Audiences 2005-2013 28095

Wednesday, 28 September 2005 - Psalm 135£[134]: 1-12 Praise the Lord for the Lord is good - Evening Prayer - Friday of Week Three


1. We now have before us the first part of Psalm 135[134], a hymn of a liturgical nature, interlaced with allusions, memories and references to other biblical texts. Indeed, the liturgy often constructs its text by drawing from the Bible's great patrimony with its rich repertory of subjects and prayers that sustain the journey of the faithful.

We follow the prayerful line of this first section (cf. Ps 135[134]: 1-12), which opens with a broad and impassioned invitation to praise the Lord (cf. vv. 1-3). The appeal is made to the "servants of the Lord, who stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God" (vv. 1-2).

Therefore, we find ourselves in the living atmosphere of worship that unfolds in the temple, the preferred and communal place of prayer. Here, the presence of "our God", a "good" and "loving" God, the God of the chosen and of the covenant (cf. vv. 3-4), is experienced.

After the invitation to praise, a soloist voice proclaims the profession of faith that begins with the formula "I know" (v. 5). This Creed makes up the essence of the entire hymn, revealed in a proclamation of the Lord's greatness (ibid.), manifested in his marvellous works.

2. Divine omnipotence is continually manifested throughout the world, "in heaven, on earth, in the seas". It is he who produces clouds, lightning, rain and wind, imaginarily contained in "treasuries" or storehouses (cf. vv. 6-7).

Primarily, however, another aspect of divine activity is celebrated in this profession of faith; it is the marvellous intervention in history, where the Creator reveals his face as redeemer of his people and king of the world. Before the eyes of Israel, gathered in prayer, the great events of the Exodus unfold.

Here, in the first place, is the concise and essential commemoration of the "plagues" of Egypt, the scourges inflicted by the Lord to break down the oppressor (cf. vv. 8-9).

It is followed afterward with the evocation of the victories of Israel after the long march in the desert. They are attributed to the powerful intervention of God, who struck many "nations in their greatness" and slew many "kings in their splendour" (cf. v. 10).

Finally, there is the long-awaited and hoped-for destination, the promised land: "He let Israel inherit their land; on his people their land he bestowed" (v. 12).

Divine love becomes concrete and can almost be experienced in history with all of its bitter and glorious vicissitudes. The liturgy has the duty to make present and efficacious the divine gifts, especially in the great paschal celebration that is the root of every other solemnity and is the supreme symbol of freedom and salvation.

3. Let us experience the spirit of the Psalm and its praise to God through the voice of St Clement of Rome, as it resounds in the long closing prayer of his Letter to the Corinthians. He notes that, as in Psalm 135[134], the face of God the Redeemer appears; in this way, his protection, already granted to the ancient fathers, is now presented to us in Christ:

"O Lord, make your face shine upon us, for goodness in peace, to protect us with your mighty hand and to deliver us from all sin with your most high arm, saving us from those that hate us unjustly. Grant concord and peace to us and to all the inhabitants of the earth, as you gave it to our fathers when they devoutly called upon your name in faith and truth.... To you, who are the only one capable of doing these and other greater goods for us, we give you thanks through the great priest and protector of our souls, Jesus Christ, by whom you are glorified from generation to generation, for ever and ever" (cf. 60, 3-4; 61, 3: Collana di Testi Patristici, V, Rome, 1984, pp. 90-91).

Yes, in our times we too can recite this prayer of a first-century Pope as our prayer for today: "O Lord, make your face shine upon us, for goodness in peace. In these times, grant concord and peace to us and to all the inhabitants of the earth, through Jesus Christ who reigns from generation to generation and for ever and ever". Amen.

To special groups

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including groups from Canada, England, Indonesia, Ireland, Scandinavia, South Africa and the United States of America. I greet in particular those Israelis and Palestinians who have come to Rome to participate in the Education to Peace seminar. Upon all of you, I invoke God's abundant blessings of peace and joy.

Lastly, as is customary, I extend my thought to the sick people, newly-weds and young people, among whom I would especially like to greet the students of the Institute San Paolo delle Suore Angeliche in Rome. I address to everyone the invitation to be faithful to the evangelical ideal to fulfil it in everyday life, thereby experiencing the joy of Christ's presence.

