Wednesday 27 November 2002 - Psalm 98£[99] - Holy is the Lord our God

79 Ps 99

Brothers and Sisters,

1. "The Lord reigns". The acclamation that opens Psalm 98[99], that we have just heard, reveals its basic theme and literary genre. It is a lofty song of the People of God to the Lord who governs the world and history as transcendent, supreme sovereign. It reminds us of other similar hymns - Psalms 95-97, which we have already reflected upon - which the Liturgy of Lauds sets forth as an ideal morning prayer.

In fact, as the faithful person starts his day, he knows that he is not left to the mercy of blind and dark chance, nor given over to the uncertainty of his freedom, nor dependent on the decisions of others, nor dominated by the events of history. He knows that the Creator and Saviour in his greatness, holiness and mercy, is above every earthly reality.

2. Experts have put forward several hypotheses on the use of this Psalm in the liturgy of the Temple of Zion. In any case, it has the character of a contemplative praise that rises to the Lord, enthroned in heavenly glory before all the peoples and the earth (cf. Ps 99,1). Yet God makes himself present in a place and in the midst of a community, namely, in Jerusalem (cf. Ps 99,2), showing that he is "God-with-us".

In the first verses the Psalmist attributes seven solemn titles to God: he is king, great, supreme, terrible, holy, powerful, just (cf. Ps 99,1-4). Further on, God is also described as "patient" (cf. Ps 99,8). Above all, the emphasis is put on the holiness of God. Indeed, "he is holy" is repeated three times - almost in the form of an antiphon - (Ps 99,3 Ps 99,5 Ps 99,9). In biblical language this term indicates above all divine transcendence. God is superior to us, and he is infinitely above every one of his creatures.

This transcendence, however, does not make him an impassive and distant sovereign: when he is called upon, he responds (cf. Ps 99,6). God is He who can save, the only One who can free humanity from evil and death. Indeed, "he loves justice" and has "exercises equity and justice in Jacob" (Ps 99,4).

80 3. The Fathers of the Church have reflected at great length on the theme of the holiness of God, celebrating his divine inaccessibility. However, this transcendent, holy God drew near to humanity. Indeed, as St Irenaeus says, he already became "accustomed" to being with the human person in the Old Testament, showing himself in appearances and speaking through the prophets, while man "became accustomed" to God learning to follow and obey him. Indeed, in one of his hymns, St Ephrem stressed that through the Incarnation "the Holy One dwelt in the [Mary's] womb in a bodily manner, and behold, he dwells in the mind in a spiritual manner" (St Ephrem, Inni sulla Natività, 4, 130 Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns on the Nativity, 4, 130, p. 99, Paulist Press, Mahwah, N.J., 1989). Moreover, through the gift of the Eucharist, in analogy with the Incarnation, "The Medicine of Life came down from above/ to dwell in those who are worthy of him./ After entering them,/ he set up his dwelling among us,/ so that we can be sanctified in him" (Inni conservati in armeno, [Hymns preserved in Armenian], 47,27.30).

4. This deep bond between the "holiness" and closeness of God is also developed in Psalm 98[99]. In fact, after contemplating the absolute perfection of the Lord, the Psalmist reminds us that God was in constant touch with his people through Moses and Aaron, his mediators, and through Samuel, his prophet. He spoke and was heard, he punished offenses but also forgave.

The sign of his presence among his people was "his footstool", namely, the throne of the Ark of the Temple of Zion (cf.
Ps 99,5-8). The holy and invisible God also made himself available to his people through Moses, the legislator, Aaron the priest and Samuel the prophet. He revealed himself in words and deeds of salvation and judgement. He was pres ent in Zion in the worship celebrated in the temple.

5. So we can say that today Psalm 98[99] is fulfilled in the Church, the centre of the presence of the holy and transcendent God. The Lord did not withdraw into the inaccessible realm of his mystery, indifferent to our history and our expectations. He "comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with justice, and the peoples with equity" (Ps 98,9 [97],9).

