Wednesday 6 February 2002 - Psalm 42 £[43] - With confidence on road toward the heavenly "Zion'

10 Ps 43

1. In a General Audience sometime ago, commenting on the Psalm that precedes the one we have just heard, we said that it was closely related to the following one. In fact, Psalms 41[42] and 42[43] form one song, divided into three parts by the same antiphon: "Why are you cast down, O my soul? Why do you groan within me? Hope in God; for I shall praise him again, the saviour of my countenace and my God" (Ps 42,6 Ps 42,12 [41],6.12; Ps 43,5 [42],5).

These words, that have the form of a soliloquy, lay bare the psalmist's innermost sentiments. He was far from Zion, point of reference of his existence, because it is the privileged place of the divine presence and of the faithful's worship. Because of this he feels the loneliness caused by misunderstanding and even by aggression on the part of the impious, aggravated by his isolation and silence on the part of God. However, the Psalmist reacts against sadness with an appeal to confidence, that he directs to himself and with a beautiful assertion of hope: he is confident that he will still praise God "the salvation of my countenance".

In Psalm 42[43], instead of speaking only to himself as in the previous psalm, the Psalmist turns to God and entreats him to defend him against his adversaries. Taking up, almost literally, an invocation announced in the other psalm (cf. Ps 42,10 [41],10), the praying person this time effectively addresses his desolate cry to God "Why then do you spurn me? Why must I go about in sadness, with the enemy oppressing me?" (Ps 43,2 [42],2).

2. Yet he feels at this point that the the dark period of distance is about to end, and expresses the certainty of his return to Zion to find again the divine dwelling. The Holy City is no longer the lost homeland as it was in the case of the lament of the previous psalm (cf. Ps 42,3-4 [41],3-4), instead, it is the joyful goal toward which he is moving. The guide of his return to Zion will be the "truth" of God and his "light" (cf. Ps 43,3 [42],3). The Lord himself will be the final destination of the journey, he is invoked as judge and defender (cf. Ps 43,1-2). Three verbs mark his implored intervention: "Grant me justice", "defend my cause", "rescue me" (Ps 43,1). They are like three stars of hope that burn in the dark skies of the trial, that point to the imminent dawn of salvation.

St Ambrose's reading of the Psalmist's experience is significant, applying it to Jesus praying at Gethsemane: "You should not be surprised that the prophet says that his soul was shaken, for the Lord Jesus himself said: "Now my soul is troubled'. In fact, he has taken our weaknesses upon himself, even our sensibility, and this was why he was saddened even unto death, but not because of death. A voluntary death, on which the happiness of all mankind depended, could not have caused sadness.... So he was saddened unto death, while waiting for the grace to be carried to fulfilment. This is reflected in his own witness when he says of his death: "I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am in anguish until it is accomplished!" (Le rimonstranze di Giobbe e di Davide, Rome 1980, VII, 28, p. 233, The Remonstrances of Job and David).

3. Now, continuing with Psalm 42[43], the solution he longs for is about to open before the eyes of the Psalmist: his return to the fountain of life and communion with God. "Truth", that is loving fidelity of the Lord, and the "light", that is the revelation of his goodness, are represented as messengers that God himself will send from heaven to take the faithful one by the hand and lead him to the desired goal (cf. Ps 43,3 [42],3).

Very eloquent is the sequence of stages of his drawing closer to Zion and its spiritual centre. First appears the holy hill on which stand the temple and citadel of David. Then the "dwellings" appear on the scene, the sanctuary of Zion with all the different spaces and buildings that make it up. Then "the altar of God", the place of sacrifice and of the official worship of the whole people. The last and decisive goal is the God of joy; his embrace, the intimate encounter with him who at first was distant and silent.

