Second Sunday of Easter:  Divine Mercy Sunday

Homily of His Holiness John Paul II (Sunday, 30 April 2000)
Mass in St Peter's Square for the canonization of Sr Mary Faustina Kowalska
                               
1. "Confitemini Domino quoniam bonus, quoniam in saeculum misericordia eius"; "Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his steadfast love endures for ever" (Ps 118: 1). So the Church sings on the Octave of Easter, as if receiving from Christ's lips these words of the Psalm; from the lips of the risen Christ, who bears the great message of divine mercy and entrusts its ministry to the Apostles in the Upper Room: "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.... Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (Jn 20: 21-23).

Before speaking these words, Jesus shows his hands and his side. He points, that is, to the wounds of the Passion, especially the wound in his heart, the source from which flows the great wave of mercy poured out on humanity. From that heart Sr Faustina Kowalska, the blessed whom from now on we will call a saint, will see two rays of light shining from that heart and illuminating the world: "The two rays", Jesus himself explained to her one day, "represent blood and water" (Diary, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, p. 132).

2. Blood and water! We immediately think of the testimony given by the Evangelist John, who, when a solider on Calvary pierced Christ's side with his spear, sees blood and water flowing from it (cf. Jn 19: 34). Moreover, if the blood recalls the sacrifice of the Cross and the gift of the Eucharist, the water, in Johannine symbolism, represents not only Baptism but also the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 3: 5; 4: 14; 7: 37-39).

Divine Mercy reaches human beings through the heart of Christ crucified: "My daughter, say that I am love and mercy personified", Jesus will ask Sr Faustina (Diary, p. 374). Christ pours out this mercy on humanity though the sending of the Spirit who, in the Trinity, is the Person-Love. And is not mercy love's "second name" (cf. Dives in misericordia, n. 7), understood in its deepest and most tender aspect, in its ability to take upon itself the burden of any need and, especially, in its immense capacity for forgiveness?

Today my joy is truly great in presenting the life and witness of Sr Faustina Kowalska to the whole Church as a gift of God for our time. By divine Providence, the life of this humble daughter of Poland was completely linked with the history of the 20th century, the century we have just left behind. In fact, it was between the First and Second World Wars that Christ entrusted his message of mercy to her. Those who remember, who were witnesses and participants in the events of those years and the horrible sufferings they caused for millions of people, know well how necessary was the message of mercy.

Jesus told Sr Faustina: "Humanity will not find peace until it turns trustfully to divine mercy" (Diary, p. 132). Through the work of the Polish religious, this message has become linked for ever to the 20th century, the last of the second millennium and the bridge to the third. It is not a new message but can be considered a gift of special enlightenment that helps us to relive the Gospel of Easter more intensely, to offer it as a ray of light to the men and women of our time.

3. What will the years ahead bring us? What will man's future on earth be like? We are not given to know. However, it is certain that in addition to new progress there will unfortunately be no lack of painful experiences. But the light of divine mercy, which the Lord in a way wished to return to the world through Sr Faustina's charism, will illumine the way for the men and women of the third millennium.

However, as the Apostles once did, today too humanity must welcome into the upper room of history the risen Christ, who shows the wounds of his Crucifixion and repeats: Peace be with you! Humanity must let itself be touched and pervaded by the Spirit given to it by the risen Christ. It is the Spirit who heals the wounds of the heart, pulls down the barriers that separate us from God and divide us from one another, and at the same time, restores the joy of the Father's love and of fraternal unity.

4. It is important then that we accept the whole message that comes to us from the word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the Church will be called "Divine Mercy Sunday". In the various readings, the liturgy seems to indicate the path of mercy which, while re-establishing the relationship of each person with God, also creates new relations of fraternal solidarity among human beings. Christ has taught us that "man not only receives and experiences the mercy of God, but is also called "to practise mercy' towards others: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy' (Mt 5: 7)" (Dives et misericordia, n. 14). He also showed us the many paths of mercy, which not only forgives sins but reaches out to all human needs. Jesus bent over every kind of human poverty, material and spiritual.

His message of mercy continues to reach us through his hands held out to suffering man. This is how Sr Faustina saw him and proclaimed him to people on all the continents when, hidden in her convent at £agiewniki in Kraków, she made her life a hymn to mercy: Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo.

5. Sr Faustina's canonization has a particular eloquence: by this act I intend today to pass this message on to the new millennium. I pass it on to all people, so that they will learn to know ever better the true face of God and the true face of their brethren.

In fact, love of God and love of one's brothers and sisters are inseparable, as the First Letter of John has reminded us: "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments" (5: 2). Here the Apostle reminds us of the truth of love, showing us its measure and criterion in the observance of the commandments.

It is not easy to love with a deep love, which lies in the authentic gift of self. This love can only be learned by penetrating the mystery of God's love. Looking at him, being one with his fatherly heart, we are able to look with new eyes at our brothers and sisters, with an attitude of unselfishness and solidarity, of generosity and forgiveness. All this is mercy!

To the extent that humanity penetrates the mystery of this merciful gaze, it will seem possible to fulfil the ideal we heard in today's first reading: "The community of believers were of one heart and one mind. None of them ever claimed anything as his own; rather everything was held in common" (Acts 4: 32). Here mercy gave form to human relations and community life; it constituted the basis for the sharing of goods. This led to the spiritual and corporal "works of mercy". Here mercy became a concrete way of being "neighbour" to one's neediest brothers and sisters.

6. Sr Faustina Kowalska wrote in her Diary: "I feel tremendous pain when I see the sufferings of my neighbours. All my neighbours' sufferings reverberate in my own heart; I carry their anguish in my heart in such a way that it even physically destroys me. I would like all their sorrows to fall upon me, in order to relieve my neighbour" (Diary, p. 365). This is the degree of compassion to which love leads, when it takes the love of God as its measure!

It is this love which must inspire humanity today, if it is to face the crisis of the meaning of life, the challenges of the most diverse needs and, especially, the duty to defend the dignity of every human person. Thus the message of divine mercy is also implicitly a message about the value of every human being. Each person is precious in God's eyes; Christ gave his life for each one; to everyone the Father gives his Spirit and offers intimacy.

7. This consoling message is addressed above all to those who, afflicted by a particularly harsh trial or crushed by the weight of the sins they committed, have lost all confidence in life and are tempted to give in to despair. To them the gentle face of Christ is offered; those rays from his heart touch them and shine upon them, warm them, show them the way and fill them with hope. How many souls have been consoled by the prayer "Jesus, I trust in you", which Providence intimated through Sr Faustina! This simple act of abandonment to Jesus dispels the thickest clouds and lets a ray of light penetrate every life. Jezu, ufam tobie.

8. Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo (Ps 88 [89]: 2). Let us too, the pilgrim Church, join our voice to the voice of Mary most holy, "Mother of Mercy", to the voice of this new saint who sings of mercy with all God's friends in the heavenly Jerusalem.

And you, Faustina, a gift of God to our time, a gift from the land of Poland to the whole Church, obtain for us an awareness of the depth of divine mercy; help us to have a living experience of it and to bear witness to it among our brothers and sisters. May your message of light and hope spread throughout the world, spurring sinners to conversion, calming rivalries and hatred and opening individuals and nations to the practice of brotherhood. Today, fixing our gaze with you on the face of the risen Christ, let us make our own your prayer of trusting abandonment and say with firm hope:
Christ Jesus, I trust in you! Jezu, ufam tobie!

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                   Some of the last Wednesday audiences by John Paul II
  
                     (July 2004 to January 2005, on the psalms and canticles, and a few other talks)


Commentary on Psalm 114(116)

"Intense Prayer of the Man in a Desperate Situation"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 26, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II's address at today's general audience, which he dedicated to comment on Psalm 114(116):1-2,5,7-9.

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1. In Psalm 114(116), which was just proclaimed, the Psalmist's voice expresses his grateful love to the Lord, after he heard an intense supplication: "I love the Lord, who listened to my voice in supplication./ Who turned an ear to me" (verses 1-2). Immediately after this declaration of love there is a vivid description of the mortal nightmare that has gripped the life of the person at prayer (see verses 3-6).

The drama is portrayed with the usual symbols of Psalms. The coils that entangle life are those of death, the snares that cause it anguish are the pangs of hell, which tries to entice the living to itself without ever being placated (see Proverbs 30:15-16).

2. It is the image of a prey fallen into the trap of a relentless hunter. Death is like a grip that tightens (see Psalm 114[116]:3). Behind the person at prayer, therefore, is the risk of death, accompanied by a painful psychic experience: "I felt agony and dread" (verse 3). But from that tragic abyss he cries out to the only one who can extend a hand and snatch the anguished person at prayer from that inextricable tangle: "Then I called on the name of the Lord, 'O Lord, save my life!'" (verse 4).

It is a brief but intense prayer of the man who, finding himself in a desperate situation, holds fast to the only plank of salvation. In the same way, the disciples cried out in the Gospel in the storm (see Matthew 8:25), in the same way Peter implored when, walking on the sea, he began to sink (see Matthew 14:30).

3. Once saved, the person at prayer proclaims that the Lord is "gracious and just," more than that, "merciful" (Psalm 114[116]:5). This last adjective, in the Hebrew original, makes reference to the tenderness of a mother, evoking her "depths."

Genuine trust always sees God as love, even if at times it is difficult to understand his actions. It is certain, nevertheless, that "The Lord protects the simple" (verse 6). Therefore, in misery and abandonment, one can always count on him, "Father of the fatherless, defender of widows" (Psalm 67[68]:6).

4. A dialogue then begins between the Psalmist and his soul, which continues in the next Psalm 115, and should be considered as a whole with the one on which we are reflecting. It is what the Jewish tradition has done, giving origin to the sole Psalm 116, according to the Hebrew numbering of the Psalter. The Psalmist invites his soul to recover serene peace after the mortal nightmare (see Psalm 114[116]:7).

Invoked with faith, the Lord extended his hand, broke the coils that encircled the person at prayer, dried the tears from his eyes, and stopped his precipitous descent into the infernal abyss (see verse 8). The change is clear and the song ends with a scene of light: The person at prayer returns to "the land of the living," that is, to the paths of the world, to "walk before the Lord." He joins the community prayer in the temple, anticipation of that communion with God that will await him at the end of his life (see verse 9).

5. In concluding, we would like to take up again the most important passages of the Psalm, allowing ourselves to be guided by a great Christian writer of the third century, Origen, whose commentary in Greek on Psalm 114(116) has come to us in St. Jerome's Latin version.

When reading that the Lord "inclined his ear to me," he observed: "We are little and low, we cannot stretch ourselves and raise ourselves on high. Because of this, the Lord inclines his ear and deigns to hear us. When all is said and done, given that we are men and we cannot become gods, God became man and inclined himself, according to what is written: 'He bowed the heavens, and came down' (Psalm 17[18]:10)."

In fact, the Psalm continues further on, "The Lord protects the simple" (Psalm 114[116]:6): "If one is great, if one exalts oneself and is proud, the Lord does not protect one; if one thinks one is great, the Lord does not have mercy on one; but if one abases oneself, the Lord has mercy on one and protects one. So much so that he says: 'Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me' (Isaiah 8:18). And again: "When I was brought low, he saved me.'"

