Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

Ivo Strigel 1430 - 1516
Herz-Jesu-Altar/ The Altarpiece of the Sacred Heart 1505
Kaiserdom St. Bartholomäus, Frankfurt am Main

Ivo Strigel was a member of a large family of painters and sculptors who created a remarkable series of carved altarpieces and church sculptures

As can be seen from the above sculpture, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus existed long before the Visions of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647–1690), Certainly there is evidence of such devotion in the eleventh century.

The German mystical saints of Helfta such as St. Gertrude and St. Mechtilde had particular devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

More recently one of the great modern Popes had a particular affinity with the devotion: Pope Pius XI Not only did he establish an Octave of the Sacred Heart, he published an Encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor (May 8, 1928)entirely devoted to the Devotion and extending it

He raised the Feast to a "Double First" of the Univeral Church with a special prayer in expiation for offences against Christ:

"Wherefore, we decree and command that every year on the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, - which feast indeed on this occasion we have ordered to be raised to the degree of a double of the first class with an octave - in all churches throughout the whole world, the same expiatory prayer or protestation as it is called, to Our most loving Saviour, set forth in the same words according to the copy subjoined to this letter shall be solemnly recited, so that all our faults may be washed away with tears, and reparation may be made for the violated rights of Christ the supreme King and Our most loving Lord."

The Prayer of Reparation is set out in the Encyclical. But here it is:

"Prayer of Reparation

O sweetest Jesus, whose overflowing charity towards men is most ungratefully repaid by such great forgetfulness, neglect and contempt, see, prostrate before Thy altars, we strive by special honor to make amends for the wicked coldness of men and the contumely with which Thy most loving Heart is everywhere treated.

At the same time, mindful of the fact that we too have sometimes not been free from unworthiness, and moved therefore with most vehement sorrow, in the first place we implore Thy mercy on us, being prepared by voluntary expiation to make amends for the sins we have ourselves committed, and also for the sins of those who wander far from the way of salvation, whether because, being obstinate in their unbelief, they refuse to follow Thee as their shepherd and leader, or because, spurning the promises of their Baptism, they have cast off the most sweet yoke of Thy law.

We now endeavour to expiate all these lamentable crimes together, and it is also our purpose to make amends for each one of them severally: for the want of modesty in life and dress, for impurities, for so many snares set for the minds of the innocent, for the violation of feast days, for the horrid blasphemies against Thee and Thy saints, for the insults offered to Thy Vicar and to the priestly order, for the neglect of the Sacrament of Divine love or its profanation by horrible sacrileges, and lastly for the public sins of nations which resist the rights and the teaching authority of the Church which Thou hast instituted.

Would that we could wash away these crimes with our own blood!

And now, to make amends for the outrage offered to the Divine honour, we offer to Thee the same satisfaction which Thou didst once offer to Thy Father on the Cross and which Thou dost continually renew on our altars, we offer this conjoined with the expiations of the Virgin Mother and of all the Saints, and of all pious Christians, promising from our heart that so far as in us lies, with the help of Thy grace, we will make amends for our own past sins, and for the sins of others, and for the neglect of Thy boundless love, by firm faith, by a pure way of life, and by a perfect observance of the Gospel law, especially that of charity; we will also strive with all our strength to prevent injuries being offered to Thee, and gather as many as we can to become Thy followers.

Receive, we beseech Thee, O most benign Jesus, by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Reparatress, the voluntary homage of this expiation, and vouchsafe, by that great gift of final perseverance, to keep us most faithful until death in our duty and in Thy service, so that at length we may all come to that fatherland, where Thou with the Father and the Holy Ghost livest and reignest God for ever and ever. Amen."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Resurrection of Lazarus

Pietro Annigoni (1910–1988)
Risurrezione di Lazzaro (Resurrection of Lazarus) 1946
Oil on canvas
98 x 80 cm
Coll.Arte Rel.Moderna, Città del Vaticano, Vatican

The raising of Lazarus from the dead is one of the most dramatic and important events recorded in Saint John’s Gospel.

The subject occupies a whole chapter: Chapter 11

Thirty seven verses are taken up as an introduction to the action of the miracle and the events before Jesus walks to the tomb of Lazarus

Only six verses are taken up with the recounting of the actual miracle: what Jesus said and did at the tomb and Lazarus coming out of the tomb.

"38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” "

The remainder of the Chapter (12 verses) are about the consequences of the miracle.

The miracle is a reminder that Christ was truly man, experiencing the whole gamut of human feelings and emotions

Blessed Pope John Paul II said (General Audience 3rd February 1988)

"[Christ] truly experienced human feelings of joy, sadness, anger, wonder and love. For example, ... He also wept after the death of his friend Lazarus. "When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, 'Where have you laid him?' They said to him, 'Sir, come and see.' And Jesus wept" (Jn 11:33-35)."

It is also a manifestation of Christ’s power to break the bonds of death and an anticipation of the new creation.

Of this Blessed Pope John Paul II said (General Audience 25th November 1987):

"Among the various dead people raised to life by Jesus, the case of Lazarus of Bethany merits special attention.

His resurrection was a prelude to the cross and resurrection of Christ, which achieved the definitive victory over sin and death.

The evangelist John has left us a detailed description of this event.

For us, let it suffice to refer to the final moment. Jesus asked that the stone which closed the tomb be removed ("Take away the stone"). The dead man's sister Martha observed that her brother had been dead for four days and that there would be a stench. Nevertheless Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" "And the dead man came out," the evangelist tells us (cf. Jn 11:38-43).

