Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am pleased to welcome you and I address a cordial greeting to all of you present here, as well as to those who are following us via radio and television. As I already expressed in the Sistine Chapel at my first Meeting with the Cardinals last Wednesday, mixed feelings fill my heart during these days when I am beginning my Petrine Ministry: amazement and gratitude to God who first of all surprised me by calling me to succeed the Apostle Peter; inner apprehension at the immensity of the task and the responsibility which have been entrusted to me. However, the certainty of the help of God, of his Most Holy Mother, the Virgin Mary, and of the Patron Saints, gives me serenity and joy. I also find support in the spiritual closeness of the entire People of God who, as I had an opportunity to say last Sunday, I continue to ask to accompany me with their persistent prayers.
After the holy death of my Venerable Predecessor John Paul II, the traditional Wednesday General Audiences are resuming today. Thus, we are returning to normality. At this first Meeting, I would like to begin by reflecting on the name that I chose on becoming Bishop of Rome and universal Pastor of the Church. I wanted to be called Benedict XVI in order to create a spiritual bond with Benedict XV, who steered the Church through the period of turmoil caused by the First World War. He was a courageous and authentic prophet of peace and strove with brave courage first of all to avert the tragedy of the war and then to limit its harmful consequences. Treading in his footsteps, I would like to place my ministry at the service of reconciliation and harmony between persons and peoples, since I am profoundly convinced that the great good of peace is first and foremost a gift of God, a precious but unfortunately fragile gift to pray for, safeguard and build up, day after day, with the help of all.
The name "Benedict" also calls to mind the extraordinary figure of the great "Patriarch of Western Monasticism", St Benedict of Norcia, Co-Patron of Europe together with Sts Cyril and Methodius, and the women Saints, Bridget of Sweden, Catherine of Siena and Edith Stein. The gradual expansion of the Benedictine Order that he founded had an enormous influence on the spread of Christianity across the Continent. St Benedict is therefore deeply venerated, also in Germany and particularly in Bavaria, my birthplace; he is a fundamental reference point for European unity and a powerful reminder of the indispensable Christian roots of his culture and civilization.
We are familiar with the recommendation that this Father of Western Monasticism left to his monks in his Rule: "Prefer nothing to the love of Christ" (Rule RB 72,11; cf. RB 4,21). At the beginning of my service as Successor of Peter, I ask St Benedict to help us keep Christ firmly at the heart of our lives. May Christ always have pride of place in our thoughts and in all our activities!
I think back with affection to my Venerable Predecessor John Paul II, to whom we are indebted for his extraordinary spiritual heritage. "Our Christian communities", he wrote in his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, "must become genuine "schools' of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly "falls in love'" (NM 33). This is what Pope John Paul II did. He sought to put these instructions into practice himself, commenting on the Psalms of Lauds and Vespers at the most recent of his Wednesday Catecheses. Just as at the beginning of his Pontificate John Paul II wanted to continue the reflections on the Christian virtues that his Predecessor had begun (cf. L'Osservatore Romano English edition, General Audience of 25 October 1978, p. 5), I also intend to continue in the coming months the reflections that he had prepared on the second part of the Psalms and Canticles which comprise Vespers. Next Wednesday, therefore, I will take up his Catecheses where he left off, after his General Audience last 26 January.
Dear Friends, thank you again for your visit, and thank you for the affection with which you surround me. I cordially reciprocate these sentiments with a special Blessing, which I impart to all of you here, to your relatives and to all your loved ones.
To English-speaking pilgrims
I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including groups from England, Wales, Ireland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Australia, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Singapore and the United States of America. Thank you for the affection with which you have greeted me. Upon all of you, I invoke the peace and joy of Jesus Christ our Lord!
To special groups
Lastly, my thoughts go to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. May the Risen Lord fill the heart of each one of you with his love, dear young people, so that you will be ready to follow him with enthusiasm; may he support you, dear sick people, so that you will accept the burden of suffering serenely; and may he guide you, dear newly-weds, to make your family grow in holiness.