Thus the one who is little and poor can recover peace, rest, as the Psalm says (see Psalm 114[116]:7) and as Origen himself comments: "When it is said: 'Return to your rest,' it is a sign that at first he had rest, and then lost it. ... God created us good and made us arbiters of our decisions, and placed us all in paradise, together with Adam. But because, by our free decision, we were precipitated from that blessedness, ending up in this valley of tears, the righteous one exhorts his soul to return to the place from which it fell. ... 'Return, my soul, to your rest: because the Lord has done good to you.' If you, soul, return to paradise, it is not because you are worthy, but because it is the work of the mercy of God. If you left paradise, it was by your fault; instead, your return is the work of the mercy of the Lord. Let us also say to our souls: 'Return to your rest.' Our rest is Christ, our God" (Origen-Jerome, "74 Omelie sul Libro dei Salmi" [74 Homilies on the Book of Psalms], Milan, 1993, pp. 409,412-413).

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On Canticle From Book of Revelation

"Those Who Have Conquered Satan and Evil"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 12, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address John Paul II delivered today at the general audience, which he dedicated to comment on the canticle from the Book of Revelation (11:17;12:10,12).

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1. The hymn just heard descends ideally from heaven. In fact, the Book of Revelation, which proposes it to us, links its first part (see Revelation 11:17-18) to "the twenty-four elders who sat on their thrones before God " (11:16), and in the second stanza (see 12:10-12) to a "loud voice in heaven" (12:10).

We are thus involved in the grandiose representation of the divine court where God and the Lamb, that is Christ, surrounded by the "crown's council," are judging human history according to good and evil, also showing the ultimate goal of salvation and glory. The songs that are scattered in the Book of Revelation have the function of illustrating the topic of the divine lordship which rules the flow, often disconcerting, of human affairs.

2. Significant, in this regard, is the first passage of the hymn put on the lips of the 24 elders who seem to incarnate the divinely chosen people in their two historical stages, the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 Apostles of the Church.

Now, the Lord God Almighty and Eternal has "assumed your great power and have established your reign" (11:17) and the purpose of his entry into history, is not only to block the violent reactions of rebels (see Psalm 2:1,5) but above all to exalt and recompense the just. The latter are described with a series of terms used to delineate the spiritual countenance of Christians. They are "servants" who adhere to the divine law with fidelity; they are "prophets," gifted with the revealed Word which interprets and judges history; they are "saints," consecrated to God and respectful of his name, namely, ready to worship him and to follow his will. Among them are the "small and great," an expression dear to the author of the Book of Revelation (see 13:16; 19:5,18; 20:12) to designate the people of God in its unity and variety.

3. Thus we pass to the second part of our canticle. After the dramatic scene of the woman with child "clothed with the sun" and of the terrible red dragon (see 12:1-9), a mysterious voice intones a hymn of thanksgiving and joy.

The joy stems from the fact that Satan, the ancient adversary, who stood in the heavenly court as "accuser of our brothers" (12:10), as we see him in the Book of Job (see 1:6-11; 2:4-5), was "cast out" from heaven and therefore no longer has great power. He knows that "he has but a short time" (12:12), because history is about to undergo a radical change of liberation from evil and that is why he reacts "in great fury."

On the other side appears the risen Christ, whose blood is principle of salvation (see 12:11). He has received from the Father a royal power over the whole universe; in him are fulfilled "salvation, strength and the kingdom of our God."

To his victory are associated the Christian martyrs who chose the way of the cross, not yielding to evil and its virulence, but commending themselves to the Father and uniting themselves to the death of Christ through a testimony of surrender and courage that led them to "love not their lives even unto death" ([see] ibid.). One seems to hear the echo of Christ's words: "Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life" (John 12:25).

4. The words of the Book of Revelation about those who have conquered Satan and evil "through the blood of the Lamb," resound in a splendid prayer attributed to Simeon, bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in Persia. Before dying as a martyr with many other companions on April 17, 341, during the persecution of King Sapor II, he addressed the following supplication to Christ:

"Lord, give me this crown: you know how I have desired it because I have loved you with all my soul and my life. I will be happy to see you and you will give me rest. ... I want to persevere heroically in my vocation, fulfill with fortitude the task that was assigned to me and be an example to all your people of the East. ... I shall receive life that knows not pain, or concern, or anguish, or persecutor, or persecuted, or oppressor, or oppressed, or tyrant, or victim; there I shall no longer see the king's menace, nor the terror of prefects; no one who takes me to court and continues to terrify me terrifies me, no one who drags me or frightens me. The wounds of my feet will heal in you, O way of all pilgrims; the exhaustion of my members will find rest in you, Christ, chrism of our unction. In you, chalice of our salvation, sadness will vanish from my heart; in you, our consolation and joy, the tears of my eyes will be wiped away" (A. Hamman, "Preghiere dei Primi Cristiani" [Early Christian Prayers], Milan, 1955, pp. 80-81).

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Meditation on Psalm 71(72):12-19
Christ as Defender of the Poor and Oppressed

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 15, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II's address at today's general audience, which he dedicated to comment on Psalm 71(72):12-19.

* * *

1. The Liturgy of Vespers, which we have been following through a series of its Psalms, proposes Psalm 71(72), a royal-messianic hymn, to us in two parts. After having already meditating on the first part (see verses 1-11), we now have before us the second poetic and spiritual movement of this song dedicated to the glorious figure of the Messiah King (see verses 12-19). However, we must point out immediately that the end of the two last verses (see verses 18-19) is, in reality, a subsequent liturgical addition to the Psalm.

It is, in fact, a brief but intense blessing that was to seal the second of the five books in which Jewish tradition had divided the collection of 150 Psalms: This second book began with Psalm 41(42), that of the thirsty hart, luminous symbol of the spiritual thirst for God. Now it is a song of hope in an era of peace and justice which concludes that sequence of Psalms and the words of the final blessing that are an exaltation of the Lord's effective presence, whether in the history of humanity, where he "does wonderful deeds" (Psalm 71[72]:18), or in the created universe full of his glory (see verse 19).

2. As already was the case in the first part of the Psalm, the decisive element to recognize the figure of the Messianic King is above all justice and his love of the poor (see verses 12-14). They have him alone as reference point and source of hope, inasmuch as he is the visible representative of their only defender and master, God. The history of the Old Testament teaches that the sovereigns of Israel, in reality, too often belied this commitment of theirs, abusing their power over the weak, the miserable and the poor.

Because of this, the Psalmist now looks to a just, perfect king incarnated by the Messiah, the only sovereign ready to redeem the oppressed "from extortion and violence" (see verse 14). The Hebrew word used is the juridical one of the protector of the last and of victims, applied also to Israel "redeemed" from slavery when it was oppressed by the power of the Pharaoh.

The Lord is the primary "rescuer-redeemer" who acts visibly through the Messiah King, defending "the life and blood" of the poor, his protected ones. Now, "life" and "blood" are the fundamental reality of the person, the representation of the rights and of the dignity of every human being, rights often violated by the powerful and arrogant of this world.

3. In its original version, Psalm 71(72) ends, before the final antiphon already mentioned, with an acclamation in honor of the Messiah-King (see verses 15-17). It is similar to the sound of a trumpet that accompanies a chorus of greetings and good wishes to the sovereign, to his life, to his well-being, to his blessing, to the permanence of his memory through the centuries.

Of course, these are elements that belong to the style of court compositions, with the emphasis proper to them. But now these words acquire their truth in the action of the perfect king, awaited and expected, the Messiah.

According to a characteristic of messianic poems, the whole of nature is involved in a transformation which is first of all social: The wheat of the harvest will be so abundant as to become almost like a sea of ears of wheat waving on the top of the mountains (see verse 16). It is the sign of divine blessing that pours itself out in fullness on a pacified and serene earth. What is more, the whole of humanity, letting fall and canceling every division, will converge toward this sovereign of justice, thus fulfilling the great promise made by the Lord to Abraham: "May the tribes of the earth give blessings with his name" (verse 17; see Genesis 12:3).

4. Christian tradition has intuited in the face of this Messiah King the portrait of Jesus Christ. In his "Commentary on Psalm 71," St. Augustine, re-reading the song precisely in a Christological vein, explained that the indigent and the poor whom Christ comes to rescue are "the people of believers in him." What is more, recalling the kings mentioned earlier in the Psalm, he specifies that "in this people are included also the kings who adore him. They have not, in fact, disdained to be indigent and poor, that is, to humbly confess their sins and recognize themselves in need of the glory and grace of God, so that that king, son of the king, would free them from the powerful one," namely, Satan, the "slanderer," the "strong" one. "But our Savior humiliated the slanderer, and entered the house of the strong one, snatching his riches from him after chaining him; he freed the indigent one from the powerful one, and the poor one who had no one to save him." This, in fact, could not have been done by any created power: not that of a just man or that of an angel. There was no one able to save us; that is why he came, in person, and has saved us" (71,14: "Nuova Biblioteca Agostiniana" (New Augustinian Library), XXVI, Rome, 1970, pp. 809,811).
 

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Commentary on Psalm 61(62)
"God, My Strong Rock"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 10, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II's address at today's general audience, which he dedicated to reflect on Psalm 61(62).

* * *

1. The gentle words of Psalm 61(62) have just resounded, a song of trust, which opens with a sort of antiphon, repeated in the middle of the text. It is like a serene and strong short prayer, an invocation that is also a program of life: "My soul rests in God alone, from whom comes my salvation. God alone is my rock and salvation, my secure height; I shall never fall" (verses 2-3,6-7).

2. As it unfolds, however, the Psalm contrasts two kinds of trust. They are two fundamental choices, one good and the other perverse, which entail two different types of moral conduct. First of all, is trust in God, exalted in the initial invocation where a symbol of stability and security appears, like the rock, "the rock of defense," namely a fortress and bulwark of protection.

The Psalmist confirms: "My safety and glory are with God, my strong rock and refuge" (verse 8). He affirms this after recalling the hostile plots of his enemies who "plot to dislodge him" (see verses 4-5).

3. However, there is also a trust of an idolatrous nature, on which the one praying fixes, with insistence, his critical attention. It is a trust that leads one to seek security and stability in violence, robbery and wealth.

Then a very clear and sharp appeal is made: "Do not trust in extortion; in plunder put no empty hope. Though wealth increase, do not set your heart upon it" (verse 11). It evokes three idols, proscribed as contrary to the dignity of man and to social coexistence.

4. The first false god is violence, which, unfortunately, humanity continues to engage in also in our blood-drenched days. This idol is accompanied by an immense procession of abominable wars, oppressions, prevarications, tortures and killings, inflicted without a trace of remorse.

The second false god is robbery, which is manifested in extortion, social injustice, usury, and political and financial corruption. Too many people cultivate the "illusion" of satisfying in this world their own greed.

Finally, wealth is the third idol to which "the heart" of man "attaches itself" with the deceitful hope of being able to save himself from death (see Psalm 48[49]) and assure himself prestige and power.

