God Condemns Evil and Rewards Faithfulness
Pope John Paul II met with 15,000 pilgrims in St. Peter's Square for his general audience May 26. He continued his teachings on the psalms and canticles of the Liturgy of the Hours with a meditation on a canticle found in Chapters 11 and 12 of the Book of Revelation.
The canticle, which is probably an ancient liturgical hymn of the early Church, is a hymn of praise to God, the Lord of history and of the world, who is about to establish his kingdom of justice, love and truth.
“In this prayer, we hear the heartbeat of the righteous, who await in hope the coming of the Lord,” the Holy Father said. “He will cast his light on those events in the history of mankind that are often immersed in the darkness of sin, injustice, deceit and violence.”
God condemns evil and rewards faithfulness, the Pope noted, but he is not lacking in compassion: “He is justice, but above all he is love.” Satan, the accuser, is cast out and has no more power over the righteous, the Holy Father said, thanks to the passion and death of Christ the Redeemer, and the heavenly hosts are invited to sing out in joy for the salvation that has been wrought.
At the end of his talk, John Paul encouraged all believers to join in a great hymn of “festive thanksgiving that is full of hope, despite the trials that mark our journey toward glory.” He recalled the last words of St. Polycarp of Smyrna, an early Christian martyr, whose prayer echoed the words of the canticle.
The canticle we have just lifted up to the Lord God Almighty, which is part of the Liturgy of the Hours' evening prayer, consists of a selection of verses from Chapters 11 and 12 of the Book of Revelation. The last of the seven trumpets that resound in this book of struggle and hope has just blared. At this point, the 24 elders of the heavenly court, who represent all the righteous people of the Old and New Covenant (see Revelation 4:4, 11:16), sing out a hymn that was probably already being used in the early Church's liturgical gatherings. They are worshipping God, the ruler of history and of the world, who is now ready to establish his kingdom of justice, love and truth.
In this prayer, we hear the heartbeats of the righteous, who await in hope the coming of the Lord; he will cast his light on those events in the history of mankind that are often immersed in the darkness of sin, injustice, deceit and violence.
The song the 24 elders sing refers to two psalms: Psalm 2, which is a messianic song (see 2:1-5), and Psalm 99, which celebrates God's kingship (see 99:1). Thus, the Lord's just and final judgment, which he is just about to carry out over the entire history of mankind, is exalted.
King and Judge
There are two aspects to this valuable intervention, just as there are two characteristics that describe God's nature. Indeed, he is the judge, but he is also the Savior; he condemns evil but rewards faithfulness; he is justice, but above all he is love.
The identities of those who are righteous — those who have been saved and are now in the Kingdom of God — are important. They span three categories of the “servants” of the Lord: namely, the prophets, the saints and those who fear his name (see Revelation 11:18). It is a sort of spiritual portrait of God's people, according to the gifts they have received in baptism and that have been brought to fruition through a life of faith and love — a portrait that is embodied in both those who are small and those who are great (see Revelation 19:5).
A Spiritual Battle
As we already noted, this hymn is further elaborated by using some verses from Chapter 12, which refer to a rather grandiose and glorious scene from the Book of Revelation. In this scene, the woman who gave birth to the Messiah clashes with the dragon of wickedness and violence. In this duel between good and evil, between the Church and Satan, a heavenly voice suddenly resounds to announce the defeat of the “accuser” (see 12:10). This word is a translation of the Hebrew word Satán, which, according to the Book of Job, is given to a member of God's heavenly court who fulfills the role of public prosecutor (see Job 1:9-11, 2:4-5; Zechariah 3:1).
He casts doubt upon the sincerity of the faith of those who are righteous and “accuses them day and night before our God.” At this point, though, this satanic dragon is silenced; “the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 12:11), the passion and death of Christ our Redeemer, is at the root of his defeat.
Blood of Martyrs
The witness of those Christians who were martyred is associated with Christ's victory. The faithful who did not waver, those whose “love for life did not deter them from death” (see Revelation 12:11), share an intimate part in the redeeming work of the Lamb.
This reminds us of Christ's words: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life” (John 12:25).
The heavenly soloist singing this canticle concludes with an invitation to the entire angelic choir to join in this hymn of joy for the salvation that has been wrought (see Revelation 12:12). Let us join our voices with his in festive thanksgiving that is full of hope, despite the trials that mark our journey toward glory.
Let us do so by listening to the words that St. Polycarp the martyr addressed to the Lord God Almighty after he had been bound to be burned at the stake: “Lord God Almighty, Father of your blessed and beloved Son, Jesus Christ … be blessed for having judged me worthy this day and this hour to be numbered among your martyrs and to share in the cup of Christ for resurrection to eternal life of the body and soul in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. Grant that before you this day I may be accepted among them as a rich and pleasing sacrifice, just as you, the faithful and true God, have prepared, revealed and fulfilled beforehand. For this reason and for all things I praise you, I bless you, and I glorify you, through the eternal and heavenly high priest, your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, through whom be glory to you, with him and the Holy Spirit, now and for ages to come. Amen” (Atti e Passioni dei Martiri, Milan, 1987, p. 23).
- June 6-12, 2004