Wednesday 20 June 2001 - Psalm 23 (24) - The Lord enters his temple!

(Lauds on Tuesday of the first week of the four week psalter)

32 Ps 24

1. The ancient chant of the People of God that we just heard, resounded in the temple of Jerusalem. To be able to grasp the main thrust of the prayer, we have to keep in mind three basic affirmations.

The first is the truth of creation: God has created the world and is its Lord. The second is the judgement to which he submits his creatures: we must appear before him and be questioned about what we have done. The third is the mystery of God's coming: he comes into the universe and into history and desires to be free to establish a relationship of intimate communion with human beings. A modern commentator said: "These are the three elementary forms of the experience of God and of our relationship with God; we live by the work of God, we live before God and we can live with God" (G. Ebeling, On the Psalms, [see in the Italian text Sui Salmi, Brescia, 1973, p. 97]).

2. The three parts of Psalm 23 correspond to these three basic premises that we will now examine, considering them as three successive scenes of a poetic triptych for our prayer. The first is a brief acclamation of the Creator, to whom belong the earth and all who dwell in it (Ps 24,1-2). It is a profession of faith in the Lord of the cosmos and of history. In the ancient vision of creation, the earth is conceived as an architectural work: God lays the foundations of the earth on the sea, the symbol of the chaotic and destructive waters, in turn the sign of creaturely limitation, conditioned by nothingness and evil. Creation is suspended over the watery abyss and God's creative and providential hand keeps it in being and in life.

3. From the cosmic horizon the Psalmist's perspective narrows down to the microcosm of Zion, "the mountain of the Lord". We are now in the second picture of the Psalm (Ps 24,3-6). We stand before the temple of Jerusalem. The procession of the faithful asks the guardians of the holy door an entrance question: "Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord, who shall stand in his holy place?".

The priests as happens in some other biblical texts called by the experts "liturgy of entrance" (cf. Ps 14 Is 33,14-16 Mi 6,6-8) respond by listing the conditions that enable one to enter into communion with the Lord in worship. They are not merely ritual or external norms to be observed, but moral and existential requisites to be lived. It is an examination of conscience or penitential act that precedes the liturgical celebration.

4. The priests lay down three requisites. Above all, one must have "clean hands and a pure heart". "Hands" and "heart" refer to both action and intention, the whole of the human being who should basically turn toward God and his law. The second requisite calls for one "not to tell lies", in biblical language it entails sincerity, but even more, the struggle against idolatry, for idols are false gods, that is "lies". The precept confirms the first commandment of the Decalogue, the purity of religion and of worship. The third and last requisite deals with relations with our neighbour: "Do not swear so as to deceive your neighbour". In an oral culture like that of ancient Israel, the word was the symbol of social relationships based on justice and uprightness and should not be used to deceive.

5. So we reach the third scene of our triptych which describes indirectly the joyful entry of the faithful into the temple to meet the Lord (Ps 24,7-10). With a thought-provoking exchange of appeals, questions and answers, God reveals himself progressively with three of his solemn titles: "the King of Glory, the Lord Mighty and Valiant, the Lord of Armies". The gates of the temple of Zion are personified and invited to lift up their lintels to welcome the Lord who takes possession of his home.

The triumphal scene, described by the Psalm in the third poetic picture, has been applied by the Christian liturgy of the East and of the West to the victorious Descent of Christ to the Limbo of the fathers, spoken of in the First Letter of Peter (cf. 1P 3,19), and to the Risen Lord's Ascension into heaven (cf. Ac 1,9-10). Even today, in the Byzantine Liturgy, the Psalm is sung by alternating choirs on Holy Saturday night at the Easter Vigil, and in the Roman Liturgy it is used on the second Sunday of the Passion at the end of the procession of palms. The Solemn Liturgy of the opening of the Holy Door at the beginning of the Jubilee Year allowed us to relive with great interior emotion the same sentiments the Psalmist felt as he crossed the threshold of the ancient temple of Zion.

