VATICAN CITY, OCT. 10, 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. “Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, proclaim it on distant coasts” (Jeremiah 31:10). What kind of news is about to be given with these solemn words of Jeremiah, which we heard in the Canticle just proclaimed? It is consoling news, and it is no accident that the chapters that contain it (see 30-31) are described as the “Book of Consolation.” The announcement refers directly to ancient Israel; however, in some way, the evangelical message can already be discerned.
The following is the heart of this announcement: “For the Lord has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him” (Jeremiah 31:11). The historical background of these words is found in a moment of hope experienced by the people of God, almost a century after the North of the country was occupied by the Assyrian power, in 722. Now, at the time of the prophet, the religious reform of King Josiah expresses a return of the people to the covenant with God and hope arises that the time of punishment is over. The possibility emerges that the North will be able to return to liberty and Israel and Judah will be restructured in unity. All, even the “distant coasts,” must be witnesses to this wonderful event: God, the shepherd of Israel, is about to intervene. He who permitted the scattering of his people, now comes to gather them.
2. The invitation to joy is developed with images that are profoundly moving. It is a saying that makes one dream! It delineates a future in which the exiled “will see and sing,” and will find again not only the temple of the Lord, but also all goods: wheat, wine, oil, the young of flocks and herds. The Bible is not about abstract spirituality. The promised joy does not just affect man´s inner being, as the Lord looks after human life in all its dimensions. Jesus himself did not fail to underline this aspect, inviting his disciples to trust Providence also for material needs (see Matthew 6:25-34). Our Canticle emphasizes this point of view: God wants to make the whole man happy. The condition that he prepares for his children is expressed in the symbol of the “watered gardens” (Jeremiah 31:12), images of freshness and fruitfulness. Mourning is turned into joy, being satiated with delights (see verse 14) and abundant goods, so much so that dancing and singing are spontaneous. It will be unlimited joy, the people´s happiness.
3. History tells us that this dream is yet to come true. But certainly not because God had failed to keep his promise: once again, because of their infidelity, the people were to blame for this delusion. The Book of Jeremiah itself demonstrates this with the unfolding of a prophecy that becomes suffering and hardship, and leads progressively to some of the saddest phases of the history of Israel. Not only the exiled of the North will not return, but Judea itself will be occupied by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C. Bitter days now began when, on the shores of Babylon the lyres were hung from the willows (Psalm 136:2). There was no desire to sing for the satisfaction of the captors. It is not possible to rejoice, if one is uprooted by force from the homeland, the land where God had made his dwelling.
4. And yet the invitation to joy that characterizes this saying does not lose meaning. Indeed, the ultimate motivation on which it leans remains firm, expressed especially in some intense verses, which precede those proposed in the Liturgy of the Hours. It is important to keep them in mind, while reading the expressions of joy of our Canticle. They describe in vibrant terms the love of God for his people. They indicate an irrevocable pact: “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). They sing the paternal effusions of a God who calls Ephraim his firstborn and covers him with tenderness: “They departed in tears, but I will console them and guide them; I will lead them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that non shall stumble. For I am a father to Israel” (Jeremiah 31:9). Although, the promise was not fulfilled then, because of the children´s lack of correspondence, the love of the Father remains in all its touching tenderness.
5. This love is the golden thread that unifies the phases of the history of Israel, in its joys and sorrows, its successes and failures. God does not lessen his love, and the punishment itself is but an expression of it, assuming a pedagogic and salvific meaning.
On the solid rock of this love, the invitation to joy of our Canticle evokes a future of God that, although deferred, will come sooner or later, despite all the frailties of men. This future was fulfilled in the new covenant with the death and resurrection of Christ and the gift of the Spirit. However, it will have its complete fulfillment at the eschatological return of the Lord. In light of such certainties, Jeremiah´s “dream” continues to be a real historical opportunity, conditioned by the faithfulness of men and, above all, a final goal, guaranteed by the faithfulness of God and already inaugurated by his love, in Christ.
Therefore, in reading this saying of Jeremiah, we must let the Gospel resound in us, the wonderful news promulgated by Christ in the synagogue of Nazareth (see Luke 4:16-21). Christian life is called to be a real “jubilation,” which only our sin can harm. In reciting these words of Jeremiah, the Liturgy of the Hours invites us to anchor our life in Christ, our redeemer (see Jeremiah 31:11) and, in our personal and communal life, to seek the secret of true joy in him.
[original in Italian; translation by ZENIT]
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[Here is an English-language summary of the address given by the Holy Father.]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the Canticle of Jeremiah, the Prophet begins by summoning us to listen to the good news of consolation in the midst of every desolation. The good news is that God rescues us from every power that threatens us. He promises us a happiness which extends to every aspect of human life. Jeremiah is calling us to share a joy which nothing and no-one can take away. Clearly, God´s promise has not yet been completely fulfilled, but still we wait in faith for that fulfilment. We trust because the promise depends not upon us in our frailty, but upon the absolutely reliable love of God, which is guaranteed by an everlasting covenant. This love has already triumphed in the Easter mystery, in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus and the sending of the Holy Spirit. Now, in the midst of all our sorrows and uncertainties, we look confidently to the time when the victory of Easter will be complete. Then we shall know the fullness of joy and happiness of which the Prophet sings.
I extend a special greeting to the groups of young people from various countries present at this audience. I invite you all to pray for peace and to be committed to building a world without violence, founded on respect for the dignity of every human being. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors I invoke the blessings of which the Canticle of Jeremiah speaks. God be with you all!
[Original text: English; distributed by Vatican Press Office]