4. At this point everything becomes song, joy and celebration (cf. Ps 43,4). The original Hebrew speaks of "God who is the joy of my jubilation". This is a Semitic form of speech that expresses the superlative: the Psalmist wants to stress that the Lord is the source of all happiness, he is supreme joy, he is the fullness of peace. The Greek translation of the Septuagint had recourse, it seems, to an equivalent Aramaic term that means "youth", and translated it "to God the joy of my youth", thus introducing the idea of the freshness and intensity of joy that the Lord gives. Thus the Latin Psalter of the Vulgate, a translation made from the Greek, says: "ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam" (To God who gives joy to my youth). In this form the Psalm was recited at the foot of the altar, in the preceding Eucharistic liturgy, as an introductory invocation to the encounter with the Lord.

11 5. The initial lament of the antiphon of Psalms 41[42]-42[43] resounds for the last time at the end (cf. Ps 43,5 [42], 5). The person praying has not yet reached the temple of God, he is still overwhelmed by the darkness of the trial; but now before his eyes shines the light of the future encounter, and his lips already experience the tone of the song of joy. At this point, the appeal is largely characterized by hope. In commenting on our Psalm St Augustine in fact observes: "Hope in God, he will respond to him whose soul disquiets him.... Meanwhile live in hope: for "hope that is seen is not hope; but if we hope for that which we cannot see, it is thanks to patience that we wait for it' (cf. Rm 8,24-25)" (Esposizioni sui Salmi, I, Rome 1982, p. 1019 [Expositions on the Psalms, I]).

The Psalm then becomes the prayer of the one who is a pilgrim on earth and still finds himself in contact with evil and suffering, but has the certainty that the endpoint of history is not an abyss of death, but rather a saving encounter with God. This certainty is even stronger for Christians, to whom the Letter to the Hebrews proclaims: "You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the just made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel" (He 12,22-24).

The Holy Father then addressed the faithful in English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors he said:

I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, especially the members of the Apostolate for the Vietnamese in Diaspora. My warm greeting also goes to the pilgrims from the Diocese of Charleston. I thank the Choir from Saint John the Baptist Church for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you and your families I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lastly, the Holy Father said in Italian:

I want to greet the young people, the sick, and the newly-wed couples. Today we are celebrating the liturgical memorial of St Paul Miki and his companions, the Japanese martyrs.

May the courage of these faithful witnesses of Christ help you, dear young people, to open your hearts to the heroism of holiness. May it sustain you, dear sick people, as you offer up the precious gift of prayer and suffering for the whole Church. And may it give you, dear newly-wed couples, strength to make your families a place where you will live a life shaped by Christian values.

My Blessing to you all.

Ash Wednesday 13 February 2002


1. The general audience today, Ash Wednesday, is characterized by a special spirit of prayer, reflection and penitence. With the whole Church we begin a 40-day journey in preparation for Easter, with the austere sign of the imposition of ashes coupled with the word of Christ: "Repent and believe in the Gospel". The Church reminds every human being of his condition as sinner and the need for repentance and conversion.

Christian faith reminds us that this pressing call to reject evil and to do good is the gift of God, from whom comes every good thing for human life. Everything begins with the free initiative of God, who creates us for happiness and directs everything towards its true good. With his grace, he precedes our own desire of conversion and he accompanies our efforts to adhere fully to his saving will.

2. In this year's Lenten Message, published a few days ago, I wished to indicate to the whole Catholic world the theme of the free giftedness (gratuità) of the initiative of God in our lives, an essential element of the whole Biblical revelation. Lent is "a providential time for conversion", because it "helps us to contemplate this stupendous mystery of love" on account of which Jesus exhorts us: "You received without paying, give without pay" (
Mt 10,8). We can see how the Lenten journey is shown in its deepest reality as "a return to the roots of our faith, so that by pondering the measureless gift of grace which is Redemption, we cannot fail to realize that all has been given to us by God's loving initiative" (Message for Lent, n. 1, L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, n. 6, 6 February 2002, p. 1).

The Apostle Paul expresses with incisive and timely phrases the free giftedness (gratuità) of the grace of God, who reconciled us with himself out of love. In fact he reminds us: "Why one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die.