6. The last title, "Lord of Armies", is not really a military title as may appear at first sight even if it does not exclude a reference to Israel's ranks. Instead, it has a cosmic value: the Lord, who now comes to meet humanity within the restricted space of the sanctuary of Zion, is the Creator who has all the stars of heaven as his army, that is, the creatures of the universe who obey him. In the book of the prophet Baruch we read: "Before whom the stars at their posts shine and rejoice; when he calls them, they answer, "Here we are!' shining with joy for their Creator" (Ba 3,34-35). The infinite, almighty and eternal God adapts himself to the human creature, draws near to meet, listen and enter into communion with him. The liturgy is the expression of this coming together in faith, dialogue and love.

I extend warm greetings to the priests and religious, to the young people, parish groups and choirs, and to the various ecumenical groups present. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Sweden, Japan, Canada and the United States, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I also express my concern to the group of refugees, accompanied by the members of the Rome branch of the Jesuit Refugee Service. Today, established as World Refugee Day by the United Nations Organization, your presence recalls the 50 million refugees concentrated in some of the world's poorest regions. I warmly hope that national leaders will be able to find prompt and effective solutions to the problems that are at the root of this great suffering, and will guarantee the necessary aid so that people in exile may have the living conditions that human beings deserve.

Lastly, I extend a greeting as usual to young people, to the sick and to newly married couples.

The impact of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is still with us. Dear young people, may you always find nourishment for your spiritual life in the Eucharist and let yourselves be formed by Christ, to be his heralds of hope in the world.

Dear sick people, offer your sufferings to the Lord, so that he will continue to spread his love in human hearts, also through your mysterious cooperation in his salvific sufferings.

And you, dear newly married couples, as you embark on married life, may you have recourse to the Eucharist with a fresher and livelier faith so that, nourished by Christ, you may create families inspired by an intense spiritual life and give concrete Christian witness.

                                                                                    July 2001

Wednesday 4 July 2001


1. Today I would like to review with you the stages of the apostolic pilgrimage in Ukraine that I was able to complete a few days ago. I thank God for enabling me to make this pilgrimage which was very close to my heart. I wanted it to be a homage to those people, to their long and glorious history of faith, witness and martyrdom.

I remember with deep affection my Brother Bishops of Ukraine, Eastern and Latin, whom I had the joy of embracing in their land. For the occasion, numerous cardinals and bishops came from other countries to express their spiritual closeness to that sorely tried people. Together with all these Brothers in the Episcopate, I thanked the Lord for the fidelity of the Ukrainian Church. I encouraged the Church to grow in communion and collaboration, because without it there can be no authentic or effective evangelization.

From here, near the tomb of the Apostle Peter, I would like to send another respectful and fraternal greeting to the Orthodox Church, which embraces a great number of faithful in Ukraine and which down the centuries has enriched the universal Church with the witness of fidelity to Christ of so many of her children.

I once again warmly thank the President of the Republic, Mr Leonid Kuchma, and the other State authorities who welcomed me with great cordiality and planned everything for the total success of this pilgrimage. I was also able to express these sentiments during the meeting with representatives of the political, cultural, scientific and economic realms, held at the Presidential Palace on the very evening of my arrival in Kyiv. Moreover, on that occasion, I pointed out the way to freedom on which I hope Ukraine has set out. After a century of the harshest trials, she is now called to consolidate her national and European identity even more, while remaining anchored to her own Christian roots.

34 2. Kyiv is the cradle of Christianity in Eastern Europe. Ukraine, from which Christian faith and civilization spread to Eastern Europe more than two thousand years ago, is an important "laboratory", where the Eastern and Latin Christian traditions coexist.

It was an unforgettable experience for me in Kyiv and Lviv, to preside at solemn Eucharistic celebrations in the Latin and Ukrainian Byzantine rites. It was like living the liturgy "with two lungs". This is how it was at the end of the first millennium, after the Baptism of Rus' and before the unfortunate division between East and West. We prayed together so that the differences of the traditions will not stand in the way of communion in faith and in ecclesial life. "Ut unum sint": The words of Christ's heartfelt prayer rang out eloquently in that "frontier land" whose history records in blood the call to be a "bridge" between the separated brethren.