Let us conclude our meeting by singing together the prayer of the Our Father.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. As I announced last Wednesday, in our Catecheses I have decided to continue the commentary on the Psalms and Canticles of Vespers, using the texts prepared by my beloved Predecessor, Pope John Paul II.
Let us begin today with Psalm 121. The Psalm is one of the "songs of ascents" that accompanied the pilgrimage to the encounter with the Lord in the Temple of Zion. It is a Psalm of trust, for the Hebrew verb shamar, "to safeguard, to protect", is repeated in it six times. God, whose name is frequently invoked, emerges as the ever vigilant, attentive and concerned "guardian", the "sentinel" who keeps watch over his people to protect them from every hazard and danger.
The song begins with the Psalmist raising his eyes "to the mountains", that is, to the hills crowned by Jerusalem: from up there comes help, for there, in his temple, the Lord dwells (cf. vv. Ps 121,1-2).
However, the word "mountains" can also conjure up images of idolatrous shrines in the so-called "high places", which are frequently condemned in the Old Testament (cf. 1R 3,2 2R 18,4). In this case, there would have been a contrast: while the pilgrim was advancing towards Zion, his eyes would have lit on pagan temples that were a great temptation to him. But his faith was steadfast and he was certain of one thing alone: "My help shall come from the Lord, who made heaven and earth" (Ps 121,2 ).
There are also similar things in our pilgrimage through life. We see the high places that spread out before us as a promise of life: wealth, power, prestige, the easy life. These high places are temptations, for they truly seem like the promise of life. But with our faith we realize that this is not true and that these high places are not life. True life, true help, comes from the Lord. And we turn our gaze, therefore, to the true high places, to the true mountain: Christ.
2. This trust is illustrated in the Psalm through the image of the guardian and sentinel, who watch and protect. There is also an allusion to the foot that does not stumble (cf. Ps 121,3) on the way through life, and perhaps to the shepherd who, stopping for the night, watches over his flock without falling asleep or dozing (cf. v. 4). The divine Pastor knows no rest in the task of caring for his people, for all of us.
Another symbol is then introduced into the Psalm: "shade", which implies that the journey is resumed during the heat of the day (cf. v. 5). Let us remember the historic march through the desert of Sinai where the Lord preceded Israel "in the daytime by means of a column of cloud to show them the way" (Ex 13,21). Many prayers in the Psalter say: "Hide me in the shadow of your wings" (Ps 17,8; cf. Ps 91,1 ). Here too, there is an aspect that relates to our life. Our lives move beneath a merciless sun; the Lord is the shade that protects and helps us.
3. After the vigil and the shade there is the third symbol, that of the Lord who is "at [the] right side" of his faithful (cf. Ps 121: 5). This is the position of defence, both in military and court contexts: it is the certainty of never being abandoned in a time of trial, in an assault by evil or by persecution. At this point the Psalmist returns to the idea of a journey on a scorching hot day on which God protects us from the fierce heat of the sun.
But night follows day. In ancient times it was also thought that moonbeams were harmful and caused fever or blindness, or even madness; thus, the Lord also protects us at night time (cf. v. 6), in the nights of our lives.
The Psalm now draws to a close with a concise declaration of trust: God will protect us with love at every moment, guarding our lives from every evil (cf. v. 7). All our activities, summed up in two opposite verbs, "going" and "coming", always take place under the vigilant gaze of the Lord, as do all our acts and all our time, "both now and for ever" (v. 8).
4. Let us now, in conclusion, comment on this final declaration of trust with a spiritual testimony of the ancient Christian tradition. In fact, in the Epistolarium of Barsanuphius of Gaza (who died in the mid-sixth century), a widely renowned aesthete sought out by monks, clerics and lay people for the wisdom of his discernment, we find several references to the verse of our Psalm: "The Lord will guard you from evil, he will guard your soul". With this Psalm, with this verse, Barsanuphius wanted to comfort all those who came to him with their toils, life's trials, dangers and misfortunes.
