JUBILEE PILGRIMAGE TO MOUNT SINAI
 
Mount Sinai stands at the very heart of the truth about man and his destiny
 
   On Saturday morning, 26 February, the Holy Father made his
   long-awaited Jubilee pilgrimage to Mount Sinai, where God "revealed
   his name! Here he gave his Law, the Ten Commandments of the
   Covenant!". The Pope arrived at St Catherine's Monastery and was
   welcomed by the hegumen, Greek Orthodox Archbishop Damianos, who
   escorted him into the monastery church. After pausing for several
   minutes in prayer, the Pope was shown many of the monastery's historic
   treasures. He also venerated the roots of the burning bush (located
   behind the altar area), the relics of St Catherine of Alexandria and
   Jethro's Well. The Holy Father then went to the Garden of Olives
   outside the monastic enclosure, where he presided at a Liturgy of the
   Word, consisting of readings from Exodus and Mark's account of the
   Transfiguration. After the Gospel was proclaimed, the Pope preached
   the following homily in English.
   Dear Brothers and Sisters,
   1. In this year of the Great Jubilee, our faith leads us to become
   pilgrims in the footsteps of God. We contemplate the path he has taken
   through time, revealing to the world the magnificent mystery of his
   faithful Love for all humankind. Today, with great joy and deep
   emotion, the Bishop of Rome is a pilgrim to Mount Sinai, drawn by this
   holy mountain which rises like a soaring monument to what God revealed
   here. Here he revealed his name! Here he gave his Law, the Ten
   Commandments of the Covenant!
   How many have come to this place before us! Here the People of God
   pitched their tents (cf. Ex 19: 2); here the prophet Elijah took
   refuge in a cave (cf. 1 Kgs 19: 9); here the body of the martyr
   Catherine found a final resting-place; here a host of pilgrims through
   the ages have scaled what St Gregory of Nyssa called "the mountain of
   desire" (The Life of Moses, II, 232); here generations of monks have
   watched and prayed. We humbly follow in their footsteps, to "the holy
   ground" where the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob commissioned
   Moses to set his people free (cf. Ex 3: 5-8).
 
                Commandments are the law of life and freedom
 
   2. God shows himself in mysterious ways - as the fire that does not
   consume - according to a logic which defies all that we know and
   expect. He is the God who is at once close at hand and far-away; he is
   in the world but not of it. He is the God who comes to meet us, but
   who will not be possessed. He is "I AM WHO I AM" - the name which is
   no name! I AM WHO I AM:  the divine abyss in which essence and
   existence are one! The God who is Being itself! Before such a mystery,
   how can we fail to "take off our shoes" as he commands, and adore him
   on this holy ground?
   Here on Mount Sinai, the truth of "who God is" became the foundation
   and guarantee of the Covenant. Moses enters "the luminous darkness"
   (The Life of Moses, II, 164), and there he is given the Law "written
   with the finger of God" (Ex 31: 18). But what is this Law? It is the
   Law of life and freedom!
   At the Red Sea, the people had experienced a great liberation. They
   had seen the power and fidelity of God; they had discovered that he is
   the God who does indeed set his people free as he had promised. But
   now on the heights of Sinai, this same God seals his love by making
   the Covenant that he will never renounce. If the people obey his Law,
   they will know freedom for ever. The Exodus and the Covenant are not
   just events of the past; they are for ever the destiny of all God's
   people!
   3. The encounter of God and Moses on this mountain enshrines at the
   heart of our religion the mystery of liberating obedience, which finds
   its fulfilment in the perfect obedience of Christ in the Incarnation
   and on the Cross (cf. Phil 2: 8; Heb 5: 8-9). We too shall be truly
   free if we learn to obey as Jesus did (cf. Heb 5: 8).
   The Ten Commandments are not an arbitrary imposition of a tyrannical
   Lord. They were written in stone; but before that, they were written
   on the human heart as the universal moral law, valid in every time and
   place. Today as always, the Ten Words of the Law provide the only true
   basis for the lives of individuals, societies and nations. Today as
   always, they are the only future of the human family. They save man
   from the destructive force of egoism, hatred and falsehood. They point
   out all the false gods that draw him into slavery:  the love of self
   to the exclusion of God, the greed for power and pleasure that
   overturns the order of justice and degrades our human dignity and that
   of our neighbour. If we turn from these false idols and follow the God
   who sets his people free and remains always with them, then we shall
   emerge like Moses, after 40 days on the mountain, "shining with glory"
   (St Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses, II, 230), ablaze with the
   light of God!
   To keep the Commandments is to be faithful to God, but it is also to
   be faithful to ourselves, to our true nature and our deepest
   aspirations. The wind which still today blows from Sinai reminds us
   that God wants to be honoured in and through the growth of his
   creatures:  Gloria Dei, homo vivens. In this sense, that wind carries
   an insistent invitation to dialogue between the followers of the great
   monotheistic religions in their service of the human family. It
   suggests that in God we can find the point of our encounter:  in God
   the All Powerful and All Merciful, Creator of the universe and Lord of
   history, who at the end of our earthly existence will judge us with
   perfect justice.
 