I was aware of this special ecumenical vocation of Ukraine when I met the Pan-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations.It is made up of representatives of the Christian Churches, of the Muslim and Jewish communities and of other religious confessions. It is an institution that promotes spiritual values, fostering a climate of understanding between the different religious communities. And this is particularly important in a country that has had a very bad experience of the restriction of religious freedom. How can we forget that, along with many Christians, a considerable number of Jews were victims of Nazi fanaticism and that many Muslims were harshly persecuted by the Soviet regime? Rejecting every form of violence, all believers in God are called to nourish the indispensable religious roots of every authentic humanism.

3. My pilgrimage was intended as a homage to the holiness of that land drenched in the blood of martyrs. In Lviv, the cultural and spiritual capital of the Western region of the country and the see of two archbishops, Cardinals Lubomyr Husar, for Greek Catholics, and Marion Jaworski, for Latins, I had the joy of beatifying 30 sons and daughters of Ukraine, Latins and Greek Catholics.

They are: Bishop Mykola Charnetsky and 24 companions, martyrs, among whom are seven additional bishops, 13 priests, three [religious] sisters, and one layman, heroic witnesses to the faith during the Communist regime; Emilian Kovch, a priest and a martyr under the Nazi occupation; Bishop Theodore Romzha, zealous pastor, who paid with his life for his unwavering fidelity to the See of Peter; Jozef Bilczewski, esteemed professor of theology and exemplary Archbishop of Lviv for Latins; Zygmunt Horazdowsky, a priest and a tireless apostle of charity and mercy; Josaphata Hordashevska, a religious, foundress of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate.

May Ukraine draw fresh apostolic enthusiasm from the legacy of holiness left by these exemplary disciples of Christ and by so many others who in some way they represent. Their legacy, especially that of the martyrs, must be firmly safeguarded and communicated to the new generations.

This is primarily the task of the priests and men and women religious, who are actively committed to the apostolate. I hope that there will be a rich flourishing of vocations to ensure the necessary return to an effective pastoral service of the People of God.

4. In this perspective it is significant that the meeting with young people to which I had been looking forward took place between the two beatification ceremonies in Lviv. To young people who are the hope of the Church and of civil society, I pointed out Christ: He alone has "words of eternal life" (
Jn 6,68) and leads to real freedom. I symbolically entrusted to "young" Ukraine the divine law of the Ten Commandments as an indispensable compass for their journey, alerting them to the idols of false material well-being and the temptations to shirk their own responsibilities.

While the images of this journey and its various stages are vivid in my mind and heart, I pray the Lord to bless the efforts of all those in that beloved nation who are dedicated to the service of the Gospel and the search for the true good of the person, of every person. I am now thinking of the many situations of suffering and difficulty, including that of prisoners, to whom I send my affectionate greetings, assuring them of my special remembrance in prayer.

I entrust the good reactions of each one to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, venerated with tender devotion in the country's many shrines.

Once again I wish the Ukrainian people prosperity and peace, gathering all in a great embrace of warmth and affection. May God heal every wound of that great people and guide it towards a new future of hope!

Today I am especially pleased to welcome the Sisters from various religious institutes taking part in renewal programmes. Dear Sisters, may this experience strengthen you in your consecration and mission. A special greeting also goes to the participants in the School of Astrophysics of the Vatican Observatory. I wish to assure the members of the Long Tower Choir from Derry that in these days I am praying more intensely for peace in Northern Ireland. Upon all the English speaking visitors and pilgrims, especially from England, Ireland, Scotland, Malaysia, Canada and the United States, I invoke abundant divine blessings.

Wednesday 25 July 2001 - Canticle of Tobit

(Tb 13,1-8)

Lauds on Tuesday of the first week

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. "I exalt my God and my spirit rejoices in the King of heaven" (
Tb 13,7). The one who speaks these words in the Canticle just recited, is the elderly Tobit of whom the OT gives a brief and edifying story, in the book that is named (in the Latin Vulgate) after his son Tobias (Tobit in the RSV and NAB). In order to understand fully the meaning of this hymn, we must keep in mind the pages of the story that precede it. The story is set among the exiled Israelites of Niniveh. The sacred author, writing centuries later, looks to them as an example of brothers and sisters in the faith dispersed among a foreign people and tempted to abandon the traditions of their fathers. The portrait of Tobit and of his family is offered as a programme of life. Here is the man who, despite everything that happens to him, remains faithful to the norms of the law, and in particular, to the practice of giving alms. He is stricken by misfortune with the onset of poverty and blindness, but his faith never fails.

