Evil Does Not Have the Last Word, John Paul II Says
Address at General Audience
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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 17, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II´s address at today´s general audience in St. Peter´s Square.
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1. The Psalm just proclaimed is a hymn in honor of Zion, "the city of the great king" (Psalm 47:3), at that time the seat of the temple of the Lord and the place of his presence in the midst of humanity. Christian faith now applies it to the "Jerusalem above," which is "our mother" (Galatians 4:26).
The liturgical tone of this hymn, which evokes a festive procession (see verses 13-14), the peaceful vision of Jerusalem that echoes divine salvation, renders Psalm 47 a prayer to begin the day with a song of praise, even if clouds gather on the horizon.
In order to appreciate the meaning of the Psalm, three helpful acclamations are placed at the beginning, the center and the end, almost as though offering the spiritual key of the composition and introducing us to its interior atmosphere. The three invocations are: "Great is the Lord and highly praised in the city of our God" (verse 2); "O God, within your temple we ponder your steadfast love" (verse 9); "so might is God, our God who leads us always" (verse 14).
2. These three acclamations, which exalt the Lord but also "the city of our God" (verse 1), frame two great parts of the Psalm. The first is a joyous celebration in the Holy City, Zion, victorious against the enemies´ assaults, serene under the mantle of divine protection (see verses 3-8). There is a virtual litany of definitions of this city: It is a wondrous height that is erected as a beacon of light, a source of joy for all peoples of the earth, the only real "Olympus" where heaven and earth meet. It is -- to use the expression of the prophet Ezekiel -- the city-Emmanuel because "the Lord is there," present in it (see Ezekiel 48:35). However, besieging troops are thronging around Jerusalem, almost as a symbol of the evil that attacks the splendor of the city of God. The battle has an obvious and almost immediate result.
3. In fact, the powerful of the earth, assaulting the Holy City, also provoked its King, the Lord. The Psalmist shows the dissolution of the pride of a powerful army with the thought-provoking images of birth pangs: "Trembling seized them there, anguish, like a woman´s labor" (verse 7). Arrogance is transformed into frailty and weakness, power into a fall and defeat.
The same concept is expressed in another image: The attacking army is compared to an invincible naval armada, on which a typhoon is unleashed caused by a terrible east wind (see verse 8). What remains, then, is certainty for the one who is in the shadow of divine protection: Good, not evil, has the last word; God triumphs over the hostile powers, even when they seem great and invincible.
4. Then the faithful celebrates his thanksgiving to the liberating God in the temple itself. He raises a hymn to the merciful love of the Lord, expressed with the Hebrew word "hésed," typical of the theology of the Covenant. Thus we come to the second part of the Psalm (see verses 10-14). Following the great hymn of praise to the faithful, just and saving God (see verses 10-12), there is a sort of procession around the temple and the Holy City (see verses 13-14). The towers are numbered, sign of the sure protection of God, the citadels are considered, expressions of the stability offered to Zion by its Founder. The walls of Jerusalem speak, and its stones remember the events that must be transmitted [to] "future generations" (verse 14) through the stories that fathers will tell their sons (see Psalm 77:3-7). Zion is the place of an uninterrupted chain of saving actions of the Lord, which are announced in the catechesis and celebrated in the liturgy, so that believers will continue to hope in the liberating intervention of God.
5. The concluding antiphon is most beautiful, one of the highest description of the Lord as shepherd of his people: "Our God who leads us always" (verse 15). The God of Zion is the God of the Exodus, of liberty, of closeness to the people enslaved in Egypt and of pilgrims in the desert. Now that Israel is settled in the Promised Land, it knows that the Lord will not abandon it: Jerusalem is the sign of his closeness, and the temple is the place of his presence.
Rereading these expressions, the Christian rises to the contemplation of Christ, the new and living temple of God (see John 2:21), and he turns to the heavenly Jerusalem, which no longer needs a temple or an external light, because "its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb. The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb" (Revelation 21:22-23). St. Augustine invites us to this "spiritual" rereading, convinced that in the books of the Bible, "there is nothing that only affects the earthly city, because everything that is said about it, or realized through it, symbolizes something that allegorically could also be referred to the heavenly Jerusalem" ("City of God," XVII, 3, 2). St. Paulinus of Nola echoes him, who precisely in commenting on the words of our Psalm exhorts us to pray so that "we can be found to be like living stones in the walls of the heavenly and free Jerusalem" (Letter 28:2 to Severus). And contemplating the firmness and compactness of this city, the same Father of the Church continues: "In fact, he who inhabits this city reveals himself as the One in three persons. Christ constitutes not only its foundation but also its tower and door. Therefore, if the house of our soul is founded on him and a construction is raised on him worthy of such a great foundation, then the door of entry to his city will be, precisely, him, who will guide us for ever and will take us to the place of his pasture.
[Translation by ZENIT]
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[Following the Italian-language address, the Pope gave this summary in English.]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Forty-seventh Psalm is a hymn in honour of Mount Zion, where the Lord´s temple is set in the midst of his people. It is a song of praise to God, who in his mercy and love delivers Zion from her enemies. God´s faithful people give thanks to the Lord who protects them; they recognize that it is he who strengthens them and leads them. This brings to mind the image of the Good Shepherd, and our thoughts turn to Christ, who is the new and living temple of God. We think of the "heavenly Jerusalem", our true home, of which Christ is the sole foundation and also the door through which we gain entrance to the holy city of our God. It is Jesus Christ who ever guides us, leading us to rich green pastures where we shall know the fullness of joy for ever.
I am pleased to greet Cardinal Keeler and the group from the Basilica of the Assumption in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. I remember well my own visits to the first Cathedral of the Catholic Church to be built in the United States of America. May God bless the efforts you are now making to restore this historic shrine as a worldwide symbol of religious freedom. My greetings go as well to the other English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today´s Audience, especially those from England, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Australia, Canada and the United States of America: upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
[original text distributed by Vatican Press Office]