Wednesday, 5 October 2005 - Psalm 135£[134] Sons of Israel, bless the Lord! Evening Prayer - Friday of Week Three


1. The liturgy of Vespers offers us two separate passages of Psalm 135[134]. The one we have just heard includes the second part (cf. vv. 13-21), sealed by the "Alleluia", the exclamation of praise to the Lord that opened the Psalm.

After commemorating in the first part of the hymn the event of the Exodus, the core of Israel's Passover celebration, the Psalmist now deals incisively with two different visions of religion.

On the one hand rises the figure of the living, personal God who is the centre of authentic faith (cf. vv. 13-14). His is an effective and saving presence; the Lord is not an immobile, absent reality but a living person who "guides" his faithful, "takes pity" on them and sustains them with his power and love.

2. At this point, on the other hand, idolatry emerges (cf. vv. 15-18), an expression of a distorted and misleading religiosity. In fact, the idol is merely "a work of human hands", a product of human desires, hence, powerless to overcome the limitations of creatures.

Indeed, it has a human form with a mouth, eyes, ears and throat, but it is inert, lifeless, like an inanimate statue (cf. Ps 115[113B]: 4-8).

Those who worship these dead realities are destined to resemble them, impotent, fragile and inert. This description of idolatry as false religion clearly conveys man's eternal temptation to seek salvation in the "work of his hands", placing hope in riches, power, in success and material things.

Unfortunately, what the Prophet Isaiah had already effectively described happens to the person who moves along these lines, who worships riches: "He feeds on ashes; a deluded mind has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, "Is there not a lie in my right hand?'" (
Is 44,20).

3. After this meditation on true and false religion, on genuine faith in the Lord of the universe and history and on idolatry, Psalm 135[134] concludes with a liturgical blessing (cf. vv. 19-21) that introduces a series of figures who feature in the cult practised in the temple of Zion (cf. Ps 115[113B]: 9-13).

From the whole community gathered in the temple, a blessing rises in unison to God, Creator of the universe and Saviour of his people in history, expressed in their different voices and in the humility of faith.

The liturgy is the privileged place in which to hear the divine Word which makes present the Lord's saving acts; but it is also the context in which the community raises its prayer celebrating divine love.

God and man meet each other in an embrace of salvation that finds fulfilment precisely in the liturgical celebration. We might say that this is almost a definition of the liturgy: it brings about an embrace of salvation between God and man.

4. Commenting on the verses of this Psalm regarding idols and the resemblance with them that will be acquired by those who put their trust in them (cf. Ps 135[134]: 15-18), St Augustine observes:

"In fact - believe it, brothers and sisters - a certain likeness with their idols is brought about within them: of course, not in their bodies but in their interior being. They have ears but do not hear when God cries to them: "Those who have ears to listen, let them hear!'. They have eyes but do not see: in other words, they have the eyes of the body but not the eye of faith". They do not perceive God's presence. They have eyes but they do not see.

And likewise, "they have nostrils but cannot smell. They are unable to detect the fragrance of which the Apostle says: "Everywhere... we are the aroma of Christ' (cf. 2Co 2,15). What good does it do them to have nostrils if they cannot manage to breathe the sweet fragrance of Christ?".

It is true, Augustine recognizes, that some people are still bound to idolatry; and this is also true in our time, with its materialism that is a form of idolatry. Augustine adds: even if there are still such people, even if this idolatry continues, "Every day, nonetheless, there are people convinced by the miracles of Christ the Lord who embrace the faith", and thanks be to God this is still true today. "Every day, the eyes of the blind are opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped, blocked nostrils begin to breathe and the tongues of the mute are loosened, the limbs of the paralyzed grow strong and the legs of the lame are straightened. From all these stones emerge sons and daughters of Abraham (cf. Mt 3,9).

"It should therefore be said to all of them: "House of Israel, bless the Lord'.... Bless the Lord, you peoples in general! This means "House of Israel'. Bless it, O you Prelates of the Church! This means "House of Aaron'. Bless it, Ministers! This means "House of Levi'. And what should be said of the other nations? "You who fear him, bless the Lord!'" (Esposizione sul Salmo 134, 24-25: Nuova Biblioteca Agostiniana, XXVIII, Rome, 1977, pp. 375,377).

Let us make this invitation our own and let us bless, praise and adore the Lord, the true, living God.

To special groups

I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including groups from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Uganda, Australia and the United States of America. In particular I greet the seminarians of the Pontifical North American College who tomorrow will be ordained Deacons. Upon you all, I invoke the peace and joy of Jesus Christ our Lord!