Once asked by a monk to pray for him and his companions, Barsanuphius responded as follows, including the citation of this verse in his greeting: "My beloved sons, I embrace you in the Lord, entreating him to protect you from all evil, and to support you as he did Job, to give you grace as he gave to Joseph, gentleness as to Moses and valour in battle as to Joshua, the son of Nun, mastery of thought as to the judges, victory over enemies as to King David and King Solomon, fertile land as to the Israelites.... May he grant you forgiveness of your sins with the healing of the body as he did to the paralytic. May he save you from the waters as he did Peter and snatch you from troubles as he did Paul and the other Apostles. May he protect you from every evil, as his true children, and grant you your heart's desire, for the advantage of your soul and your body, in his name. Amen" (Barsanuphius and John of Gaza, Epistolario 194: Collana di Testi Patristici, XCIII, Rome, 1991, pp. 235-236).
To English-speaking pilgrims
I am pleased to greet the students of the Faculty of Canon Law of St Paul University in Ottawa, Canada. My warm welcome goes to all the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, including the pilgrimage groups from England, Ireland, Australia, Canada and the United States. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke God's Blessings of joy and peace.
To special groups
I address a warm welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular I greet the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Bétharram and the Little Sisters, Missionaries of Charity of St Luigi Orione, who are celebrating their respective General Chapters. Dear brothers and sisters, always be faithful to the spirit of your Founders, to be courageous Gospel witnesses in our time.
I also greet the seminarians from Pius XI Regional Seminary in Puglia: dear friends, as I assure you of my spiritual closeness, I pray to the spirit of the Risen One to help you discern God's call.
Lastly, I would like as usual to address the young people, the sick and the newly-weds.
In this month of May dedicated especially to the Mother of the Lord, I invite you, dear young people, to learn from Mary to love and follow Christ above all things. May Our Lady help you, dear sick people, to look with faith at the mystery of pain and to grasp the saving value of every cross. I entrust you, dear newly-weds, to the motherly protection of the Blessed Virgin, so that you will live out in your own family the atmosphere of prayer and love of the home in Nazareth.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. Brief and solemn, incisive and grandiose in tone: this is the Canticle we have now heard and thus made our own, raising it to the "Lord God the Almighty" (Ap 15,3) as a hymn of praise. It is one of the many prayerful texts with which the Book of Revelation is studded, the last book of Sacred Scripture, a book of judgment, salvation and above all, of hope.
History, in fact, is not in the hands of the powers of darkness, chance or human decisions alone. When evil energy that we see is unleashed, when Satan vehemently bursts in, when a multitude of scourges and ills surface, the Lord, the supreme arbiter of historical events, arises. He leads history wisely towards the dawn of the new heavens and the new earth of which, in the image of the new Jerusalem, the last part of the Book of Revelation sings (cf. 21-22).
It is the just of history, the victors over the Satanic Beast, who intone this Canticle on which we now intend to meditate. It is they who, through their apparent defeat in martyrdom, are in fact the true builders of the new world, with God, the supreme Architect.
2. They begin by exalting the "great and wonderful" "deeds" and "ways" of the Lord that are "just and true" (cf. v. 3). The language used in this Canticle is characteristic of the Exodus of Israel from the slavery in Egypt. The first Canticle of Moses, which he proclaimed after the Red Sea crossing, celebrates the Lord who is "terrible in renown, worker of wonders" (Ex 15,11). His second Canticle, cited in Deuteronomy towards the end of the great legislator's life, reaffirms "how faultless are his deeds, how right all his ways" (Dt 32,4).
There is consequently a desire to reaffirm that God is not indifferent to human events but penetrates them, creating his own "ways" or, in other words, his effective plans and "deeds".
3. According to our hymn, his divine intervention has a very precise purpose: to be a sign that invites all the peoples of the earth to conversion. The hymn thus invites all of us, ever anew, to conversion. The nations must learn to "read" God's message in history. The adventure of humanity is not confused and meaningless, nor is it doomed never to be appealed against or to be abused by the overbearing and the perverse.