God's response was not slow in coming, through the Archangel Raphael, who leads the young Tobias on a risky journey, guiding him into a happy marriage and, in the end, healing his father Tobit from his blindness.

The message is clear: Those who do good, above all, by opening their hearts to the needs of their neighbours, are pleasing to the Lord, even if they are tried; in the end, they will experience his goodness.

2. With this premise, the words of our hymn can make a strong point. They invite us to lift up our eyes on high to "God who lives forever", to his kingdom which "lasts for all ages". From this contemplation of God, the sacred author can offer a short sketch of a theology of history in which he tries to respond to the question which the dispersed and tried People of God are raising: why does God treat us like this? The response turns both to divine justice and mercy: "He chastises you for your injustices, but he will show mercy towards all of you" (Tb 13,5). The chastisement appears thus to be a kind of divine pedagogy, in which the last word is reserved to mercy: "He scourges and then shows mercy, casts down to the depths of the nether world, and he brings up from the great abyss" (Tb 13,2).

Suffering, even the Cross, has a positive meaning if lived in accord with God's plan
One can have absolute confidence in God who never abandons his creature. Moreover, the words of the hymn lead to another perspective, which attributes a salvific meaning to the situation of suffering, turning the exile into an occasion to praise the works of God: "Praise him, you Israelites, before the Gentiles for though he has scattered you among them, he has shown his greatness even there" (Tb 13,3-4).

36 3. From this invitation to read the exile in a providential way, our meditation can be extended to consider the mysteriously positive meaning which suffering assumes when it is lived in abandonment to God's plan. Already in the OT several passages delineate such a theme. Think of the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis (cf. Gn 37,2-36) who was sold by his brothers and destined to be their future saviour. How can we forget the book of Job? Here the innocent man suffers, and doesn't know how to explain his drama in any way except by surrendering to the greatness and wisdom of God (cf. Jb 42,1-16).

For us who read these OT passages from a Christian perspective, the point of reference can only be the Cross of Christ which offers a profound response to the mystery of suffering in the world.

4. To sinners who are chastised for their injustices (cf. Tb 13,5), Tobit's hymn directs a call for conversion that opens the wonderful prospect of a "reciprocal" conversion of God and man: "When you turn back to him with all your heart, to do what is right before him, then he will turn back to you, and no longer hide his face from you" (Tb 13,6). The use of the word "conversion" for the creature and for God speaks volumes, even though it is with different meanings.

If the author of the Canticle thinks of the benefits which accompany the "return" of God, his renewed favour towards his people, in the light of the mystery of Christ, we must think above all of the gift which consists of God himself. The human person has need of him more than of all of his gifts. Sin is a tragedy not just because it draws God's punishments upon us, but because it banishes Him from our hearts.

5. The Canticle raises our eyes to the face of God as Father, inviting us to bless and praise him: "He is the Lord, our God, our Father". One feels the sense of being special children which Israel experienced with the gift of the covenant and which prepared for the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. Then, in Jesus, the face of the Father will shine forth and his mercy without limits will be revealed.

Here we can think of the parable of the merciful Father as told by the Evangelist Luke. Not only does the Father respond to the conversion of the prodigal son with pardon, but with an embrace of infinite tenderness, coupled with joy and feasting. "When he was still a long way off, the father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him" (Lc 15,20).

The expressions of our Canticle are in line with the touching image of the Gospel. The need to praise and thank God springs forth: "So now consider what he has done for you and praise him with full voice. Bless the Lord of justice and exalt the King of the ages" (Tb 13,7).

I warmly welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Scotland, Finland, Australia and Japan. Upon you and your families I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.