5. By serving this diabolical triad, man forgets that the idols have no consistency; what is more, they are harmful. By trusting in things and in himself, man forgets he is "a breath ... an illusion," in fact, if weighed on a scale, "less than a breath" (Psalm 61[62]:10; see Psalm 38[39]:6-7).

If we were more aware of our perishability and limitations as creatures, we would not choose the path of trust in idols, nor would we organize our lives on a hierarchy of fragile and inconsistent pseudo-values. We would opt, rather, for the other trust, that which is centered on the Lord, source of eternity and peace. To him alone, in fact, "power belongs"; he alone is source of grace; he alone is the author of justice, who "requites a man according to his work" (see Psalm 61[62]:11-12).

6. The Second Vatican Council addressed to priests the invitation of Psalm 61(62) "not to set their hearts on riches" (verse 10). The decree on the ministry and priestly life exhorts: "Therefore, in no way placing their heart in treasures, they should avoid all greediness and carefully abstain from every appearance of business" ("Presbyterorum Ordinis," No. 17). However, this appeal to reject perverse trust and to choose that which leads to God applies to all and must become our polar star in daily conduct, in moral decisions, and in our lifestyle.

7. Undoubtedly, this is an arduous path which also entails trials and courageous choices for the just, but always characterized by trust in God (see Psalm 61[62]:2). In this light, the Fathers of the Church saw in the one praying in Psalm 61(62) the prefiguration of Christ, and put the initial invocation of total trust and adherence to God on his lips.

In this connection, in the Commentary on Psalm 61, St. Ambrose argues: "Our Lord Jesus, by assuming man's flesh to purify it in his person, should he not have cancelled immediately the evil influence of the ancient sin? Through disobedience, that is, by violating the divine commandments, guilt was introduced, dragging us down. First of all, therefore, he had to repair obedience, to block the focus of sin ... He took obedience upon his person, to transmit it to us" ("Commento a Dodici Salmi," [Commentary on Twelve Psalms], SAEMO, VIII, Milan-Rome, 1980, p. 283).

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On Canticle From Chapters 4 and 5 of Book of Revelation

                             A Song to Christ the Lamb

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 3, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address John Paul II prepared for today's general audience, which he dedicated to comment on the canticle taken from Chapters 4 and 5 of the Book of Revelation.

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1. The canticle just proposed to us brings to the liturgy of Vespers the simplicity and intensity of a chorus of praise. It is part of the solemn opening vision of Revelation, which presents a sort of heavenly liturgy to which we also, still pilgrims on earth, associate ourselves during our ecclesial celebrations.

The hymn, composed of some verses taken from Revelation and unified by the liturgical use, is based on two fundamental elements. The first, sketched briefly, is the celebration of the Lord's work: "You created all things; because of your will they came to be and were created" (4:11). Creation, in fact, reveals the immense power of God. As the Book of Wisdom says, "from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator" (13:5). Similarly, the Apostle Paul observes: "Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made" (Romans 1:20). Because of this, it is a duty to raise a song of praise to the Creator to celebrate his glory.

2. In this context, it might be interesting to recall that the Emperor Domitian, under whose reign, perhaps, Revelation was composed, had himself called with the title "Dominus et deus noster" [our lord and god] and commanded that he not be addressed except with those appellatives (see Suetonius, "Domitian," XIII).

Obviously, Christians refused to attribute to a human creature, though very powerful, such titles and addressed their adoring acclamations only to their true "Lord and God," Creator of the universe (see Revelation 4:11), and to Him who is, with God, "the first and the last" (see 1:17), and is seated with God his Father on the heavenly throne (see 3:21): Christ dead and resurrected, symbolically represented here as a "Lamb standing," despite his having "been slain" (5:6).

3. This is, precisely, the second element amply developed in the hymn that we are commenting: Christ, the immolated Lamb. The four living creatures and 24 elders acclaim him with a song that begins with the acclamation: "Worthy are you to receive the scroll and to break open its seals, for you were slain" (5:9).

At the center of the praise, therefore, is Christ with his historic work of redemption. Precisely because of this he is able to decipher the meaning of history: It is for him "to open the seals" (ibid.) of the secret book that contains the plan willed by God.

4. But his is not only a work of interpretation; it is also an act of fulfillment and liberation. Because he was "slain," he was able to "ransom" (ibid.) men who come from the most diverse origins.

The Greek verb used does not refer explicitly to the story of Exodus, in which there is no talk of "ransoming" the Israelites. However, the continuation of the phrase contains an evident allusion to the well-known promise made by God to Israel from Sinai: "You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation" (Exodus 19:6).

5. Now this promise has become a reality. The Lamb has constituted for God "a kingdom and priests … and they will reign on earth" (Revelation 5:10), and this kingdom is open to the whole of humanity called to form the community of the children of God, as St. Peter reminds: "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9).

The Second Vatican Council referred explicitly to these texts of the First Letter of Peter and of the Book of Revelation when, presenting the "common priesthood" that belongs to all the faithful, it illustrates the way with which they exercise it: "The faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity" ("Lumen Gentium," No. 10).

6. The hymn of the Book of Revelation that we meditate today concludes with a final acclamation cried out by "myriads of myriads" of angels (see Revelation 5:11). It refers to the "the Lamb slain," to whom is attributed the same glory as to God the Father, as "Worthy is the Lamb … to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength" (5:12). It is the moment of pure contemplation, of joyful praise, of the song of love to Christ in his paschal mystery.

This luminous image of the heavenly glory is anticipated in the Liturgy of the Church. In fact, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds, the Liturgy is "action" of the whole Christ ("Christus totus"). Those who celebrate it here, live already in some way, beyond the signs, in the heavenly liturgy, where the celebration is totally communion and feast. It is in this eternal liturgy that the Spirit and the Church make us participate, when we celebrate the mystery of salvation in the sacraments (see Nos. 1136 and 1139).

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Relativism Threatening Democracy, Says John Paul II

Calls Truth the Antidote to Fanaticism

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 19, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Ethical relativism, according to which there are no objective moral truths, poses a threat for present-day democracies, warns John Paul II.

In a message written for Italian Catholics' Social Week, held in Bologna from Oct. 7-10, the Pope said that truth "is the best antidote" to "ideological fanaticism."

The theme of this year's edition of the Italian Social Week was "Democracy: New Settings, New Powers." It brought together representatives of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and of culture, politics, trade unionism and Catholic associations.

The Holy Father began his message confirming the Catholic Church's appreciation of democracy "inasmuch as it ensures the participation of citizens in political options and guarantees them the possibility both of electing and controlling their rulers, as well as of replacing them in a peaceful way."

However, it is important to be aware of "the risks and threats for a genuine democracy that might derive from philosophic currents, anthropological views, or political conceptions with ideological prejudices," he wrote.

"There is, for example, the tendency to consider that relativism is the attitude of thought that corresponds better to democratic political forms, as if knowledge of the truth and adherence to it were an impediment," the papal message observed.

"In reality, truth is often feared because it is not known. Truth, exactly as Christ revealed it, is a guarantee of genuine and full freedom for the human person," the Pope stated.

"If political action does not have as reference a higher ethical exigency, enlightened in turn by an integral view of man and society, it ends by serving inappropriate or even illicit ends," he warned.

"Truth, on the contrary, is the best antidote to ideological fanaticism, in the scientific, political and also the religious realm," the Holy Father said.

"The evangelical message presents the central character of the person as a supra-ideological anchor that all can have as reference," he added. "Without being rooted in the truth, man and society are exposed to the violence of passions and to open or hidden conditioning."

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Reflection on Canticle in Ephesians 1:3-10

On Redemption Through the Blood of Christ

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 13, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address John Paul II gave today at the general audience, which he dedicated to comment on the canticle in the Letter to the Ephesians (1:3-10).

* * *

1. We are before the solemn hymn of blessing that opens the Letter to the Ephesians, a page of great theological and spiritual depth, wonderful _expression of the faith and perhaps of the liturgy of the Church in apostolic times.

The hymn is proposed four times, during all the weeks in which the Liturgy of Vespers is divided, so that the faithful may contemplate and appreciate this grandiose image of Christ, heart of spirituality and Christian worship, as well as principle of unity and of the meaning of the universe and of the whole of history. The blessing rises from humanity to the Father, who is in the heavens (see verse 3), moved by the salvific work of the Son.

2. It begins with the eternal divine plan, which Christ is called to accomplish. In this plan shines out, first of all, the fact that we are elected to be "holy and blameless" not so much at the ritual level -- as these adjectives, used in the Old Testament for the sacrificial worship, would seem to suggest -- but rather "in love" (see verse 4). Therefore, it is a question of holiness and of moral, existential, inner purity.

For us, however, the Father has a further end in mind: Through Christ he destines us to receive the gift of that filial dignity, becoming sons in the Son and brothers of Jesus (see Romans 8:15,23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5). This gift of grace is poured out through "the Beloved Son," the Only-Begotten par excellence (see verses 5-6).

3. In this way the Father works a radical transformation in us: a full liberation from evil, "redemption through the blood" of Christ, "the forgiveness of our trespasses" through "the riches of his grace" (see verse 7). Christ's immolation on the cross, supreme act of love and solidarity, sheds over us a superabundant ray of light, of "wisdom and insight" (see verse 8). We are transfigured creatures: Our sin canceled, we know the Lord in fullness. And given that in biblical language knowledge is an _expression of love, the latter introduces us more profoundly in the "mystery" of the divine will (see verse 9).

4. A "mystery," namely, a transcendent and perfect plan, which has as its object a wonderful salvific plan: "to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (verse 10). The Greek text suggests that Christ became the "kefalaion," namely the cardinal point, the central axis toward which the whole of created being converges and acquires meaning. The same Greek vocabulary makes reference to another term particularly cherished in the Letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians: "kefale," or head, which indicates the function fulfilled by Christ in the body of the Church.

Now the view becomes larger and cosmic, comprising as well the more specific ecclesial dimension of the work of Christ. He has reconciled to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1:20).

5. Let us conclude our reflection with a prayer of praise and gratitude for the redemption wrought by Christ in us. We do so with the words of a text conserved in an ancient papyrus of the fourth century.

"We invoke you, Lord God. You know everything, nothing escapes you, Teacher of truth. You have created the universe and watch over all beings. You guide on the path of truth those who were in the darkness and shadow of death. You desire to save all men and make them know the truth. All together we offer you praise and hymns of thanksgiving."

The prayer continues: "You have redeemed us, with the precious and immaculate blood of your only Son, from every corruption and slavery. You have liberated us from the devil and have granted us glory and freedom. We were dead and you made us be reborn, soul and body, in the Spirit. We were defiled and you have purified us. We pray, therefore, Father of mercies and God of all consolations: Confirm us in our vocation, in adoration and in faithfulness."

The prayer ends with the invocation: "Strengthen us, O Benevolent Lord, with your strength. Illuminate our soul with your consolation. ... Grant us to see, seek and contemplate the goods of heaven and not those of earth. Thus, with the strength of your grace, glory will be rendered to the omnipotent, most holy, almighty power worthy of all praise, in Christ Jesus, the Beloved Son, with the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen" (A. Hamman, "Preghiere dei Primi Cristiani," [Early Christian Prayers], Milan, 1955, pp. 92-94).