It is possible to discern the divine action that is concealed in history. The Second Vatican Council, in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, also invites believers to examine the signs of the times in the light of the Gospel, in order to find in them a manifestation of God's action (cf. nn. 4, 11). This attitude of faith leads men and women to recognize the power of God who works in history and thus to open themselves to feeling awe for the name of the Lord. In biblical language, in fact, this "fear" is not fright, it does not denote fear, for fear of God is something quite different. It is recognition of the mystery of divine transcendence. Thus, it is at the root of faith and is interwoven with love. Sacred Scripture says in Deuteronomy: "What does the Lord, your God, ask of you but to fear the Lord, your God, and... to love... the Lord, your God, with all your heart and all your soul" (cf. Dt 10,12). As St Hilary of Poitiers, a fourth-century Bishop, said: "All our fear is in love".
Along these lines, in our brief hymn taken from Revelation, fear and the glorification of God are combined. The hymn says: "Who shall not fear and glorify your name, O Lord?" (Ap 15,4). Thanks to fear of the Lord we are not afraid of the evil that rages in history and we vigorously resume our journey through life. It is precisely thanks to fear of God that we are not afraid of the world and of all these problems, that we are not afraid of people, for God is more powerful. Pope John XXIII once said, "Those who believe do not tremble because, fearing God who is good, they are not afraid of the world or of the future". And this is what the Prophet Isaiah says: "Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak. Say to those whose hearts are frightened: "Be strong, fear not!'" (Is 35,3-4).
4. The hymn concludes by foretelling that a universal procession of peoples will come and worship the Lord of history, revealed through his "just and true judgments" (cf. Ap 15,4). They will prostrate themselves in adoration. And the one Lord and Saviour seems to repeat to them the words he spoke on the last evening of his earthly life when he said to his Apostles: "Take courage! I have overcome the world!" (Jn 16,33).
Let us conclude our brief reflection on the "song of the Lamb" (cf. Ap 15,3), sung by the just of Revelation, with an ancient hymn of the Lucernarium, that is, a prayer at Vespers that was formerly known to St Basil the Great of Cesarea. This hymn says: "Come sunset, when we see the evening twilight fall, let us praise the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit of God. You deserve to be praised at every moment by holy voices, Son of God, you who give life. For this the world glorifies you (S. Pricoco-M. Simonetti, La preghiera dei cristiani, Milan, 2000, p. 97).
To English-speaking pilgrims
In the name of Christ, I greet all the English-speaking visitors present at the Audience, including pilgrims from England, Ireland and the United States of America. I warmly welcome you to Rome, the city of the Apostles Peter and Paul, and I pray that the time you spend here may be a source of spiritual refreshment. Upon you and all your loved ones, I invoke God's Blessings of joy and peace.
To special groups
Lastly I address you, young people, sick people and newly-weds. The day after tomorrow is the liturgical Memorial of Our Lady of Fatima. Dear friends, I urge you to pray ceaselessly and confidently to the Blessed Virgin, as I entrust to her your every need.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Before entering into a brief interpretation of the Psalm just sung, I would like to remind you that today is the birthday of our beloved Pope John Paul II, who would have been 85 years old. We are certain that he sees us from heaven and is with us. On this occasion we want to tell the Lord a heartfelt "thank you" for the gift of this Pope and to say "thank you" to the Pope himself for all that he did and suffered.
1. We have just heard, in its simplicity and beauty, Psalm 113, a true introduction into a small group of Psalms that go from 113 to 118, commonly known as the "Egyptian Hallel". It is the Alleluia, or song of praise, that exalts the liberation from Pharaoh's slavery and the joy of Israel to serve the Lord freely in the Promised Land (cf. Ps 114).
The Jewish tradition intentionally connected this series of Psalms to the Paschal liturgy. The celebration of that event, according to its historical-social and, more especially, spiritual dimensions, was perceived as a sign of liberation from the multifaceted forms of evil.
Psalm 113 is a brief hymn that in its original Hebrew consists of only 60 or so words, all imbued with sentiments of trust, praise and joy.
2. The first strophe (cf. Ps 113: 1-3) praises "the name of the Lord" who, as is known, indicates in Biblical language the person of God himself, his presence, living and working in human history.
Three times, with impassioned insistence, the "name of the Lord" resounds at the centre of the prayer of adoration. All being and all time - "from the rising of the sun to its setting", as the Psalmist says (v. 3) - are involved in a single action of grace. It is as if a ceaseless breath were rising from earth to heaven to praise the Lord, Creator of the universe and King of history.