My thoughts turn lastly to the sick, the newly-weds and the young people, especially the representatives of the youth groups for Eucharistic Adoration who have come to Rome from various nations for a Eucharistic Congress. The shining example of St Francis of Assisi, whose memory we celebrated yesterday, urges you, dear young people, to put the Eucharist at the heart of your personal and community life, learning to live on the spiritual power that flows from it. May it help you, dear sick people, to face suffering with courage, finding in the Crucified Christ serenity and comfort. May it lead you, dear newly-weds, to deep love for God and for one another, in the daily experience of joy that flows from the reciprocal gift of self open to life.

Wednesday, 12 October 2005 - Psalm 122£[121] Peace upon you! Evening Prayer - Sunday of Week Fourth

1. We have just heard and enjoyed as a prayer one of the most beautiful and fervent songs of ascents. It is Psalm 122[121], a living, shared celebration of Jerusalem, the Holy City to which the pilgrims climb.

Indeed, in the opening line, two moments lived by the faithful are amalgamated: that of the day on which the pilgrim rejoiced when he accepted the invitation to "go to God's house" (v. 1), and that of his joyful arrival at the "gates" of Jerusalem (cf. v. 2); now at last he is walking on that beloved Holy Land. A festive hymn is on his lips at that very moment in honour of Zion, whose deep spiritual significance he contemplates.

2. As a "strongly compact" city (v. 3), a symbol of security and stability, Jerusalem is the heart of the unity of the 12 tribes of Israel that converge towards it as the centre of their faith and worship. They go up there, in fact, "to praise the Lord's name" (v. 4) in the place that "Israel's law" (
Dt 12,13-14 Dt 16,16) has chosen as the only legitimate and perfect shrine.

There is another important reality in Jerusalem that is also a sign of God's presence in Israel: "the thrones... of the House of David" (cf. v. 5); that is, the Davidic dynasty governs, an expression of the divine action in history that was to lead to the Messiah (2S 7,8-16).

3. The "thrones... of the House of David" are at the same time called "thrones of judgment" (v. 5), because the king was also the supreme judge. Thus, Jerusalem, a political capital, was also the highest tribunal where controversies were settled in the final instance: in this way, when Jewish pilgrims left Zion, they returned to their villages feeling more righteous and peaceful.

The Psalm thus traced an ideal portrait of the Holy City with her religious and social function, showing that biblical religion is neither abstract nor intimistic, but a leaven of justice and solidarity. Communion with God is necessarily followed by the communion of brothers and sisters with one another.

4. We now come to the final invocation (cf. v. 6-9). It is marked throughout by the Jewish word shalom, "peace", traditionally considered to be the etymological root of Jerushalajim, the Holy City itself, interpreted as "city of peace".

It is well known that shalom alludes to the messianic peace that in itself brings joy, prosperity, goodness and abundance. Indeed, in the pilgrim's final farewell to the temple, to the "house of the Lord our God", he adds "good" to "peace": "I will ask for your good" (v. 9). This anticipates the Franciscan greeting: "Peace and good!". We all have something of a Franciscan soul. This greeting expresses the hope that blessings will be poured out upon the faithful who love the Holy City, upon the physical reality of its walls and buildings in which the life of a people pulsates, on all its brothers and sisters and friends. In this way, Jerusalem will become a hearth of harmony and peace.

5. Let us end our meditation on Psalm 122[121] with an idea for reflection suggested by the Fathers of the Church for whom the ancient Jerusalem was the sign of another Jerusalem, also "built as a city strongly compact".

This city, St Gregory the Great says in his Homilies on Ezekiel, "has here a great construction in the customs of the saints. In a building, one stone supports the other, because each stone is set upon another, and the one that supports another is in turn supported by another. This is exactly how in our Holy Church each one is sustaining and sustained. The closest support one another, and so it is by using them that the building of charity is erected.

"This explains Paul's exhortation: "Help carry one another's burdens; in that way you will fulfil the law of Christ' (Ga 6,2). Emphasizing the force of this law, he says: "Love is the fulfilment of the law' (Rm 13,10).

"Indeed, if I do not make an effort to accept you as you are and you do not strive to accept me as I am, the building of love between us can no longer be erected, bound though we may be by reciprocal and patient love".

