Audiences 2005-2013 21111
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
After celebrating the Solemnity of All Saints, today the Church invites us to commemorate all the faithful departed, to turn our eyes to the many faces who have gone before us and who have ended their earthly journey. So at today’s Audience, I would like to offer a few simple thoughts on the reality of death, which for us Christians is illuminated by the Resurrection of Christ, and so as to renew our faith in eternal life.
As I already said at the Angelus yesterday, during these days we go to the cemetery to pray for the loved ones who have left us, as it were paying a visit to show them, once more, our love, to feel them still close, remembering also, an article of the Creed: in the communion of saints there is a close bond between us who are still walking here upon the earth and those many brothers and sisters who have already entered eternity.
Human beings have always cared for their dead and sought to give them a sort of second life through attention, care and affection. In a way, we want to preserve their experience of life; and, paradoxically, by looking at their graves, before which countless memories return, we discover how they lived, what they loved, what they feared, what they hoped for and what they hated. They are almost a mirror of their world.
Why is this so? Because, despite the fact that death is an almost forbidden subject in our society and that there is a continuous attempt to banish the thought of it from our minds, death touches each of us, it touches mankind of every age and every place. And before this mystery we all, even unconsciously, search for something to give us hope, a sign that might bring us consolation, open up some horizon, offer us a future once more. The road to death, in reality, is a way of hope and it passes through our cemeteries, just as can be read on the tombstones and fulfills a journey marked by the hope of eternity.
Yet, we wonder, why do we feel fear before death? Why has humanity, for the most part, never resigned itself to the belief that beyond life there is simply nothing? I would say that there are multiple answers: we are afraid of death because we are afraid of that nothingness, of leaving this world for something we don’t know, something unknown to us. And, then, there is a sense of rejection in us because we cannot accept that all that is beautiful and great, realized during a lifetime, should be suddenly erased, should fall into the abyss of nothingness. Above all, we feel that love calls and asks for eternity and it is impossible to accept that it is destroyed by death in an instant.
Furthermore, we fear in the face of death because, when we find ourselves approaching the end of our lives, there is a perception that our actions will be judged, the way in which we have lived our lives, above all, those moments of darkness which we often skillfully remove or try to remove from our conscience. I would say that precisely the question of judgment often underlies man of all time’s concern for the dead, the attention paid to the people who were important to him and are no longer with him on the journey through earthly life. In a certain sense the gestures of affection and love which surround the deceased are a way to protect him in the conviction that they will have an effect on the judgment. This we can gather from the majority of cultures that characterize the history of man.
Today the world has become, at least in appearance, much more rational, or rather, there is a more widespread tendency to think that every reality ought to be tackled with the criteria of experimental science, and that the great questions about death ought to be answered not so much with faith as with empirical, provable knowledge. It is not sufficiently taken into account, however, that precisely in this way one is doomed to fall into forms of spiritism, in an attempt to have some kind of contact with the world beyond, almost imagining it to be a reality that, ultimately, is a copy of the present one.
Dear friends, the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of all the faithful departed tells us that only those who can recognize a great hope in death, can live a life based on hope. If we reduce man exclusively to his horizontal dimension, to that which can be perceived empirically, life itself loses its profound meaning. Man needs eternity for every other hope is too brief, too limited for him. Man can be explained only if there is a Love which overcomes every isolation, even that of death, in a totality which also transcends time and space. Man can be explained, he finds his deepest meaning, only if there is God. And we know that God left his distance for us and made himself close. He entered into our life and tells us: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn 11,25-26).
Let us think for a moment of the scene on Calvary and listen again to Jesus’ words from the height of the Cross, addressed to the criminal crucified on his right: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lc 23,43). We think of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, when, after traveling a stretch of the way with the Risen Jesus, they recognize him and set out immediately for Jerusalem to proclaim the Resurrection of the Lord (cf. Lc 24,13-35). The Master’s words come back to our minds with renewed clarity: “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (Jn 14,1-2). God is truly demonstrated, he became accessible, for he so loved the world “that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3,16), and in the supreme act of love on the Cross, immersing himself in the abyss of death, he conquered it, and rose and opened the doors of eternity for us too. Christ sustains us through the night of death which he himself overcame; he is the Good Shepherd, on whose guidance one can rely without any fear, for he knows the way well, even through darkness.