This fact caused many of those present to believe in Jesus.

Others, however, went to the representatives of the Sanhedrin to report the event. The chief priests and the Pharisees were alarmed, thinking of the possible reaction of the Roman occupying power ("the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation," Jn 11:45-48).

At that very moment Caiphas' famous words broke the silence of the Sanhedrin, "You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish." The evangelist notes, "He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied."

What was the nature of the prophecy? John gives us the Christian understanding of those words. "Jesus was to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God" (cf. Jn 11:49-52).

As is evident, John's description of the resurrection of Lazarus also contains the essential indications regarding the salvific significance of this miracle.

They are definitive indications, because it was then that the Sanhedrin decided to put Jesus to death (cf. Jn 11:53). It will be the redemptive death "for the nation" and "to gather into one the dispersed children of God," for the salvation of the world. But Jesus has already said that his death would become the definitive victory over death.

On the occasion of the resurrection of Lazarus he assured Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, shall live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die" (Jn 11:25-26)".

In the presence of the people Jesus prays aloud, thanking his Father for the mighty deeds he will do. Christ has a unique relationship with the Father. He reveals this unique relationship so that people will have faith.

Blessed Pope John Paul II (General Audience 3rd March 1999) said:

"Jesus' relationship with the Father is unique.

He knows he is always heard; he knows that through him the Father reveals his glory, even when men may doubt it and need to be convinced by him.

We see all this in the episode of the raising of Lazarus: "So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, "Father I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you hear me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that you sent me"" (Jn 11:41f.).

Because of this unique understanding, Jesus can present himself as the One who reveals the Father with a knowledge that is the fruit of an intimate and mysterious reciprocity, as he emphasizes in his joyful hymn: "All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him" (Mt 11:27)"

God’s saving work is accomplished through Christ so that all will come to believe.

Again Blessed Pope John Paul II said (General Audience 21st October 1987)

"The decisive importance of faith appears even more clearly in the dialogue between Jesus and Martha before the tomb of Lazarus.

"Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise.' Martha said to him, 'I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.' Jesus told her, 'I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?'

She said to him, 'Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world'" (Jn 11:23-27). Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead as a sign of Jesus' own divine power not only to raise the dead, because he is the Lord of life, but also to conquer death he who is the resurrection and the life, as he said to Martha.

Jesus' teaching on faith as a condition of his saving action is summed up and confirmed in his nighttime conversation with Nicodemus, a Jewish leader who was well disposed to him and ready to recognize him as a "teacher come from God" (cf. Jn 3:12)."

As a historical event, it explains the hostile environment in which Jesus operated and explains why the raising of Lazarus led to an increase in the level of hostility towards Christ that people worked actively for his death. It was this event which became the trigger for the arrest of Jesus and the Crucifixion.

Blessed Pope John Paul II said (General Audience: September 28, 1988)

"[W}hat were the circumstances that led to the death of Jesus of Nazareth? How does one explain the fact that he was handed over to death by the representatives of his nation, who delivered him to the Roman procurator, whose name, recorded by the Gospels, is mentioned in the creeds of the faith? ...

We know that there was conflict already at the beginning of Jesus' teaching in his native town. Speaking in the synagogue, the thirty-year-old Nazarene indicated that he was the one in whom Isaiah's announcement of the Messiah was fulfilled. This caused a sense of wonder in his hearers, and later provoked them to wrath. They wished to throw him down headlong from the brow of the hill "on which their city was built...but passing through the midst of them he went away" (Lk 4:29-30). ...

The fact that eventually brought things to a head and led to the decision to kill Jesus was the raising of Lazarus from the dead in Bethany.

John's Gospel informs us that at the subsequent meeting of the Sanhedrin it was stated: "This man performs many signs. If we let him go on thus, every one will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation."

In view of these forecasts and fears Caiaphas, the high priest, said to them, "It is evident that one man should die for the people and that the whole nation should not perish" (Jn 11:47-50).

The evangelist adds, "He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God, who are scattered abroad." And he concludes, "So from that day on they took counsel how to put him to death" (Jn 11:51-53).

In this way John informs us of the twofold aspect of the position adopted by Caiaphas.

From the human point of view, which could be more accurately described as opportunist, it was an attempt to justify the elimination of a man regarded as politically dangerous, without caring about his innocence. From a higher point of view, made his own and noted by the evangelist, Caiaphas' words, independently of his intention, had a truly prophetic content regarding the mystery of Christ's death according to God's salvific plan."

Monday, June 27, 2011

David playing a Psaltery

Blessed Fra Angelico (c.1395/1400 - 1455)
David playing a Psaltery
c. 1430
On vellum: Pen and brown ink, with purple wash, over stylus indications, some ruled, with the blank areas such as the halo burnished
197 millimetres x 178 millimetres
The British Museum, London

This is one of the few extant drawings by Fra Angelico

David is playing the psaltery. The psaltery was a type of zither, based on a very old instrument similar to the harp or the lyre.

The drawing appears to be a cutting from a psalter

The verso has an index on the left with a list of psalms and hymns and when they are to be sung

It also contains the words:

" In Christi nomine amen. Incipit psalterium secundum morem et consuetudimen romane curiae''Ad nocturnum. Psalmus David' ('In the name of Christ. Amen. Here begins the psalter according to the customs and uses of the Roman curia .At nocturns. The Psalm of David')."

After Masaccio's premature death in 1428, Fra Angelico emerged as the city's most modern and sought-after artist.