And to complete the image, let us not forget that "there is one foundation that supports the full weight of the construction; and it is our Redeemer, who alone bears all together the customs of us all. The Apostle says of him: "No one can lay a foundation other than the one that has been laid, namely, Jesus Christ' (1Co 3,11). The foundation sustains the stones but the stones do not sustain the foundation: in other words, our Redeemer bore the burden of all our sins, but in him there was no sin to be borne" (2, 1, 5: Opere di Gregorio Magno, III/2, Rome, 1993, pp. 27,29).

Thus, Pope St Gregory the Great tells us what the Psalm means for our lives in practice. He tells us that we must be a true Jerusalem in the Church today, that is, a place of peace, "supporting one another" as we are; "supporting one another together" in the joyful certainty that the Lord "supports us all". In this way the Church will grow like a true Jerusalem, a place of peace. But let us also pray for the city of Jerusalem, that it may increasingly be a place for the encounter of religions and peoples; that it may truly be a place of peace.

To special groups

I extend a warm welcome to the members of the Derry Diocesan Pilgrimage from Northern Ireland. My greetings also go to the Extended General Councils of the Sisters of the Order of St Basil the Great and the School Sisters of Notre Dame, and to the participants in the NATO Defense College. Upon all present at today's Audience, including the many pilgrims from England, Ireland, Scotland, Denmark, Norway, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, India, Canada and the United States, I cordially invoke God's Blessings of joy and peace.

Lastly, my thoughts go to the sick, the newly-weds and the young people, especially the students of the "Marri-Santa Umiltą" Foundation in Faenza. I hope that you will all imitate the example of Bl. John XXIII, whose memorial we celebrated yesterday: strive like him to live your Christian vocation authentically.

Let us end our meeting with the singing of the Pater Noster.

Wednesday, 19 October 2005 - Psalm 130£[129] "Lord, hear my voice!' Evening Prayer - Sunday of Week Fourth


1. One of the Psalms best-known and best-loved in Christian tradition has just been proclaimed: the De profundis, as it was called from its beginning in the Latin version. With the Miserere, it has become one of the favourite penitential Psalms of popular devotion.

Over and above its use at funerals, the text is first and foremost a hymn to divine mercy and to the reconciliation between the sinner and the Lord, a God who is just but always prepared to show himself "a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, continuing his kindness for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin" (
Ex 34,6-7).

For this very reason, our Psalm is inserted into the liturgy of Vespers for Christmas and for the whole Octave of Christmas, as well as in the liturgy of the Fourth Sunday of Easter and of the Solemnity of the Annunciation.

2. Psalm 130[129] opens with a voice that rises from the depths of evil and sin (cf. vv. 1-2). The person who is praying addresses the Lord in the first person: "I cry to you, O Lord". The Psalm then develops in three parts, dedicated to the subject of sin and forgiveness. The Psalmist first of all addresses God directly, using the "Tu": "If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt, Lord, who would survive? But with you is found forgiveness: for this we revere you" (vv. 3-4).

It is significant that reverent awe, a sentiment in which respect and love are mingled, is not born from punishment but from forgiveness. Rather than sparking his anger, God's generous and disarming magnanimity must kindle in us a holy reverence. Indeed, God is not an inexorable sovereign who condemns the guilty but a loving father whom we must love, not for fear of punishment, but for his kindness, quick to forgive.

3. At the centre of the second part is the "I" of the person praying, who no longer addresses the Lord in the first person but talks about him: I trust in the Lord. "My soul is waiting for the Lord, I count on his word. My soul is longing for the Lord more than watchman for daybreak" (vv. 5-6). Expectation, hope, the certainty that God will speak a liberating word and wipe away the sin are now blossoming in the heart of the repentant Psalmist.

The third and last part in the development of the Psalm extends to the whole of Israel, to the people, frequently sinful and conscious of the need for God's saving grace: "Let Israel... count on the Lord. Because with the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption; Israel indeed he will redeem from all its iniquity" (vv. 7-8).

The personal salvation that the praying person implores at the outset is now extended to the entire community. The Psalmist's faith is grafted on to the historical faith of the people of the Covenant, "redeemed" by the Lord not only from the distress of the Egyptian oppression but "from all its iniquity". Only think that it is we who are now the chosen people, the People of God. And our faith grafts us on to the common faith of the Church. In this very way it gives us the certainty that God is good to us and sets us free from our sins.

Rising from the shadowy vortex of sin the supplication of the De profundis reaches God's shining horizon where "mercy and fullness of redemption" are dominant, two great characteristics of God who is love.

