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What is the purpose of religion?

In his weekly audience on a hot summer Wednesday when 10,000 pilgrims turned up and the venue had to be changed at short notice to St Peter's Square, Pope John Paul spoke on Psalm 45, "God, our refuge and strength".

In some ways his reflection might be read as an answer to that universal question of what is the purpose of our faith?

This Psalm, the Pope said, "celebrates the holy city of Jerusalem, 'a sacred place where the Most High dwells,' but above all it expresses total faith in God Who 'is our refuge and strength, and Who is always near us in our suffering.' The psalm evokes the most tremendous trials in order to affirm with greater force the victorious intervention of God who provides total security."

"The first part of the hymn," he said, "focuses on the symbol of water and presents a double, contrasting meaning. On the one hand, there are tempestuous waters, which in biblical language are a symbol of disaster, chaos and evil. ... On the other hand, the waters which satisfy thirst ... are a sign of the life that prospers in the holy city, of its spiritual fecundity and of its regenerating strength. Therefore, despite the circumstances of history which make peoples sigh and kingdoms shake, the faithful find the peace and serenity that come from communion with God in Zion."

His Holiness indicated that the second part of the Psalm refers to "a world transformed. The Lord intervenes with great strength from his throne in Zion against wars and establishes the peace that everyone hopes for. ... The prophet Isaiah praised the end of the arms race and the transformation of the instruments of war into means of development for the people: 'They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."

"With this psalm," he concluded, "Christian tradition exalts Christ, 'our peace' and our deliverer from evil, through His death and resurrection."

VIS - Peace and serenity are the fruit of our communion with God
CWN - Faith, swords, and plowshares in papal audience

(i) thankyou to the many people who have sent in updates on Queens' Birthday Honour recipients. The updates are being added to the list which can be found HERE.
(ii) The addresses by Cardinal Pell on "Primacy of Conscience" mentioned in yesterday's lead story can now be found HERE including a more recent address he delivered at the University of Cambridge on 3rd March this year.

17 Jun 2004