Every Sunday in reciting the Creed, we reaffirm this truth. And in going to cemeteries to pray with affection and love for our departed, we are invited, once more, to renew with courage and with strength our faith in eternal life, indeed to live with this great hope and to bear witness to it in the world: behind the present there is not nothing. And faith in eternal life gives to Christians the courage to love our earth ever more intensely and to work in order to build a future for it, to give it a true and sure hope. Thank you.
To Special Groups:
I offer a warm welcome to the priests from the United States taking part in the Institute for Continuing Theological Education at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. My greeting also goes to the pilgrimage group from Saint Paul’s High School in Tokyo, Japan. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Japan and the United States, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!
Lastly, I wish to greet the young people, the sick and the newlyweds.The day after tomorrow is the liturgical memorial of St Charles Borromeo, an outstanding Bishop of the Diocese of Milan, who, inspired by ardent love for Christ, was a tireless teacher and guide of his brothers. May his example help you, dear young people, to be led by Christ in your decision to follow him without fear; may it encourage you, dear sick people, to offer up your suffering for the Pastors of the Church and for the salvation of souls; may it support you, dear newlyweds, in you generous service to life.
At the end of the General Audience on 2 November, the Holy Father made the following Appeal:
This 3 and 4 November — tomorrow and the day after — Heads of State or of the Government of G20 will meet in Cannes to look at principal problems concerning the global economy. I hope that the meeting helps overcome the difficulties which hinder the promotion of an authentically human and integral development worldwide.
St. Peter's Square9111
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In previous Catecheses we have meditated on several Psalms that are examples of typical forms of prayer: lamentation, trust and praise. In today’s Catechesis I would like to reflect on Psalm 119, according to the Hebrew tradition, Psalm 118 according to the Greco-Latin one.
It is a very special Psalm, unique of its kind. This is first of all because of its length. Indeed, it is composed of 176 verses divided into 22 stanzas of eight verses each. Moreover, its special feature is that it is an “acrostic in alphabetical order”, in other words it is structured in accordance with the Hebrew alphabet that consists of 22 letters. Each stanza begins with a letter of this alphabet and the first letter of the first word of each of the eight verses in the stanza begins with this letter. This is both original and indeed a demanding literary genre in which the author of the Psalm must have had to summon up all his skill.
However, what is most important for us is this Psalm’s central theme. In fact, it is an impressive, solemn canticle on the Torah of the Lord, that is, on his Law, a term which in its broadest and most comprehensive meaning should be understood as a teaching, an instruction, a rule of life. The Torah is a revelation, it is a word of God that challenges the human being and elicits his response of trusting obedience and generous love.
This Psalm is steeped in love for the word of God whose beauty, saving power and capacity for giving joy and life it celebrates; because the divine Law is not the heavy yoke of slavery but a liberating gift of grace that brings happiness. “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word”, the Psalmist declares (Ps 119,16), and then: “Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it” (Ps 119,35). And further: “Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps 119,97).
The Law of the Lord, his word, is the centre of the praying person’s life; he finds comfort in it, he makes it the subject of meditation, he treasures it in his heart: “I have laid up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Ps 119,11), and this is the secret of the Psalmist’s happiness; and then, again, “the godless besmear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts” (Ps 119,69).