                                                                             August 2001

Wednesday 1 August 2001


Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Dear Young People,

1. Today St Peter's Square is a square full of young people. About a year ago, in the middle of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, young people who came from all over the world for the celebrations of World Youth Day found a warm welcome here. Today this square, which is hosting the 1,000th General Audience since divine Providence called me to be a Successor of the Apostle Peter, is open to the thousands of boys and girls who have come from all over Europe on pilgrimage to the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles.

Dear altar servers! Yesterday you crossed St Peter's Square in a long procession to approach the altar of the Confessio in the basilica. Thus, in a certain way, you have prolonged the journey that the world's young people began in the Holy Year. The motto of your pilgrimage in the Eternal City: "Towards a new world", is a sign of your desire to take the Christian vocation seriously.

2. I greet you affectionately, dear young people and I am pleased that we could have this meeting. I thank in particular Auxiliary Bishop Martin Gächter, President of Coetus internationalis Ministrantium, for his most cordial words to me on your behalf.

With special joy I address the altar servers of the German-speaking countries, who make up the largest group. It is wonderful that so many young Christians have come from Germany!

Your commitment to the altar is not only a duty but a great honour, a true holy service. Regarding this service, I would like to suggest some points for your reflection.

The vestments worn by altar servers are very special. They recall a garment that everyone puts on when he is welcomed, in Jesus Christ, into the community. I am referring to the baptismal garment whose deep meaning is explained by St Paul: "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (
Ga 3,27).

Even if you no longer fit into your baptismal garment, dear altar servers, you have put on that of an altar server. Yes, Baptism is the starting point of your "authentic liturgical service", which puts you beside your Bishops, priests and deacons (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, SC 29).

3. The altar server has a privileged place in liturgical celebrations. Those who serve at Mass present themselves to a community. They experience from close at hand that Jesus Christ is present and active in every liturgy. Jesus is present whenever the community gathers to pray and give praise to God. Jesus is present in the words of Sacred Scripture. Jesus is present above all in the Eucharist, under the appearances of bread and wine. He acts through the priest who celebrates Holy Mass and administers the sacraments in persona Christi [in the person of Christ].

Therefore in the liturgy you are far more than mere "helpers of the parish priest". Above all, you are servants of Jesus Christ, the eternal High Priest. Thus you altar servers especially are called to be young friends of Jesus. Strive to deepen and foster this friendship with him. You will discover that in Jesus you have found a true friend for life.

4. The altar server often holds a candle in his hand. How can we not think of what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: "You are the light of the world" (Mt 5,14). Your service cannot be restricted to the inside of a church. It must shine out in your every day life: at school, in the family and in the different social contexts, for those who want to serve Jesus Christ in a church must be his witnesses everywhere.

Dear young people, your contemporaries are awaiting the true "light of the world" (cf. Jn 1,9). Do not hold your candlestick only inside the church but take the light of the Gospel to all who live in darkness and are going through a difficult time in their lives.

5. I have spoken of friendship with Jesus. How happy I would be if something more sprang from this friendship! How beautiful it would be if some of you could discover a vocation to the priesthood! Jesus Christ urgently needs young people who generously make themselves available to him without reserve. Furthermore, might not the Lord also be calling some of you girls to embrace the consecrated life in order to serve the Church and the brethren? Also for those who would like to be united in marriage, an altar server's service teaches that an authentic union must always include readiness for reciprocal and gratuitous service.

I am happy to greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Scotland, Japan and the United States. Upon you and your families I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday 8 August 2001 - Psalm 32 £[33] - Hymn of joy and acclamation to God's Providence

38 Ps 33

1. Psalm 32 [33], which has 22 verses, the same number as the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, is a hymn of praise to the Lord of the universe and of history. A quiver of joy runs through it from the very first lines: "Rejoice, in the Lord, you just! Praiie from the upright is fitting. Praise the Lord with the lyre, make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! Sing to the Lord a new song, play skilfully on the strings, with loud shouts" (Ps 33,1-3). This acclamation (tern'ah) is accompanied by music and expresses an interior voice of faith and hope, of joy and trust. The hymn is "new," not only because it renews the certainty of the divine presence within creation and human events, but also because it anticipates the perfect praise that will be intoned on the final day of salvation, when the Kingdom of God will have attained its glorious realization.