It is instructive to compare the work with Fra Angelico`s depiction of King David in a psalter in the Convent San Marco in Florence.

The depiction of King David in Florence had a particular significance because of the identification by the city with David: youth, beauty, musical ability, poet, military ability against overwhelming odds, kingship. All these qualities would have appealed to the Florentine audience.

But it is unlike other representations of David in Florence showing David holding the head of a slain Goliath or a David with a sling under the influence of fear, tension and aggression. Here we see a more religious interpretation (than political) of the King David, the greatest of all the Kings of Israel. David is alone with God, praising him.

The playing by David of the psaltery is the praise of God. It is not only with the voice but with musical instrument In Psalm 150 we are told:

" Praise him with the sound of the trumpet:
Praise him withe psaltery and the harp.
Praise him with the timbrel and the dance:
Praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
Praise him upon the loud cymbals:
Praise him upon the high sounding cymbals."

Fra Angelico`s David is the David of Psalm 62 (Psalm 63):the one who hungers and thirst for the Lord, for mystical communion with God. The David who considers his own life is less or secondary to the Love of God. Without the Love of God, David`s life has no meaning. With God, fear is dispelled and "in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy." It is a song heart felt sung and meant with every fibre of his being: " My soul clings fast to you",

"A psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.

O God, you are my God - for you I long! For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts, Like a land parched, lifeless, and without water.

So I look to you in the sanctuary to see your power and glory.

For your love is better than life; my lips offer you worship!

I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands, calling on your name.

My soul shall savour the rich banquet of praise, with joyous lips my mouth shall honour you!

When I think of you upon my bed, through the night watches I will recall

That you indeed are my help, and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.

My soul clings fast to you; your right hand upholds me.

But those who seek my life will come to ruin; they shall go down to the depths of the earth!

They shall be handed over to the sword and become the prey of jackals!

But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by the Lord shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be shut!"

Here is a beautiful rendition of Purcell`s O God, thou art my God.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Adoro te devote

Peter Paul Rubens 1577 - 1640
The Triumph of Divine Love / Triunfo del Amor Divino
1625 - 1626
Oil on wood
86,5 cm x 91 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

In 1625 the Archduchess Isabel Clara Eugenia commissioned Rubens to design a series of 16 tapestries for the Monasterio de las Descalzas de Madrid

Each tapestry was a variation on some aspect of the Eucharist

In this work The Triumph of Divine Love, the female figure personifies Love or Charity

An angel holds the fiery heart of Divine Love

Another important figure standing on the chariot is the Pelican, bleeding and feeding its young with its blood. This of course represents the Eucharist

The bleeding Pelican feeding its young with its blood has been historically a representation of the Eucharist, as well as the Passion. See below

A Pelican Bleeding to Feed Its Young
18th century
Wooden sculpture
39cm H ; 69cm L ; 38cm P
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Angers

In the Eucharistic hymn Adoro te devote ascribed to St Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 7 March 1274) the last two verses refer to the Pelican:

Pie Pelicane, Jesu Domine,
Me immundum munda tuo sanguine:
Cujus una stilla salvum facere
Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.

Jesu, quem velatum nunc aspicio,
Oro, fiat illud quod tam sitio:
Ut te revelata cernens facie,
Visu sim beátus tuæ gloriæ. Amen

Pelican of mercy, Jesu, Lord and God,
Cleanse me, wretched sinner, in Thy Precious Blood:
Blood where one drop for human-kind outpoured
Might from all transgression have the world restored.

Jesu, whom now veiled, I by faith descry,
What my soul doth thirst for, do not, Lord, deny,
That thy face unveiled, I at last may see,
With the blissful vision blest, my God, of Thee. Amen

There are of course two beautiful translations into English of Adoro te devote. The first is by the English Victorian Jesuit who was a Classics scholar and Star of Balliol, Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889).

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at Thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God's Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth Himself speaks truly or there's nothing true.

On the cross Thy godhead made no sign to men,
Here Thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;
Let me to a deeper faith daily nearer move,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,
Lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what Thy bosom ran
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
Some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
And be blest for ever with Thy glory's sight. Amen

The other English translation is by the English convert and priest Father Edward Caswall (1814 - 1874) a member of Cardinal Newman`s Oratory in Birmingham, and by John Mason Neale (1818-1866)

Caswall is of course a well known name in the British Catholic hymnals

The Very Soul of the Church

Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)
Jésus-Christ instituant l'Eucharistie
Jesus Christ instituting the Eucharist
Oil on canvas
3.250m x 2.5 m
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Poussin chose to illustrate the Seven Sacraments by scenes of the life of Christ. He evoked the Eucharist by the founding episode of the Last Supper before the Passion.

This representation of the Eucharist was commissioned by Louis XIII for the Chapel of the château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Poussin of course portrayed several versions of the same theme.

In this version we do not see Christ seated at table with his disciples. Here Christ has got up from the table. In one hand is the broken bread, the other the cup with wine. He is distributing these to the kneeling apostles.

The principal figure is Christ. He has our attention. There is no other figure which competes with this figure. It has something of a divine air. The apostles have a touch of the Hebraic in their features.

The architecture of the setting is Grecian - a temple where the classical ideas of beauty, the perfect are embodied. It is not the Upper Room.

Christ and the spostles are dressed in what appears to be Roman dress ?

This is not merely a depiction of a historical event. It is the depiction of an event which transcended time and place.

In this week has fallen the Great feast of Corpus Christ. In 1902 on the vigil of Corpus Christi Pope Leo XIII published his great Encyclical on the Eucharist, Mirae Caritatis.