The Psalmist’s faithfulness stems from listening to the word, from pondering on it in his inmost self, meditating on it and cherishing it, just as did Mary, who “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart”, the words that had been addressed to her and the marvellous events in which God revealed himself, asking her for the assent of her faith (cf. Lc 2,19 Lc 2,51). And if the first verses of our Psalm begin by proclaiming “blessed” those “who walk in the law of the Lord” (Ps 119,1b), and “who keep his testimonies” (Ps 119,2a). It is once again the Virgin Mary who brings to completion the perfect figure of the believer, described by the Psalmist. It is she, in fact, who is the true “blessed”, proclaimed such by Elizabeth because “she... believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lc 1,45). Moreover it was to her and to her faith that Jesus himself bore witness when he answered the woman who had cried: “Blessed is the womb that bore you”, with “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Lc 11,27-28). Of course, Mary is blessed because she carried the Saviour in her womb, but especially because she accepted God’s announcement and because she was an attentive and loving custodian of his Word.
Psalm 119 is thus woven around this Word of life and blessedness. If its central theme is the “word” and “Law” of the Lord, next to these terms in almost all the verses such synonyms recur as “precepts”, “statutes”, “commandments”, “ordinances”, “promises”, “judgement”; and then so many verbs relating to them such as observe, keep, understand, learn, love, meditate and live.
The entire alphabet unfolds through the 22 stanzas of this Psalm and also the whole of the vocabulary of the believer’s trusting relationship with God; we find in it praise, thanksgiving and trust, but also supplication and lamentation. However they are always imbued with the certainty of divine grace and of the power of the word of God. Even the verses more heavily marked by grief and by a sense of darkness remain open to hope and are permeated by faith.
“My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to your word” (Ps 119,25), the Psalmist trustingly prays. “I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes” (Ps 119,83), is his cry as a believer. His fidelity, even when it is put to the test, finds strength in the Lord’s word: “then shall I have an answer for those who taunt me, for I trust in your word” (Ps 119,42), he says firmly; and even when he faces the anguishing prospect of death, the Lord’s commandments are his reference point and his hope of victory: “they have almost made an end of me on earth; but I have not forsaken your precepts” (Ps 119,87).
The Law of the Lord, the object of the passionate love of the Psalmist as well as of every believer, is a source of life. The desire to understand it, to observe it and to direct the whole of one’s being by it is the characteristic of every righteous person who is faithful to the Lord, and who “on his law... meditates day and night”, as Psalm 1 recites (Ps 1,2). The law of God is a way to be kept “in the heart”, as the well known text of the Shema in Deuteronomy says: “Hear, O Israel: And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Dt 6,4 Dt 6,6-7).
The Law of God, at the centre of life, demands that the heart listen. It is a listening that does not consist of servile but rather of filial, trusting and aware obedience. Listening to the word is a personal encounter with the Lord of life, an encounter that must be expressed in concrete decisions and become a journey and a “sequela”. When Jesus is asked what one should do to inherit eternal life he points to the way of observance of the Law but indicates what should be done to bring it to completion: “but you lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me! (Mc 10,21 ff.). Fulfilment of the Law is the following of Jesus, travelling on the road that Jesus took, in the company of Jesus.
Psalm 119 thus brings us to the encounter with the Lord and orients us to the Gospel. There is a verse in it on which I would now like to reflect: it is verse 57: “the Lord is my portion; I promise to keep his words” Ps 119,57. In other Psalms too the person praying affirms that the Lord is his “portion”, his inheritance: “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup”, Psalm 16 says. “God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever” is the protestation of faith of the faithful person in Psalm Ps 73,26 : v. 26b, and again, in Psalm 142, the Psalmist cries to the Lord: “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living” (Ps 142,5b).
This term “portion” calls to mind the event of the division of the promised land between the tribes of Israel, when no piece of land was assigned to the Levites because their “portion” was the Lord himself. Two texts of the Pentateuch, using the term in question, are explicit in this regard, the Lord said to Aaron: “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel”, as the Book of Numbers (Nb 18,20) declares and as Deuteronomy reaffirms “Therefore Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers; the Lord is his inheritance, as the Lord your God said to him” (Dt 10,9 cf. Deut Dt 18,2 Jos 13,33 Ez 44,28).