God came among us above all in his Son, who became one of us, to instil in us his life and his holiness. This is why we now approach God with confidence not terror. Indeed, in Christ we have the High Priest, holy, innocent and unblemished. He "is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (He 7,25). Our hymn, then, is full of serenity and joy: it exalts the Lord, the King, who dwells among us, wiping every tear from our eyes (cf. Ap 21,3-4).

I extend a special welcome to the English speaking pilgrims present today, particularly the groups from the United States. I thank the Freedom High School Choir who have lifted up our hearts to the Lord with their song of praise. Upon all of you, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

I greet young people, the sick and newly-weds. May the person of the Apostle St Andrew whose feast we will celebrate in a few days' time be for you, dear young people, a model of the following of Christ and of Christian witness. May St Andrew intercede for you, dear sick people, so that divine consolation may fill your hearts and fortify your faith. May he help you, dear newly-weds, to respond faithfully to the plan of love in which Christ brings you to share through the Sacrament of Marriage.

            December 2002

Wednesday 4 December 2002 - Psalm 50£[51] - Take not your Holy Spirit from me

Brothers and Sisters,

1. Every week the Liturgy of Lauds repeats Psalm 50[51], the famous Miserere. We have already reflected on sections of it on other occasions. Now also, we will reflect in a particular way on a section of this grandiose plea for forgiveness: verses
Ps 51,2-16.

First of all, it is important to note that in the original Hebrew the word "spirit" is repeated three times, invoked of God as a gift and received by the human creature who has repented of his sin: "Renew in me a steadfast spirit.... Do not deprive me of your holy spirit.... Sustain in me a generous spirit" (Ps 51,12 Ps 51,13 Ps 51,14). One could say, taking recourse to a liturgical term, that it is an "epiclesis", that is, a triple invocation of the Spirit who, as in creation hovered over the waters (cf. Gn 1,2), now penetrates the soul of the faithful, infusing it with new life and raising it from the kingdom of sin to the heaven of grace.

2. The Church Fathers, in the "spirit" invoked by the Psalmist, see the effective presence of the Holy Spirit. Thus, St Ambrose is convinced that it is about the Holy Spirit, who is one "who was active in the prophets, was breathed upon the Apostles and was joined with the Father and the Son in the sacrament of Baptism" (Lo Spirito Santo I, 4, 55: SAEMO 16, p. 95; The Holy Spirit in St Ambrose, Theological and Dogmatic Works, CUA Press, reprinted 1977). The same conviction is expressed by other Fathers, such as Didymus the Blind of Alexandria, Egypt, and Basil of Caesarea in their respective treatises on the Holy Spirit (Didymus the Blind, Lo Spirito Santo, Rome 1990, p. 59; Basil of Caesarea, Lo Spirito Santo, X, 24, Rome 1993).

Again, St Ambrose, observing that the Psalmist speaks of the joy that invades the soul once it has received the generous and powerful Spirit of God, comments: "Joy and delight are fruits of the Spirit and really the sovereign Spirit is the one on whom we are founded. Thus whoever is brought to life by the sovereign Spirit is not subject to slavery, is not enslaved by sin, is not indecisive, does not wander here and there, is not uncertain in his choices, but standing on the rock, he is firm with feet that do not waver" (Apologia del profeta David a Teodosio Augusto, 15,72 [Defence of the Prophet David for the Emperor Theodosius]: SAEMO 5, 129).

3. With this triple mention of the "spirit", after describing in the preceding verses the dark prison of guilt, Psalm 50[51] opens onto the bright realm of grace. It is an important turning point, comparable to a new creation. As in the beginning God breathed his spirit into matter and created the human person (cf. Gn 2,7), so now the same divine Spirit recreates (cf. Ps 51,12 [50],12), renews, transfigures and transforms the repentant sinner, embraces him again (cf. Ps 51,13) making him share in the joy of salvation (cf. Ps 51,14). Now the human being, animated by the divine Spirit, sets out on the path of justice and love, as is said in another Psalm: "Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good spirit guide me on a level path!" (cf. Ps 143,10 [142],10).