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Commentary on Psalm 44(45):11-18

Pope Says Marriage Is a Sign of God's Love for Humanity

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 6, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II's address at the today's general audience, which he dedicated to comment on the second part of Psalm 44(45).

* * *

1. The gentle feminine portrait presented to us is the second part of the diptych that makes up Psalm 44(45), a serene and joyful nuptial song, which the Liturgy of Vespers proposes for our reading. After having contemplated the king who is celebrating his wedding (see verses 2-10) our gaze now turns to the figure of the bride queen (see verses 11-18). This nuptial perspective allows us to dedicate the Psalm to all couples who live their marriage with intensity and inner freshness, sign of a "great mystery," as St. Paul suggests, that of the love of the Father for humanity and of Christ for his Church (see Ephesians 5:32). However, the Psalm offers a further horizon.

The Jewish king appears in the scene, in whom subsequent Jewish tradition has seen the profile of the Davidic Messiah, while Christianity has transformed the hymn into a song in honor of Christ.

2. Our attention now turns, however, to the profile of the queen, whom the court poet, author of the Psalm (see Psalm 44[45]:2), depicts with great delicacy and feeling.

The indication of the Phoenician city of Tyre (see verse 13) allows one to suppose that she is a foreign princess. Thus can be understood the call to forget her people and her father's house (see verse 11), from which the princess has had to move away.

The nuptial vocation is a life-altering event, as already seen in the Book of Genesis: "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). The bride queen now advances, with her nuptial cortege, which takes the gifts toward the king, fascinated by her beauty (see Psalm 44[45]:12-13).

3. Of significance is the insistence with which the Psalmist exalts the woman: She is "all beautiful" (verse 14) and this magnificence is expressed in her wedding robe, of pearls and brocade (see verses 14-15).

The Bible loves beauty as a reflection of the splendor of God himself; clothes can also reflect the sign of a brilliant inner light, of innocence of soul.

Our thoughts go in a similar way, on one hand, to the wonderful pages of the Song of Songs (see cc. 4 and 7) and, on the other, to the passage of the Book of Revelation which portrays the "marriage of the Lamb," namely, of Christ with the community of the redeemed, which emphasizes the symbolic value of the nuptial robes: "For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready. She was allowed to wear a bright, clean linen garment" (Revelation 19:7-8).

4. Together with beauty, joy is exalted which is reflected in the festive cortege of the "maids of her train," the young girls who accompany the bride "with glad and joyous acclaim" (see Psalm 44[45]:15-16). Genuine gladness, much more profound than simple gaiety, is an expression of love, which participates in the good of the person loved with serenity of heart.

Now, according to the conclusive words of good wishes, another reality is delineated which is radically inherent in marriage: fecundity. It speaks, in fact, of "sons" and "generations" (see verses 17-18). The future, not just of the dynasty but of humanity, is brought about precisely because the couple offers new creatures to the world.

It is an important and timely topic in the West, often incapable of ensuring its own existence in the future through the generation and care of new creatures, who will continue the civilization of peoples and realize the history of salvation.

5. As is known, many Fathers of the Church have seen Mary in the portrait of the queen, beginning with the initial call: "Listen, my daughter, and understand; pay me careful heed ..." (verse 11). This occurs, for example, in the Homily on the Mother of God of Crispinian of Jerusalem, a Cappadocian who was, in Palestine, among the founding monks of the monastery of St. Euthymius and, who, once a priest, was custodian of the Holy Cross in the Basilica of the Anasthasis in Jerusalem.

"To you I dedicate my address," he says turning to Mary, "to you who are the bride of the great sovereign; to you I dedicate my address, to you who are to conceive the Word of God, in the way He knows. ... 'Hear, O daughter, and consider; incline your ear'; in fact, the happy event of the redemption of the world is verified. Incline your ear and what you will hear will lift up your heart. ... 'Forget your people and your father's house': do not pay attention to your earthly relations, because you will be transformed into a heavenly Queen. And hear," he says, "how much he loves you who is the Creator and Lord of all things. 'In fact, the King,' he says, 'desires your beauty': the Father himself will take you as his bride; the Spirit will predispose all the conditions that are necessary for this marriage. Do not think you will give birth to a human child 'because he is your Lord and you will adore him.' Your Creator has become your child; you will conceive him and, with the others, you will adore him as your Lord" (Marian Texts of the First Millennium, I, Rome, 1988, pp. 605-606).

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Commentary on Psalm 44(45):2-10
The Wedding of the King

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 29, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II's address at today's general audience, which he dedicated to a reflection on the first part of Psalm 44(45).

* * *

1. "I sing my ode to the king": These words, at the beginning of Psalm 44(45), give the reader an idea of the fundamental character of this hymn. The scribe of the court who composed it reveals to us immediately that it is a poem in honor of the Jewish sovereign. What is more, reading through the verses of the composition, it is evident that it is an epithalamium, that is, a nuptial song.

Scholars have tried to identify the historical coordinates of the Psalm, basing themselves on some clues -- such as the linking of the Queen with the Phoenician city of Tyre (see verse 13) -- but without being able to identify the royal couple precisely. Of relevance is the reference to a Hebrew King, as this has allowed the Jewish tradition to transform the text into a song to the Messiah-King, and the Christian tradition to reread the Psalm in a Christological vein and, because of the presence of the Queen, also in a Mariological perspective.

2. The Liturgy of Vespers presents this Psalm as a prayer, dividing it in two parts. We have just heard the first part (see verses 2-10), which, after the introduction of the scribe author of the text already evoked (see verse 2), presents a splendid portrait of the sovereign who is about to celebrate his wedding.

Because of this, Judaism has seen in Psalm 44(45) a nuptial song, which exalts the beauty and intensity of the gift of love between the spouses. In particular, the woman can repeat with the Song of Songs: "My lover belongs to me and I to him" (2:16). "I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me" (6:3).

3. The profile of the royal bridegroom is traced in a solemn manner, taking recourse to a court scene. He bears the military insignia (Psalm 44[45]:4-6), to which are added sumptuous fragrant robes, while in the background the palaces shine, covered in ivory with their grandiose halls in which the music resounds (see verses 9-10). The throne rises in the center, and the scepter is mentioned, two signs of power and of royal investiture (see verses 7-8).

At this point, we would like to emphasize two elements. First of all, the beauty of the bridegroom, sign of an inner splendor and of divine blessing: "You are the fairest of the children of men" (verse 3).

Precisely on the basis of this verse, Christian tradition represented Christ in the form of a perfect and fascinating man. In a world often marked by ugliness and degradation, this image is an invitation to rediscover the "via pulchritudinis" [the way of beauty] in faith, in theology and in social life to ascend to divine beauty.

4. However, beauty is not an end in itself. The second characteristic we wish to propose refers precisely to the encounter between beauty and justice. In fact, the sovereign rides "on triumphant. In the cause of truth and justice" [verses 4 and 5]; he "love[s] justice and hate[s] wrongdoing" (verse 8) and his is a "scepter for justice" (verse 7). Beauty must be combined with goodness and holiness of life so that the luminous face of the good, wonderful and just God will shine in the world.

According to scholars, in verse 7 the name "God" was addressed to the King himself because he was consecrated by the Lord and, therefore, belonged in some way to the divine realm: "Your divine throne endures for ever and ever."

Or it might be an invocation to the only supreme King, the Lord, who bends over the Messiah-King. It is a fact that, in applying this Psalm to Christ, the Letter to the Hebrews does not hesitate to attribute full -- and not merely symbolic -- divinity to the Son who has entered into his glory (see Hebrews 1:8-9).

5. In line with this Christological interpretation, we conclude by referring to the voice of the Fathers of the Church, who attributed spiritual values to each of the verses. Thus, in commenting on the phrase of the Psalm which states that "God has blessed forever" the King-Messiah (see Psalm 44[45]:3), St. John Chrysostom made this Christological application: "the first Adam was filled with a very great curse, the second instead with a lasting blessing. The former heard: 'Be cursed in your works' (Genesis 3:17), and again: 'Cursed is he who does the work of the Lord with slackness' (Jeremiah 48:10), and 'Cursed be he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them' (Deuteronomy 27:26) and 'a hanged man is accursed by God' (Deuteronomy 21:23). Do you see how many were the curses? Christ has redeemed you from all these curses by making himself a curse (see Galatians 3:13): by humbling himself to raise you and dying to render you immortal, he became a curse to fill you with blessings. What can equal this blessing, which through a curse imparts a blessing to you? He had no need of blessing, but offers it to you" ("Expositio in Psalmum" [Exposition on the Psalm], XLIV, 4: PG, 55, 188-189).

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Commentary on the Book of Revelation chapter 19

On the "Wedding Day of the Lamb"

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 15, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II's address at today's general audience, which he dedicated to comment on the canticle in Chapter 19 of the Book of Revelation.

* * *

1. The Book of Revelation is sprinkled with canticles that are raised to God, Lord of the universe and history. Now we have heard one that we come across constantly in each of the four weeks in which the liturgy of vespers is articulated.

This hymn is sprinkled with the "Alleluia," a word of Jewish origin which means "praise the Lord" and which, curiously, in the New Testament appears only in this passage of Revelation, repeated five times. The liturgy only selects some verses from the text of Chapter 19. In the narrative framework of the passage, they are intoned in heaven by a "great multitude": It is like an imposing chorus that rises from all the elect, who celebrate the Lord in joy and festivity (see Revelation 19:1).

2. For this reason, the Church, on earth, marks the rhythm of her song of praise with that of the just who already contemplate the glory of God. Thus a channel of communication is established between history and eternity: It has its starting point in the earthly liturgy of the ecclesial community and has its end in the heavenly, where our brothers and sisters have already arrived who have preceded us on the way of faith.

In this communion of praise three topics are substantially celebrated. First of all, the great characteristics of God, his "salvation," "glory" and "power" (verse 1; see verse 7), namely, transcendence and saving omnipotence. Prayer is contemplation of the divine glory of the ineffable mystery, of the ocean of light and love that is God.

In the second place, the canticle exalts the "Kingdom" of the Lord, namely, the divine plan of redemption of the human race. Taking up again the theme of the savior of the so-called Psalms of the Kingdom of God (see Psalms 46; 95-98), here is proclaimed that "the Lord has established his reign" (Revelation 19:6), who intervenes with supreme authority in history.

This is certainly entrusted to human freedom, which generates good and evil, but it has its ultimate seal in the decisions of Divine Providence. The Book of Revelation celebrates precisely the end toward which history is led through the effective work of God, despite the storms, wounds and devastations caused by evil, man and Satan.

In another page of Revelation is sung: "We give thanks to you, Lord God almighty, who are and who were. For you have assumed your great power and have established your reign" (11:17).

3. The third topic of the hymn is typical of the Book of Revelation and of its system of symbols: "For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready" (19:7). As we will have the opportunity to reflect more deeply in future meditations on this canticle, the definitive end toward which the last book of the Bible leads us is the nuptial meeting between the Angel, who is Christ, and the purified and transfigured bride, which is redeemed humanity.

The _expression "the wedding day of the Lamb has come" refers to the supreme moment -- "nuptial," as our text says -- of the intimacy between the creature and the Creator, in the joy and peace of salvation.