St Basil looks longingly toward this final fulfilment in Christ when he explains this passage: "In general, "new' means something unusual or which has only recently come into existence. If you think of the astounding, unimaginable way of the Incarnation of the Lord, you would have to sing a new and unheard of song. And if you review the regeneration and renewal of all humanity, surrendered of old to sin, and proclaim the mysteries of the Resurrection, then you too would sing a new and unusual canticle" (Homily on Psalm 32,2; PG 29,327). In short, according to St Basil, the Psalmist's invitation: "Sing to God a new song" means for believers in Christ: "Do not honour God ccording to the ancient custom of the "letter', but in the newness of the "spirit'. Indeed, he who does not understand the Law externally but recognizes the "spirit' in it sings a "new song' (ibid.)

2. In its central part, the hymn is articulated in three parts that form a trilogy of praise. In the first (cf. Ps 33,6-9), the creative word of God is celebrated. The wonderful architecture of the universe, like a cosmic temple, did not arise or develop from a struggle among gods, as some cosmogonies of the ancient Near East suggested, but from the basis of effective divine word. Just as the first page of Genesis teaches (cf. Gn 1): "God said ... and it was so". In fact the Psalmist repeats: "For he spoke, and it came to be, commanded, and it stood forth" (Ps 33,9).

39 The man of prayer gives special importance to control of the sea waters, since in the Bible they are the sign of chaos and evil. Despite its limits, the world is preserved in being by the Creator who, as mentioned in the Book of Job, commands the sea to halt at the seashore: "Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed" (Jb 38,11).

3. The Lord is also the sovereign of human history, as stated in the second part of Psalm 32 [33], in verses 10-15. With vigorous antithesis, the plans of terrestrial powers are opposed to the wonderful design that God is tracing in history. Human programmes, intended as alternatives, introduce injustice, evil and violence, rising up against the divine plan of justice and salvation. And, despite short-lived and apparent successes, they are reduced to mere machinations, destined to dissolution and failure. It is summed up in the biblical Book of Proverbs: "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established" (Pr 19,21). Similarly, the Psalmist reminds us that, from heaven, his transcendent dwelling, God follows all humanity's ways, even the foolish and the absurd, and intuits all the secrets of the human heart.

"Wherever you go, whatever you do, whether in darkness, or in the light of day, God's eye sees you," St Basil comments (Homily on Psalm 32,8 PG 29,343). Happy will be the people who, accepting the divine revelation, observes its instructions for life, following its paths through history. In the end, only one thing endures: "The plan of the Lord stands for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations" (Ps 33,11).

4. The third and last part of the Psalm (cf. Ps 33,16-22) takes up again, from two new angles, the topic of the unique lordship of God over human affairs. On one hand, he invites the powerful not to be deluded by the military force of armies and cavalry. Then he invites the faithful, often oppressed, starving and on the brink of death to hope in the Lord who will not let them fall into the abyss of destruction. In this way, the "catechetical" function of the Psalm is also revealed. It is transformed into a call to faith in a God who is not indifferent to the arrogance of the powerful and is close to the weakness of humanity, raising it and sustaining it if it is confident, if it entrusts itself to him, if it raises its prayer and praise to him.

"The humility of those who serve God" - St Basil further explains - "shows that they hope in his mercy. Indeed, anyone who does not trust his own great enterprises or expect to be justified by his own works, sees in God's mercy his only hope for salvation" (Homily on Psalm 32,10; PG 29,347).

5. The Psalm ends with an antiphon that has become part of the well-known Te Deum hymn: "May your kindness always be upon us Lord, for we have hoped in you" (Ps 33,22). Divine grace and human hope meet and embrace. Indeed, God's loving faithfulness (according to the meaning of the original Hebrew word used here, hésed), envelops, warms and protects us like a mantle, offering serenity and giving our faith and hope a sound foundation.

