Wednesday 12 June 2002 - Sing in praise of Christ's redeeming work - Psalm 91£[92]

Lauds on Saturday of the second week of the year

1. Psalm
Ps 92 [91] which we have just heard, the song of the righteous man to God the Creator, has a special place in the ancient Hebrew tradition. In fact, the title given to this Psalm indicates that it was sung on the Sabbath (cf. Ps 92,1). Hence, it is the hymn raised to the Most High and Eternal Lord when, at sundown on Friday, we enter the holy day of prayer, contemplation and serene stillness of body and spirit.

The magnificent person of God the Most High is at the centre of the Psalm (cf. Ps 92,9) around whom is arrayed a harmonious and peaceful world. Standing before him is the just person who, in keeping with a favourite Old Testament concept, is filled with well-being, joy and longevity as a natural consequence of his upright and faithful life. This refers to the so-called "theory of retribution", that claims that every crime is punished and every good deed rewarded already on this earth. Although there may be an element of truth to this view, nonetheless - as Job will intuit and Jesus will confirm (cf. Jn 9,2-3) - the reality of human suffering is much more complex and cannot be so easily simplified. Indeed, human suffering must be viewed in the perspective of eternity.

2. Let us now examine this sapiential hymn with liturgical features. It includes an intense call to praise, the joyful song of thanksgiving, the festival of music played on the ten-stringed harp, the lyre and the lute (cf. Ps 92,2-4). The Lord's love and fidelity must be celebrated in liturgical song that is to be performed "with skill" (Ps 47,8 [46],8). This invitation can also apply to our celebrations, so that they recover their splendour, not only in the words and rites, but also in the melodies that accompany them.

After this appeal not to break the interior and exterior thread of prayer, the true and constant breath of faithful humanity, Psalm 91[92] presents, as though in two portraits the profile of the wicked (cf. Ps 92,7-10) and of the just person (cf. Ps 92,13-16). The wicked man, moreover, is brought before the Lord, "the most high for ever" (Ps 92,9), who will make his enemies perish and will scatter all evildoers (cf. Ps 92,10). Indeed, only in the divine light can we understand the depth of good and evil, justice and wickedness.

3. The figure of the sinner is described with images from the vegetable world: "though the wicked sprout like grass, and all evildoers flourish" (Ps 92,8). But this flourishing is destined to shrivel and disappear. In fact, the Psalmist heaps up verbs and words that describe the devastation: "they are doomed to destruction for ever ... Your enemies, O Lord, shall perish, all evildoers shall be scattered" (Ps 92,8 Ps 92,10).

At the root of this catastrophic outcome is the profound evil that grips the minds and hearts of the wicked: "The dull man cannot know, the stupid cannot understand this" (Ps 92,7). The adjectives used here belong to the language of wisdom and denote the brutality, blindness and foolishness of those who think they can rage over the face of the earth without moral consequences, deceiving themselves that God is absent and indifferent. Instead, the person praying is certain that sooner or later the Lord will appear on the horizon to establish justice and break the arrogance of the fool (cf. Ps 14 [13]).

4. Here we stand before the figure of the upright person, sketched as in a vast, richly coloured painting. Here too the Psalmist has used fresh, luxuriant green plant images (Ps 92,13-16 [91], 13-16). As opposed to the wicked, who is luxuriant but short-lived like the grass of the fields, the upright person rises toward heaven, solid and majestic like the palm tree or a cedar of Lebanon. Besides, the just "flourish in the courts of our God" (Ps 92,14), namely, they have a particularly sound and stable relationship with the temple, hence with the Lord, who has established his dwelling in them.

The Christian tradition also played on the double meaning of the Greek word phoinix, used to translate the Hebrew term for "palm tree". Phoinix is the Greek word for "palm", but also for the bird we call the "phoenix". Everyone knows that the phoenix was a symbol of immortality because it was believed that the bird was reborn from its ashes. Christians have a similar rebirth from ashes, though their participation in the death of Christ, the source of new life (cf. Rm 6,3-4). "But God ... even when we were dead through our transgression, brought us to life with Christ", the Letter to the Ephesians says, "and raised us up with him" (Ep 2,5-6).