The Priests, who belong to the tribe of Levi cannot be landowners in the land that God was to bequeath as a legacy to his people, thus bringing to completion the promise he had made to Abraham (cf. Gn 12,1-7). The ownership of land, a fundamental element for permanence and for survival, was a sign of blessing because it presupposed the possibility of building a house, of raising children, of cultivating the fields and of living on the produce of the earth.
Well, the Levites, mediators of the sacred and of the divine blessing, unlike the other Israelites could not own possessions, this external sign of blessing and source of subsistence. Totally dedicated to the Lord, they had to live on him alone, reliant on his provident love and on the generosity of their brethren without any other inheritance since God was their portion, God was the land that enabled them to live to the full.
The person praying in Psalm 119 then applies this reality to himself: “the Lord is my portion”. His love for God and for his word leads him to make the radical decision to have the Lord as his one possession and also to treasure his words as a precious gift more valuable than any legacy or earthly possession. There are two different ways in which our verse may be translated and it could also be translated as “my portion Lord, as I have said, is to preserve your words”. The two translations are not contradictory but on the contrary complete each other: the Psalmist meant that his portion was the Lord but that preserving the divine words was also part of his inheritance, as he was to say later in v. 111: “your testimonies are my heritage for ever; yea, they are the joy of my heart”. This is the happiness of the Psalmist, like the Levites, he has been given the word of God as his portion, his inheritance.
Dear brothers and sisters, these verses are also of great importance for all of us. First of all for priests, who are called to live on the Lord and his word alone with no other means of security, with him as their one possession and as their only source of true life. In this light one understands the free choice of celibacy for the Kingdom of Heaven in order to rediscover it in its beauty and power.
Yet these verses are also important for all the faithful, the People of God that belong to him alone, “a kingdom and priests” for the Lord (cf. 1P 2,9 Ap 1,6 Ap 1,5 Ap 1,10), called to the radicalism of the Gospel, witnesses of the life brought by Christ, the new and definitive “High Priest” who gave himself as a sacrifice for the salvation of the world (cf. He 2,17 He 4,14-16 He 5,5-10 He 9,11 ff.). The Lord and his word: these are our “land”, in which to live in communion and in joy.
Let us therefore permit the Lord to instil this love for his word in our hearts and to grant that we may always place him and his holy will at the centre of our life. Let us ask that our prayers and the whole of our life be illuminated by the word of God, the lamp to light our footsteps and a light on our path, as Psalm 119 (cf. Ps 119,105) says, so that we may walk safely in the land of men. And may Mary, who generously welcomed the Word, be our guide and comfort, the polestar that indicates the way to happiness.
Then we too shall be able to rejoice in our prayers, like the praying person of Psalm 16, in the unexpected gifts of the Lord and in the undeserved legacy that fell to us: “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup... the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage” (Ps 16,5 Ps 16,6).
To special groups:
I welcome the priest jubilarians from England and Wales and I assure them of my prayers for the spiritual fruitfulness of their ministry. I also greet the Sisters of St Paul of Chartres taking part in a programme of spiritual renewal. I also greet the members of the American Society of the Italian Legion of Merit, and I thank the members of the brass ensemble from Malta for their musical offering. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims present, especially those from England, Denmark, the Philippines, Canada and the United States, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!
Lastly, my thoughts turn to the young people, the sick and the newlyweds.Dear young people, plan your future in full fidelity to the Gospel and grow according to the teaching and example of Jesus. Dear sick people, offer up your suffering to the Lord, so that also thanks to your participation in his suffering, he may extend his saving action in the world. Dear newlyweds, may you be guided by a joyous faith on the journey you have undertaken so that you may always serve life, which is a gift of God.
In this period various parts of the world, from Latin America — especially Central America — to South-East Asia have been hit by inundations, flooding or landslides that have caused numerous deaths and dispersed and homeless people. Once again I would like to express my closeness to all those who are suffering because of these natural disasters. I ask you to pray for the victims and their relatives and to show solidarity so that the institutions and people of good will may generously collaborate to bring aid to the thousands of people stricken by these catastrophes.