I warmly welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Sweden, Malta, Japan and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I invoke the joy and peace of Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Wednesday 22 August 2001 - Psalm 35 (36) - Malice of Sinner vs. Goodness of Lord

Lauds on Wednesday of Week One

Ps 36

1. There are two fundamental attitudes that every man can adopt every time that a new day of work and human relations begins: we can choose good or give way to evil. Psalm 35 (36), which we have just heard, draws up the two opposing views. On the one hand, there is the person who plots iniquity on the "bed" he is about to rise from; on the other hand, instead, is the upright person who seeks the light of God, "source of all life" (see Ps 36,10). The abyss of the goodness of God, a living fountain that quenches our thirst and a light that enlightens our hearts, is opposed to the abyss of malice of the wicked person.

There are two types of men described in the prayer of the Psalm just recited, which the Liturgy of the Hours prescribes for Lauds of Wednesday of the First Week.

2. The first portrait presented by the Psalmist is that of the sinner (cf. Ps 36,2-5). As the original Hebrew says, "transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart" for in his heart there is "the oracle of sin" (Ps 36,2). This expression is forceful. It makes us think that a Satanic word, as opposed to a divine word, resounds in the heart and words of the wicked.

Evil seems to be innate to him, to the point that it flows out in word and deed (cf. Ps 36,3-4). He spends his days choosing "evil ways", from early morning when he is still "on his bed" (Ps 36,5), until evening when he is ready to fall asleep. The sinner's constant choice derives from an option that involves his whole life and generates death.

3. However the Psalmist tends completely toward the other portrait in which he desires to be reflected: that of the man who seeks the face of God (cf. Ps 36,6-13). He raises a true and proper chant to divine love (cf. Ps 36,6-11), which he follows in the end, with a humble prayer to be delivered from the dark fascination of evil and to be enlightened forever with the light of grace.

The prayer articulates a true and proper litany of terms, which express in images the God of love: grace, faithfulness, justice, judgement, salvation, protective shadow, abundance, delight, and life. In particular, it underlines four of the divine traits; they are expressed with Hebrew terms which have a more intense value than can be appreciated in the terms we use in modern languages.

4. There is above all the term, hésed, "grace", which is at once faithfulness, love, loyalty and tenderness. It is one of the basic ways to express the covenant between the Lord and his people. It is important to note that it can be found 127 times in the Psalter, more than half of all the times it occurs in the rest of the Old Testament. Then there is the term 'emunáh, coming from the root of amen, the word of faith, and meaning stability, security, unconditional fidelity. Sedeqáh follows, "justice", which has a salvific meaning: it is the holy and provident attitude of God, who through his interventions in history, frees the faithful from evil and from injustice. Last of all, we find mishpát, the "judgement" with which God governs his creatures, caring for the poor and the oppressed and humbling the arrogant and the overbearing.

Four theological terms, which the person who prays repeats in his profession of faith, while he steps out on the paths of the world, with the certainty of having with him a loving, faithful, just and saving God.

5. To the various titles with which we exalt God, the Psalmist adds two powerful images. On the one hand, the abundance of food: it makes us think above all of the sacred banquet, which was celebrated in the temple of Zion with the flesh of sacrificial victims. There are also the images of the fountain and the torrent, whose waters quench not just the parched throat, but also the soul (cf. Ps 36,9-10; Ps 41,2-3 Ps 62,2-6). The Lord refreshes and satisfies the person who prays, making him share in his fullness of immortal life.

The symbol of light provides another image: "in your light we see the light" (Ps 36,10). It is a brightness that radiates almost as "a cascade" and is a sign of God's unveiling his glory to the faithful. This is what happened to Moses on Sinai (cf. Ex 34,29-30) and it takes place for the Christian to the degree that "with unveiled face reflecting the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed in the same likeness" (2Co 3,18).

In the language of the Psalms, "to see the light of the face of God" means concretely to meet the Lord in the temple, whenever the liturgical prayer is celebrated and the word of God is proclaimed. The Christian also shares the same experience when he celebrates the praise of the Lord at the beginning of the day, before he goes out to face the challenges of daily life that are not always straightforward.

I extend a special welcome to the delegates from the Ecumenical Pastoral Centre in Cape Town, South Africa. May the Lord bless our efforts at the beginning of the Third Christian Millennium to foster greater unity among Christians. May he help us to bear common witness in proclaiming the wisdom of the Gospel to the world. I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Denmark, Malta, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan and the United States of America, and upon you and your families I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you all!