In it he described the Sacrament of the Eucharist as "the very soul of the Church".

Here is part:

"14....This Sacrament [the Eucharist], whether as the theme of devout meditation, or as the object of public adoration, or best of all as a food to be received in the utmost purity of conscience, is to be regarded as the centre towards which the spiritual life of a Christian in all its ambit gravitates; for all other forms of devotion, whatsoever they may be, lead up to it, and in it find their point of rest.

In this mystery more than in any other that gracious invitation and still more gracious promise of Christ is realised and finds its daily fulfilment: "Come to me all ye that labour and are heavily burdened, and I will refresh you" (St. Matt. xi., 28).

15. In a word this Sacrament is, as it were, the very soul of the Church; and to it the grace of the priesthood is ordered and directed in all its fulness and in each of its successive grades.

From the same source the Church draws and has all her strength, all her glory, her every supernatural endowment and adornment, every good thing that is here; wherefore she makes it the chiefest of all her cares to prepare the hearts of the faithful for an intimate union with Christ through the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, and to draw them thereto. And to this end she strives to promote the veneration of the august mystery by surrounding it with holy ceremonies ...

16. History bears witness that the virtues of the Christian life have flourished best wherever and whenever the frequent reception of the Eucharist has most prevailed. And on the other hand it is no less certain that in days when men have ceased to care for this heavenly bread, and have lost their appetite for it, the practice of Christian religion has gradually lost its force and vigour"

Pope Leo XIII, Mirae Caritatis (On the Holy Eucharist) (28th May 1902)(The Vigil of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi)

Friday, June 24, 2011

King David and the Psalms

Blessed Fra Angelico
ca. 1400 - 1455
King David
From Psalter
Tempera and gold on parchment
395 x 275 mm
Museo di San Marco, Florence

Jean de Rély (d 1498). and Atelier du maître de Jacques de Besançon
Le Roi David jouant de la lyre. Portrait de Charles VIII
King David playing the Lyre. Portrait of King Charles VIII
From Latin Psalter with French translation
c. 1498
Illuminated manuscript on parchment
RC-C-03768, MSS LATIN 774 Folio 1
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris

The oldest texts of the Book of Psalms contain 73 titles that include the expression “ledawid” (“of David”). Thus the attribution of these psalms to the authorship of King David. Some scholars dispute the fact that he actually wrote these Psalms.

However David had many qualities which led to his fame as a psalmist. He was a renowned as a musician and a poet. He was a man of deep feeling, emotion and imagination. He truly worshipped God. He had a wide and varied experience. He was endowed with the Spirit of God.

In Psalm 63:1 he wrote:

“O God, Thou art my God; I shall seek Thee earnestly; my soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee…“

Again in Psalm 51:11 he wrote:

“Do not cast me away from Thy presence, and do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me.”

The Psalter ministers to the needs of the private devotional life. Thus the many Psalters from the medieval eriod and before. Such Psalters which are in museums and libraries demonstrate the great veneration afforded to the use of the Psalter and the reading of the Psalms

But as can be seen from the post below, often in the history of the Church and in the history of a nation, some great conflict or event has carried the use of the Psalms out from the realm of private prayer into the open places of a tumultuous world.

But in their origin the Psalms and the Psalter were a part of the life and prayer and song of the writers themselves

Geerhardus Vos said of the Psalms:

"The deeper fundamental character of the Psalter consists ... that it voices the subjective response to the objective doings of God for and among his people.

Subjective responsiveness is the specific quality of these songs.

As prophecy is objective, being the address of Jehovah to Israel in word and act, so the Psalter is subjective, being the answer of Israel to that divine speech."
Geerhardus Vos, Eschatology of the Psalter, The Princeton Theological Review 18 (Jan. 1920) 1-43

Of King David and the Psalms, the Pope recently said (on Wednesday last):

"[T]he Jewish tradition has also given specific titles to many of the psalms, attributing them in great part to King David.

A figure of notable human and theological depth, David is a complex personality who passed through the most varied experiences fundamental to life. A young shepherd of his father's flock -- passing through the ups and downs and at times dramatic events of life -- he becomes king of Israel, the shepherd of God's people.

Although a man of peace, he fought many wars; an untiring and tenacious seeker of God, yet he betrayed His love, and this is characteristic: He always remained a seeker of God, even though he sinned gravely many times; a humble penitent, he received divine forgiveness, even divine pity, and he accepted a fate marked by suffering.

Thus, in all his weakness, David was a king "after God's own heart" (cf. 1 Samuel 13:14); that is, a passionate man of prayer, a man who knew what it meant to petition and to praise.

The connection of the Psalms with this illustrious king of Israel is important, then, for he is a messianic figure, the Lord's Anointed, in whom the mystery of Christ is in some way foreshadowed"

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Maître de fauvel
King David the Musician at Psalm 80
(psalmus david. exultate deo adjutori nostro jubilate)
From Illuminated Bible
Français 156, Folio : 269v
Département des Manuscrits, Division occidentale. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris

Last Wednesday, the Pope continued his catechesis on Prayer with a general talk about the Psalms

Amongst other things the Pope said:

"The book of the Psalter was given to Israel and to the Church precisely in order that the people of believers might be permitted to unite themselves to this song.

The Psalms, in fact, teach us to pray. In them, the Word of God becomes the word of prayer -- and they are the Psalmists' inspired words -- which also become the word of the one who prays the Psalms.