5. Another image, taken from the animal kingdom, represents the just man and intends to exalt the strength that God lavishes, even in old age. "You have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox; you have poured rich oil upon me" (Ps 92,11 [91],11). On the one hand, the gift of divine power makes one triumph and gives security (cf. Ps 92,12); on the other, the glorious forehead of the righteous is anointed with oil that radiates energy and a protective blessing. So then, Psalm 91[92] is an optimistic hymn, strengthened by music and song. It celebrates confidence in God who is the source of serenity and peace, even when one witnesses the apparent success of the wicked. A peace that is intact even in old age (cf. Ps 92,15), a time of life to be lived in security and fruitfulness.

Origen's comment, translated by St Jerome: God's oil keeps the lamp of life burning brightly
Let us end with the words of Origen, translated by St Jerome, which are inspired by the phrase in which the Psalmist tells God: "You have poured rich oil upon me" (Ps 92,11). Origen comments: "our old age has need of God's oil. Just as when our bodies are tired, we only feel refreshed by anointing them with oil, just as the flame of the lantern is extinguished if we do not add oil to it, so too, the flame of my old age needs to grow with the oil of God's mercy. The Apostles also went up to the Mount of Olives (Ac 1,12) to receive the light from the Lord's oil, because they were tired and their lanterns needed the oil of the Lord.... Therefore let us pray the Lord that our old age, our every effort and our darkness may be enlightened by the oil of the Lord" (74 Omelie sul Libro dei Salmi, [Homilies on the Book of Psalms] Milan 1993, pp. 280-282, passim).

The Holy Father greeted the pilgrims in French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Flemish, Hungarian, Slovak, Croatian and Italian. To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at todayís Audience. Upon all of you, especially those from England, Iceland, Australia, Singapore, Japan and the United States of America, I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Saviour.

Wednesday 19 June 2002 - Fidelity is the best response to God's benefits - Canticle of Deuteronomy 32,1-12

Lauds on Saturday of the 2nd Week of the year

Dt 32,1-12

1. "Then Moses pronounced the words of this song from beginning to end, for the whole assembly of Israel to hear" (Dt 31,30). This is how the canticle we have just heard begins. It is taken from the last pages of the Book of Deuteronomy, to be precise, from chapter 32. The Liturgy of Lauds took the first 12 verses, recognizing in them a joyful hymn to the Lord who lovingly protects and cares for his people amid the daylong dangers and difficulties. On examination the canticle is shown to be an ancient text, later than Moses, that is put on his lips to give it a solemn character. The liturgical canticle is placed at the root of the history of the people of Israel. On that prayerful page there is no lack of reference and links with a few of the psalms or the message of the prophets: hence it was a moving and intense expression of the faith of Israel.

2. Moses' canticle is longer than the passage used in the office of Lauds, which is only the prelude. Some scholars think they can identify in the composition a literary gender that is technically defined with the Hebrew word "rÓb", namely, "quarrel", "court litigation". The image of God present in the Bible is not at all that of a dark being, an anonymous and brute energy, an incomprehensible fact.

Instead, he is a person who experiences sentiments, acts and reacts, loves and condemns, participates in the life of his creatures and is not indifferent to their actions. So, in our case, the Lord convokes a sort of trial, in the presence of witnesses, denounces the crimes of the accused people, exacts a punishment, but lets his verdict be permeated by infinite mercy. Let us now follow the traces of this event, even if only reflecting on the verses proposed by the liturgy.

3. First of all he mentions the cosmic spectator-witnesses: "Give ear, O heavens, ... let the earth hearken ..." (Dt 32,1). In this symbolic trial Moses acts almost as a public prosecutor. His word is effective and fruitful, like the prophetic word, expression of the divine word. Note the significant flow of the images that define it: They are signs taken from nature like rain, dew, showers, drizzle and the spraying of water that makes the earth green and covers it with grain stalks (cf. Dt 32,2).

The voice of Moses, prophet and interpreter of the divine word, announces the imminent appearance on the scene of the great judge, the Lord, whose most holy name he pronounces, exalting one of his many attributes. In fact, the Lord is called the Rock (Dt 32,4), a title that is repeated throughout our Canticle (cf. Dt 32,15 Dt 32,18 Dt 32,30 Dt 31,31 Dt 31,37), an image that exalts God's stable and unchanging fidelity, so different from the instability and infidelity of the people. The topic is developed with a series of affirmations on divine justice: "how faultless are his deeds, how right all his ways. A faithful God, without deceit, how just and upright he is" (Dt 32,4).