4. Let us now entrust ourselves to the meditation that Christian tradition has woven into this Psalm. Let us choose St Ambrose's words: in his writings he often recalled the reasons that motivated him to invoke pardon from God.

"We have a good Lord who wants to forgive everyone", he recalled in his Treatise on Penance, and he added: "If you want to be justified, confess your fault: a humble confession of sins untangles the knot of faults.... You see with what hope of forgiveness you are impelled to make your confession" (2, 6, 40-41: Sancti Ambrosii Episcopi Mediolanensis Opera [SAEMO], XVII, Milan-Rome, 1982, p. 253).

In the Exposition of the Gospel according to Luke, repeating the same invitation, the Bishop of Milan expressed his wonder at the gifts that God added to his forgiveness: "You see how good God is and ready to pardon sins: not only does he give back everything he had taken away, but he also grants unhoped for gifts". Zechariah, John the Baptist's father, lost the ability to speak because he did not believe the angel, but subsequently, in pardoning him, God granted him the gift of prophecy in the hymn of the Benedictus: "The one who could not speak now prophesies", St Ambrose said, adding that "it is one of the greatest graces of the Lord, that those who have denied him should confess belief in him. Therefore, no one should lose trust, no one should despair of the divine reward, even if previous sins cause him remorse. God can change his opinion if you can make amends for your sin" (2, 33: SAEMO, XI, Milan-Rome, 1978, p. 175).

To special groups

I welcome the English-speaking pilgrims at today's Audience, including visitors from England, Scotland, Nigeria and the United States of America. I assure all of you here today and your families and loved ones of a remembrance in my prayers, and I hope that you will enjoy your visit to Rome. May your pilgrimage strengthen your faith and renew your love for the Lord, and may God bless you all.

I also greet the sick and the newly-weds, and urge them to base their lives on the Word of God, to be builders of the civilization of love, of which the Cross of Christ, a source of light, comfort and hope, is an eloquent symbol.

Lastly, my thoughts go to the young people - thank you for coming, thank you for your faith! - remembering that today is the fourth centenary of the beatification of St Aloysius Gonzaga, the world patron of youth. Dear friends, may his heroic Gospel witness support you in your commitment of daily fidelity to Christ!

Wednesday, 26 October 2005 - Canticle Phil 2,6-11 Jesus Christ is Lord! Evening Prayer - Sunday of Week Fourth


1. Once again, following the itinerary proposed by the Liturgy of Vespers with various Psalms and Canticles, we have heard resound the wonderful and fundamental hymn St Paul inserted into the Letter to the Philippians (
Ph 2,6-11).

Already in the past we have underlined that this text contains a two-way movement: descent and ascent. In the first, Christ Jesus, from the splendour of divinity which by nature belongs to him, chooses to descend to the humiliation of "death on a cross". In this way he shows himself to be truly man and our Redeemer, with an authentic and full participation in our human reality of suffering and death.

2. The second movement, upwards, reveals the paschal glory of Christ, who manifests himself once more after death in the splendour of his divine majesty.

The Father, who welcomed his Son's act of obedience in the Incarnation and passion, now "exalts" him in a supreme way, as the Greek text tells us. This exaltation is expressed not only through the enthronement at God's right hand, but also with the conferral upon Christ of a "name which is above every name" (v. 9).

Now, in biblical language, "name" indicates a person's true essence and specific function, manifesting his or her intimate and profound reality. To the Son, who, for love, was humiliated in death, the Father confers an incomparable dignity, the "Name" above all others, that of "Lord", of God himself.

3. Indeed, the proclamation of faith, chorally intoned from Heaven, earth and the netherworld lying prostrate in adoration, is clear and explicit: "Jesus Christ is Lord" (v. 11). In Greek, it is affirmed that Jesus is Kyrios, undoubtedly a royal title, which in the Greek translation of the Bible renders the name of God revealed to Moses sacred and unutterable. With the name Kyrios, Jesus Christ is recognized as true God.

On the one hand, then, there is the recognition of the universal sovereignty of Jesus Christ, who receives honour from all of creation, seen as a subject lying prostrate at his feet. On the other, however, the acclamation of faith declares Christ existing in the divine form or condition, thereby presenting him as worthy of adoration.