3. Precisely by means of this ascending movement, the Psalm leads us to the divine mystery. Indeed, the second part (cf. vv. 4-6) celebrates the Lord's transcendence, described with vertical images that go beyond the mere human horizon. It is proclaimed: the Lord is "sublime", "enthroned on high", and no one is equal; also, to look at the heavens he must "stoop", since "above the heavens is his glory" (v. 4).
The divine gaze watches over all realities, over all beings, earthly and heavenly. However, his eyes are not arrogant and distant, like that of a cold emperor. The Lord, the Psalmist says, "stoops... to look" (v. 6).
4. In this way, we pass to the last part of the Psalm (cf. vv. 7-9), which moves the attention from the heights of the heavens to our earthly horizon. The Lord attentively stoops down towards our littleness and poverty, which drives us to withdraw in fear. He looks directly, with his loving gaze and his real concern, upon the world's lowly and poor: "From the dust he lifts up the lowly, from his misery he raises the poor" (v. 7).
God bends down, therefore, to console the needy and those who suffer; this word finds its ultimate wealth, its ultimate meaning in the moment in which God bends over to the point of bending down, of becoming one of us, one of the world's poor. He bestows the greatest honour on the poor, that of sitting "in the company of princes, yes, with the princes of his people" (v. 8). To the abandoned and childless woman, humiliated by ancient society as if she were a worthless, dead branch, God gives the honour and the immense joy of many children (cf. v. 9). And so, the Psalmist praises a God who is very different from us in his grandeur, but at the same time very close to his suffering creatures.
It is easy to draw from these final verses of Psalm 113 the prefiguration of the words of Mary in the Magnificat, the Canticle of God's chosen one, who "looked with favour on his lowly servant". More radically than our Psalm, Mary proclaims that God "casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly" (cf. Lc 1,48 : Ps 6-8).
5. A very ancient "Hymn of Vespers", preserved in the so-called Apostolic Constitutions (VII, 48), takes up once more and develops the joyful introduction to our Psalm. We recall it here, at the end of our reflection, to highlight the customary "Christian" re-reading of the Psalms done by the early community: "Praise the Lord, O children, praise the name of the Lord. We worship you, we sing to you, we praise you for your immense glory. Lord King, Father of Christ, spotless Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. To you all praise, to you our song, to you the glory, to God the Father through the Son in the Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen" (S. Pricoco M. Simonetti, La preghiera dei cristiani, Milan, 2000, p. 97).
To special groups
In a special way I greet the Risho Kosei-kai Buddhist group from Gunmaota, Japan. I also extend a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims, particularly those from England, Indonesia, Canada and the United States of America. I pray that your time in Rome may be filled with grace and peace. In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, I invoke God's Blessing upon you and your loved ones.
Lastly, I address you, young people, sick people and newly-weds, encouraging you all to deepen the pious practice of the Holy Rosary, especially in this month of May dedicated to the Mother of God. The Rosary is evangelical prayer, helping us to understand better the fundamental mysteries of the story of salvation.
We conclude our meeting by singing the prayer of the Pater Noster.
1. Today we feel a strong wind. The wind in Sacred Scripture is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. We hope that the Holy Spirit will illumine us now in our meditation on Psalm 111 that we have just heard.
In this Psalm we find a hymn of praise and thanksgiving for the many benefits that describe God in his attributes and his work of salvation: the Psalmist speaks of "compassion", "love", "justice", "might", "truth", "uprightness", "standing firm", "covenant", "works", "wonders", even "food" which God provides, and lastly his glorious "name", that is, God himself.
Thus, prayer is contemplation of the mystery of God and the wonders that he works in the history of salvation.
2. The Psalm begins with the verb "to thank" that not only wells up from the heart of the person praying but also from the whole liturgical assembly (cf. v. 1). The subject of this prayer, which also includes the rite of thanksgiving, is expressed with the word "works" (cf. vv. 2, 3, 6, 7). "Works" indicate the saving interventions of the Lord, an expression of his "justice" (cf. v. 3), a word which, in biblical language, suggests in the very first place the love from which salvation is born.