40 4. After the solemn presentation of the supreme Judge, who is also an injured party, the objective of the cantor is directed to the accused. In order to describe this, he takes recourse to an effective representation of God as father (cf. Dt 32,6). His much loved creatures are called his children, but, unfortunately, they are "degenerate children" (cf. Dt 32,5). In fact, we know that already in the Old Testament there is an idea of God as a solicitous father in his meetings with his children who often disappoint him (Ex 4,22 Dt 8,5 Ps 103,13 [102],13; Si 51,10 Is 1,2 Is 63,16 Os 11,1-4). Because of this, the denunciation is not cold but impassioned: "Is the Lord to be thus repaid by you, O stupid and foolish people? Has he not made and established you?" (Dt 32,6). Indeed, rebelling against an implacable sovereign is very different from revolting against a loving father.

In order to make concrete the gravity of the accusation and thus elicit a conversion that flows from the sincerity of the heart, Moses appeals to the memory: "Think back on the days of old, reflect on the years of age upon age" (Dt 32,7). In fact, biblical faith is a "memorial", namely, a rediscovering of God's eternal action spread over time; it is to make present and effective that salvation that the Lord has given and continues to offer man. Hence, the great sin of infidelity coincides with "forgetfulness", which cancels the memory of the divine presence in us and in history.

5. The fundamental event that must not be forgotten is that of the crossing of the desert after the flight from Egypt, major topic of Deuteronomy and of the entire Pentateuch. So the terrible and dramatic journey in the Sinai desert is evoked, "a wasteland of howling desert" (cf. Dt 32,10), as described with an image of strong emotional impact. However, there God bends over his people with amazing tenderness and gentleness. The paternal symbol is intertwined with an allusion to the maternal symbol of the eagle: "He shielded them and cared for them, guarding them as the apple of his eye. As an eagle incites its nestlings forth by hovering over its brood. So he spread his wings to receive them and bore them up on his pinions" (vv. Dt 32,10-11). Then the way of the desert steppe is transformed into a quiet and serene journey because of the protective mantle of divine love.

The canticle also refers to Sinai, where Israel became the Lord's ally, his "portion" and "hereditary share", namely, the most precious reality (cf. Dt 32,9 Ex 19,5). Thus the canticle of Moses becomes a collective examination of conscience, so that in the end the response to the divine benefits will no longer be sin but fidelity.

I extend a warm welcome to the various groups present: in particular to the staff members of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and to the Sisters taking part in the Program for Formators organized by the International Union of Superiors General. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Sweden, Japan and the United States, I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.


World Refugee Day

John Paul II also reminded the faithful that World Refugee Day will be observed on Thursday 20 June.

The UN promotes the observance of the day to call attention to the 15 million human beings obliged to cross the borders of countries to flee from persecution and the violation of their fundamental rights. May the leaders of nations listen to the cry that rises from such a tragic exodus of individuals and families and do what is necessary to offer an adequate response to the tragic problems of these brothers and sisters of ours.
Condemnation of Suicide Bombers in Jerusalem

John Paul II harshly condemned "with the most absolute disapproval" Tuesday's suicide bomb attack in Jerusalem which killed 19, mostly students on their way to school, and wounded 50 others. On Wednesday there was more violence as a suicide bomber blew himself up along with six persons at a bus stop. More than 35 were wounded.

The tragic news of yesterday's attack which sowed terror and death in Jerusalem can only elicit the most absolute disapproval on the part of all. For the nth time I repeat to those who plot and plan such barbarous actions that he will have to answer to God for them. While I express my heartfelt human and spiritual solidarity to the families in mourning and to the wounded, I invite all to pray with me to the Lord so that he may change hardened hearts and inspire thoughts of peace and reciprocal pardon in those who dwell in that region that we love so much.