But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rm 5,7-8). That God who in his immense love created us, and who also out of love destined us to full communion with himself, awaits from us a similar generous, free and conscious response.

3. The journey of conversion, that we confidently undertake today, enters fully into this original exchange of love and free gift (gratuità).Are not the almsgiving and the charitable activity which we are invited to perform, particularly during this season of penance, a response to the free gift (gratuità) of divine grace? If we have received a free gift, it is with a free gift that we should give back (cf. Mt 10,8).

Today's society has a deep need to rediscover the positive value of free giving (gratuità), especially because in our world what often prevails is a logic motivated exclusively by the pursuit of profit and gain at any price. Reacting to the widespread feeling that the logic of the market's profit motive guides every choice and act, and that the law of the greatest possible profit must prevail, Christian faith proposes again the idea of free giving, founded on the intelligent freedom of human beings inspired by authentic love.

We entrust these forty days of intense prayer and penance to the Virgin Mary, the "Mother of Fair Love". May she guide us and lead us to celebrate worthily the great mystery of the Passover of Christ, supreme revelation of the free and merciful love of our heavenly Father.

At the end of his talk, the Holy Father then gave a summary to the pilgrims in French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Flemish, Slovak, and Italian. He greeted the English-speaking pilgrims.

I warmly welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today, especially those from England and the United States of America. May these days of Lent be a time of renewal and blessing for you all!

Wednesday 27 February 2002 - Canticle of thanksgiving after nightmare of illness

Canticle of King Hezekiah in Isaiah, chapter 38.

13 Is 38

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. In the various canticles that it combines with the Psalms, the Liturgy of the Hours offers us a hymn of thanksgiving with the title: "The Canticle of Hezekiah, King of Judah, after he had been sick and recovered from his sickness" (Is 38,9). It is found in a section of the book of the prophet Isaiah that is given to historical narratives (cf. Is 36-39), whose histories repeat, with few variants, those presented in the Second Book of Kings (cf. chapters 2R 18-20).

Following the liturgy of Lauds, today we have heard and used for our prayer two strophes of the Canticle that describe the two typical movements of the prayer of thanksgiving: first, one evokes the nightmare of suffering from which the Lord has freed his faithful one, and second, one joyfully sings in thanksgiving for the recovery of life and salvation.

King Hezekiah, a just ruler and friend of the prophet Isaiah, was struck down by a serious illness, that the prophet Isaiah said to be mortal (Is 38,1). "Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, and said "Remember Lord I beseech you, how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight'. Hezekiah wept bitterly. Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: "Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer and have seen your tears; behold I will add fifteen years to your life!' "(Is 38,2-5).

2. At this point the canticle of thanksgiving bursts from the heart of the king. As I said earlier, he first looks to the past. According to the ancient conception of Israel, death introduced one into a subterranean existence, in Hebrew Sheol, where light was put out, life faded away and became almost ghostlike, time came to a halt, hope was extinguished, and above all there was no longer any possibility of calling upon God and meeting him in worship.

This is why Hezekiah recalled first of all the words full of bitterness that he spoke when his life was sliding towards the frontier of death: "I shall not see the Lord in the land of the living" (Is 38,11). The Psalmist also prayed this way on the day of his sickness: "No one among the dead remembers you, O Lord. Who sings your praises in Sheol?" (Ps 6,6). Instead, freed from the danger of death, Hezekiah could confirm forcefully and joyfully: "The living, the living, give you thanks as I do this day" (Is 38,19).

3. On this subject, the Canticle of Hezekiah takes a new tone, if read in the light of Easter. Already in the Old Testament, great flashes of light were reflected in the psalms, when the one praying proclaimed his certainty that "you will not abandon me to Sheol, nor let your faithful one see corruption. You will show me the path of life, fullness of joy in your presence, at your right hand rejoicing without end" (Ps 16,10-11 [15], 10-11; cf. Ps 49 [48] and Ps 73 [72]). For his part, the author of the Book of Wisdom no longer hesitates to affirm that the hope of the righteous is "full of immortality" (Sg 3,4), because he is convinced that the experience of communion with God lived during the earthly life will not be broken. We will remain always beyond death, sustained and protected by the eternal and infinite God, because the "souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them" (Sg 3,1).