This is the beauty and the special nature of this biblical book: Unlike other prayers we find in sacred Scripture, the prayers contained [in the Book of Psalms] are not inserted into a narrative story which specifies either their meaning or their function.

The Psalms are given to the believer precisely as a text of prayer, which has as its one end that of becoming the prayer of the one who takes them up and, with them, addresses himself to God. Since they are the Word of God, he who prays the Psalms speaks to God with the very words that God has given to us; he addresses Him with the words that He Himself gives us. Thus, in praying the Psalms we learn to pray.

They are a school of prayer."

Over the ages the fact that the text of the Psalms becomes our word, the word of the one who utters the text can be illustrated by Psalm 122 (Psalm 121)

Here is the King James Version:

"A Song of Degrees of David"

1 I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.

2Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.

3Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together:

4Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the LORD.

5For there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David.

6Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.

7Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.

8For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee.

9Because of the house of the LORD our God I will seek thy good"

It was incorporated into Claudio Monteverdi`s Vespro della Beata Vergine 1610 (Vespers for the Blessed Virgin, 1610)

And here is Parry`s version I was Glad on the occasion of Her Majesty the Queen`s Golden Jubilee celebrated in St Paul`s Cathedral in London (as well as other special State occasions such as her Coronation)

The opening words of Psalm 122: “What joy when they said to me, ‘We will go to the House of the Lord.’” is a traditional response to great State occasions of celebration and of national Thanksgiving

Recently the International Edition of l`Osservatore Romano reminded us of the importance of the Psalm in the history of St Paul`s Cathedral (the scene of many national celebrations):
"It was December 2, 1697, 31 years after the terrible fire which destroyed London. The reconstruction of St. Paul’s Cathedral had been accomplished so quickly that it was possible to celebrate a solemn mass of thanksgiving for peace following the Treaty of Ryswick. The English were no longer at war with the French and the peace agreement favored the English King, William III.

The Bishop of London, Henry Compton, dedicated his homily to Psalm 122: “What joy when they said to me, ‘We will go to the House of the Lord.’”

Compton preached that it was not only as Englishmen, but especially as Londoners, that the faithful present should give thanks to God who allowed them to finally erase the last traces of the destruction caused by the fire, and to pray in a place which had seen the devotion of many generations.

It was the fourth time that a church had been dedicated to the Apostle in that place. The first church had been built in 604 by King Ethelbert of Kent."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Prayer and Psalms

Camille Claudel
Le Psaume (La Prière)/ The Psalm (The Prayer) 1889
Bronze sculpture
H. 45; L. 31,5; P. 38 cm.
Musée Boucher-de-Perthes, Abbeville

This work has had three titles.

Originally it was entitled La Prière (Prayer)

Later it was called Buste à capuchon (Bust of a capuchin)

By 1894, it ended up being called Le Psaume (The Psalm)

In March 1898 Mathias Morhardt (editor of "Le Temps") wrote a monograph about Camille Claudel for the Mercure de France which proved influential in establishing her artistic reputation. In it he said that the work was more an expressive head than an allegorical work. Of he wrote that the work evoked:

«la Prière tendre, humaine, vivante, sincère, la simple et vraie Prière, telle que les maîtres du XVIe siècle nous l'ont montrée».

("Gentle, human, living, sincere Prayer, simple and true prayer, that type [of prayer] which the Masters of the 16th Century showed us.")

The work was executed at a time when she was involved in an affair with François-Auguste-René Rodin (12 November 1840 – 17 November 1917), a deep but horribly destructive relationship which only ended in 1898. As well as romantic, the two artists were united in their artistic work so much so it has been said that it is hard to see who influenced whom.

Rodin never fulfilled the promises he made to Claudel and was never faithful to her. She, on the other hand, was utterly devoted to him while the relationship lasted.

While Rodin`s fame flourished and he achieved world wide renown in his lifetime, Claudel`s career never took off during her life. It has only been after her death that her true worth and greatness have been belatedly recognised. There is evidence that on occasion Rodin and his set did consciously cause set backs to Claudel`s career.

At this time, a sculptor who was a woman was not recognised.

Her health first started to break down in 1906. She started to destroy some of her sculptures with a hammer. She continued to work but eventually she was committed to a mental health institution by her family in 1913.

By 1914 the doctors were writing to her family asking them to integrate her back into the family. They refused all such requests and she died in an institution and was buried in a common grave with no marker. Her family did not attend.

A butterfly broken on the wheel ? Perhaps. Here is a scene from Bruno Nuytten's 1988 film Camille Claudel with Isabelle Adjani in the title role and Gérard Depardieu as Auguste Rodin (English sub titles)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Body and Soul

Of the "soul", The Catholic Encyclopedia states:

"The question of the reality of the soul and its distinction from the body is among the most important problems of philosophy, for with it is bound up the doctrine of a future life"

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides a brief outline of the idea of "soul" in pre Socratic and later times. The Platonic and Aristotleian ideas about the soul had great influence on the early Church fathers.

Arnolfo di Cambio (c. 1240 – 1300/1310)
Christ and a Soul (fragment)
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence

The separate existence of the soul (distinct from the body) and the duality of body and soul have been long standing and recurrent ideas in philosophy and theology.

As well as in painting and in literature.

Joachim Patinir (ca. 1480 - 1524)
El paso de la laguna Estigia (Crossing the River Styx) / Charon crossing the Styx
1520 - 1524
Oil on wood
64 x 103 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Here Patinir shows the choice made by a soul crossing the Styx between Paradise (on the left) and Hades (on the right)

The struggle between the two is seen in a number of Shakespeare`s sonnets including this one:

Sonnet 146

Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
[Thwart ?] these rebel powers that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body's end?