Therefore, the heart of the Psalm becomes a hymn to the covenant (cf. vv. 4-9), that intimate bond which binds God to his people and entails a series of attitudes and gestures. Thus, the Psalmist speaks of "compassion and love" (cf. v. 4) in the wake of the great proclamation on Sinai: "The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity" (Ex 34,6).
"Compassion" is the divine grace that envelops and transfigures the faithful, while "love" is expressed in the original Hebrew with the use of a characteristic term that refers to the maternal "womb" of the Lord, even more merciful than that of a mother (cf. Is Is 49,15).
3. This bond of love includes the fundamental gift of food and therefore of life (cf. Ps 111: 5), which the Christian interpretation was to identify with the Eucharist, as St Jerome says: "As food he gave the Bread come down from Heaven: if we are worthy of it, let us eat it!" (Breviarium in Psalmos, 110: PL XXVI, 1238-1239).
Then, there is the gift of land, "the lands of the nations" (Ps 111,6 ), which alludes to the great event of the Exodus when the Lord revealed himself as the God of liberation. The synthesis of the central body of this hymn is therefore to be sought in the theme of the special covenant between the Lord and his people, as stated in the lapidary declaration in v. Ps 111,9: "He has... established his covenant for ever".
4. The end of Psalm 111 is sealed by contemplation of the divine face, the Lord's very person, symbolized by his holy and transcendent "name". Next, quoting a sapiential saying (cf. Prov Pr 1,7 Pr 9,10), the Psalmist invites every member of the faithful to cultivate "fear of the Lord" (Ps 111,10 ), the beginning of true wisdom. It is not fear and terror that are suggested by this word, but serious and sincere respect which is the fruit of love, a genuine and active attachment to God the Liberator.
And if the very first word of the hymn is a word of thanksgiving, the last word is a word of praise: just as the Lord's saving justice "[stands] firm for ever" (v. 3), the gratitude of the praying person knows no bounds and re-echoes in his ceaseless prayer (cf. v. 10).
To sum up, the Psalm invites us, lastly, to discover the many good things that the Lord gives us every day. We more readily perceive the negative aspects of our lives. The Psalm invites us also to see the positive things, the many gifts we receive, and thus to discover gratitude, for only in a grateful heart can the great liturgy of gratitude be celebrated: the Eucharist.
5. At the end of our reflection, let us meditate with the ecclesial tradition of the early centuries of Christianity on the final verse with its celebrated declaration, which is reiterated elsewhere in the Bible (cf. Prov Pr 1,7): "to fear the Lord is the first stage of wisdom" (Ps 111,10 ).
The Christian writer Barsanuphius of Gaza (active in the first half of the sixth century) comments on this verse: "What is the first stage of wisdom if not the avoidance of all that is hateful to God? And how can one avoid it, other than by first asking for advice before acting, or by saying nothing that should not be said, and in addition, by considering oneself foolish, stupid, contemptible and of no worth whatsoever?" (Epistolario, 234: Collana di testi patristici, XCIII, Rome, 1991, pp. 265-266).
However, John Cassian (who lived between the fourth and fifth centuries) preferred to explain that "there is a great difference between love, which lacks nothing and is the treasure of wisdom and knowledge, and imperfect love, called "the first stage of wisdom'. The latter, which in itself contains the idea of punishment, is excluded from the hearts of the perfect because they have reached the fullness of love" (Conferenze ai monaci, 2, 11, 13: Collana di testi patristici, CLVI, Rome, 2000, p. 29).
Thus, on the journey through life towards Christ, our initial servile fear is replaced by perfect awe which is love, a gift of the Holy Spirit.
To special groups
I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including groups from England, Scotland, Australia and the United States of America. Thank you for the affection with which you have greeted me. Upon all of you, I invoke the peace and joy of Jesus Christ our Lord!
I also greet dear Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, Major Archbishop of Lviv for Ukrainians, and the Greek Catholic Bishops who have accompanied him. I wish them every desirable good.
Lastly, I address a special thought to the young people, the sick people and to newly-weds.