Wednesday 26 June 2002 - How Great Is Your Name through all the earth

Psalm 8, Lauds on Saturday of the second week of the year

Ps 8

1. "Man ..., at the heart of this enterprise, is revealed to us as gigantic. He seems to be divine, not in himself, but in his beginning and his end. Honour, therefore, to man, honour to his dignity, to his spirit, to his life". With these words, in July 1969, Paul VI entrusted to the American astronauts leaving for the moon the text of Psalm 8, just proclaimed for us, so that it might enter into the cosmic spaces (cf. Insegnamenti, [1969], pp. 493-494, ORE, 17 July 1969, p. 1).

In fact, this hymn celebrates the human person, a minute creature when compared to the immensity of the universe, a fragile "reed" to use a famous image of the great philosopher Blaise Pascal (Pensieri, n. 264). And yet he is a "thinking reed" who can understand creation, insofar as he is the lord of creation, "crowned" by God himself (cf. Ps 8,6). As is often the case with hymns exalting the Creator, Psalm 8 begins and ends with a solemn antiphon addressed to the Lord, whose magnificence is disseminated in the universe: "O Lord, our God, how great is your name through all the earth" (cf. Ps 8,2 Ps 8,10).

2. The body of the canticle itself seems to assume a nocturnal atmosphere, with the moon and the stars that light up in the sky. The first strophe of the hymn (cf. Ps 8,2-5) is dominated by the comparison between God, the human being and the cosmos. First of all, the Lord appears on the scene, whose glory is sung by the heavens, but also by the lips of humanity. The praise that rises spontaneously on the lips of children cancels and confounds the presumptuous discourses of those who deny God (cf. Ps 8,3). They are described as "foes, enemies, avengers", because they delude themselves by challenging and opposing the Creator with their reason and their actions (cf. Ps 14,1 [13],1).

Then, right afterwards, the impressive scene of a starry night opens. In the face of such an infinite horizon, the eternal question arises, "What are human beings" (Ps 8,5). The first and immediate answer speaks of nullity, either in relation to the immensity of the heavens or, above all, with regard to the majesty of the Creator. In fact, the Psalmist says, the heavens are "yours", you set the moon and the stars, they are "the work of your fingers" (cf. Ps 8,4). This last expression is beautiful, rather than the more common "works of your hands" (cf. Ps 8,7): God has created this colossal reality with the ease and refinement of an embroidery or chisel, with the light touch of a harpist who glides his fingers over the cords.

3. The first reaction, there, is of dismay: how can God "remember" and be "mindful" of this creature who is so fragile and so little (cf. Ps 8,5)? But here is the great surprise: God has given the human person, the weak creature, a wonderful dignity: he has made him a little less than the angels or, as the original Hebrew can be translated, a little less than a god (cf. Ps 8,6).

Thus we enter the second strophe of the Psalm (cf. Ps 8,6-10). Man is seen as the royal lieutenant of the Creator himself. God, indeed, has "crowned" him as a viceroy, giving him a universal lordship. "You have ... put all things under his feet" and the adjective "all" resounds while the various creatures file past (cf. Ps 8,7-9). However, this dominion is not conquered by man's capacity, fragile and limited reality, nor is it obtained either by a victory over God, as the Greek myth of Prometheus intended. It is a dominion given by God: to the fragile and often egotistic hands of man God entrusts the entire range of creatures so that he will preserve them in harmony and beauty, use them but not abuse them, reveal their secrets and develop their potential.

As the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes of the Second Vatican Council states, "man was created in the image of God, is capable of knowing and loving his Creator, and was appointed by him as master of all earthly creatures that he might subdue them and use them for God's glory" (GS 12).

42 4. Unfortunately, the selfish person, often revealed to be a mad tyrant and not a wise and intelligent ruler, can misunderstand and deform the dominion of the human person, affirmed in Psalm 8. The Book of Wisdom warns against deviations of this kind, when it specifies that God has "established man to rule the creatures produced by you, to govern the world in holiness and justice" (Sg 9,2-3). Although in a different context, Job also refers to our Psalm to recall in particular human weakness, which does not merit so much attention from God: "What is man, that you make much of him, or pay him any heed? You observe him with each new day" (Jb 7,17-18). History documents the evil that human freedom disseminates in the world with environmental disasters and the most awful social injustices.

