VATICAN CITY, MAY 15, 2002 (Zenit.org).-Here is a translation of John Paul II´s address at the Wednesday general audience, which focused on Habakkuk´s Canticle on “God´s Judgment,” followed by a summary given by the Pope in English.
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1. By way of support to the fundamental prayer of the Psalms, the Liturgy of Lauds proposes to us a series of biblical canticles of great spiritual intensity. Today we heard an example taken from the third and last chapter of the Book of Habakkuk. This prophet lived toward the end of the 7th century B.C., when the kingdom of Juda felt itself crushed between two expanding superpowers, Egypt on one side and Babylon on the other.
However, many scholars maintain that this final hymn is a quotation. An authentic liturgical song was added as an appendix to Habakkuk´s brief writing, “in a tone of lamentation” to be accompanied by “string instruments,” as two notes explain at the beginning and end of the Canticle (see Habakkuk 3:1-19b). Taking up the theme of the ancient prayer of Israel, the Liturgy of Lauds invites us to transform this composition into a Christian song, by selecting some significant verses (see verses 3:2-4, 13a, 15-19a).
2. The hymn, which also reveals considerable poetical force, presents a grandiose image of the Lord (verses 3-4). His solemn figure dominates the entire scene of the world and the universe trembles in face of his majestic advance. He is coming from the south, from Teman and Mount Paran (verse 3: 3), namely, from the Sinai area, scene of the great epiphany of revelation for Israel. Psalm 67 also described “the Lord who came from Sinai into the holy place” of Jerusalem (verse 18). His appearance, in keeping with a constant biblical tradition, is surrounded by light (see Habakkuk 3:4).
It is a radiation of his transcendent mystery that is communicated to humanity: indeed, the light is outside of us, we cannot hold it or stop it; and yet it envelops, enlightens, and warms us. God is like this, both distant and close, beyond us and yet next to us, in fact, willing to be with us and in us. The earth responds with a chorus of praise to the revelation of his majesty: it is a cosmic response, a kind of prayer to which man gives voice.
Christian tradition has lived this interior experience not only in inner personal spirituality, but also in ardent artistic creations. Beyond the majestic medieval cathedrals, we mention above all the art of the Christian East with its wonderful icons and the ingenious architecture of its churches and monasteries.
The church of St. Sofia of Constantinople remains in this respect as a sort of archetype in regard to the delimitation of the space of Christian prayer, in which the presence and incomprehensibleness of the light allow one to perceive both the intimacy and transcendence of the divine reality. It penetrates the whole praying community to the very marrow of the bones and at the same time invites it to surpass itself and be totally immersed in the ineffability of the mystery. Just as significant are the artistic and spiritual proposals that characterize the monasteries of that Christian tradition. In those authentic sacred spaces — and our thoughts go immediately to Mount Athos — time contains in itself a sign of eternity. The mystery of God manifests itself and hides itself in those spaces through the continuous prayer of the monks and the hermits regarded always as akin to the angels.
3. But we return to the Canticle of the prophet Habakkuk. For the sacred author, the Lord´s entry into the world has a precise meaning. He wills to enter into human history, “in the midst of the years,” as repeated twice in verse 2, to judge and make its affairs better, which we conduct in such a confused and at times perverse way.
Then God shows his indignation (verse 3:2c) against evil. And the song makes reference to a series of inexorable divine interventions, without specifying if it is through direct or indirect actions. Israel´s exodus is evoked, when the Pharaoh´s cavalry was drowned in the sea (verse 3:15). But what is also perceived is the prospect of the work that the Lord is about to accomplish in the confrontations with the new oppressor of his people. The divine intervention is described in an almost “visible” way through a series of agricultural images: “Though the fig tree do not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock will be cut off from the fold, and there will be no herd in the stalls” (verse 17). All signs of peace and fruitfulness are eliminated and the world appears as a desert. This is a cherished symbol of other prophets (see Jeremiah 4:19-26; 12:7-13; 14:1-10), to illustrate the Lord´s judgment, who is not indifferent before evil, oppression, and injustice.
4. In face of the divine intervention the man of prayer remains terrified (see Habakkuk 3:16), he shakes and feels his soul emptied and stricken by a tremor, because the God of justice is infallible, very different from earthly judges.
However, the Lord´s entry has yet another function, which our song exalts with joy. Indeed, in his indignation he does not forget his compassionate mercy (verse 3:2). He goes forth from the horizon of his glory not only to destroy the arrogance of the wicked, but also to save his people and his anointed (verse 3:13), namely Israel and its king. He also wills to be the liberator of the oppressed, to make hope arise in the hearts of victims, to open a new era of justice.
5. Because of this, although marked by a “tone of lament” our canticle is transformed into a hymn of joy. In fact, the anticipated calamities look toward the deliverance from oppressors (verse 3:15). Therefore, they spark joy in the righteous who exclaims: “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” (verse 18) The same attitude is suggested by Jesus to his disciples at the time of the apocalyptic cataclysms: “Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Lk 21:28)
The final verse in Habakkuk´s canticle, which expresses regained serenity, is very beautiful. The Lord is defined — as David did in Psalm 17 — not only as “the force” of his faithful, but also as him who gives them agility, freshness, and serenity in dangers. David sang: “I love thee, O Lord, my strength … He made my feet like hinds´ feet, and set me secure on the heights.” (Psalm 17, 2.34) Now our singer exclaims: “God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like hinds´ feet, he makes me tread upon my high places.” (Habakkuk, 3, 19) When one has the Lord beside him, one no longer fears nightmares and obstacles, but goes forward with a light step and joy on the ever harsh way of life.
[Translation by ZENIT]
At the end of the audience, the Holy Father gave this summary in English.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Book of Habakkuk concludes with a Canticle that vividly describes God´s coming in judgment to save his people. The glorious light heralding the Lord´s approach symbolizes both his transcendence and his saving presence in the world and in history. The Canticle depicts God in his holiness and majesty, but it also reveals his care for his faithful ones and his judgment upon the injustice, sin, and evil which disfigure his creation. Majestic in his glory and justice, the Lord appears in order to bring freedom, joy and peace to those whom he guides along the paths of life.
I am pleased to greet the participants in the International Conference on Human Trafficking taking place at the Pontifical Gregorian University. I also welcome the members of the NATO War College group. I thank the Choir from Bombay, India, for their praise of God in song.
My greeting goes in a special way to the group from East Timor. As your nation prepares to celebrate its independence next Monday, I
pray that the many sacrifices of recent years will now inspire the building of a society of justice and solidarity. May God bless the people of East Timor with true freedom and lasting peace!
Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today´s Audience, especially those from England, Ireland, Denmark, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.