4. Let us conclude with the words of one of St. Augustine's discourses that illustrates and exalts the Alleluia Canticle in its spiritual meaning: "We sing in unison this word and, united around it in communion of feelings, we encourage one another mutually to praise God. God can be praise with a peaceful conscience by the one who has not committed anything that displeases him. Moreover, as regards the present time in which we are pilgrims on earth, we sing the 'Alleluia' as a consolation to fortify ourselves through life; the 'Alleluia' which we pronounce now is like the song of the wayfarer; in walking on this exhausting way we tend toward that homeland in which is rest, in which, with all the present concerns having disappeared, there will only be the 'Alleluia' (No. 255,1: "Discorsi" [Discourses], IV/2, Rome, 1984, p. 597).

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Man Loses his Dignity When he Worships Idols

Commentary on Psalm 115, "Hymn to the True God"

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 1, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II's address at the Wednesday General Audience, which he dedicated to comment on Psalm 115, "Hymn to the True God."

* * *

Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name give glory because of your faithfulness and love.

Why should the nations say, "Where is their God?"

Our God is in heaven; whatever God wills is done.

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.

They have mouths but do not speak, eyes but do not see.

They have ears but do not hear, noses but do not smell.

They have hands but do not feel, feet but do not walk, and no sound rises from their throats.

Their makers shall be like them, all who trust in them.

The house of Israel trusts in the Lord, who is their help and shield.

The house of Aaron trusts in the Lord, who is their help and shield.

Those who fear the Lord trust in the Lord, who is their help and shield.

The Lord remembers us and will bless us, will bless the house of Israel, will bless the house of Aaron,

Will bless those who fear the Lord, small and great alike.

May the Lord increase your number, you and your descendants.

May you be blessed by the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

The heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth is given to us.

The dead do not praise the Lord, all those gone down into silence.

It is we who bless the Lord, both now and forever. Hallelujah!

1. The living God and the inert idol confront one another in Psalm 115, which we just heard and which forms part of the series of of Psalms of Vespers. The old Greek translation of the Bible of the "Seventy," followed by the Latin version of the old Christian liturgy, has joined this Psalm in honor of the true Lord to the preceding one. It has resulted in a single composition which, however, is clearly divided in two different texts (the second half is Psalm 116).

After an initial invocation addressed to the Lord to attest to his glory, the Chosen People present their God as the omnipotent Creator: " Our God is in heaven; whatever God wills is done." (Psalm 115:3). Faithfulness and love are the typical virtues of the God of the Covenant in relation to Israel, the people He chose (see verse 1). Thus, the cosmos and history are under his sovereignty, which is power of love and salvation.

2. Then, set against the true God adored by Israel are " the work of human hands " (verse 4). Idolatry is a temptation of all of humanity in all lands and at all times. The idol is an inanimate thing, born from the hands of man, cold statue, deprived of life. The Psalmist describes it ironically in its seven totally useless members: silent mouth, blind eyes, deaf ears, nose that does not smell, inert hands, paralyzed feet, throat that does not make a sound (see verses 5-7).

After this merciless criticism of the idols, the Psalmist makes a sarcastic remark: " Their makers shall be like them, all who trust in them." (verse 8). It is a wish expressed undoubtedly in an effective way to produce an effect of radical dissuasion before idolatry. Whoever adores the idol of wealth, power, success loses his dignity of human person. The prophet Isaiah said: “Idol makers all amount to nothing, and their precious works are of no avail, as they themselves give witness. To their shame, they neither see nor know anything; and they are more deaf than men are.” (Isaiah 44:9).

3. On the contrary, the Lord's faithful know that they have "their help" and "shield" in the living God (see Psalm 115:9-13). They are presented according to a triple category. First of all is "the house of Israel," namely, the whole people, the community that gathers in the temple to pray. There, also, is the "house of Aaron," which refers to the priests, custodians and heralds of the divine Word, called to preside over worship. Finally, those who fear the Lord are evoked, namely the authentic and constant faithful, which in Judaism subsequent to the Babylonian exile and later also denotes those pagans who approached the community and faith of Israel with a sincere heart and with a genuine search. Such would be the case, for example, of the Roman centurion Cornelius (see Acts 10, 1-2.22), converted later by Peter to Christianity.

The divine blessing descends on these three categories of true believers (see Psalm 115:12-15). According to the biblical conception, it is the source of fecundity: " May the Lord increase your number, you and your descendants” (Psalm 115:14). Finally the faithful, full of joy because of the gift of life received from the living and creator God, sing a hymn of praise, responding to the blessing of God with their gratifying and confident blessing (see verses 16-18).

4. In a very lively and evocative way, a Father of the Eastern Church, St. Gregory of Nyssa (4th century), in the fifth Homily on the Canticle of Canticles refers to our Psalm to describe humanity's passage from the "ice of idolatry" to the spring of salvation. In fact, St. Gregory recalls, human nature seemed to have transformed itself "into that of immobile beings" and without life "who were made objects of worship," as is specifically written: "May they be like those who make them and those who trusts in them." "And it was logical that it should be like that. As, in fact, those who trust in the true God receive in themselves the peculiarities of divine nature, so also those who turn to the vanity of idols become that in which they trust and, from being men become stones.

Given that human nature, became stone because of idolatry, was immobile before the better, gripped by the ice of the worship of idols, for this reason there arose over this tremendous winter the Sun of justice which brings the spring of the midday gust, which dissolves the ice, and warms everything with the rays of that sun. Thus man, who had been petrified by the ice, warmed by the Spirit and the rays of the Logos, returned to be water that gushes for eternal life" (Homilies on the Canticle of Canticles -- "Omelie sul Cantico dei Cantici," Rome, 1988, pp. 133-134).

[At the end of the Audience, one of the Pope's collaborators read the following summary in English:]

In Psalm 115 the chosen people describe their God as the all powerful Creator of heaven and earth, different in all ways from pagan idols: "Our God is in heaven and does whatever he wills." The characteristic virtues of the Lord of the Covenant are "love and truth," and they are confirmed in his relationship with his chosen people. Indeed, both the cosmos and history are under his sovereignty of love and salvation. Juxtaposed to the concept of the true God is the worship of idols. Idolatry is a temptation for all of humanity in every place and at every time. The psalmist reminds us that those who worship the idols of wealth, power, and success betray their human dignity. It is only by looking to the one true God that we receive in ourselves the characteristics of the Divine and the strength to reject the enticement of worldly idols.
 

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Reflection on Psalm 109(110)

On the Divine Begetting of a King

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 18, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II's address at today's general audience, which he dedicated to a reflection on Psalm 109(110).

* * *

1. Following an ancient tradition, Psalm 109(110), which was just proclaimed, is the primary component of Sunday vespers. It appears in each of the four weeks in which the Liturgy of the Hours is articulated. Its brevity, accentuated by the exclusion in Christian liturgical use of verse 6, of an imprecating nature, does not imply the absence of exegetical and interpretative difficulties. The text is presented as a royal Psalm, linked to the Davidic dynasty, and probably refers to the enthronement rite of the sovereign. However, the Jewish and Christian tradition has seen in the anointed king the profile of the Anointed par excellence, the Messiah, the Christ.

From this perspective, the Psalm becomes a luminous song raised by Christian liturgy to the Risen One on the feast day, memorial of the Lord's passover.

2. There are two parts to Psalm 109(110), both characterized by the presence of a divine oracle. The first oracle (see verses 1-3) is addressed to the sovereign on the day of his solemn enthronement "at the right hand" of God, that is, next to the ark of the covenant in the temple of Jerusalem. The memory of the divine "begetting" of the king was part of the official protocol of his coronation and assumed a symbolic value of investiture and tutelage for Israel, the king being the lieutenant of God in the defense of justice (see verse 3).

In the Christian re-reading that "begetting" becomes real by presenting Jesus Christ as true Son of God. This is what occurred in the Christian use of another famous royal-messianic Psalm, the second of the Psalter, in which this divine oracle is read: "You are my son, today I am your father" (Psalm 2:7).

3. The second oracle of Psalm 109(110) has, instead, a priestly content (see verse 4). Formerly, the king also carried out functions of worship, not according to the line of the Levitical priesthood, but according to another relation: that of the priesthood of Melchizedek, the sovereign-priest of Salem, pre-Israelite Jerusalem (see Genesis 14:17-20).

In the Christian perspective, the Messiah becomes the model of a perfect and supreme priesthood. The central part of the Letter to the Hebrews exalts this priestly ministry "after the order of Melchizedek" (5:10), seeing it incarnated fully in the person of Christ.

4. The first oracle is quoted on several occasions in the New Testament to celebrate the messianic character of Jesus (see Matthew 22:44; 26:64; Acts 2:34-35; 1 Corinthians 15:25-27; Hebrews 1:13). Christ himself, before the supreme priest and before the Jewish Sanhedrin, will refer explicitly to this Psalm, proclaiming that he will be "seated at the right hand of the divine Power, as stated in Psalm 109:1 (Mark 14:62; see 12:36-37).

We will return to this Psalm in our itinerary through the texts of the Liturgy of the Hours. To conclude our brief presentation of this messianic hymn, we wish to emphasize its Christological interpretation.

5. We do so with a synthesis of St. Augustine. In his "Commentary on Psalm 109," delivered during Lent of the year 412, he presented the Psalm as an authentic prophecy of the divine promises on Christ. The famous Father of the Church said: "It was necessary to know the only Son of God, who would come among men to assume man and to become man through the assumed nature: he would die, rise and ascend into heaven, and be seated at the right hand of the Father and would carry out among people all that he had promised. ... All this, therefore, had to be prophesied and announced beforehand, pointed out as destined to come, so that he would not cause fright by coming unannounced, but rather be accepted with faith and expectation. This Psalm is inserted in the ambit of these promises; it prophesizes, in both certain and explicit terms, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in which we cannot doubt for a moment that Christ was announced" ("Esposizioni sui Salmi" [Commentaries on the Psalms], III, Rome, 1976, pp. 951,953).

6. We now address our invocation to the Father of Jesus Christ, only King and perfect and eternal priest, so that he will make us a people of priests and prophets of peace and love, a people that sings Christ the King and priest who was immolated to reconcile in himself, in one only body, the whole of humanity, creating the new man (see Ephesians 2:15-16).
 

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Aug. 4 Meditation on Philippians 2:6-11

A Hymn That Moves Toward Humanity of Christ

VATICAN CITY, AUG. 18, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address John Paul II delivered at the general audience on Aug. 4.

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1. On our journey through the Psalms and canticles that make up the Liturgy of the Hours we have come to the canticle in Philippians (2:6-11) that is a feature of first vespers on all of the four Sundays that the liturgy covers.

We are meditating upon it for the second time, exploring more deeply the wealth of its theology. These verses shine with the Christian faith of the origins, centered on the figure of Jesus, recognized and proclaimed our brother in humanity but also Lord of the universe. Thus, it is a real confession of Christological faith that mirrors clearly the thought of St. Paul but may also echo the voice of the Judeo-Christian community before the Apostle's time.