Above all, with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, a seed of eternity was planted and made grow in our mortal perishability, which is why we can repeat the words of the Apostle, based on the Old Testament: "And when that which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and that which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about: "Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, o death, is your victory? Where, o death, is your sting?' " (1Co 15,54-55 cf. Is 25,8 Os 13,14).

4. However, the canticle of King Hezekiah also invites us to reflect on the fragility of the creature. The images are thought-provoking. Human life is described with the nomadic symbol of the tent: We are always pilgrims and guests on earth. It also refers to images of cloth, that is woven and can remain incomplete when the thread is cut and the work is interrupted (cf. Is 38,12). The Psalmist feels the same sensation: "You have given my days a very short span; my life is as nothing before you. All mortals are but a breath. Mere shadows, we go our way; mere vapour our restless pursuits" (Ps 39,6-7 [38],6-7). We should recover an awareness of our limitations, knowing that "seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty, if we are strong; most of them are sorrow or toil; they pass quickly, we are all but gone", as the Psalmist says again (Ps 90,10 [89],10).

5. Therefore, in the day of sickness and suffering, it is right to raise one's lament to God, as Hezekiah teaches us; using poetic images, he describes his weeping as the chirping of a swallow and the moaning of a dove (cf. Is 38,124). And, even if he doesn't hesitate to admit that he feels that God is an adversary, almost like a lion that breaks all his bones (cf. Is 38,13), he does not cease to invoke him: "O Lord, I am in straits; be my surety!" (Is 38,14).

The Lord is not indifferent to the tears of the one who suffers, and he responds, consoles and saves, although not always in ways that coincide with what we expect. It is what Hezekiah confesses at the end, encouraging all to hope, to pray, to have confidence, with the certainty that God will not abandon his creatures: "The Lord is our saviour; we shall sing to stringed instruments in the house of the Lord all the days of our life" (Is 38,20).

14 6. The medieval Latin tradition conserves a spiritual commentary on the canticle of King Hezekiah by one of the most important mystics of Western monasticism, St Bernard of Clairvaux. It is the third of his Various Sermons. In it, Bernard, applying to the life of each one the drama lived by the ruler of Judah, and internalizing his experience, writes: "I will bless the Lord at all times, namely from morning until evening, as I have learned to do, and not like those who only praise you when you do good to them, nor like those who believe for a certain time, but in the hour of temptation give way; but with the saints I will say: If we received good things from the hand of God, should we not also accept evil things? ... Thus both these moments of the day will be a time of service to God, because at night there will be weeping, and in the morning, joy. I will submerge myself in suffering at night so that I can then enjoy the happiness of the morning" (Scriptorium Claravallense, Sermo III, n. 6, Milan 2000, PP 59-60).

Thus, St Bernard reads the prayer of the king as representing the prayerful song of the Christian should have the same constancy and serenity in the darkness of the night and of trial, and in the light of day and of joy.

After the commentary the Holy Father greeted the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors. At the end he greeted young persons, the sick and the newly-weds.

I gladly offer warm greetings to the English-speaking visitors present today. I express my encouragement to the groups of priests and religious who are following courses of continuing education. Upon all of you, especially the pilgrims from Denmark, Norway, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kuwait, Japan and the United States of America, I invoke the grace and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Holy Father concluded the audience with greetings and best wishes for the young persons, the sick and the newly-weds who were there. He urged all to continue on their Lenten journey, docile to the action of the Holy Spirit, who is leading us in the footsteps of Christ to Jerusalem where he will accomplish his redemptive mission. We have to let him re-shape us with his grace so that in school, in sickness, or in family life we can experience the richness of the journey of conversion and penitence that we are living in this holy season.

