VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 4, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II’s address at today’s general audience, which centered on a canticle in the Book of Isaiah.
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1. The daily liturgy of lauds always proposes, in addition to the Psalms, a Canticle taken from the Old Testament. It is known that, next to the Psalter, true and proper book of prayer of Israel and later of the Church, there is another kind of “Psalter” disseminated in different historic, prophetic and sapient pages of the Bible. It is also made up of hymns, supplications, praises and invocations, often of great beauty and spiritual intensity.
In our journey through the prayers of the liturgy of lauds, we have already seen many of these songs that are scattered through the biblical pages. Now we will take into consideration one that is really admirable, the work of Isaiah, one of the greatest prophets of Israel, who lived in the eighth century B.C. He was the witness of difficult hours lived by the kingdom of Judah, but also a bard of messianic hope in very high poetic language.
2. This is the case of the Canticle we have just heard and which is placed almost at the beginning of his book, in the first verses of Chapter 2, preceded by a subsequent editorial note that reads like this: “This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:1). The hymn is conceived, therefore, as a prophetic vision, which describes an end toward which the history of Israel moves in hope. It is not accidental that the first words are: “In days to come” (verse 2), namely, in the fullness of time. Therefore, it is an invitation not to be fixed on the present, so miserable, but to know how to intuit in the course of daily events the mysterious presence of divine action, which leads history toward a very different horizon of light and peace.
This “vision” of messianic flavor will be taken up subsequently in Chapter 60 of the same book in a more vast scene, sign of a further meditation on the essential and incisive words of the prophet, precisely those of the Canticle just proclaimed. The prophet Micah (see 4:1-3), will take up the same hymn, although with a different end (see 4:4-5) to that of Isaiah’s saying (see Isaiah 2:5).
3. At the center of the “vision” of Isaiah rises Mount Zion, which figuratively will rise above all the other mountains, being inhabited by God and, therefore, the place of contact with heaven (see 1 Kings 8:22-53). From this, according to Isaiah’s saying in 60:1-6, a light will emanate that will rend and dissipate the darkness and toward it will move processions of people from every corner of the earth.
This power of attraction of Zion is based on two realities that derive from the holy mountain of Jerusalem: the Law and the Word of the Lord. In fact, these constitute only one reality, which is the source of life, light and peace, expressions of the mystery of the Lord and of his will. When the nations reach the summit of Zion, where the temple of God rises, then the miracle will take place which humanity has always awaited and toward which it sighs. The people let the weapons fall from their hands, which are then gathered to be forged into peaceful instruments of work: The swords are transformed into plowshares, and the spears into pruning hooks. Thus arises a horizon of peace, of Shalom (see Isaiah 60:17), as is said in Hebrew, a word cherished especially by messianic theology. The curtain is finally lowered forever on war and hatred.
4. Isaiah’s saying ends with an appeal, which is in the line of spirituality of the songs of pilgrimage to Jerusalem: “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:5). Israel must not remain a spectator of this radical historic transformation; it cannot dissociate itself from the invitation that resounded at the beginning on the lips of the people: “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain” (verse 3).
We, Christians, are also challenged by this Canticle of Isaiah. In commenting on it, the Fathers of the Church of the fourth and fifth century (Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, Theodoret of Cyrus, Cyril of Alexandria) saw it fulfilled in the coming of Christ. Consequently, they identified in the Church the “mountain of the temple of the Lord … erected on the top of the mountains,” from which the Word of the Lord issued and to which the pagan peoples flowed, in the new era of peace inaugurated by the Gospel.
5. The martyr St. Justin, in his “Prima Apologia,” written about the year 153, already proclaimed the fulfillment of the verse of the Canticle that says: “from Jerusalem shall go forth the word of the Lord” (see verse 3). He wrote: “From Jerusalem men will go out to the world, twelve in number; and they were ignorant; they did not know how to speak, but thanks to the power of God they revealed to the whole of humanity that they were sent by Christ to teach the Word of God to all. And we, who before used to kill one another, now no longer fight against our enemies, but so as not to lie and to deceive those who questioned us, we willingly die confessing Christ” (“Prima Apologia,” 39, 3: “Gli apologeti greci,” Rome, 1986, p. 118).
Because of this, in a special way we Christians welcome the appeal of the prophet and seek to lay down the foundations of that civilization of love and peace in which there will no longer be war, “no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the Audience, the Pope gave the following summary in English:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today’s reading from the Canticle of Isaiah is a prophetic vision of the last days, when all nations will stream towards the mountain of the Lord. Then at last the world will find peace in obedience to God’s law and his word. The vision is a call to hope and trust in God’s saving plan. Christians see this hope fulfilled in Jesus Christ and the Church. In the mystery of the Church all humanity draws near to God and shares in the peace brought by Christ. At the same time, all are summoned to work for a world of ever greater reconciliation, justice, and peace.
I am pleased to greet the athletes and representatives of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation. My cordial welcome also goes to the Capuchin Brothers from Africa taking part in a program of spiritual renewal. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from Ireland, Malta, the Philippines, South Africa and the United States I invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.
[English text distributed by Vatican Press Office]