2. The canticle starts from the divinity of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the divine "nature" and condition are his -- in Greek, "morphé" -- that is, the essential transcendent reality of God (cf. verse 6). Yet he does not consider his supreme and glorious identity as a proud privilege of which to boast nor as a sign of power and mere superiority.

Our hymn clearly moves downward, that is, toward humanity. It is on this path of "emptying" himself, or as it were, stripping himself of that glory to take on the "morphé," in other words, the reality and condition of a servant, that the Word takes on in order to enter the horizon of human history. Indeed, he assumes the "likeness" of human beings (cf. verse 7) and even goes so far as to accept the sign of limitation and finality which death is. It is an extreme humiliation, for he even accepted death on the cross, which the society in his time held to be the vilest form (verse 8).

3. Christ chose to lower himself from glory to death on a cross; this is the first movement of the canticle to which, in order to reveal its other nuances, we will have occasion to return.

The second movement is in the opposite direction: From below it ascends to the heights, from humiliation it rises toward exaltation. It is now the Father who glorifies the Son, snatching him from the clutches of death and enthroning him as Lord of the universe (cf. verse 9). St. Peter too, in his discourse at Pentecost, declares that "God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:36). Easter, therefore, is the solemn Epiphany of the divinity of Christ, which is at first concealed by his condition as a servant and a mortal.

4. Before the grandiose figure of Christ glorified and enthroned, let everyone fall to their knees in adoration. A powerful profession of faith is raised not only from within the whole horizon of human history, but also from heaven and from hell (cf. Philippians 2:10): "Jesus Christ is Lord" (verse 11). "We see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone" (Hebrews 2:9).

Let us end our brief analysis of the canticle in Philippians, to which we will need to return, by listening to the words of St. Augustine who, in his Commentary on the Gospel according to St. John ("Commento al Vangelo di San Giovanni"), refers to the Pauline hymn to celebrate the life-giving power of Christ who brings about our resurrection, snatching us from our mortal end.

5. These are the words of the great Father of the Church: "Christ, 'though his nature was divine, did not jealously keep his equality with God to himself.' What would have become of us, here below in the abyss, weak and attached to the earth, hence, incapable of reaching God? Could we have been left to ourselves? Absolutely not. He 'emptied himself, taking the form of a servant,' but without abandoning his divine form. Consequently, he who was God, made himself man, taking on what he was not without losing what he was; thus, God became man. Here, on the one hand, you find help in your weakness, and on the other, you find what you need to attain perfection. Christ raises you up by virtue of his humanity, he guides you by virtue of his human divinity and leads you to his divinity. All Christian preaching, O brothers, and the economy of salvation centered on Christ is summed up in this and in nothing else: in the resurrection of souls and the resurrection of bodies. Both died: the body because of its weakness, the soul because of its wickedness; both were dead and both, the soul and the body, had to be raised. By virtue of whom is the soul raised if not by Christ as God? By virtue of whom is the body raised, if not by Christ as Man? ... Your soul rises from wickedness by virtue of his divinity and your body rises from corruption by virtue of his humanity" ("Commento al Vangelo di San Giovanni," 23, 6, Rome, 1968, p. 541).
 

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Meditation on Psalm 15(16)

John Paul II Reflects on God as Our Only Richness

VATICAN CITY, JULY 28, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address John Paul II gave today at the general audience, which he dedicated to a reflection on Psalm 15(16).

* * *

1. We have the opportunity to meditate, after having heard it and made it a prayer, on a Psalm of a strong spiritual strain. Despite the difficulties of the text, which can be appreciated in the Hebrew original, especially in the first verses, Psalm 15(16) is a luminous mystical canticle, as the profession of faith at the beginning suggests: "I say to the Lord, you are my Lord, you are my only good" (verse 2). So God is seen as the only good and because of this the man of prayer decides to become part of the community of all those who are faithful to the Lord: "the saints in the land […]" ([see] verse 3). Consequently, the Psalmist categorically rejects the temptation to idolatry with its bloody rituals and blasphemous invocations (see verse 4).

It is a clear and decisive choice, which seems to echo that of Psalm 72, another song of confidence in God, won through a strong and difficult moral option: "Whom else have I in the heavens? None beside you delights me on earth. ... for me, to be near God is my good, to make the Lord God my refuge" (Psalm 72:25,28).

2. Our Psalm develops two themes that are expressed through three symbols. First of all the symbol of "heritage," a term that governs verses 5-6: It speaks, in fact, of "portion, cup, inheritance." These words were used to describe the gift of the land promised to the people of Israel. We now know that the only tribe that had not received a portion of land was that of the Levites, because the Lord himself was their heritage. The Psalmist says specifically: "Lord, my allotted portion ... fair to me indeed is my inheritance" (Psalm 15[16]:5,6). Therefore, he gives the impression of being a priest who proclaims the joy of being totally dedicated to the service of God.

St. Augustine comments: "The Psalmist does not say: O God, give me heritage! What will you give me as heritage? He says instead: everything that you can give me beside yourself is vile. You yourself be my heritage. It is you whom I love ... to hope for God from God, to be filled of God by God. He is sufficient; beside him nothing can satisfy you" (Sermon 334,3: PL 38, 1469).

3. The second theme is that of perfect and continuous communion with the Lord. The Psalmist expresses the firm hope of being preserved from death to be able to remain in intimacy with God, which is not possible in death (see Psalm 6:6; 87:6). His expressions, however, do not put any limit to this preservation; on the contrary, they can be understood in the line of a victory over death that ensures eternal intimacy with God.

The man of prayer uses two symbols. First of all, the body is evoked: The exegetes tell us that in the Hebrew original (see Psalm 15[16]:7-10) there is mention of "loins," symbol of the passions and of the most hidden interiority, of "right," sign of strength, of "heart," seat of the conscience, and finally of "liver," which expresses emotion, of "flesh," which indicates man's fragile existence, and finally of "breath of life."

It is, therefore, the representation of the "whole being" of the person, who is not absorbed and annihilated in the corruption of the sepulcher (see verse 10), but is kept in a full and happy life with God.

4. The second symbol of Psalm 15(16) is that of the "path": "You will show me the path to life" (verse 11). It is the way that leads to "abounding joy" in the divine "presence," "to delights … forever" in the "right hand" of the Lord. These words are perfectly adapted to an interpretation that extends the prospect of hope of communion with God, beyond death, in eternal life.

Thus it is easy to intuit at this point how that Psalm was taken up in the New Testament to refer to the resurrection of Christ. In his Pentecost address, St. Peter in fact quotes the second part of the hymn with a luminous paschal and Christological application: "But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it" (Acts 2:24).

St. Paul refers to Psalm 15(16) in announcing Christ's Pasch during his speech in the synagogue of Antioch of Pisidia. We also proclaim him in this light: "'You will not suffer your holy one to see corruption.' Now David, after he had served the will of God in his lifetime, fell asleep, was gathered to his ancestors, and did see corruption. But the one whom God raised up did not see corruption" (Acts 13:35-37).

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                 Reflection on Psalm 118(119)

              Will of God Is Lamp of Believer, Says John Paul II

VATICAN CITY, JULY 21, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address John Paul II gave at today's general audience, which he dedicated to a reflection on Psalm 118(119), verses 105-112.

* * *

1. After the pause because of my stay in Valle d'Aosta, we now continue in this general audience our catechesis on the Psalms found in the liturgy of vespers. Today we reflect on verses 105-112 of Psalm 118(11), a grandiose hymn to God's law, _expression of his will. The number of the strophes corresponds to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and indicates fullness; each of them is composed of eight verses and of words that begin, in succession, with the corresponding letter of the alphabet.

In this case, the Hebrew letter "nun" opens the initial words of the verses that we just heard. This strophe is illuminated by the image of its first verse: "Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path" (verse 105). Man penetrates the often-dark path of life, but all of a sudden the darkness is rent by the splendor of the Word of God.
Psalm 18 also compares the Law of God to the sun, when it states that "the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart, ... enlightening the eye (18[19]:9). Afterward, the Book of Proverbs confirms that "the bidding is a lamp, and the teaching a light" (6:23). Christ himself will present his person as the definitive revelation precisely with the same image: "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).

2. The Psalmist then continues his prayer recalling the sufferings and dangers of life he must face and his need for light and support: "I am very much afflicted, Lord; give me life in accord with your word. ... My life is always at risk, but I do not forget your teaching" (Psalm 118[119]:107,109).

The whole strophe is characterized by a dark thread: "The wicked have set snares for me" (verse 110), the man at prayer again confesses, taking recourse to a well-known hunting image in the Psalter. The faithful one knows that he journeys through the roads of the world in the midst of dangers, anxieties and persecutions; he knows that trials always lie in ambush. For his part, the Christian knows that he must carry the cross every day and ascend to Calvary (see Luke 9:23).

3. Yet, the just man keeps his faithfulness intact: "I make a solemn vow to keep your just edicts. ... I do not forget your teaching ... from your precepts I do not stray" (Psalm 118[119]:106,109,110). Peace of mind is the strength of the believer; his constancy, in obedience to the divine commandments, is the source of his serenity.

So the final statement is consistent: "Your decrees are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart" (verse 111). This is the most precious reality, the "heritage," the "reward" (verse 112), which the Psalmist guards with vigilant care and ardent love: the teachings and commandments of the Lord. He wants to be wholly faithful to the will of God. On this path he will find peace of soul and will succeed in going through the dark tangle of trials, attaining true joy.

4. Illuminating, in this connection, are the words of St. Augustine who, beginning the commentary of Psalm 118(119), develops the theme of joy that arises from the observance of the Law of the Lord. "From the very beginning, this very long Psalm invites us to blessedness, which as is known, constitutes the hope of every man. Can there be anyone who does not wish to be happy? And if it is so, is there any need to invite to attain an end to which the human spirit tens spontaneously. ... Is it not, perhaps, because although all aspire to blessedness, the majority, however, do not know how to attain it? Yes, this is precisely the teaching of him who begins by saying: Blessed are those who are without stain in life, who walk in the Law of the Lord.

"It seems to say: I know what you want; I now that you are seeking blessedness: well, if you wish to be blessed, you must be exempt from every stain. Everyone seeks the first, but few, however, are concerned about the second: but without this one cannot attain the common aspiration. Where, then, must we be immaculate if not in life? This, in fact, is none other than the Law of the Lord. Therefore, blessed are those who are without stains in life, those who walk in the Law of the Lord! It is not a superfluous exhortation, but something that is necessary for our spirit" ("Esposizioni sui Salmi" [Commentaries on the Psalms], III, Rome, 1976, p. 1113).

Let us make our own the conclusion of the great bishop of Hippo, who confirms the permanent timeliness of the blessedness promised to all those who make the effort to obey faithfully the will of God.

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Papal Homily on Solemnity of the Assumption

"Our Lady of Lourdes Has a Message for Everyone"

LOURDES, France, AUG. 16, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is the homily John Paul II prepared for the Mass celebrated Sunday in the Field of Lourdes, on the solemnity of the Assumption of Mary. The Pope did not read some of the passages.

* * *

1. "Que soy era Immaculada Councepciou." The words which Mary spoke to Bernadette on 25 March 1858 have a particular resonance this year, as the Church celebrates the 150th anniversary of the solemn definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Blessed Pius IX in the apostolic constitution "Ineffabilis Deus."