      We have been created for the glorious liberty of God's children
 
   4. The Gospel reading which we have just listened to suggests that
   Sinai finds its fulfilment on another mountain, the mountain of the
   Transfiguration, where Jesus appears to his Apostles shining with the
   glory of God. Moses and Elijah stand with him to testify that the
   fullness of God's revelation is found in the glorified Christ.
   On the mountain of the Transfiguration, God speaks from the cloud, as
   he had done on Sinai. But now he says:  "This is my beloved Son;
   listen to him" (Mk 9: 7). He commands us to listen to his Son, because
   "no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son
   chooses to reveal him" (Mt 11: 27). And so we learn that the true name
   of God is FATHER! The name which is beyond all other names:  Abba!
   (cf. Gal 4: 6). And in Jesus we learn that our true name is SON,
   DAUGHTER! We learn that the God of the Exodus and the Covenant sets
   his people free because they are his sons and daughters, created not
   for slavery but for "the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom
   8: 21).
   So when St Paul writes that we "have died to the law through the body
   of Christ" (Rom 7: 4), he does not mean that the Law of Sinai is past.
   He means that the Ten Commandments now make themselves heard through
   the voice of the Beloved Son. The person delivered by Jesus Christ
   into true freedom is aware of being bound not externally by a
   multitude of prescriptions, but internally by the love which has taken
   hold in the deepest recesses of his heart. The Ten Commandments are
   the law of freedom:  not the freedom to follow our blind passions, but
   the freedom to love, to choose what is good in every situation, even
   when to do so is a burden. It is not an impersonal law that we obey;
   what is required is loving surrender to the Father through Christ
   Jesus in the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 6: 14; Gal 5: 18). In revealing
   himself on the Mountain and giving his Law, God revealed man to man
   himself. Sinai stands at the very heart of the truth about man and his
   destiny.
 
         May this monastery be a spiritual oasis for all Christians
 
   5. In pursuit of this truth, the monks of this monastery pitched their
   tent in the shadow of Sinai. The Monastery of the Transfiguration and
   St Catherine bears all the marks of time and human turmoil, but it
   stands indomitable as a witness to divine wisdom and love. For
   centuries monks from all Christian traditions lived and prayed
   together in this monastery, listening to the Word, in whom dwells the
   fullness of the Father's wisdom and love. In this very monastery, St
   John Climacus, wrote The Ladder of Divine Ascent, a spiritual
   masterpiece that continues to inspire monks and nuns, from East and
   West, generation after generation. All this has taken place under the
   mighty protection of the Great Mother of God. As early as the third
   century Egyptian Christians appealed to her with words of trust:  We
   have recourse to your protection, O Holy Mother of God! Sub tuum
   praesidium confugimus, sancta Dei Genetrix! Through the centuries,
   this monastery has been an exceptional meeting place for people
   belonging to different Churches, traditions and cultures. I pray that
   in the new millennium the Monastery of St Catherine will be a radiant
   beacon calling the Churches to know one another better and to
   rediscover the importance in the eyes of God of the things that unite
   us in Christ.
   6. I am grateful to the many faithful from the Diocese of Ismayliah,
   led by Bishop Makarios, who have come to join me in this pilgrimage to
   Mount Sinai. The Successor of Peter thanks you for your steadfastness
   in faith. God bless you and your families!
   May the Monastery of St Catherine be a spiritual oasis for members of
   all the Churches in search of the glory of the Lord which settled on
   Mount Sinai (cf. Ex 24: 16). The vision of this glory prompts us to
   cry out in overflowing joy:  "We give thanks to you, O holy Father,
   for your holy name, which you have made to dwell in our hearts"
   (Didache, X). Amen.
   (©L'Osservatore Romano - 1 March 2000)