                                                                              March 2002

Wednesday 6 March 2002 - Psalm 64£[65] "To you all flesh shall come with its burden of sin'

The Holy Father prepared his 32nd catechesis on Psalm 64[65] for the General Audience but was unable to read it himself due to arthritic pain in his right knee. Priests in the language sections of the Secretariate of State read the catechesis, summaries and greetings in French, English, German, Spanish, Czeck, Croatian. After the audience the Holy Father greeted the faithful from the window of his study and thanked them for their prayers for his speedy recovery.

Ps 65

1. Our journey through the Psalms of the Liturgy of Lauds leads us now to a hymn that captivates us with the fascinating spring scene of the last part (cf. Ps 65,10-14 [64]10-14), a scene full of freshness, ablaze with colours and pervaded by joyful voices.

In fact Psalm 64[65] has a broader structure, the result of the interlacing of two different tones: first, the historical theme of the forgiveness of sins and God's closeness emerges (cf. Ps 65,2-5), then the cosmic subject of God's action in the confrontation of seas and mountains (cf. Ps 65,6-9a); lastly, the description of spring is developed (cf. Ps 65,9-14): in the sun-baked, arid panorama of the Middle East, the rain that brings fruitfulness expresses the Lord's fidelity toward creation (cf. Ps 104,13-16 [103],13-16). For the Bible, creation is the home of humanity and sin an attack on the order and perfection of the world. Thus conversion and forgiveness restore integrity and harmony to the cosmos.

2. In the first part of the Psalm we are inside the temple of Zion. Burdened by the moral miseries they have accumulated, the people flock there to pray for deliverance from evil (cf. Ps 65,2-4 [64],2-4a). Once they have obtained absolution from their sins, the faithful feel welcomed by God, close to him, ready to be led to his banquet, and to take part in the feast of divine intimacy (cf. Ps 65,4-5).

The Lord who rises in the temple is then represented with a glorious, cosmic profile. Indeed, he is called "the hope of all the ends of the earth, and of the farthest seas ... who by [his] strength has established the mountains ... girded with might ... stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves and the tumult of the peoples, so that those who dwell at farthest bounds of the earth are afraid at [his] signs", from east to west (Ps 65,6-9).

3. At the heart of this celebration of God the Creator, we would like to highlight one event: The Lord is also able to dominate and silence the tumult of the ocean waters, which in the Bible are the symbol of chaos, opposed to the order of creation (cf. Jb 38,8-11). This is a way of exalting the divine victory, not only over nothingness, but also over evil: this is why the "tumult of the peoples" (cf. Ps 65,8 [64],8), that is, the rebellion of the proud is also associated with the motif of the "roaring of the seas" and the "roaring of their waves".

St Augustine comments aptly: "The sea is the figure of this world, bitter with saltiness, troubled by storms, where men and women with their perverse and depraved appetites have become like fish devouring one another at will. Look at this tempestuous sea, the bitter sea with its cruel waves!... Let us not behave like this, brothers, for the Lord is the hope of all the ends of the earth" (Esposizione sui Salmi [Exposition on the Psalms] II, Rome 1990, p. 475).

The conclusion the Psalm suggests is an easy one: God, who imposes order on chaos and puts an end to the evil in the world and in history, can overcome and forgive the malice and sin that the praying person bears within and presents in the temple with the certainty of divine purification.

4. At this point, the other waters enter the scene: the waters of life and fruitfulness that in spring drench the earth and spiritually represent the new life of the faithful who have been pardoned. The last verses of the Psalm (cf. Ps 65,10-14 [64],10-14), as has been said, are of great beauty and meaning.

God quenches the thirst of the earth parched by drought and by the winter ice, by showering it with rain. The Lord is like a farmer (cf. Jn 15,1) who with his labour makes the wheat grow and the grass spring up. He prepares the ground, he irrigates the furrows, he breaks up the clods, and waters every part of his field.