I have greatly wished to make this pilgrimage to Lourdes in order to celebrate an event which continues to give glory to the Triune God. Mary's Immaculate Conception is the sign of the gracious love of the Father, the perfect _expression of the redemption accomplished by the Son and the beginning of a life completely open to the working of the Spirit.

2. Beneath the maternal gaze of the Blessed Virgin I offer a heartfelt greeting to all of you, dear brothers and sisters, as we gather before the Grotto of Massabielle to sing the praises of her whom all generations call blessed (cf. Luke 1:48).

In particular I greet the French pilgrims and their bishops, especially Monsignor Jacques Perrier, the bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, whom I thank for his kind words at the start of this celebration.

I also greet the Minister of the Interior, who represents the French government at today's celebration, and the other civil and military authorities present.

My thoughts and prayers go also to the pilgrims assembled here from different parts of Europe and from throughout the world, and to all those spiritually united with us by radio and television. With special affection I greet the sick and all who have come to this holy place to seek consolation and hope. May the Blessed Virgin enable you to sense her presence and give comfort to your hearts!

3. "In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country ..." (Luke 1:39). The words of the Gospel story have once more brought before the eyes of our hearts the young maiden of Nazareth as she makes her way to that "city of Judah" where her kinswoman Elizabeth lived, in order to be of help to her.

What strikes us about Mary is above all her loving concern for her elderly relative. Hers is a practical love, one which is not limited to words of understanding but is deeply and personally involved in giving help. The Blessed Virgin does not merely give her cousin something of herself; she gives her whole self, asking nothing in return. Mary understood perfectly that the gift she received from God is more than a privilege; it is a duty which obliges her to serve others with the selflessness proper to love.

4. "My soul magnifies the Lord ..." (Luke 1:46). Mary's sentiments in her meeting with Elizabeth are forcefully expressed in the canticle of the Magnificat. Her words convey the hope-filled expectation of the "poor of the Lord" and at the same time an awareness that God has fulfilled his promises, for he "has remembered his mercy" (cf. Luke 1:54).

This same awareness is the source of that joy of the Virgin Mary which pervades the whole canticle: joy in knowing that she has been "looked upon" by God despite her own "lowliness" (cf. Luke 1:48); joy in the "service" she is able to offer because of the "great things" to which the Almighty has called her (cf. Luke 1:49); joy in her foretaste of the eschatological blessedness promised to "those of low degree" and "the hungry" (cf. Luke 1:52-53).

The Magnificat is followed by silence: nothing is said to us about the three months that Mary stayed with her kinswoman Elizabeth. Yet perhaps we are told the most important thing: that goodness works quietly, the power of love is expressed in the unassuming quietness of daily service.

5. By her words and her silence the Virgin Mary stands before us as a model for our pilgrim way. It is not an easy way: as a result of the fall of our first parents, humanity is marked by the wounds of sin, whose consequences continue to be felt also among the redeemed. But evil and death will not have the last word! Mary confirms this by her whole life, for she is a living witness of the victory of Christ, our Passover.

The faithful have understood this. That is why they throng to this grotto in order to hear the maternal counsels of the Blessed Virgin. In her they acknowledge "the woman clothed in the sun" (Revelation 12:1), the Queen resplendent before the throne of God (cf. responsorial psalm), ever interceding on their behalf.

6. Today the Church celebrates Mary's glorious Assumption body and soul into Heaven. The two dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are closely related. Both proclaim the glory of Christ the Redeemer and the holiness of Mary, whose human destiny is even now perfectly and definitively realized in God.

"When I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:3). Mary is the pledge of the fulfillment of Christ's promise. Her Assumption thus becomes for us "a sign of sure hope and consolation" (cf. "Lumen Gentium," 68).

7. Dear brothers and sisters! From this Grotto of Massabielle the Blessed Virgin speaks to us too, the Christians of the third millennium. Let us listen to her!

Listen to her, young people who seek an answer capable of giving meaning to your lives. Here you can find that answer. It is a demanding one, yet it is the only answer which is genuinely satisfying. For it contains the secret of true joy and peace.

This Grotto also issues a special call to women. Appearing here, Mary entrusted her message to a young girl, as if to emphasize the special mission of women in our own time, tempted as it is by materialism and secularism: to be in today's society a witness of those essential values which are seen only with the eyes of the heart. To you, women, falls the task of being sentinels of the Invisible! I appeal urgently to all of you, dear brother and sisters, to do everything in your power to ensure that life, each and every life, will be respected from conception to its natural end. Life is a sacred gift, and no one can presume to be its master.

Finally, Our Lady of Lourdes has a message for everyone. Be men and women of freedom! But remember: human freedom is a freedom wounded by sin. It is a freedom which itself needs to be set free. Christ is its liberator; he is the one who "for freedom has set us free" (cf. Galatians 5:1). Defend that freedom!

Dear friends, in this we know we can count on Mary, who, since she never yielded to sin, is the only creature who is perfectly free. I entrust you to her. Walk beside Mary as you journey towards the complete fulfillment of your humanity!
 

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Mary's Sorrows a Source of Consolation, Says John Paul II

Encouragement for Those Facing Daily Struggles

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 15, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II says that the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary are a source of inspiration and consolation for believers facing the difficulties of everyday life.

The Pope made this observation today to young people, the sick and newlyweds who were among the crowd of 10,000 at the general audience in St. Peter's Square.

Before bidding the crowd farewell, the Holy Father recalled that today the Church was honoring the memory of the sorrowful Blessed Mother "who with faith stayed next to Jesus' cross."

"My hope is that you will find in her consolation and support to overcome all the obstacles of your daily life," he said.

Meanwhile, Father Stefano De Fiores, professor of Mariology at several pontifical universities, explained on Vatican Radio that the liturgical memorial of the Our Lady of Sorrows is much cherished by Catholics because "people identify with Mary and see in her the _expression of their pain."

"However, it is salvific, not desperate, pain -- a pain that, despite the harshness of the suffering, is mitigated by faith in the Resurrection, as Mary precedes others in faith," the theologian said.

Quoting St. Bernard, Father De Fiores explained that one can speak of the "martyrdom of the spirit" of the Blessed Virgin, as the elderly Simeon predicted in the Gospel.

"Mary is on the side of Jesus, she suffers with him, therefore, she participated without a doubt in the spirit -- with a spiritual martyrdom -- in his sufferings, especially in the crucifixion," the priest said.

Yet, he added, "Mary's life was not always a martyrdom, as she also had moments of joy, moments of contemplation."

"We do not have to yield to 'dolorousness': Dolorousness is not Christianity. Christianity consists in what Jesus did, to whom his Mother also united herself: the transformation of the harshest pain, the most ignominious, into an experience of salvation," Father De Fiores said.

"This is the Gospel of suffering," he added, "the joyful news that even loneliness or the worst moments the human psyche can experience can be transformed into acts of faith, hope and love."

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Pope John Paul II’s thoughts on the sick (a previous message for World Day of the Sick):

‘Since I too have shared the experience of illness several times in recent years, I have come to understand more clearly its value for my ministry as Pope and for the Church’s life itself. I invite all the sick to consider in prayer Christ crucified and risen, in order to discover God’s loving plan in their own experience of pain. Only by looking at Jesus, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, to use the words of Isaiah, is it possible to find serenity and trust in illness.

   The theme of this Wold Day of the Sick is The New Evangelization and the Dignity of the Suffering Person. The Church wishes to stress the need to evangelize this area of human experience.

   Every day in my own mind and heart I go on a spiritual pilgrimage to hospitals and treatment centres. These places are like shrines where people participate in Christ’s paschal mystery. Everyone there is prompted to wonder about his own life and its meaning, about the reason for evil, suffering and death. This is why it is important that the skilled and significant presence of believers should never be wanting in these institutions.

   And so I make a pressing appeal to all health professionals to learn from Christ to be authentic Good Samaritans towards their brothers and sisters, and to tirelessly promote the needs and health of the whole person with all his needs, be they physical, psychological, social and spiritual.  Only Jesus the divine Samaritan is the fully satisfying answer to the deepest expectations of every human being in search of peace and salvation. Christ is the saviour of every person and of the whole person. And so the world of health itself must be evangelised for it is a valuable means of promoting the civilisation of love.

   It is particularly necessary, with regard to medicines, treatments and surgical operations, for clinical experimentation to be conducted with absolute respect for the individual and with a clear aware-ness of the risks, and, consequently of the limits. Moreover, the persistent injustice that deprives a large part of the population of the treatment necessary to health, especially in poor countries, must cease once and for all. Especially for Christians, promoting health is a duty closely connected with their witness of the Faith.

   Here I would like to praise those individuals and religious bodies which perform a generous service in this sector by courageously responding to the urgent needs of persons in regions or countries of great poverty. In view of the new tragedies and diseases which have replaced the plagues of the past, there is a pressing need for the work of Good Samaritans who can offer the sick the treatment they need, but at the same time provide them with spiritual support to endure their difficult situation with faith.

   I address you, dear sick people and generous health-care workers. This Day is a renewed invitation to contemplate the face of Christ, who became Man 2000 years ago to redeem man. Dear brothers and sisters, proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel of life and hope with generous dedication. Proclaim that Christ is the comfort of all who are in distress or difficulty; he is the strength of those experiencing moments of fatigue and vulnerability. He is the support of those who work for others’ health.

   I entrust you to our Lady of Consolation and ask that she make her motherly protection felt by all her sick and suffering children. 
 
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How the Pope Spends His Summer Vacation

A Call for Greater Silence and Prayer

ROME, JULY 24, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II has been giving advice about how to get closer to God during vacation. Fresh from his 12-day break in the Italian Alps, the Pope in his Angelus message last Sunday entrusted the vacation period to Mary, asking her to help us to appreciate it as a "propitious time to rediscover the primacy of the interior life."

The previous Sunday, in his Angelus commentary, the Pope reflected on his experiences in the mountains and noted that in the midst of nature, "it is easy to feel the benefits of silence, a quality that is becoming rarer and rarer today." John Paul II observed that today's world has so much to offer in terms of personal contacts and information that people can find themselves without any opportunity to reflect or pray.

"Actually, it is only in silence that human beings can hear in their inmost being the voice of God which truly sets them free," he said. "Holidays can help people rediscover and cultivate this indispensable inner dimension of human life."

The Holy Father called to mind the example of Mary, noting that in his outings he had come across many shrines in the mountains, and asked her to "help us to perceive a reflection of divine glory in the beauty of creation and encourage us to strive with all our might for the spiritual peaks of holiness."

Human and spiritual experiences

As someone who was keen on hiking, skiing and swimming, until his physical problems, the Pope clearly appreciates the importance of sporting activities. In his July 4 Angelus commentary he spoke of "suitable recreational initiatives, enriched by genuine human relations." And to young people at the June 23 general audience John Paul II said: "I hope that you who are already on holiday will make the most of the summer to gain some formative human and spiritual experiences."