St. Peter's Square16111
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to end my catechesis on the prayer of the Book of Psalms by meditating on one of the most famous of the “royal Psalms”, a Psalm that Jesus himself cited and that the New Testament authors referred to extensively and interpreted as referring to the Messiah, to Christ. It is Psalm 110 according to the Hebrew tradition, 109 according to the Graeco-Latin one, a Psalm very dear to the ancient Church and to believers of all times. This prayer may at first have been linked to the enthronement of a Davidic king; yet its meaning exceeds the specific contingency of an historic event, opening to broader dimensions and thereby becoming a celebration of the victorious Messiah, glorified at God’s right hand.
The Psalm begins with a solemn declaration: “the Lord says to my lord ‘Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool’” (Ps 110,1).
God himself enthrones the king in glory, seating him at his right, a sign of very great honour and of absolute privilege. The king is thus admitted to sharing in the divine kingship, of which he is mediator to the people. The king’s kingship is also brought into being in the victory over his adversaries whom God himself places at his feet. The victory over his enemies is the Lord’s, but the king is enabled to share in it and his triumph becomes a sign and testimony of divine power.
The royal glorification expressed at the beginning of the Psalm was adopted by the New Testament as a messianic prophecy. For this reason the verse is among those most frequently used by New Testament authors, either as an explicit quotation or as an allusion. With regard to the Messiah Jesus himself mentioned this verse in order to show that the Messiah, was greater than David, that he was David’s Lord (cf. Mt 22,41-45 Mc 12,35-37 Lc 20,41-44).
And Peter returned to it in his discourse at Pentecost, proclaiming that this enthronement of the king was brought about in the resurrection of Christ and that Christ was henceforth seated at the right hand of the Father, sharing in God’s kingship over the world (cf. Ac 2,29-35). Indeed, Christ is the enthroned Lord, the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God and coming on the clouds of heaven, as Jesus described himself during the trial before the Synedrin (cf. Mt 26,63-64 Mc 14,61-62 cf. also Lc 22,66-69).
He is the true King who, with the Resurrection, entered into glory at the right hand of the Father (Rm 8,34 Ep 2,5 Col 3,1 He 8,1 He 12,2), was made superior to angels, and seated in heaven above every power with every adversary at his feet, until the time when the last enemy, death, to be defeated by him once and for all (cf. 1Co 15,24-26 Ep 1,20-23 He 1,3-4 He 2,5-8 He 10,12-13 1P 3,22).
And we immediately understand that this king, seated at the right hand of God, who shares in his kingship is not one of those who succeeded David, but is actually the new David, the Son of God who triumphed over death and truly shares in God’s glory. He is our king, who also gives us eternal life.
Hence an indissoluble relationship exists between the king celebrated by our Psalm and God. The two of them govern together as one, so that the Psalmist can say that it is God himself who extends the sovereign’s sceptre, giving him the task of ruling over his adversaries as verse 2 says: “The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty sceptre. Rule in the midst of your foes!”.
The exercise of power is an office that the king receives directly from the Lord, a responsibility which he must exercise in dependence and obedience, thereby becoming a sign, within the people, of God’s powerful and provident presence. Dominion over his foes, glory and victory are gifts received that make the sovereign a mediator of the Lord’s triumph over evil. He subjugates his enemies, transforming them, he wins them over with his love.
For this reason the king’s greatness is celebrated in the following verse. In fact the interpretation of verse 3 presents some difficulty. In the original Hebrew text a reference was made to the mustering of the army to which the people generously responded, gathering round their sovereign on the day of his coronation. The Greek translation of The Septuagint that dates back to between the second and third centuries B.C. refers however to the divine sonship of the king, to his birth or begetting on the part of the Lord. This is the interpretation that has been chosen by the Church, which is why the verse reads like this: “Yours is princely power in the day of your birth, in holy splendour; before the daystar, like the dew, I have begotten you”.