The Psalmist uses 10 verbs to describe the loving action of the Creator for the earth, transformed into a kind of living creature. Indeed, all its parts "shout and sing together for joy" (Ps 65,14 [64],14).

The three verbs connected with the symbol of clothing are thought-provoking in this regard: "The hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain" (Ps 65,13-14). The image is one of a meadow specked with the white of the sheep; perhaps the hills are girded with vines, a sign of their product, wine, "to gladden the heart of man" (Ps 104,15 [103],15); the valleys put on the golden mantle of the harvests. Verse 12 also recalls the crowns, perhaps reminiscent of the garlands set upon the heads of the guests at festive banquets (cf. Is 28,1 Is 28,5).

16 5. As though in a sort of procession all the creatures together turn to their Creator and Sovereign, dancing and singing, praising and praying. Once again nature becomes an eloquent sign of divine action; it is a page, open to all, ready to express the message the Creator has written on it, so that "from the greatness and beauty of created things their original author by analogy is perceived" (Sg 13,5 cf. Rm 1,20). In this lyric, theological contemplation and poetic abandon blend to become adoration and praise.

However, the most intense meeting which the Psalmist looks forward to throughout his song is that which unites creation and redemption. Just as in springtime the earth revives once again through the action of the Creator, so man rises from his sin through the action of the Redeemer. Creation and history thus are under the provident, saving gaze of the Lord, who calms the tumultuous and destructive waters and gives water that purifies, fertilizes, and quenches thirst. The Lord, in fact, "heals the broken hearted and binds uptheir wounds", but also "covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the mountains" (Ps 147,3 Ps 147,8 [147],3.8).

Thus the Psalm becomes a hymn to divine grace. Once again, St Augustine in commenting on our Psalm recalls this transcendent, unique gift: "The Lord God is telling you in your heart: I am your treasure. Do not go after what the world promises, but after what the Creator of the world promises! Pay attention to what God promises you, if you observe justice; and despise what man promises, to lure you away from righteousness. Do not go after what the world promises you! Rather, consider what the Creator of the world promises" (l.c., p. 481).

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors at the end of the commentary, the priest speaking in the name of the Holy Father said:

His Holiness extends a special greeting to the many groups of students present at today’s audience, including the seminarians of the Blessed John the XXIII National Seminary in Massachusetts. He invites all of you to be open to the grace of Christ, especially as we prepare for Easter, so that you may be filled with true joy and peace. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, in particular those from Denmark and the United States, he invokes God’s abundant blessings.

Following are the words John Paul II addressed, from the window of his study, to the faithful and pilgrims gathered in St Peter's Square.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Thank you for your visit and for your prayers for my speedy recovery. We meditated together on the Word of God taken from Psalm 64 [65]. It invites us not to go after what the world promises us, but, instead, to consider what the Creator of the world promises. With these sentiments, I exhort you always to trust in divine Providence, source of peace and serenity.

We continue on our Lenten journey, with our gaze directed toward Christ, whom we can find in the intimacy of prayer. I greet each one warmly, especially young people, the sick and newly-weds.

Wednesday 13 March 2002 Psalm 76 £[77] - God renews the saving wonders of his love

Ps 77

1. By including Psalm 76[77] that we have just proclaimed in the morning Lauds, the liturgy wants to remind us that the beginning of a new day is not always bright. Just as dark days dawn when the sky is covered with clouds threatening a storm, so our life knows days that are filled with sorrows and fears. This is why already at daybreak our prayer becomes a lament, a supplication, a plea for help.

Our Psalm is precisely a plea that rises to God with insistence, deeply motivated by trust, indeed, by the certainty that he will intervene. In fact, for the Psalmist the Lord is not an impassive emperor relegated to his shining heavens and indifferent to our affairs. From this impression that sometimes grips us arise questions so bitter that could bring about a crisis of faith: "Is God denying his love and his election? Has he forgotten the past when he sustained us and made us happy?". As we will see, such questions are swept away by renewed trust in God, our Redeemer and our Saviour.