As opposed to human beings who humiliate their own and creation, Christ appears as the perfect man (si presenta come l'uomo perfetto), "crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death ... that by the grace of God he might taste death for the good of all" (He 2,9). He reigns over the universe with that dominion of peace and love that prepares the new world, the new heavens and the new earth (cf. 2P 3,13). What is more, his royal authority - as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews suggests applying Psalm 8 to him - is exercised by the supreme self giving of himself in death "for the good of all".

Christ is not a sovereign who makes himself be served, but who serves and consecrates himself for others: "The Son of man came not be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for the many" (Mc 10,45). In this way, he recapitulates in himself "all things ... in heaven and on earth" (Ep 1,10). In this Christological light, Psalm 8 reveals all the force of its message and of its hope, inviting us to exercise our sovereignty over creation not as dominion but as love.

At the end of the catechesis, the Holy Father greeted the various groups of pilgrims in their own tongues. Here is the greeting for the English-speaking.

I am pleased to greet the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit on the occasion of their General Chapter. I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. I also offer special greetings to the many pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Newark and to the students from Catholic Central High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present, especially those from Norway, Sweden, Japan and the United States of America, I cordially invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Wednesday 3 July 2002 - God is our strength in the storms of life - Psalm 92 £[93]

43 Ps 93

1. The essential content of Psalm 92 [93] on which we are reflecting today is evocatively expressed by some verses of the Hymn in the Liturgy of the Hours for Vespers of Monday: "O, immense Creator who, in the harmony of the cosmos laid out a path and a limit for the pounding waves of the sea, you gave to the harsh deserts of the parched earth the refreshment of rivers and seas".

Before entering the heart of the Psalm with its powerful image of the waters, let us understand its basic tone, the literary genre that supports it. In fact, our Psalm, like the following Psalms 95-98, is described by Bible scholars as "a song acclaiming Our Lord the King". It exalts the Kingdom of God, the source of peace, truth and love, which we pray for in the "Our Father" when we implore: "Thy Kingdom come!".

Indeed, Psalm 92 [93] opens precisely with a joyful acclamation: "The Lord reigns!" (Ps 93,1). The Psalmist celebrates the active kingship of God, that is, his effective and saving action which creates the world and redeems man. The Lord is not an impassive emperor relegated to his distant heavens, but is present among his people as Saviour, powerful and great in love.

2. The Lord, the King, occupies the first part of this hymn of praise. Like a sovereign, he is seated on a throne of glory, a throne that is indestructible and eternal (cf. Ps 93,2). His mantle is the splendour of transcendence, the belt of his robe is omnipotence (cf. Ps 93,1). The omnipotent sovereignty of God is revealed at the heart of the Psalm, which compares it to the striking image of turbulent waters.

The Psalmist mentions in particular the "voice" of the rivers, in other words, the roaring of their waters. Actually, the thundering of great waterfalls produces a sensation of tremendous force in those whose ears are deafened and whose whole body is seized with trembling. Psalm 41 [42] evokes the same sensation when it says: "Deep is calling on deep, in the roar of waters; your torrents and all your waves swept over me" (Ps 42,8). The human being feels small before this natural force. The Psalmist, however, uses it as a trampoline to exalt the power of the Lord, which is greater by far. The triple repetition of the words: "have lifted up" (cf. Ps 93,3 [92], 3) their voice, is answered by the triple affirmation of the superior might of God.

3. The Fathers of the Church like to comment on this Psalm by applying it to Christ, "Lord and Saviour". Origen, translated into Latin by St Jerome, says: "The Lord reigns, he is robed in beauty. That is, he who formerly trembled in the misery of the flesh, now shines in the majesty of divinity". For Origen, the rivers and waters that lift up their voices represent the "authoritative figures of the prophets and the apostles" who "proclaim the praise and glory of the Lord and announce his judgements for the whole world (cf. 74 omelie sul libro dei Salmi, Milan 1993, pp. 666 669).

St Augustine develops the symbol of the torrents and oceans even further. Like swollen rivers in full spate, that is, filled with the Holy Spirit and strengthened, the Apostles are no longer afraid and finally raise their voice. However, "when many voices begin to announce Christ, the sea starts to get rough". In the ebb and flow of the ocean of the world, Augustine says, the little barque of the Church seems to rock fearfully, menaced by threats and persecutions, but "the Lord is full of wonder on high"; he "walked upon the waters of the sea and calmed the waves" (Esposizioni sui salmi, III, Rome 1976, p. 231).