The Pope dealt with these social aspects of holidays in his message for the forthcoming World Day of Tourism. He spoke of the possibilities tourism has for improving relations between peoples. This is achieved, he noted, when such relations "are cordial, respectful and based on solidarity" (No. 1). When these conditions are met "they constitute, as it were, an open door to peace and harmonious coexistence."

Tourism could also serve to improve our understanding of foreign cultures, the Pope added. "Indeed, much of the violence that humanity suffers in our times is rooted in misunderstanding as well as in the rejection of the values and identity of foreign cultures. Therefore, it would often be possible to get the better of these situations thanks to a better reciprocal knowledge" (No. 1).

But for this to be achieved, he continued, we must base our relationships on what is "the supreme principle that must govern human coexistence," namely, "respect for the dignity of each person, created in the image of God and thus a brother or sister to all."

Sports and virtue

Given that the theme of this year's World Tourism Day is sports and tourism, the Pope's message also had some words of advice on sporting activities. He warned that sports should not be marred by "exacerbated commercialism, aggressive rivalry, violence to individuals and things even to the point of the degradation of the environment or offense to the cultural identity of the host of the event" (No. 2).

Rather, John Paul II recommended that sport should be "accompanied by moderation and training in self-discipline. It very often also requires a good team spirit, a respectful attitude, appreciation of the qualities of others, honest sportsmanship and humility in recognizing one's own limitations" (No. 3).

He also called upon Christians to look at sporting activities as an opportunity to develop the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, as they participate "in the race for the wreathe that is 'imperishable,' as St. Paul writes."

Quoting from the homily he gave in 2000 for the Jubilee of World Sport, the Pope called for sports "that protects the weak and excludes no one, that frees young people from the snares of apathy and indifference and arouses a healthy sense of competition in them." This form of sports, continued the homily, can also be "a factor of emancipation for poorer countries and helps to eradicate intolerance and build a more fraternal and united world."

Lived in this spirit, sports can contribute "to the love of life, teaches sacrifice, respect and responsibility, leading to the full development of every human person," he concluded.

Pastoral guidelines

More detailed recommendations on tourism can be found in the 2001 document "Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of Tourism," published by the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers.

The pontifical council observes that we need to understand better the concept of holiday time, when we can rest from our normal occupations. "The meaning of rest, in fact, is not just the need to recover from the toil of work" (No. 6). The underlying, and more profound meaning of rest, explains the document, is when we dedicate more of our time to God and to the service of others, especially our family.

Reading, cultural events, sports and tourism are some of the activities we can engage in when we have free time. But the council warns: "There is a danger that rest may be considered a time for doing nothing" (No. 7). Instead, the concept of rest "consists principally in regaining the full personal equilibrium that normal living conditions tend to destroy. Therefore, just stopping all activity is not enough; certain conditions must also be created in order to regain one's equilibrium."

Tourism can fulfill some of these conditions, as it gives us a break from our normal environment, and offers many activities: a new contact with nature; a more direct knowledge of the artistic and monumental heritage; more human relations with other persons; contact with other cultures.

But, in the midst of all these activities, the pontifical council in its guidelines recommends that we cannot exclude the time spent in tourism as being apart from God. "The time dedicated to tourism can in no way be excluded from this history of unending love in which God visits man and lets him share in his glory" (No. 14).

Moreover, the document says, "a careful perception of the values that can be manifested in tourism suggests the possibility of understanding some central aspects of the history of salvation more deeply."

The council also recommends that when we have an opportunity to enjoy vacations that we remember to "give special thanks for the gift of creation in which the beauty of the Creator stands out, for the gift of paschal freedom which gives them solidarity with all their brothers and sisters in Christ the Lord, and for the gift of the feast, whereby the Holy Spirit leads them to the definitive homeland they yearn for and the goal of their pilgrimage in this world."

In this way, the guidelines said, holiday time has a Eucharistic dimension "that should make tourism a time of contemplation, encounter and joy shared in the Lord 'in praise of his glory.'"
 

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The Pope's Contributions on Liturgy and Eucharist

Cardinal Arinse's Address at Christendom College

FRONT ROYAL, Virginia, JULY 26, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The centrality of the liturgy, with the Eucharistic sacrifice as its apex, is one of key reasons why John Paul II's pontificate stands out, according to Cardinal Francis Arinze.

The prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments recently spoke on the Pope's teachings on the sacred liturgy and the Eucharist to more than 300 attendees at Christendom College's Summer Institute, which was entitled "Confronting the Culture of Death: John Paul II's Prophetic Vision for the Renewal of Christian Culture."

"Among the many outstanding dimensions of this remarkable pontificate, the Holy Father's teaching on the sacred liturgy, and especially on the holy Eucharist, is altogether prominent," Cardinal Arinze said.

He went on to outline key aspects of the Holy Father's teachings and actions over the last 25 years, saying, "Pope John Paul II teaches us by his liturgical celebrations, as well as by pontifical documents on the public worship of the Church. In the liturgical renewal he insists on fidelity to the Second Vatican Council and to Church Tradition. He rightly gives the holy Eucharist very special attention."

"Yet," the cardinal said, "he does not forget to state the contribution which popular devotions can make. And he requests everyone concerned, especially the clergy, to be faithful to liturgical norms."

The Vatican prefect observed that from the start of his pontificate, John Paul II "showed his keen awareness of the centrality of the sacred liturgy, and especially of the holy Eucharist."

"He had himself been very active in the Second Vatican Council, which taught 'the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fountain from which all her power flows,'" Cardinal Arinze said, quoting from the conciliar declaration "Sacrosanctum Concilium."

Later in his speech, Cardinal Arinze stressed that John Paul II recalls some of the positive developments in the liturgical life of the Church since Vatican II.

"The holy Scripture is now more abundantly read in the liturgy," the cardinal said. "The active participation of the people of God is more consciously promoted and the common priesthood is better appreciated. The liturgy has contributed to more radiant vitality in many Christian communities."

Cardinal Arinze said that the Pope sees in the liturgy "the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit." He notes that John Paul II asserts in his encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia" that "the Church was born of the paschal mystery. For this very reason the Eucharist, which is in an outstanding way the sacrament of the paschal mystery, stands at the center of the Church's life."

The cardinal explained, "The fact that the Church draws her life from the Eucharist explains why the Pope applies this also to the evangelizing and missionary dimension of the activity of the Church and says [in "Ecclesia de Eucharistia"] that 'every activity aimed at carrying out the Church's mission, every work of pastoral planning must draw the strength in needs from the Eucharistic mystery.'"
 

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POPE TO PUBLISH NEW BOOK: "MEMORY AND IDENTITY"

VATICAN CITY, OCT 7, 2004 (VIS) - Yesterday afternoon in Frankfurt, Germany Joaquin Navarro-Valls, director of the Holy See Press Office, announced that John Paul II will release a new book, "Memory and Identity. Conversation between Millenniums," in the Spring of 2005. It will be published by the Italian publishing house Rizzoli.

  Rizzoli, which published the Pope's "Opera omnia filosofica,"  a volume of over 1,000 pages, as well as other texts on literary criticism written by Karol Wojtyla, owns the world rights of the book. During the Frankfort International Book Fair, which began yesterday, there will be negotiations for its publication in other languages.

  The book, according to Navarro-Valls, is a work on the philosophy of history in which the Pope considers topics such as modern democracy, liberty and human rights, the diverse concepts of nation, fatherland and the state, the more than functional relationship between nation and culture, the rights of man, the relationship between Church and state. The common theme is one that characterizes all of John Paul's philosophical and literary works: the great mystery of man.

  Asked how the book came about, the director of the Holy See Press Office explained that it is a result of conversations the Polish pope had with two Polish friends, Professors Josef Tishner and Krystof Michalski, in his summer residence at Castelgandolfo in 1993. "The two intellectuals asked the Holy Father questions and he responded," said Navarro-Valls. The conversations were recorded and later transcribed.  The manuscript was saved for some years until the Pope read it and decided to make it into a book after having made some corrections.

  Although the book makes reference to situations and facts on other continents, the Pope, said Navarro-Valls, is primarily thinking of Europe, in the dynamism of ideas that sometimes remain latent over the centuries and that explain realities that would otherwise be inexplicable. Among the questions that the Pope addresses are themes on life and modern thought. The Pope answers these questions with intellectual rigor. "We must learn," he writes, "to go to the roots."

  In "Memory and Identity," says Navarro-Valls, the Pope looks for these roots, and  at his relationship to the terrible moments in our recent history, as well as the "innumerable positive fruits" which have been the result of Western history. The book causes the reader to think about the great problem of finding the meaning of history.  From this point of view, the author makes an inestimable contribution to understanding the great historic questions of our age.

  The director of the Holy See Press Office said that in the book John Paul II writes about the ideologies of evil, national socialism and communism, and he explores their roots and the regimes that resulted. In addition, he makes a theological and philosophical reflection about how the presence of evil often ends up being an invitation to do good. "Sometimes evil, in certain moments of human existence, reveals itself as useful. Useful in the measure in which it creates an occasion to do good," says the Pope in a excerpt from the book.

  In presenting the volume, Navarro-Valls recalled that John Paul II has been the first Pope to have books published commercially.  "Memory and Identity" is his fifth book after "Crossing the Threshold of Hope," "Gift and Mystery," "Roman Triptych" and "Arise and Let us be Going."

  The book will be published in various countries next spring

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Poems of a Young Pole Who Would Become Pope

Translation of Karol Wojtyla's Early Works Is Published in Italy

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 15, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The volume "Early Poems of Karol Wojtyla," the first translation into Italian of the poetical compositions of the youth of Wadowice, has just been published.

The book, already a best seller in Poland, includes letters of the future Pope written when he was 19 and 20.

These verses, unpublished for 50 years and considered by their author as "artistically immature," are a product of the "literary atmosphere of the time," explained Paolo Martino, professor of linguistics at Rome's LUMSA University. The university published the work in Italy in collaboration with Edizioni Studium.

It has its own "form of symbolism and hermeticism," which makes it "difficult reading," Martino said when presenting the volume on Vatican Radio.

"They are substantial verses, in which Christian inspiration is mixed with the Slav spirit," and "the splendor of the Greek-Latin classical world," he said.

Martino pointed out that these poems of the young Wojtyla reveal a "limpid sense of premonition."

"The young worker and student presages something of the future that awaits him … premonitions that are realized in the writer," the professor said.

Martino quoted, for example, a passage of "Convivio," in which the poet dialogues with the Almighty and confesses his desire to "extend your paternal inheritance … that this voice be heard everywhere among the peoples."

It is even clearer at the beginning of the "Fourteenth Sonnet," when the young author contemplates the flight of a pelican and says: "A soul like this is needed … which confesses the pain of the world, which alleviates the weight of misfortune, and brings one closer to the Love of the crucified hands."

"That soul is already being forged in these verses and being prepared for the extraordinary destiny that is still unknown to it," Martino explained. "He does so with his trust placed on high, which enables him to 'see' -- beyond the dark horizon of the moment -- a way of peace."

Among the poems in the volume, there is one dedicated to his mother, who died when he was 12.

"A luminous tranquility shines on the white tomb, as if something raised us, as if it encouraged us to hope," Wojtyla wrote.

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