4. Having experienced this inner rebirth, the person praying becomes a witness; he promises God to "teach the erring your ways" of good (Ps 51,15 [50], 15), so that, like the Prodigal Son, they may be able to return to the house of the Father. In the same way, St Augustine, after experiencing the dark paths of sin, in his Confessions felt the need to witness to the freedom and the joy of salvation.

Whoever has experienced God's merciful love, becomes a passionate witness of it, especially in dialogue with those who are still caught in the nets of sin. Let us think of the person of Paul, dazzled by Christ on the road to Damascus, who became an untiring missionary of divine grace.

5. For one last time, the person praying looks at his dark past and cries out to God: "Free me from blood guilt, O God, my saving God (cf. NAB version of v. Ps 51,16). The "blood", to which he refers is variously interpreted in Scripture. Here on the lips of King David, it refers to the killing of Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, the woman who was the object of the king's passion. In a more general sense, the invocation indicates the desire for purification from evil, violence and hatred always present in the human heart with dark and malicious force. Now the lips of the faithful person, purified from sin, sing praise to the Lord.

In fact, the passage of Psalm 50[51] which we have just commented on ends with the promise to proclaim the "justice" of God. The term "justice" in this context, as so often in biblical language, does not actually indicate God's punitive action of evil by God, but rather indicates the sinner's rehabilitation, since God reveals his justice by making sinners just (cf. Rm 3,26). God derives no pleasure from the death of the wicked, but only that he give up his behaviour and live (cf. Ez 18,23).

82 To the English-speaking

I welcome the members of the Japanese Buddhist group Rissho Kosei Kai. My greeting also goes to the student groups from Denmark and the United States. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience I cordially invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.

To the Polish-speaking

I greet the pilgrims from Poland and from other countries. In particular I greet Cardinal Franciszek, the bishops and organizers of my pilgrimage to Poland last August. Once again I thank them all for their involvement in that exceptional event, rich in spiritual content, which is engraved on my heart.

Then together we meditated the mystery of Divine Mercy. In today's catechesis too, we have reflected on this mystery, meditating on the words of the Psalm "Miserere". We know it well in Franciszek Karpinski's beautiful translation.

To young people, the sick and newly weds

I greet the young people present here. I urge you, dear young people, frequently to nourish yourselves with the bread of life that Christ offers us every day in the celebration of the Eucharist.
With affection I address you, dear sick people, and I invite you to turn your gaze to the One who in this season of Advent, we await as Saviour, conscious that if we offer our sufferings to him, we will also share in his glory.

Finally, I recommend to you, dear newly weds, to revive in your relationship as couple the atmosphere of the family of Nazareth, through the frequent recitation of the Rosary.
Appeal for peace and social harmony in Venezuela

In the face of the news from Venezuela, I ask the God of all consolation, so that, in the beloved country, at this difficult time in its history, peace and social harmony may prevail, involving everyone in a dialogue that will be good for the country, so that it may attain genuine justice, founded on truth and solidarity.

Wednesday 11 December 2002 - Show us O Lord your mercy

Canticle from the Book of Jeremiah

83 (Jr 14,17-21)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. The Prophet Jeremiah raises to heaven from within his own historical context a bitter and deeply felt song (Jr 14,17-21). We have just heard it recited as an invocation, which the Liturgy of Lauds presents to us on the day when we commemorate the Lord's death: Friday. The context in which this lamentation arises is represented by a scourge that often strikes the land of the Middle East: drought. However, with this natural disaster, the prophet interweaves another, the tragedy of war which is equally appalling: "If I walk out into the field, look! those slain by the sword; if I enter the city look! those consumed by hunger". Unfortunately, the description is tragically present in so many regions of our planet.

2. Jeremiah enters the scene with his face bathed in tears: he weeps uninterruptedly for "the daughter of his people", namely for Jerusalem. Indeed, according to a well-known biblical symbol, the city is represented with a feminine image, "the daughter of Zion". The prophet participates intimately in the "great destruction" and in the "incurable wound" of his people (Jr 14,17). Often, his words are marked by sorrow and tears, because Israel does not allow herself to be involved in the mysterious message that suffering brings with it. In another passage, Jeremiah exclaims: "If you do not listen to this in your pride, I will weep in secret many tears; my eyes will run with tears for the Lord's flock, led away to exile" (Jr 13,17).

