There was a sermon on Mount Sinai



Sermon by John Paul II

Saturday February 26, 2000


Dear brothers and sisters!

1. In this Great Jubilee Year, our faith will make us pilgrims in God's footsteps. We contemplate his way through the time when he revealed to the world the wonderful secret of his true love for all of humanity. The Bishop of Rome is full of joy and deeply moved today as a pilgrim on Sinai, attracted by this holy mountain that towers as a sublime monument of what God has proclaimed here. Here he revealed his name! Here he gave his law, the Ten Commandments of the covenant!

How many people have been to this place before us! Here the people of God have pitched their tents (cf. Ex 19.2); here the prophet Elijah sought refuge in a cave (cf. Kings 19.9); here the martyr Catherine found her final resting place; countless pilgrims have climbed here over the centuries. St. Gregory of Nyssa called it the "mountain of desire" (cf. Life of moses, II, 232). Generations of monks have watched and prayed here. We humbly follow their footsteps to that "holy ground" on which the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob gave Moses the order to liberate his people (cf. Ex 3,5–8).

2. God reveals himself in a mysterious way - as a fire that never goes out - according to a logic that defies everything we know and expect. He is the God who is both near and far; he is in the world, but not of it. He is the God who comes to meet us, but whom we cannot possess. He is the "I-AM-DA" - the name that is not a name! I am the "I-AM-THERE": the unfathomable God, in which essence and being are one. He is the God who is being in itself! In the face of such a mystery, how could we not, according to his command, "take off our shoes" and worship him on this sacred ground?

Here on Sinai the truth of "who is God" became the foundation and guarantee of the covenant. Moses enters the "shining darkness" (cf. St. Gregory of Nyssa, Life of moses, II, 164). Here the law is given to him, "written with the finger of God" (cf. Ex 31.18). But what is this law? It is the law of life and freedom!

The people in the Red Sea experienced a great liberation. It saw the power and faithfulness of God. It recognized in him the God who, according to his promise, actually frees his people. But now high on Mount Sinai the same God seals his love with the covenant, which he will never renounce. If people obey his law, they will live in everlasting freedom. Exodus and the covenant are not just past events; they are the eternal destiny of all of God's people!

3. The encounter between God and Moses on this mountain holds in the heart of our religion the mystery of liberating obedience, which in the perfect obedience of Christ in the Incarnation and on the Cross (cf. Phil 2,8; Hebrew 5: 8-9) finds its consummation. We too will be truly free if, like Jesus, we learn to obey (cf. Hebrew 5,8).

The Ten Commandments are by no means the arbitrarily imposed duties of a tyrannical lord. They were written on stone; but before that they were already inscribed in the human heart as an everlasting and universally valid universal moral law. Today and forever the ten "words of the law" are the only true basis for the life of individuals, societies and nations. Today and forever they alone are the future of the human family. They save people from the destructive power of egoism, hatred and mendacity. They show him all the false gods who make him a slave: self-love excluding God, lust for power and lust for pleasure, which overthrow the legal system and degrade our human dignity and that of our neighbors. If we turn away from these false idols and follow that God who liberates his people and never forsakes them, then after forty days we will climb the mountain like Moses, "shine in glory" (cf. St. Gregory of Nyssa, Life of moses, II, 230) and be filled with the light of God.

Keeping the commandments means being loyal to God, but also to ourselves, our true nature and our deepest striving. The wind that still blows from Sinai today reminds us that God wants to be worshiped in and through the growth of his creatures. »Gloria Dei, homo vivens. «[The glory of God is the living man.] In this regard, that wind brings an urgent call for dialogue among the followers of the great monotheistic religions in their service to the human family with them. It indicates that we can find the meaning and goal of our encounter in God: God, the Almighty and Merciful, Creator of the universe and Lord of history, who will judge us with perfect justice at the end of our earthly life.

4. The Gospel just read indicates that the event of Sinai will find its completion on another mountain, the Mount of Transfiguration, where Jesus appears to his apostles in divine glory. At his side Moses and Elijah testify that the The fullness of God's revelation is to be found in the transfigured Christ.

On the Mount of Transfiguration, God speaks from the cloud as on Sinai. But now he says, “This is my beloved son; you should listen to him "(Mk 9.7). He commands us to listen to his son, because "nobody knows the son, only the father, and nobody knows the father, only the son and him to whom the son wants to reveal it" (Mt 11.27). And this is how we recognize it true name of god: FATHER! The name that goes beyond all other names: Abba! (see. Gal 4.6). And in Jesus we recognize our true name: Son, daughter! We learn that the God of the Exodus and the Covenant delivers his people because they are his sons and daughters, not to slavery, but to "freedom and glory of the children of God" (Rom 8.21) are created.

When St. Paul writes that "by the death of Christ we are dead to the law" (cf. Rom 7.4), then he does not mean that the Sinai law is a thing of the past. Rather, he means that the Ten Commandments will now be heard through the voice of the beloved Son. The person led to true freedom by Jesus Christ is aware not externally to be bound by innumerable regulations, but internally through that love that has penetrated into the most secret corners of her heart. The Ten Commandments are the law of freedom: not freedom to blindly follow our passions, but freedom Freedom to love and choose what is good and right in every situation, even when it takes effort and strength. We by no means obey an impersonal law; what is required is loving devotion to the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 6.14; Gal 5:18). Through his self-revelation on the mountain and the delivery of his commandments, God revealed man to man himself. Sinai is the center of the truth about people and their destiny.

5. In order to arrive at this truth, the monks of this monastery pitched their tents in the shadow of Sinai. The Monastery of the Transfiguration and St. Katharina bears all the signs of the times and human unrest, but it is nonetheless an indomitable testimony of divine wisdom and love. For centuries monks of all Christian religions have lived and prayed together in this monastery, hearing that word in which the fullness of fatherly wisdom and love resides. In this monastery, St. Johannes Klimakos »The Paradise Ladder«, A spiritual masterpiece that continues to inspire generations of monks and nuns from East and West to this day. All of this was under the effective protection of the great Mother of God. As early as the third century, Egyptian Christians turned to them with trusting words: Your protection be our refuge, Holy Mother of God! »Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, sancta Dei Genetrix!«[We flee under your protection, holy Theotokos]! Over the centuries this monastery has been an outstanding meeting place for people from the most diverse churches, traditions and cultures. I pray that St. Catherine's Monastery will continue to be a shining example in the new millennium. May it call upon the churches to get to know one another better and to rediscover the meaning that has before God all that unites us with Christ.

6. My thanks go to the many faithful of the diocese of Ismayliah, led by Bishop Makarios, who are accompanying me on this pilgrimage to Mount Sinai. The Successor of Peter thanks you for the firmness of your faith. God bless you and your families!

May St. Catherine's Monastery continue to be a spiritual oasis for the members of all churches in search of the glory of the Lord that has descended on Sinai (cf. Ex 24.16). Recognizing this glory moves us to cry out with great joy:

"We thank you, holy father,
for your holy name,
that you let take up residence in our hearts "
 (Didache, X; Writings of early Christianity, Part II, ed. v. K. Wengst, Darmstadt 1984, p. 81). Amen.