Dear young people, may the riches of the Heart of Christ and the tenderness of the Heart of Mary always sustain you. May they help you, dear sick people, to entrust yourselves with generous abandonment to the hands of divine Providence; and may they encourage you, dear newly-weds, to live your family union with patient understanding and reciprocal dedication.
The Holy Father then led the prayer of the "Our Father" and imparted the Apostolic Blessing.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Unfortunately, you have suffered under the rain. Let us hope that the weather will now improve.
1. Jesus very vigorously affirms in the Gospel that the eyes are an expressive symbol of the innermost self, a mirror of the soul (cf. Mt 6,22-23). Well, Psalm 123, which has just been proclaimed, is the focal point of an exchange of glances: the faithful person lifts his eyes to the Lord, awaiting a divine reaction, ready to glimpse a gesture of love or a look of kindness. We too, as it were, raise our eyes and await a gesture of benevolence from the Lord.
The gaze of the Most High who "looks down on the sons of men to see if any are wise, if any seek God" (Ps 14,2 ), is often mentioned in the Psalter. The Psalmist, as we have heard, uses an image, that of the servant and slave who look to their master, waiting for him to make a decision that will set them free.
Even if this scene is connected with the ancient world and its social structures, the idea is clear and full of meaning: the image taken from the world of the ancient East is intended to exalt the attachment of the poor, the hope of the oppressed and the availability of the just to the Lord.
2. The person of prayer is waiting for the divine hands to move because they will act justly and destroy evil. This is why, in the Psalter, the one praying raises his hope-filled eyes to the Lord. "My eyes are always on the Lord; for he rescues my feet from the snare" (Ps 25,15 ), while "My eyes are wasted away from looking for my God" (Ps 69,4 ).
Psalm 123 is an entreaty in which the voice of one of the faithful joins that of the whole community: indeed, the Psalm passes from the first person singular, "I lifted up my eyes", to the first person plural, "our eyes" and "show us his mercy" (cf. vv. 1-3). The Psalmist expresses the hope that the Lord will open his hands to lavish his gifts of justice and freedom upon us. The just person waits for God's gaze to reveal itself in all its tenderness and goodness, as one reads in the ancient priestly blessing from the Book of Numbers: "The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you: the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace!" (NM 6,25-26).
3. The great importance of God's loving gaze is revealed in the second part of the Psalm which features the invocation: "Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy" (Ps 123,3 ), that comes in continuity with the finale of the first part in which trusting expectation is reaffirmed, "till [the Lord our God] show us his mercy" (cf. v. 2).
The faithful are in need of God's intervention because they are in a painful plight, suffering the contempt and disdain of overbearing people. The image the Psalmist uses here is that of satiety: "We are filled with contempt. Indeed, all too full is our soul with the scorn of the rich, with the proud man's disdain" (vv. 3-4).
The traditional biblical fullness of food and years, considered a sign of divine blessing, is now countered by an intolerable satiety composed of an excessive load of humiliations. And we know today that many nations, many individuals, are truly burdened with derision, with the contempt of the rich and the disdain of the proud. Let us pray for them and let us help these humiliated brethren of ours.
Thus, the righteous have entrusted their cause to the Lord; he is not indifferent to their beseeching eyes nor does he ignore their plea - and ours - or disappoint their hope.
4. To conclude, let us make room for the voice of St Ambrose, the great Archbishop of Milan who, in the Psalmist's spirit, gives poetical rhythm to the work of God that reaches us through Jesus the Saviour: "Christ is everything for us. If you wish to cure a wound, he is doctor; if you burn with fever, he is fountain; if you are oppressed by iniquity, he is justice; if you are in need of help, he is strength; if you fear death, he is life; if you desire heaven, he is the way; if you flee from darkness, he is light; if you seek food, he is nourishment" (La verginità, 99: SAEMO, XIV/2, Milan-Rome, 1989, p. 81).
To special groups
I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including groups from England, Nigeria, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Canada and the United States of America. I thank you for the affection with which you have greeted me. May you have a happy stay in Rome! Upon all of you, I invoke the peace and joy of Jesus Christ our Lord!
Lastly, as usual my thoughts turn to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. I wish you all that true joy which flows from daily fidelity to God and docile obedience to his will.