4. In this hymn the reference made to the scandal of the cross (cf. 1Co 1,23), and even earlier to the true humanity of the Word made flesh (cf. Jn 1,14), is interwoven with and culminates in the event of the Resurrection. The sacrificial obedience of the Son is followed by the glorifying response of the Father, to which adoration is united on the part of humanity and creation. Christ's singularity emerges from his function as Lord of the redeemed world, which has been conferred upon him because of his perfect obedience "unto death". In the Son, the project of salvation reaches fulfilment and the faithful are invited, especially in the liturgy, to announce and to live the fruits [of salvation].

This is the destination where the Christological hymn leads us, upon which for centuries the Church meditates, sings and considers as a guide of life: "Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus" (Ph 2,5).

5. Let us now turn to the meditation on our hymn that has been interwoven with great wisdom by St Gregory of Nazianzus. In a poem in honour of Christ, the great fourth-century Doctor of the Church declares that Jesus Christ "does not empty himself of any part that makes up his divine nature, and not-withstanding this he saves me like a healer who bends over festering wounds.... He was of the line of David, but was the Creator of Adam; he was made of flesh, but was also a stranger to it; he was generated by a mother, but by a virgin mother; he was limited, but also immense; he was born in a stable, but a star led the Magi to him, who brought him gifts and bowed down and knelt before him. As a mortal man he battled with the devil, but, invincible as he was, he overcame the tempter with a three-fold strategy.... He was victim, but also High Priest; he was sacrificed, but was God; he offered his blood to God and in this way he purified the entire world. A cross raised him up from the earth, but sin remained nailed to it.... He descended to the dead, but came back from the netherworld redeeming many who were dead. The first event is typical of human misery, but the second is part of the richness of the incorporeal being..., that earthly form the immortal Son takes upon himself because he loves us" (Carmina arcana, 2: Collana di Testi Patristici, LVIII, Rome, 1986, pp. 236-238).

At the end of this meditation I want to underline two phrases for our lives. In the first place, this admonition of St Paul: "Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus". To learn to feel as Jesus felt; to conform our way of thinking, deciding and acting to the sentiments of Jesus. We will take up this path if we look to conform our sentiments to those of Jesus. Let us take up the right path.

The other phrase is that of St Gregory of Nazianzus. "He, Jesus, loves us". These tender words are a great consolation and comfort for us; but also a great responsibility, day after day.

To special groups

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today's audience. I extend particular greetings to the groups from England, Wales, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Japan, Canada and the United States of America. I wish you all a pleasant stay in Rome!

I then greet the young people, sick people and newly-weds. I address a special thought to you, dear sick people, who are very numerous at this gathering, and especially to the large group of children from the "City of Hope" of Padua. Dear friends, as we heard in the catechesis, the Cross of Christ makes us understand the true meaning of suffering and pain. Spiritually unite yourselves to Jesus Crucified and trustfully abandon yourselves into the hands of Mary, calling upon her unceasingly with the Rosary.

The month of October, dedicated to the Holy Rosary, is drawing to a close. I invite you to recite with devotion this prayer that is so dear to the tradition of the Christian people. We pray for the many needs of the Church and the world, in a special way for the populations stricken by the earthquake and by physical and natural disasters. May our spiritual and material support never be lacking for those who are in difficulty.

Wednesday, 2 November 2005 - Psalm 112£[111] "Open-handed, he gives to the poor' Evening Prayer - Sunday of Week Fourth


1. After yesterday's celebration of the Solemnity of all the saints of Heaven, we remember today all of the faithful departed. The liturgy invites us to pray for all our loved ones who have passed away, turning our thoughts to the mystery of death, an inheritance common to all men and women.

Enlightened by faith, we look upon the human enigma of death with serenity and hope. Indeed, according to Scripture, it is more than an end; it is a new birth, it is the obligatory passageway through which the fullness of life may be attained by those who model their earthly existence according to the indications of the Word of God.

Psalm 112[111], a composition with a sapiental slant, presents us with the figure of these righteous ones who fear the Lord; they recognize his transcendence and trustingly and lovingly conform themselves to his will in the expectation of encountering him after death.

A "beatitude" is reserved to these faithful: "Happy the man who fears the Lord" (v. 1). The Psalmist immediately explains what this fear consists in: it is shown in docility to God's commandments. He who "takes delight" in observing his commandments is blessed, finding in them joy and peace.