Then soul, live thou upon thy servant's loss
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more.

So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And, Death once dead, there's no more dying then.

Shakespeare addresses his soul. He counsels it to turn inwards and turn away from temporary attractions enjoyed by the body. He describes the relationship between the body and the soul. Bound together till parted at death and struggling for supremacy.

He goads the soul to assert ascendancy over the base desires of the body: short sighted, gaudy, temporary and impermanent. He chides himself for weakness of faith and resolve to lead the moral life despite knowing the short comngs of what he regards as the temptations of the flesh. The attractions of the bodily passions are strong and overwhelming against his puny soul

In the final couplet he encourages the soul to look ahead to immortality conferred by Salvation: the Day of Final Judgment

"So shall thou feed on Death that feeds on men
And Death once dead, there`s no more dying then."

This couplet reminds us of 1 Corinthians 15 when St Paul considers Death, Resurrection and the Last Judgment:

"24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ.

28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all."

"51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?” "

In these last two lines of his sonnet Shakespeare pithily points out the tragedy of self-deception and self denial.

Perhaps it is no wonder that the sonnets which precede and which are subsequent to this one, show the earthly passions firmly in the ascendant. His Love for the beloved can not be curbed or defeated by Reason and common sense

It is a common situation. It is part of the human condition.

But is the solution to see body and soul as two distinct entities at war with each other and fighting for supremacy ? By doing so is "defeat" guaranteed ?

Francisco Ribalta (1565 – 14 January 1628)
El alma bienaventurada
The Blessed soul
1605 - 1610
Oil on canvas
58 cm x 46 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Francisco Ribalta (1565 – 14 January 1628)
El alma en pena
The soul in pain
1605 - 1610
Oil on canvas
58 cm x 46 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

One brings to mind the discussion of eros in Part I of Pope Benedict XVI`s first Encyclical Deus Caritas Est

"Amid this multiplicity of meanings [of the word "Love"], however, one in particular stands out: love between man and woman, where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness. This would seem to be the very epitome of love; all other kinds of love immediately seem to fade in comparison. ...

5. ...[T]there is a certain relationship between love and the Divine: love promises infinity, eternity—a reality far greater and totally other than our everyday existence. Yet we have also seen that the way to attain this goal is not simply by submitting to instinct.

Purification and growth in maturity are called for; and these also pass through the path of renunciation. Far from rejecting or “poisoning” eros, they heal it and restore its true grandeur.

This is due first and foremost to the fact that man is a being made up of body and soul.

Man is truly himself when his body and soul are intimately united; the challenge of eros can be said to be truly overcome when this unification is achieved.

Should he aspire to be pure spirit and to reject the flesh as pertaining to his animal nature alone, then spirit and body would both lose their dignity. On the other hand, should he deny the spirit and consider matter, the body, as the only reality, he would likewise lose his greatness."

One also wonders if Shakespeare`s promise to the soul of future glory is a sufficient and proper incentive to do what is right ? From the other sonnets, the failure to control his passions is perhaps not unexpected.

Again, the Encyclical of Pope Benedict is instructive as we see from the following passage which ends with a quotation from 1 Corinthians 15, the chapter which Shakespeare refers to in his sonnet:

"18. ...Love of God and love of neighbour are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment.

But both live from the love of God who has loved us first.

No longer is it a question, then, of a “commandment” imposed from without and calling for the impossible, but rather of a freely-bestowed experience of love from within, a love which by its very nature must then be shared with others.

Love grows through love.

Love is “divine” because it comes from God and unites us to God; through this unifying process it makes us a “we” which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28)."

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Prayer of Elijah

On 26th August 1846 an audience of two thousand packed into Birmingham Town Hall for the first performance of Mendelssohn`s oratorio Elijah. It was conducted by the composer himself. It was an unprecedented success. No less than four choruses and four arias were encored, and the applause evidently bordered on the hysterical.

The second performance was attended by Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert.

It was Mendelssohn`s last major triumph. He died on 4th November 1847.

However Elijah established itself as second only to Handel`s Messiah in popular affection

Here is the rendition of the prayer of Elijah, "Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel", one of the most famous prayers in the Old Testament.

It is in German with Friedrich Schorr singing "Herr Gott Abrahams" with the London Symphony Orchestra and John Barbirolli, conductor in London on 11 May 1931.

"Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, this day let it be known that Thou art God, and that I am Thy servant!

Lord God of Abraham! Oh shew to all this people that I have done these things according to Thy word.

Oh hear me, Lord, and answer me! Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, oh hear me and answer me, and shew this people that Thou art Lord God.

And let their hearts again be turned"

It is a model prayer, remarkable for its clarity, its simplicity and its utmost candour. It is noted for its brevity and its faith

It is this prayer which was the subject of Pope Benedict`s catechesis on Elijah and Prayer on Wednesday last (15th June 2011)

Philipps van Galle
Elia wedijvert met de profeten van Baäl
Elijah competes with the Prophets of Baal
1575 -1600
Print engraving
207 mm x 285 mm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Lucas Cranach the Younger
Elijah and the Priests of Baal 1545
Oil on wood
1.275 x 2.42 m
Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden

The scene

The setting is Mount Carmel. Sometime in the 9th century BC. It is the height of a drought and famine. Three years previously God had announced through Elijah that he was punishing King Ahab and the people by sending a drought. No rain had fallen since then. Ahab goaded on by his wife Jezebel had introduced the worship of Baal into the nation. The drought was punishment for idolatry.

