Skip to comments.Wednesday Audience - Meditation on Canticle of Isaiah 66
Posted on 07/16/2003 5:33:22 PM PDT by Saint Athanasius
Meditation on Canticle of Isaiah 66:10-14 John Paul II Reflects on God's Maternal Love
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, JULY 16, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II address at today's general audience, which he dedicated to comment on the canticle of Isaiah 66:10-14. The address was in Italian.
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1. The hymn we just heard is taken from the last page of the Book of Isaiah, a song of joy dominated by the maternal figure of Jerusalem (see 66:11) and then by the loving care of God himself (see verse 13). Biblical scholars consider that this final section, open to a splendid and festive future, is the testimony of a subsequent voice, that of a prophet who celebrates the rebirth of Israel after the dark period of the Babylonian exile. We are, therefore, in the sixth century B.C., two centuries after Isaiah's mission, the great prophet under whose name the whole of this inspired work is presented.
We will now follow the joyful flow of this brief canticle, which opens with three imperatives which are an invitation to happiness: "rejoice," "exult," "rejoice with her in joy" (see verse 10). This is a luminous theme found often in the last pages of the Book of Isaiah: the afflicted of Zion are gladdened, crowned, anointed with the "oil of gladness" (61:3); the prophet himself "rejoices fully in the Lord, his soul exults in God" (verse 10); "as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice" over his people (62:5). In the page preceding the one that is now the object of our song and prayer, it is the Lord himself who participates in Israel's happiness, which is about to be reborn as a nation: "There shall always be rejoicing and happiness in what I create; for I create Jerusalem to be a joy and its people to be a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and exult in my people" (65:18-19).
2. The source and reason for this inner exultation is found in the new vitality of Jerusalem, risen from the ashes of ruin, which fell on it when the Babylonian army destroyed it. Mention is made, in fact, of her "mourning" (66:10), which is now left behind it.
As often happens in several cultures, the city is represented with feminine, even maternal, images. When a city is in peace, it is like a protected and safe womb; in fact, it is like a mother who nurses her children with abundance and tenderness (see verse 11). In this light, the reality that the Bible calls, with a feminine _expression, "the daughter of Zion," namely, Jerusalem, becomes again a mother-city that receives, nourishes and delights her children, namely, her inhabitants. On this scene of life and tenderness, then, the word of the Lord descends, which has the tone of a blessing (see verses 12-14).
3. God takes recourse to other images linked to fruitfulness. In fact, he speaks of rivers and torrents, that is, of waters that symbolize life, the luxuriance of vegetation, the prosperity of the earth and of its inhabitants (see verse 12). The prosperity of Jerusalem, its "peace" (shalom), generous gift of God, will ensure for its children a life surrounded by maternal tenderness: "you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap" (Ibid.) and this maternal tenderness will be the tenderness of God himself: "As a mother comforts her son, so will I comfort you" (verse 13). Thus the Lord uses the maternal metaphor to describe his love for his creatures.
Even earlier in the Book of Isaiah, a passage can be read which attributes a maternal profile to God: "Can a woman forget her infant, be without tenderness of the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you" (49:15). In our canticle, the words of the Lord addressed to Jerusalem end by taking up again the theme of inner vitality, expressed by another image of fruitfulness and energy: that of the fresh grass, image applied to bones, to indicate the vigor of the body and of existence (see 66:14).
4. At this point, in face of the mother-city, it is easy to extend our gaze to encompass the profile of the Church, fruitful virgin and mother. We conclude our meditation on reborn Jerusalem with a reflection of St. Ambrose, taken from his work "The Virgins": "The Holy Church is immaculate in her marital union, fruitful in her births and virgin in her chastity, notwithstanding the children she generates. Therefore, we are born of a virgin, who conceived not by the power of man but by the power of the Spirit. We are born of a virgin not in physical pain but in the jubilation of the angels. Our virgin nourishes us not with milk from the body but with that of which the Apostle speaks, when he says that he nursed, in their tender age, the adolescent people of God.
"What married woman has more children than the Church? She is virgin by the holiness she receives in the sacraments and mother of peoples. Her fruitfulness is attested also by Scripture, which says: 'For more numerous are the children of the deserted wife than the children of her who has a husband' (Isaiah 54:1; Galatians 4:27). Our mother does not have a man, but a spouse, because both the Church in the peoples as well as the soul of each individual -- immune from any infidelity, fruitful in the life of the spirit -- without diminishing their modesty, are married to the Word of God as to an eternal spouse" (I,31: Saemo 14/1, pp. 132-133).