This divine oracle concerning the king would thus assert a divine procreation, steeped in splendour and mystery, a secret and inscrutable origin linked to the arcane beauty of dawn and to the miracle of dew that sparkles in the fields in the early morning light and makes them fertile. In this way, the figure of the king, indissolubly bound to the heavenly reality, who really comes from God is outlined, the Messiah who brings divine life to the people and is the mediator of holiness and salvation. Here too we see that all this is not achieved by the figure of a Davidic king but by the Lord Jesus Christ, who really comes from God; he is the light that brings divine life to the world.
The first stanza of the Psalm ends with this evocative and enigmatic image. It is followed by another oracle, which unfolds a new perspective along the lines of a priestly dimension connected with kingship. Verse 4 says: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek”.
Melchizedek was the priest-king of Salem who had blessed Abraham and offered him bread and wine after the victorious military campaign the patriarch led to rescue his nephew Lot from the hands of enemies who had captured him (cf. Gn 14).
Royal and priestly power converge in the figure of Melchizedek. They are then proclaimed by the Lord in a declaration that promises eternity: the king celebrated in the Psalm will be a priest for ever, the mediator of the Lord’s presence among his people, the intermediary of the blessing that comes from God who, in liturgical action, responds to it with the human answer of blessing.
The Letter to the Hebrews makes an explicit reference to this verse (cf. He 5,5-6 He 5,10 He 6,19-20) focusing on it the whole of chapter seven and developing its reflection on Christ’s priesthood. Jesus, as the Letter to the Hebrews tells us in the light of Psalm 110, is the true and definitive priest who brings to fulfilment and perfects the features of Melchizedek’s priesthood
Melchizedek, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, was “without father or mother or genealogy” (He 7,3a), hence not a priest according to the dynastic rules of Levitical priesthood. Consequently he “continues a priest for ever” (He 7,3c), a prefiguration of Christ, the perfect High Priest who “has become a priest, not according to a legal requirement concerning bodily descent but by the power of an indestructible life” (He 7,16).
In the Risen Lord Jesus who had ascended into Heaven where he is seated at the right hand of the Father the prophecy of our Psalm is fulfilled and the priesthood of Melchizedek is brought to completion. This is because, rendered absolute and eternal, it became a reality that never fades (cf. He 7,24). And the offering of bread and wine made by Melchizedek in Abraham’s time is fulfilled in the Eucharistic action of Jesus who offers himself in the bread and in the wine and, having conquered death, brings life to all believers. Since he is an eternal priest, “holy, blameless, unstained” (He 7,26), as the Letter to the Hebrews states further, “he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (He 7,25).
After this divine pronouncement in verse 4, with its solemn oath, the scene of the Psalm changes and the poet, addressing the king directly, proclaims: “The Lord is at your right hand” (Ps 110,5a). If in verse 1 it was the king who was seated at God’s right hand as a sign of supreme prestige and honour, the Lord now takes his place at the right of the sovereign to protect him with this shield in battle and save him from every peril. The king was safe, God is his champion and they fight together and defeat every evil.
Thus the last verses of the Psalm open with the vision of the triumphant sovereign. Supported by the Lord, having received both power and glory from him (cf. Ps 110,2), he opposes his foes, crushing his adversaries and judging the nations. The scene is painted in strong colours to signify the drama of the battle and the totality of the royal victory. The sovereign, protected by the Lord, demolishes every obstacle and moves ahead safely to victory. He tells us: “yes, there is widespread evil in the world, there is an ongoing battle between good and evil and it seems as though evil were the stronger. No, the Lord is stronger, Christ, our true King and Priest, for he fights with all God’s power and in spite of all the things that make us doubt the positive outcome of history, Christ wins and good wins, love wins rather than hatred.
The evocative image that concludes our Psalm fits in here; it is also an enigmatic word: “He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head” (Ps 110,7).