3. The reason for the prophet's heart-rending prayer is to be found, as has been said, in two tragic events: the sword and hunger, that is, war and famine (Jr 14,18). We are therefore in a tormented historical situation and the portrait of the prophet and the priest, guardians of the Lord's Word who "wander about the land distraught" (ibid. Jr 14,18) is striking.

The second part of the Canticle (cf. Jr 14,19-21) is no longer an individual lament in the first person singular, but a collective supplication addressed to God: "Why have you struck us a blow that cannot be healed?" (Jr 14,19). In fact, in addition to the sword and hunger, there is a greater tragedy, that of the silence of God who no longer reveals himself and seems to have retreated into his heaven, as if disgusted with humanity's actions. The questions addressed to him are therefore tense and explicit in a typically religious sense: "Have you cast off Judah completely?", or "Is Zion loathsome to you?" (Jr 14,19). Now they feel lonely and forsaken, deprived of peace, salvation and hope. The people, left to themselves, feel as if they were isolated and overcome by terror.

Isn't this existential solitude perhaps the profound source of all the dissatisfaction we also perceive in our day? So much insecurity, so many thoughtless reactions originate in our having abandoned God, the rock of our salvation.

4. Now comes the turning-point: the people return to God and raise an intense prayer to him. First of all, they recognize their own sin with a brief but heartfelt confession of guilt: "We recognize, O Lord, our wickedness,... that we have sinned against you" (Jr 14,21). Thus God's silence was provoked by man's rejection. If the people will be converted and return to the Lord, God will also show himself ready to go out to meet and embrace them.

Finally, the prophet uses two fundamental words: "remember" and "covenant" (Jr 14,21). God is asked by his people to "remember", that is, to return to the line of his generous kindness, which he had so often shown in the past with crucial interventions to save Israel. God is asked to remember that he bound himself to his people by a covenant of fidelity and love. Precisely because of this covenant, the people can be confident that the Lord will intervene to set them free and save them.

84 The commitment he assumed, the honour of his "name" and the fact that he was present in the temple, "the throne of his glory", impel God - after his judgement of sin and his silence - to draw close to his people once again to give them life, peace and joy.

With the Israelites, therefore, we too can be sure that the Lord will not give us up for good but, after every purifying trial, will return to make "his face to shine upon us, and be gracious to us ... and give us peace" as the priestly blessing mentioned in Numbers says (
Nb 6,25-26).

5. To conclude, we can associate Jeremiah's plea with the moving exhortation that St Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage in the third century, addressed to the Christians of that city. In a time of persecution, St Cyprian exhorted his faithful to implore the Lord. This prayer is not identical to the prophet's supplication for it does not include a confession of sin as the persecution is not so much a punishment for sin, but a participation in Christ's Passion. Nevertheless, it is as urgent an entreaty as Jeremiah's. St Cyprian writes, "What we must do is beg the Lord with united and undivided hearts, without pause in our entreaty, with confidence that we shall receive, seeking to appease Him with cries and tears as befits those who find themselves amid the lamentations of the fallen and the trembling of the remnant still left, amidst the host of those who lie faint and savaged and the tiny band of those who stand firm. We must beg that peace be promptly restored, that help be quickly brought to our places of concealment and peril, that those things be fulfilled which the Lord vouchsafes to reveal to his servants: the restoration of His church, the certitude of our salvation, bright skies after rain, after darkness light, after wild storms a gentle calm. We must beg that the Father send his loving aid to his children, that God in his majesty perform now as he has so often His wonderful works" (cf. Letter 11,8 in The Letters of St Cyprian of Carthage, vol. 1 p. 80, in the series Ancient Christian Writers, Newman Press, Ramsay, N.J. 1984).

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I extend a special greeting to the Marist Brothers taking part in a programme of spiritual renewal: may your time in Rome confirm you in your service of the Lord and his Church. Upon all the English-speaking visitors I invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ, and I pray that this season of Advent will prepare you for a truly blessed celebration of Christmas.