The punishment only made Ahab and his Queen more resolute in their determination to persevere with the new worship. The old dispensation and its priests (as well as Elijah) had been hunted down and killed. The survivors along with Elijah had to go underground.

Three years on God calls on Elijah to lead the final confrontation with Baal and the worshippers of Baal.

The Pope said:

"We are in the Northern Kingdom, in the 9th century B.C., at the time of King Ahab, in a moment when, in Israel, a situation of open syncretism had developed. In addition to the Lord, the people also adored Baal, the reassuring idol from which they believed came the gift of rain, and to whom they therefore attributed the power of giving fruitfulness to the fields and life to men and livestock alike.

Although they claimed to follow the Lord, the invisible and mysterious God, the people also sought security in a comprehensible and predictable god, from which they thought they could obtain fecundity and prosperity in exchange for sacrifice. Israel was yielding to the seduction of idolatry -- a continual temptation for the believer -- by fooling itself into thinking it could "serve two masters" (cf. Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13) and ease the impenetrable ways of faith in the Almighty by also placing its trust in a powerless god fashioned by man.

It is precisely in order to unmask the deceptive foolishness of such an attitude that Elijah has the people of Israel gather on Mount Carmel and puts before them the necessity of making a choice:

"If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him" (1 Kings 18:21

And the prophet, the bearer of God's love, does not leave his people alone before this choice, but helps them by pointing out [to them] the sign that will reveal the truth: Both he and the prophets of Baal will prepare a sacrifice and will pray, and the true God will reveal himself by responding with the fire that will consume the offering.

Thus begins the confrontation between the Prophet Elijah and the followers of Baal, which in reality is between the Lord of Israel, the God of salvation and of life, and a mute and empty idol that can do nothing, neither good nor evil (cf. Jeremiah 10:5).

There also begins the confrontation between two completely different ways of turning to God and ways of prayer."

The contest

Print made by Philips Galle
After Maarten van Heemskerck
The story of Elijah and the priests of Baal
Engraving print
205 millimetres x 250 millimetres
The British Museum, London
(The priests calling the name of Baal; priests dance around a pyre with a dismembered bull; Elijah and Ahab look on at left; after Heemskerck. 1567)

Mendelssohn's Elijah No. 10 "As God the Lord of Sabaoth"

Mendelssohn's Elijah No. 11 "Baal, we cry to thee."

Mendelssohn's Elijah No. 12 & 13 "Call him louder!"

"25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it.

Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.

27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD, which had been torn down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs[a] of seed. 33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”

34 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.

“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.

36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed."(1 Kings 18: 25 - 36)

The Pope said:

"The prophets of Baal in fact cry aloud, stir themselves up, dance limping about, and enter into a state of excitement that culminates in them cutting their own bodies "with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them" (1 Kings 18:28).

They turn to themselves in order to approach their god, relying on their own abilities to bring about a response. The idol's deceptive reality is thus revealed: Man thinks of it as something that can be regulated, [something] that can be managed with one's own strength, that can be accessed on the basis of oneself and one's own vital forces.

The adoration of an idol, instead of opening the human heart to the Other, and to a freeing relationship that allows one to leave egoism's narrow confines in order to enter the dimensions of love and reciprocal gift, closes the human person up within the exclusive and desperate circle of self seeking.

And the deception is such that, in adoring the idol, man finds himself forced to resort to extreme acts in the illusory attempt to subject it to his own will.

For this reason, the prophets of Baal reach the point of even doing themselves harm, of inflicting themselves with wounds, in a dramatically ironic gesture: In order to get a response, some sign of life from their god, they cover themselves in blood, thereby symbolically covering themselves in death.

Elijah's attitude to prayer is quite other. He asks the people to come near, thereby involving them in his action and in his petition.

The goal of the challenge he posed to the prophets of Baal was to bring back to God the people who had gone astray by following idols; he therefore wants Israel to unite itself to him, and to thereby become a participant and protagonist in his prayer and in all that is happening.

Then the prophet erects an altar, making use of -- as the text says --"twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, 'Israel shall be your name'" (verse 31).

These stones represent all Israel and are the tangible memorial of its history of election, of predilection and of salvation of which the people were the object.

Elijah's liturgical action has a decisive impact: The altar is the sacred place that indicates the Lord's presence, but the stones that form it represent the people, who now, through the prophet's mediation, are symbolically placed before God, becoming an "altar," the place of offering and of sacrifice.

But it is necessary that the symbol become a reality, that Israel acknowledge the true God and rediscover its own identity as the Lord's own people.

For this reason, Elijah asks the Lord to reveal Himself, and the twelve stones intended to remind Israel of its own truth also serve to remind the Lord of His fidelity, which the prophet appeals to in prayer."

Attributed to J. A. Marienhof (Dutch painter, active ca.1640-1649)
The Sacrifice of Elijah
Oil on canvas
46.5 x 60.5 cm
The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, Co. Durham

Albert Joseph Moore (1841-1893)
Elijah's Sacrifice (1863; exh. RA 1865)
Oil on canvas
Bury Art Gallery & Museum, Bury, Lancashire

Albert Moore 1841-1893
Studies for `Elijah's Sacrifice' circa 1864
Drawing on paper
support: 210 x 254 mm
Tate Britain, London

Albert Moore 1841-189
Study for `Elijah's Sacrifice' circa 1864
Watercolour on paper
support: 286 x 216 mm
Tate Britain, London

The Prayer of Elijah

Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, this day let it be known that Thou art God, and that I am Thy servant! Lord God of Abraham! Oh shew to all this people that I have done these things according to Thy word. Oh hear me, Lord, and answer me! Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, oh hear me and answer me, and shew this people that Thou art Lord God. And let their hearts again be turned

Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee. He never will suffer the righteous to fall: He is at thy right hand. Thy mercy, Lord, is great, and far above the heavens. Let none be made ashamed, that wait upon Thee!