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father gave this summary in English:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today's canticle from Isaiah presents an image of great hope. Jerusalem, which had suffered greatly under the Babylonians, is now blessed with a life of peace and prosperity, and looks forward to a fruitful future. The people thus rejoice and are glad, for they trust in the Lord who comforts and nourishes them, like a mother her baby.
For us, the Church is our mother. She feeds her numerous children with her spouse's Word and the sacraments. Let us pray for the Church that she may always be faithful to her Lord.
I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims here today, including groups from Scotland, Ireland, Saudi Arabia and the United States. May your visit to Castel Gandolfo and Rome deepen your love of the Church. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Happy holidays!
John Paul II Reflects on a Prayer Amid Anguish
VATICAN CITY, JULY 9, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address John Paul II gave at today's general audience, which he dedicated to comment on Psalm 142(143).
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Psalm 142 has just been proclaimed, the last of the so-called Penitential Psalms, which make up the seven supplications distributed in the Psalter (see Psalm 6; 31; 37; 50; 101; 129; 142). Christian tradition has used them to invoke from the Lord the forgiveness of sins. The text which we wish to reflect on today was especially dear to St. Paul, who deduced the radical sinfulness of every human creature: "before you no living being can be just" (verse 2). This phrase is used by the apostle as the basis of his teaching on sin and grace (see Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:20).
The Liturgy of Lauds proposes this supplication to us as a resolution of faithfulness and of imploration of divine help at the beginning of the day. The Psalm, in fact, makes us say to God: "At dawn let me hear of your kindness, for in you I trust" (Psalm 142:8).
2. The Psalm begins with an intense and insistent invocation addressed to God, faithful to the promises of salvation offered to the people (see verse 1). The man of prayer acknowledges that he has no merits to make him worthy and, therefore, humbly asks God not to assume the attitude of a judge (see verse 2).
Then he portrays the dramatic situation, similar to a mortal nightmare, in which he is struggling: The enemy, which is the representation of the evil in history and in the world, has lead him to the threshold of death. There he is, in fact, prostrate in the dust of the earth, which is an image of the sepulcher; he presents the darkness, which is the negation of light, divine sign of life; and mentions, finally, "those long dead," that is, the deceased (see verse 3), among whom he seems already to be relegated.
3. The very existence of the Psalmist is devastated: At this point he has no breath, his heart seems like a piece of ice, unable to continue beating (see verse 4). For the faithful, terrified and trampled upon, only his hands remain free, which are raised to heaven in a gesture that is, at the same time, of imploration of help and a seeking of support (see verse 6). His thoughts revert to the past in which God worked wonders (see verse 5).
This spark of hope warms the ice of suffering and of the trial in which the man of prayer feels himself immersed and about to be swept away (see verse 7). The tension remains, however, ever strong; but a ray of light seems to appear on the horizon. Thus we pass to the second part of the Psalm (see verses 7-11).
4. It begins with a new and urgent invocation. The faithful feeling that life is escaping from him, cries out to God: "Hasten to answer me, Lord; for my spirit fails me" (see verse 7). What is more, he fears that God has hidden his countenance and has distanced himself, abandoning him and leaving his creature alone.
The disappearance of the divine countenance makes man fall into desolation, in fact, into death itself, as the Lord is the source of life. Precisely in this sort of extreme limit flowers trust in God, who does not abandon. The man of prayer multiplies his invocations and supports them with declarations of trust in the Lord. "For in you I trust ... for to you I lift up my soul ... I have fled to you for refuge ... for you are my God." He asked that he be delivered from his enemies (see verses 8-12) and freed from anguish (see verse 11) but he also makes a repeated request, which manifests a profound spiritual aspiration: "Teach me to do your will, for you are my God" (verse 10a; see verses 8b, 10b). We must make our own this admirable request. We must understand that our greatest good is the union of our will with the will of the heavenly Father, because only in this way can we receive all his love, which brings salvation and the fullness of life. If it is not accompanied by a strong desire of docility to God, our trust in him is not authentic.
The man of prayer is aware of this and therefore expresses this desire. He raises a true and proper profession of faith in God the Savior, who breaks the anguish and restores the taste of life, in the name of his "justice," in other words of his loving and salvific faithfulness (see verse 11). Arising from a particularly anguishing situation, prayer leads to hope, to joy and to light, thanks to a sincere adherence to God and to his will, which is a will of love. This is the power of prayer, generator of life and salvation.