To young people, the sick and newly-weds

Finally, I greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. In the spiritual atmosphere of Advent, season of hope that prepares us for Christmas, Mary the expectant Virgin is especially present. I entrust you to her, dear young people, so that you can enthusiastically welcome Christ's invitation to realize fully his Kingdom. I urge you, dear sick people, to offer your suffering with Mary for the salvation of humanity. May the motherly intercession of Our Lady help you, dear newly-weds, to found your family on a faithful love that is open to welcoming life.

Wednesday 18 December 2002


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. In this season of Advent, the invitation of the Prophet Isaiah accompanies us: "Say to those who are fearful of heart. Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God ... will come and save you" (
Is 35,4). It becomes more urgent as Christmas approaches, enriched with the exhortation to prepare our hearts to welcome the Messiah. The one awaited by the people will certainly come and his salvation will be for all.

On the Holy Night, we will again recall his birth in Bethlehem, in a certain sense, we will relive the feelings of the shepherds, their joy and their wonder. With Mary and Joseph we will contemplate the glory of the Word made flesh for our redemption. We will pray that all men may accept the new life that the Son of Man brought into the world by assuming our human nature.

2. The liturgy of Advent, filled with constant allusions to the joyful expectation of the Messiah, helps us to understand the fullness of the value and meaning of the mystery of Christmas. It is not just about commemorating the historical event, which occurred some 2,000 years ago in a little village of Judea. Instead, we must understand that our whole life should be an "advent", in vigilant expectation of Christ's final coming. To prepare our hearts to welcome the Lord who, as we say in the Creed, will come one day to judge the living and the dead, we must learn to recognize his presence in the events of daily life. Advent is then a period of intense training that directs us decisively to the One who has already come, who will come and who continuously comes.

3. With these sentiments, the Church prepares to contemplate in ecstasy, in a week, the mystery of the Incarnation. The Gospel recounts the conception and birth of Jesus, and reports the many providential circumstances that preceded and surrounded such a miraculous event: the angel's annunciation to Mary, the birth of John the Baptist, the choir of angels in Bethlehem, the arrival of the Magi from the East, St Joseph's visions. These are all signs and witnesses that highlight the divinity of this Child. In Bethlehem is born Emmanuel, God-with-us.

In the liturgy of these days, the Church offers us three outstanding "guides" to show us the proper attitude to assume in going to meet the divine "guest" of humanity.

4. First of all, Isaiah, the prophet of consolation and hope. He proclaims a true and proper Gospel for the people of Israel, enslaved in Babylon, and urges them to remain vigilant in prayer, to recognize "the signs" of the coming of the Messiah.

Then there is John the Baptist, the precursor of the Messiah, who is presented as a "voice crying in the wilderness", preaching "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (cf. Mc 1,4). It is the only condition for recognizing the Messiah already present in the world.

Finally, Mary, who in this novena of preparation for Christmas, guides us towards Bethlehem. Mary is the Woman of the "yes" who, contrary to Eve, makes the plan of God her own without reservation. Thus she becomes a clear light for our steps and the highest model for our inspiration.

Dear brothers and sisters, may we allow the Virgin to accompany us on our way towards the Lord who comes, remaining "vigilant in prayer and rejoicing in praise".

I wish everyone a proper preparation for the coming celebration of Christmas.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors

I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims present today, including the groups from Denmark and the United States. I wish you a fruitful preparation for Christmas, and upon all of you and your families I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Happy Christmas!

To the bridge players

86 I then greet the young Bridge players who have come here in such large numbers.

To young people, the sick, and newly-weds

Finally, I would like to greet the young people, the sick, and the newly-weds. Dear friends, I thank you all for your participation in this encounter. Dear young people, in these few days before the Solemnity of Christmas, I pray that the love that God manifests to humanity in the birth of Christ increase in you the desire to serve your brothers and sisters. Dear sick people, may the Lord who comes to visit us in the mystery of Christmas, bring comfort and hope to you. Dear newly-weds, may the joy of the celebration of Christmas reinforce your pledge of love and reciprocal fidelity.