The Prophet Isaiah evokes the image of a fortified city which God built as a peaceful dwelling-place for those who put their trust in him.
At the General Audience on Wednesday, 2 October, in St Peter's Square,
the Holy Father commented on the Canticle in chapter 26 of the Book of
Isaiah, which is a hymn of victory. God is our peace. Here is a short version
of his catechesis. The Canticle found in the 26th chapter of the Book of
the Prophet Isaiah celebrates God's victory over his enemies and his saving
presence among his people. The Canticle evokes the image of a fortified
city which God has built as a peaceful dwelling-place for all who put their
faith in him. The Church reads this Canticle as a prophecy of the peace
of Jesus Christ. His dwelling among us through the gift of his Holy Spirit
is a summons to place all our hope in God and to seek salvation through
obedience to his commands.
1. In the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, over a broad span of time various voices converge, all of them under the name and inspiration of this great witness of the Word of God, who lived in the 8th century B.C.
Great Apocalypse of Isaiah
Within this long scroll of prophecies, which Jesus also opened and read in the synagogue of his village Nazareth (cf. Lk 4,17-19), is a series of chapters, from 24 to 27, generally known by scholars as "the great apocalypse of Isaiah". A second and minor apocalypse can be found in chapters 34-35. In pages that are often passionate and packed with symbols a powerful, poetic description is given of the divine judgement of history that exalts the expectation of salvation on the part of the just.
Contrasts city of rebellion and city of salvation
2. Often, as happens in the Apocalypse of John, two opposing cities are contrasted with each other: the rebellious city, incarnated in some of the historical cities of the time, and the holy city where the faithful gather.
The Canticle we have just heard proclaimed, which is taken from the 26th chapter of Isaiah is the joyful celebration of the city of salvation. It stands strong and glorious, for the Lord himself laid its foundations and fortified it, making it a safe and peaceful dwelling-place (cf. v. 1). He now opens wide the gates to welcome the people of the just (cf. v. 2), who seem to repeat the Psalmist's words when, standing before the Temple of Zion, he exclaims: "Open to me the gates of justice, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the just shall enter through it (Ps 117 ,19-20).
Trust in God needed for those who enter the city of salvation
3. There is one fundamental prerequisite for those who enter the city of salvation: "firm purpose ... trust in you ... trust" (cf. Is 26,3-4). It is faith in God, a solid faith based on Him who is the "everlasting rock" (v. 4).
Confidence, already expressed in the etymological root of the Hebrew word "amen", sums up the profession of faith in the Lord, who — as King David sang — is "my strength, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer; my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold" (Ps 17, 2-3; cf. II Sm 22,2-3).
The gift that God offers to the faithful is peace (cf. Is 26,3), the messianic gift par excellence, the synthesis of life in justice, freedom and the joy of communion.
Messianic gift of peace is really the Spirit's gift of life in justice,
freedom and the joy of
4. This gift is forcefully confirmed in the last verse of the Canticle
of Isaiah. "O Lord, you will ordain peace for us, you have wrought for
us all our works" (v. 12). This is the verse that attracted the attention
of the Fathers of the Church: in that promise of peace they glimpsed the
words of Christ that would resound centuries later: "Peace I leave with
you; my peace I give to you" (Jn 14,27).
At dawn we are resolved to walk in the way of the Lord
5. Let us give a last look at Isaiah's text. It presents a reflection on the "way of the just" (v. 7) and a declaration of adherence to the just decisions of God (cf. vv. 8-9). The dominant image is that of the way, a classical biblical image, already used by Hosea, a prophet who lived just before Isaiah: "whoever is wise, let him understand these things... for the ways of the Lord are right and the just walk in them, but sinners stumble in them" (Hos 14,9-10).
The Canticle of Isaiah contains another theme that is also eloquent, also in its liturgical use in the Office of Lauds. Indeed, the dawn is mentioned, that is awaited after a night spent seeking God: "My soul yearns for you in the night, my spirit within me earnestly seeks you" (v. 9).
At daybreak, when work begins and the hum of daily life can already be heard in the city streets, the faithful must once again be resolved to walk "in the path of your judgements, O Lord" (v. 8), hoping in him and in his Word, our only source of peace.
Now the words of the Psalmist come to his lips, who has professed his faith since dawn: "O God, you are my God, for you I long, my soul thirsts for you ... your merciful love is better than life" (Ps 62,2.4). His soul refreshed, he can face the new day.
L'Osservatore Romano October 9, 2002