2. So let us follow the way this prayer develops as it begins in a dramatic tone, in anguish, and then gradually opens to serenity and hope. First of all, we have before us the lamentation on the sad present and the silence of God (cf. Ps 77,2-11). A cry for help is raised to a seemingly mute heaven, imploring hands are lifted, the heart misses a beat through sorrow. In the sleepless night of tears and prayers, a song "returns to the heart", as is said in verse 7, a sorrowful refrain continually re-echoes in the depths of the soul.

When pain reaches its limit and one wishes that the cup of suffering be removed (cf. Mt 26,39), words explode and become an agonizing question, as we said earlier (cf. Ps 77,8-11 [76],8-11). This loud cry questions the mystery of God and of his silence.

3. The Psalmist wonders why the Lord is ever rejecting him, why he has changed his appearance and action, forgetting his love, his promise of salvation and his tender mercy. "The right hand of the Most High" that accomplished the saving wonders of the Exodus, now seems paralyzed (cf. Ps 77,11). It is a real "torment" that brings into crisis the faith of the person praying.

Were this true, God would be unrecognizable, he would become a cruel being or a presence like that of idols that cannot save because they are incapable of it, indifferent and powerless. These verses of the first part of Psalm 76 [77] contain the whole drama of faith in the time of trial and of God's silence.

4. But there are reasons for hope. This is what emerges from the second part of the plea (cf. Ps 77,12-21), similar to a hymn that is intended to propose again the courageous confirmation of faith, even on the dark day of pain. The psalmist sings of the salvation of the past, that had its epiphany of light in the creation and in the liberation from the slavery of Egypt. The bitter present is illuminated by the saving experience of the past, a seed sown in history: it is not dead but only buried, and will spring up again (cf. Jn 12,24).

The Psalmist then has recourse to an important biblical concept, that of the "memorial" which is not merely a vague, consoling memory, but the certainty of divine action that is unfailing: "I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; yes, your wonders of old I will remember" (Ps 77,12 [76],12). To profess faith in the works of salvation of the past leads to faith in what the Lord is constantly doing, hence also in the present: "Your way, O God, is holy.... You are the God who works wonders" (Ps 77,14-15). Thus the present that seemed without a way out and without light, is illuminated by faith in God and open to hope.

5. To sustain this faith the Psalmist cites what is probably a more ancient hymn, perhaps chanted in the liturgy of the Temple of Zion (cf. Ps 77,17-20). It is a deafening theophany in which the Lord bursts into the scene of history, overwhelming nature and in particular, the waters, a symbol of chaos, evil and suffering. Very beautiful is the image of God's path on the waters, sign of his triumph over negative forces: "Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters, yet your footprints were unseen" (Ps 77,20). And we are reminded of Christ walking on the waters, an eloquent symbol of his victory over evil (cf. Jn 6,16-20).

Recalling at the end that God guided his people "like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron" (Ps 77,21 [76],21), the Psalm leads implicitly to a certainty: God will return to lead us to salvation. His powerful and invisible hand will be with us through the visible hand of the pastors and guides he has established. The Psalm, that begins with a cry of distress, ends by awakening sentiments of faith and hope in the great shepherd of our souls (cf. He 13,20 1P 2,25).

I warmly welcome the Latin students of the Katedralskolan in Skara, Sweden, and the students of the Egmont Hojskollen in Denmark. I thank the Choir from Phoenix for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Japan and the United States, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I cordially welcome the group representing the Religious Leaders of the three monotheistic religions present in the Holy Land, who gathered recently in Alexandria and issued the First Alexandria Declaration of the Religious Leaders of the Holy Land. We are all saddened by the daily instances of violence and death in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Our mission as men and women of religion impels us to pray for peace, to proclaim peace and to do everything in our power to help bring an end to the bloodshed.

I reiterate the firm determination of the Catholic Church to work for a just peace. May Almighty God bless your efforts to foster reconciliation and trust between all the beloved people of the Holy Land.