The king’s figure stands out in the middle of the description of the battle. At a moment of respite and rest, he quenches his thirst at a stream, finding in it refreshment and fresh strength to continue on his triumphant way, holding his head high as a sign of definitive victory. It is clear that these deeply enigmatic words were a challenge for the Fathers of the Church because of the different interpretations they could be given.
Thus, for example, St Augustine said: this brook is the onward flow of the human being, of humanity, and Christ did not disdain to drink of this brook, becoming man; and so it was that on entering the humanity of the human being he lifted up his head and is now the Head of the mystical Body, he is our head, he is the definitive winner. (cf. Enarrationes in Psalmos CIX, 20: PL 36, 1462).
Dear friends, following the lines of the New Testament translation, the Church’s Tradition has held this Psalm in high esteem as one of the most important messianic texts. And the Fathers continued eminently to refer to it in a Christological key. The king of whom the Psalmist sang is definitively Christ, the Messiah who establishes the Kingdom of God and overcomes the powers of evil. He is the Word, begotten by the Father before every creature, before the dawn, the Son incarnate who died and rose and is seated in Heaven, the eternal priest who through the mystery of the bread and wine bestows forgiveness of sins and gives reconciliation with God, the king who lifts up his head, triumphing over death with his resurrection.
It would suffice to remember a passage, once again in St Augustine’s commentary on this Psalm, where he writes: “it was necessary to know the Only-Begotten Son of God who was about to come among men, to adopt man and to become a man by taking on his nature; he died, rose and ascended into Heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father and fulfilled among the people all that he had promised.... All this, therefore, had to be prophesied, it had to be foretold, to be pointed out as destined to come about, so that by coming unexpectedly it would not give rise to fear but by having been foretold, would then be accepted with faith, joy and expectation. This Psalm fits into the context of these promises. It prophesies our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in such reliable and explicit terms that we cannot have the slightest doubt that it is really Christ who is proclaimed in it” (cf. Enarrationes in Psalmos CIX, 3: PL 36, 1447).
The paschal event of Christ thus becomes the reality to which the Psalm invites us to look, to look at Christ to understand the meaning of true kingship, to live in service and in the gift of self, in a journey of obedience and love “to the end” (cf. Jn 13,1 and Jn 19,30).
In praying with this Psalm let us therefore ask the Lord to enable us to proceed on his paths, in the following of Christ, the Messiah King, ready to climb with him the mount of the cross to attain glory with him, and to contemplate him seated at the right hand of the Father, a victorious king and a merciful priest who gives forgiveness and salvation to all men and women.
And we too, by the grace of God made “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (cf. 1P 2,9), will be able to draw joyfully from the wells of salvation (cf. Is 12,3) and proclaim to the whole world the marvels of the One who “called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (cf. 1P 2,9).
Dear friends, in these recent catecheses I wanted to present to you certain Psalms, precious prayers that we find in the Bible and that reflect the various situations of life and the various states of mind that we may have with regard to God. I would then like to renew to you all the invitation to pray with the Psalms, even becoming accustomed to using the Liturgy of the Hours of the Church, Lauds in the morning, Vespers in the evening, and Compline before retiring.
Our relationship with God cannot but be enriched with greater joy and trust in the daily journey towards him. Many thanks.
To special groups:
I offer a cordial greeting to the many student groups present at today’s Audience. My welcome also goes to the Delegation of the American Israel Affairs Committee. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims present, especially those from Great Britain, Denmark, Norway, Japan, Canada and the United States, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!
Lastly I greet the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. Yesterday we commemorated St Albert the Great, a Doctor of the Church, and today we are commemorating St Margaret of Scotland who carried out the works of mercy and St Gertrude, a Cistercian nun. May their example and intercession encourage you, dear young people, always to stay faithful to the Lord; may it help you, dear sick people, to be able to accept with serene abandonment whatever the Lord gives in every situation of life; may it sustain you, dear newlyweds, in forming a truly Christian family.
Paul VI Audience Hall
Audiences 2005-2013 21111