2. Docility to God is therefore the root of hope and interior and exterior harmony. Observance of the moral law is the source of profound peace of conscience. According to the biblical vision of "retribution", the mantle of the divine blessing is spread over the righteous, giving stability and success to his works and to those of his descendents: "His sons will be powerful on earth; the children of the upright are blessed. Riches and wealth are in his house" (vv. 2-3; cf. v. 9).

However, to this optimistic vision are opposed the bitter observations made by Job, a just man who experiences the mystery of sorrow, feels himself unjustly punished and subjected to apparently senseless trials. Job represents many people who suffer harshly in the world. It is necessary then to read this Psalm in the global context of Revelation, which embraces the reality of human life under all its aspects.

At any rate, the trust the Psalmist wishes to communicate and be lived by those who have chosen to follow the path of morally irreprehensible conduct remains valid, rejecting every other alternative of illusory success gained through injustice and immorality.

3. The heart of this fidelity to the divine Word consists in a fundamental choice of charity towards the poor and needy: "The good man takes pity and lends.... Open-handed, he gives to the poor" (vv. 5, 9). The person of faith, then, is generous; respecting the biblical norms, he offers help to his brother in need, asking nothing in return (cf.
Dt 15,7-11), and without falling into the shame of usury which destroys the lives of the poor.

The righteous one, heeding the continual warning of the prophets, puts himself on the side of the disenfranchised and sustains them with abundant help. "Open-handed, he gives to the poor", as is written in verse 9, thereby expressing an extreme generosity without any self-interest.

4. In addition to the portrait of the faithful and charitable man, "generous, merciful and just", Psalm 112[111] presents finally, in only one verse (cf. v. 10), the profile of the wicked man. This individual sees the success of the right-eous person and is tortured with anger and jealousy. It is the torment of one who has an evil conscience, different from the generous man who has a "firm" and "steadfast heart" (vv. 7-8).

We fix our gaze on the serene face of the faithful person who "open-handed, gives to the poor", and we listen to the words of Clement of Alexandria, the third-century Father of the Church who commented on an affirmation of the Lord that is difficult to understand. In the parable of the unjust steward, the expression appears according to which we must do good with "unjust money". From there arises the question: are money and wealth unjust in themselves, or what does the Lord wish to say?

Clement of Alexandria explains this parable very well in his homily "What rich man can be saved?", and he states: Jesus "declares unjust by nature any possession one has for oneself as one's own good and does not make it available for those who need it; rather, he declares that from this injustice it is possible to accomplish a just and praiseworthy work, giving relief to one of those little ones who have an eternal dwelling-place near the Father (cf. Mt 10,42 Mt 18,10)" (31, 6; Collana di Testi Patristici, CXLVIII, Rome, 1999, pp. 56-57).

Addressing the reader, Clement warns: "See in the first place that he has not ordered you to ask, nor wait to be asked, but you yourself search out those who are worth being listened to, insofar as they are disciples of the Saviour" (31, 7: ibid., p. 57).

Then, citing another biblical text, he comments: "Beautiful, therefore, is the saying of the Apostle: "God loves a cheerful giver' (2Co 9,7), who enjoys giving and does not sparingly sow, so as to reap in the same way; instead, he shares without ramifications and distinctions and sorrow: this is authentic of doing good" (31, 8: ibid.).

On this day in which we commemorate the dead, as I was saying at the beginning of our meeting, we are all called to face the enigma of death and therefore with the question of how to live well, how to find happiness. This Psalm answers: happy is the man who gives; happy is the man who does not live life for himself but gives; happy is the man who is merciful, generous and just; happy is the man who lives in the love of God and neighbour. In this way we live well and have no reason to fear death because we experience the everlasting happiness that comes from God.

To special groups

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today's Audience. I extend particular greetings to the groups from England, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Malta, Canada and the United States of America. May your pilgrimage strengthen your faith and renew your love for the Lord, the Giver of Life, and may God bless you all!

Lastly, I greet the young people, sick people and newly-weds. The Solemnity of All Saints that we celebrated yesterday and today's Commemoration of the Faithful Departed give us the opportunity to reflect once more on the authentic meaning of earthly existence and on its value for eternity.

May these days of reflection and prayer be for you, dear young people, an invitation to imitate the heroism of the saints, who spent their lives for God and neighbour. May they be a consolation for you, dear sick people, associated with the mystery of Christ's passion. May they be a favourable occasion for you, dear newly-weds, to understand ever better that you are called to witness by your reciprocal fidelity to the love with which God encompasses every person.

We conclude our meeting with the singing of the Pater Noster.

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