O Thou, who makest Thine angels spirits; Thou, whose ministers are flaming fires: let them now descend!

The People
The fire descends from heaven! The flames consume his offering! Before Him upon your faces fall! The Lord is God, the Lord is God! O Israel hear! Our God is one Lord, and we will have no other gods before the Lord.

The Pope said

"The words of his invocation are dense in meaning and in faith:

"O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that thou, O Lord, art God, and that thou hast turned their hearts back" (verses 36-37; cf. Genesis 32:36-37).

Elijah turns to the Lord, calling Him God of the Fathers; he thus makes implicit reference to the divine promises and to the history of election and covenant that indissolubly united the Lord to His people.

God's involvement in mankind's history is such that His Name is now inseparably connected with those of the Patriarchs, and the prophet pronounces that holy Name so that God might remember and reveal His fidelity; but he also does this in order that Israel might hear itself called by name and rediscover its own faithfulness.

But Elijah's pronouncement of the divine title appears a bit surprising.

Instead of using the usual formula, "God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob," he employs a less common appellative: "God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel."

The substitution of the Name "Jacob" with "Israel" evokes Jacob's struggle at the ford of the Jabbok along with the name change to which the narrator makes explicit reference (cf. Genesis 32:21) and which I spoke about in one of the most recent catecheses. This substitution becomes pregnant with meaning within the context of Elijah's invocation.

The prophet is praying for the people of the Northern Kingdom, which was called Israel, as distinct from Judah, which indicated the Southern Kingdom.

And now, this people, who seem to have forgotten their own origins and their own privileged relationship with the Lord, hear themselves called by name, as the Name of God -- God of the Patriarch and God of the people -- is also pronounced:

"Lord, God [ … ] of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel."

The people for whom Elijah prays is placed once again before its own truth, and the prophet asks that the Lord's truth also be revealed, and that He intervene in Israel's conversion by turning it away from the deception of idolatry, thus bringing it to salvation.

His request is that the people finally know -- and know in fullness -- who truly is their God, and that they make the decisive choice to follow Him alone, the true God. For only in this way is God acknowledged as He truly is – Absolute and Transcendent -- without the possibility of putting him next to other gods, which would deny Him as the Absolute by relativizing Him.

This is the faith that makes Israel God's people; it is the faith proclaimed in the well known text of the Shema'Israel:

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

To God's absolute, the believer must respond with an absolute, total love that commits his entire life, his strength, his heart. And by his prayer, the prophet begs conversion precisely for his people's hearts:

"that this people may know that thou, O Lord, art God, and that thou hast turned their hearts back!" (1 Kings 18:37).

By his intercession, Elijah asks of God what God himself desires to do -- reveal Himself in all His mercy, faithful to His own reality as the Lord of life who forgives, converts and transforms."

God responds to Elijah`s prayer

The Pope continued:

"And so it happens:

"Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, 'The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God'" (verses 38-39).

Fire, this element at the same time so necessary and so terrible, which is tied to the divine manifestations of the burning bush and of Sinai, now serves to signal the love of God that responds to prayer and reveals itself to His people. Baal, the mute and powerless god, failed to respond to his prophets' invocations.

It was the Lord who responded, and in an unequivocal way, not only by burning the holocaust, but even by drying up all of the water that had been poured out around the altar. Israel can no longer doubt; divine mercy has come to meet them in their weakness, in their doubt, in their lack of faith. Now, Baal the vain idol is conquered, and the people, who seemed lost, rediscover the path of truth and rediscover themselves."

Musa son of Stefan (from Aleppo, Syria)
c. 17th century
Elijah thanks God after the triumph over the priests of Baal
Painted porcelain tile
Musée du Louvre, Paris

The Pope concludes

"[W]hat does this history of the past have to say to us? What is this history's present?

What is in question here first and foremost is the priority of the first commandment: to adore God alone. Where God disappears, man falls into the slavery of idolatry, as the totalitarian regimes of our own time have demonstrated, along with the various forms of nihilism that make man dependent upon idols, upon idolatry -- they enslave him.

Second: the primary end of prayer is conversion: the fire of God transforms our hearts and makes us capable of seeing God, of living according to God and of living for the other.

And the third point: The Fathers tell us that this history of a prophet is also prophetic, if -- they say -- it foreshadows the future, the future Christ, it is a step on the path to Christ. And they tell us that here we see the true fire of God: the love that leads the Lord all the way to the Cross, to the total gift of Himself. True adoration of God, then, is to give oneself to God and to men -- true adoration is love.

And true adoration of God does not destroy, but renews. Certainly, the fire of God, the fire of love burns, transforms, purifies, but it is precisely in this way that it does not destroy but rather creates the truth of our being, recreates our hearts.

And thus, truly alive by the grace of the fire of the Holy Spirit, of God's love, may we be adorers in spirit and in truth."

Other Matters

For the full oratorio [108 mins] by Chapel Choir & St. Olaf Orchestra in Minnesota you may wish to click the link