4. Yet God, sovereign of all things, almighty and invincible, is always close to his people, to whom he imparts his teachings. This is the idea that Psalm 92 [93] expresses in the last verse: the highest throne of the heavens is succeeded by the throne of the ark of the temple of Jerusalem, the power of God's cosmic voice is replaced by the sweetness of his holy and infallible words: "Your decrees are very sure; holiness befits your house, O Lord, for ever more" (Ps 93,5).

Thus ends a short hymn, but one with real prayerful breadth. It is a prayer that instils confidence and hope in the faithful who often feel restless, afraid of being overwhelmed by the storms of history and struck by dark, impending forces.

An echo of this Psalm can be detected in the Apocalypse of John when the inspired author, describing the great gathering in heaven that is celebrating the fall of oppressive Babylon says: "I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying, "Alleluia! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns'" (Ap 19,6).

5. Let us end our reflection on Psalm 92 [93] by listening to the words of St Gregory of Nazianzus, "the theologian" par excellence among the Fathers: We do so through one of his beautiful poems in which praise to God, Sovereign and Creator, acquires a Trinitarian dimension: "You, [Father], have created the universe, giving everything its rightful place and preserving it through your providence.... Your Word is God the Son: indeed, he is consubstantial with the Father, equal to him in honour. He has harmoniously tuned the universe to reign over all things. And in embracing them all, the Holy Spirit, God, safeguards and cares for all things. I will proclaim You, the living Trinity, the one and only monarch ... steadfast strength that sustains the heavens, a gaze inaccessible to our sight but which contemplates the whole universe and penetrates every secret depth of the earth to its abysses. O Father, be good to me: ... may I find mercy and grace, because glory and grace are to you to the age without end" (Carm. 31 in Poesie/1, Rome 1994, pp. 65-66).

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims present at this Audience, and I offer a special word of thanks to the choirs and to the Virginia Youth Symphony Orchestra for their praise of God in music. Upon all of you, particularly the visitors from England, Ireland, Scotland, Canada and the United States of America, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday 10 July 2002 - Give praise and glory to God for Creation

Canticle of the three young men, Dn 3,57-88.56

44 Da 3,57-88 Da 3,56

1. A luminous prayer like a litany is included in chapter 3 of the Book of Daniel, a real Canticle of the creatures, which the liturgy of Lauds presents to us on several occasions in various fragments.

We have now heard the fundamental part, a grandiose cosmic choir framed by two recapitulatory antiphons: "Bless the Lord, all works of the Lord, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.... Blessed are you [Lord] in the firmament of heaven and to be sung and glorified for ever" (Da 3,56 Da 3,57).

Between these two acclamations a solemn hymn of praise unfolds that is expressed in the repeated invitation: "Bless". This form seems no more than an invitation to all creation to bless God but it is actually a hymn of thanksgiving for all the marvels of the universe which the faithful raise to the Lord. Man gives a voice to all creation, to thank and praise God.

2. This hymn, sung by three young Hebrews who invite all the creatures to praise God, develops in a dramatic situation. The three young men, persecuted by the king of Babylon, are cast into a fiery furnace because of their faith. Yet even facing martyrdom, they do not hesitate to sing, rejoice, and praise God. The pain of their harsh and violent trial disappears, seeming as it were to dissolve in the presence of prayer and contemplation. It is this very attitude of confident abandonment that elicits the divine intervention.

Indeed, as the vivid account in Daniel testifies, "the angel of the Lord came down into the furnace to be with Azariah and his companions, and drove the fiery flames out of the furnace, and made the midst of the furnace like a moist and whistling wind, so that the fire did not touch them at all or hurt or trouble them" (Da 3,49-50). Nightmares evaporate like mist in sunshine, fears dissolve and suffering vanishes when the whole human being becomes praise and trust, expectation and hope. This is the strength of prayer when it is pure, intense, and total abandonment to God our provident Redeemer.