5. Fixing his gaze on the morning light of grace (see verse 8), St. Gregory the Great, in his commentary on the seven Penitential Psalms, describes thus the dawn of hope and joy: "It is the day illuminated by that true sun that knows no setting, which the clouds do not render dark and the fog cannot darken. ... When Christ, our life, will appear, and we will begin to see God with an uncovered face, then every shade of darkness will disappear, the smoke of ignorance will vanish, the mist of temptation will dissipate. ... It will be the most luminous and splendid day, prepared for all the elect by him who has snatched us from the power of darkness and has transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.
"The morning of that day is the future resurrection. ... In that morning the happiness of the righteous will shine, glory will appear, exultation will be seen, when God will wipe away every tear from the eyes of the saints, when death, at last, will be destroyed, when the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father.
"That morning, the Lord will make his mercy felt, saying: 'Come blessed of my Father' (Matthew 25:34). Then the mercy of God will be manifested which, in the present life, the human mind cannot conceive. In fact, the Lord has prepared for those who love him that which no eye has seen and no ear has heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man" (LF 79, coll. 649-650).
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father gave this summary in English:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Psalm 142 is the last of the so-called Penitential Psalms. It invokes God's promise of salvation and recalls the past wonders accomplished by the Lord. Faced with adversity and trials, God's holy people do not lose hope, rather they cry out to him, confident that he will hear them and respond. Thus we see the true power of prayer: For those who place their trust in the Lord's faithful and saving love, prayer brings hope, joy and light, and leads to eternal life.
I offer special greetings to the English-speaking visitors present today, especially those from Scotland, New Zealand and the United States of America. May this summer period of rest and relaxation bring you renewed joy and strength in our Lord Jesus Christ. Happy holidays!
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Biblical scholars consider that this final section, open to a splendid and festive future, is the testimony of a subsequent voice, that of a prophet who celebrates the rebirth of Israel after the dark period of the Babylonian exile. We are, therefore, in the sixth century B.C., two centuries after Isaiah's mission, the great prophet under whose name the whole of this inspired work is presented.
From the Catholic Encyclopedia:
The "Second Isaias" gives rise to other more critical and less important problems. With the exception of one or two passages, the point of view throughout this section is that of the Babylonian Captivity; there is an unmistakable difference between the style of these twentyseven chapters and that of the "First Isaias"; moreover, the theological ideas of xl-lxvi show a decided advance on those found in the first thirtynine chapters. If this be true, does it not follow that xl-lxvi are not by the same author as the prophecies of the first collection, and may there not be good grounds for attributing the authorship of these chapters to a "second Isaias" living towards the close of the Babylonian Captivity? Such is the contention of most of the modern nonCatholic scholars.
This is hardly the place for a discussion of so intricate a question. We therefore limit ourselves to stating the position of Catholic scholarship on this point. This is clearly set out in the decision issued by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, 28 June, 1908. (1) Admitting the existence of true prophecy; (2) There is no reason why "Isaias and the other Prophets should utter prophecies concerning only those things which were about to take place immediately or after a short space of time" and not "things that should be fulfilled after many ages". (3) Nor does anything postulate that the Prophets should "always address as their hearers, not those who belonged to the future, but only those who were present and contemporary, so that they could be understood by them". Therefore it cannot be asserted that "the second part of the Book of Isaias (xl-lxvi), in which the Prophet addresses as one living amongst them, not the Jews who were the contemporaries of Isaias, but the Jews mourning in the Exile of Babylon, cannot have for its author Isaias himself, who was dead long before, but must be attributed to some unknown Prophet living among the exiles". In other words, although the author of Isaias xl-lxvi does speak from the point of view of the Babylonian Captivity, yet this is no proof that he must have lived and written in those times. (4) "The philological argument from language and style against the identity of the author of the Book of Isaias is not to be considered weighty enough to compel a man of judgment, familiar with Hebrew and criticism, to acknowledge in the same book a plurality of authors". Differences of language and style between the parts of the book are neither denied nor underrated; it is asserted only that such as they appear, they do not compel one to admit the plurality of authors. (5) "There are no solid arguments to the fore, even taken cumulatively, to prove that the book of Isaias is to be attributed not to Isaias himself alone, but to two or rather to many authors".
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