciliation.

In light of the Psalm, this sacrament allows one to experience the awareness of sin, often darkened in our day, together with the joy of forgiveness. The binomial "sin-punishment" is replaced by the binomial "sin-forgiveness", because the Lord is a God who "forgives iniquity and transgression and sin" (cf. Ex 34,7).

5. St Cyril of Jerusalem (fourth century) uses Psalm 32[31] to teach catechumens of the profound renewal of Baptism, a radical purification from all sin (cf. Procatechesi, n. 15). Using the words of the Psalmist, he too exalts divine mercy. We end our catechesis with his words: "God is merciful and is not stingy in granting forgiveness.... The mountain of your sins will not rise above the greatness of God's mercy, the depth of your wounds will not overcome the skilfulness of the "most high' Doctor: on condition that you abandon yourself to him with trust. Make known your evil to the Doctor, and address him with the words of the prophet David: "I will confess to the Lord the sin that is always before me'. In this way, these words will follow: "You have forgiven the ungodliness of my heart'" (Le Catechesi, Rome, 1993, pp. 52-53).

Finally, I would like to greet the young people, sick people and newly-weds. On the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, I invite you, dear young people here present, especially the large crowd from the Archdiocese of Brindisi-Ostuni and numerous students from the Province of Taranto, always to direct your life heavenwards, putting the "things from above" in first place. I encourage you, dear sick people, to trust in Jesus Crucified, certain that if you follow him faithfully on this earth, you will participate in his glory in Paradise. I hope that you, dear newly-weds, may always grow in the understanding of Christ and in listening to his word, so that his Spirit constantly renews your love.

To the English-speaking pilgrims

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience. I greet particularly the groups from England, Sweden, New Zealand, Japan, China, Canada and the United States of America. I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you I cordially invoke joy and peace in the Risen Christ who calls us to share in his victory over evil.