3. The Canticle of the three young men depicts a sort of cosmic procession filing past, beginning in heaven, peopled by angels, where sun, moon and stars also shine. From on high, God pours out upon the earth the gift of the waters in heaven above (cf. Da 3,60); that is, rain and dew (cf. Da 3,64).

However, the winds then blow, thunder peals ... the chill of winter and the burning summer heat explode, besides ice and cold, frost and snow (cf. Da 3,65-70 Da 3,73). The poet also includes time in his hymn of praise to the Creator: day and night, light and darkness (cf. Da 3,71-72). Finally his gaze comes to rest on the mountaintops where earth and sky seem to converge (cf. Da 3,74-75).

45 All things that grow on the earth (cf. Da 3,76) then join in singing praise to God; the springs that bring life and freshness, and the rivers and seas with their abundant and mysterious waters. Indeed, the poet mentions the "whales" besides marine creatures and fish (cf. Da 3,79), as a vision of that primordial watery chaos on which God imposed the limits to be observed (cf. Ps 93,3-4 [92], vv. 3-4; Jb 38,8-11 Jb 40,15-41 Jb 26).

Then comes the vast and varied animal kingdom that lives and moves in the waters, on the earth and in the sky (cf. Da 3,80-81).

4. The last actor of creation to enter the scene is man. First the poet's gaze broadens and sweeps over all "the sons of man" (cf. Da 3,82); attention is next focused on Israel, the People of God (cf. Da 3,83); it is then the turn of those who are fully consecrated to God, not only as priests (cf. Da 3,84) but also as witnesses to faith, justice and truth. They are the "servants of the Lord", the "spirits and souls of the righteous", the "holy and humble in heart", and from among them emerge the three young men: Hananiah, Azariah, Mishael, who give a voice to all the creatures in a universal and enduring song of praise (cf. Da 3,85-88).

Three verbs of divine glorification constantly resound, as in a litany: "Bless, praise, exalt" the Lord. This is the true heart of prayer and song: ceaseless celebration of the Lord with the joy of being part of a choir that includes all creation.

5. Let us end our meditation by listening to the words of the Fathers of the Church such as Origen, Hippolytus, Basil of Caesarea, Ambrose of Milan, who have all commented on the account of the six days of creation (cf. Gn 1,1-2,4a) precisely in connection with the Canticle of the three young men.

We shall limit ourselves to the comment of St Ambrose, who, referring to the fourth day of creation (cf. Gn 1,14-19), imagines the earth speaking and, in a discourse on the sun, shows all the creatures united in praise of God: "The sun is truly good, for it serves to make me fruitful and ripens my fruits. It was given to me for my own good, and, with me, is subjected to great effort. It groans with me for the adoption of sons and the redemption of the human race, so that we too may be freed from slavery. Beside me, together with me, it praises the Creator; with me it raises a hymn to the Lord our God. Wherever the sun blesses, there the earth blesses, the fruit-trees bless, the animals bless, the birds bless with me" (I sei giorni della creazione, SAEMO, I, Milan-Rome 1977-1994, pp. 192-193).

No one is excluded from blessing the Lord, not even our marine creatures (cf. Da 3,79). Indeed, St Ambrose continues: "Snakes also praise the Lord, for their nature and appearance reveal to us a certain beauty, and show that they have their justification" (ibid. , pp. 103-104).

This is all the more reason why we, as human beings, should add our own joyful and confident voice to this symphony of praise, and accompany it with a consistent and faithful life.

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at todayís Audience, especially those from Ireland, Malta, Canada and the United States. My special greeting goes to the priests of the Archdiocese of New York and to the choir from Ireland. Upon all of you I cordially invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lastly, to the Italian-speaking pilgrims present, the Holy Father said:

I cordially welcome the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I greet you in particular, dear people of Castel Gandolfo, who have also welcomed me this year with great cordiality. I am thinking with respect of the Mayor and all the authorities; as well as of the Bishop and his Auxiliary, the parish priest and the whole parish community. I am glad to be back with you, here at Castel Gandolfo where, please God, I shall spend the summer as I have in previous years. I am thinking of the forthcoming World Youth Day, which will take place in Toronto at the end of this month. I ask you too to pray that this important ecclesial event will bring the desired spiritual fruits.