The Psalms and
Morning and Evening Prayer
Wednesday talks by Pope Benedict XVI
Commentary on the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)
"The Lord Places Himself on the Side of the Least" (February
With this address, Pope Benedict concluded the cycle of catecheses on
and biblical canticles begun by Pope John Paul II in 2001.
* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
1. We have come to the end of the long itinerary begun exactly five
years ago by my beloved predecessor, the unforgettable Pope John Paul
II. In his catecheses, the great Pope wished to go through the whole
sequence of Psalms and canticles that make up the fabric of the
fundamental prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours and of Vespers. On
arriving at the end of this pilgrimage through the texts, as a journey
through a garden full of flowers of praise, invocation, prayer and
contemplation, we now make room for that canticle that seals the whole
celebration of Vespers, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).
It is a canticle that reveals the spirituality of the biblical
"anawim," namely, of those faithful who acknowledged themselves "poor"
not only because of their detachment from all idolatry of wealth and
power, but also because of their profound humility of heart, free from
the temptation to pride, open to saving divine grace. The whole
Magnificat, which we just heard interpreted by the Choir of the Sistine
Chapel, is characterized by this "humility," in Greek "tapeinosis,"
which indicates a situation of concrete humility and poverty.
2. The first movement of the Marian canticle (cf. Luke 1:46-50) is like
a soloist who raises her voice to heaven to the Lord. To be pointed
out, in fact, is the use of the first person which resounds constantly:
"my soul ……, my spirit ……, my Savior ……, will call me blessed ……, has
done great things in me……." The soul of the prayer is, therefore, the
celebration of divine grace that has come into Mary's heart and life,
making her the Mother of the Lord. We hear precisely the Virgin's voice
speaking in this way of her Savior, who has done great things in her
soul and body.
The profound structure of her canticle of prayer is praise,
thanksgiving, grateful joy. But this personal testimony is not solitary
and private, merely individualistic, as the Virgin Mary is conscious
that she has a mission to fulfill for humanity and that her life is
framed in the history of salvation. Thus she can say: "His mercy is
from age to age to those who fear him" (verse 50). With this praise to
the Lord, the Virgin gives voice to all creatures redeemed after her
"fiat," who in the figure of Jesus, born of the Virgin, find the mercy
3. At this point develops the second poetic and spiritual movement of
the Magnificat (cf. verses 51-55). It has the tone of a choir, as if to
Mary's voice were joined that of the community of the faithful, which
celebrates God's amazing decisions. In the Greek original of the Gospel
of Luke we find seven verbs in aorist, which indicate many other
actions that the Lord has carried out permanently in history: "he has
shown strength with his arm ……, he has scattered the proud ……, he has
put down the mighty from their thrones ……, exalted those of low degree
……, he has filled the hungry with good things ……, the rich he has sent
empty away ……, has helped his servant Israel."
Evident in these seven divine works is the "style" in which the Lord of
history inspires his conduct: He places himself on the side of the
least. Often, his plan is hidden under the opaque terrain of human
vicissitudes, in which the "proud," the "mighty" and the "rich"
triumph. However, in the end, his secret strength is destined to
manifest who God's real favorites are: the "faithful" to his Word, "the
humble," "the hungry," "his servant Israel," namely, the community of
the People of God that, as Mary, is constituted by those who are
"poor," pure and simple of heart. It is that "little flock" which Jesus
invites not to be afraid, as the Father has willed to give it his
kingdom (cf. Luke 12:32). Thus, this canticle invites us to associate
ourselves to this little flock, to really be members of the People of
God in purity and simplicity of heart, in love of God.
4. Let us accept, then, the invitation that St. Ambrose makes to us in
his commentary on the Magnificat. The great doctor of the Church
exhorts: "In the heart of each one may Mary praise the Lord, in each
may the spirit of Mary rejoice in the Lord; if, according to the flesh,
Christ has only one mother, according to faith all souls engender
Christ; each one, in fact, receives in himself the Word of God ……
Mary's soul magnifies the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God as,
consecrated with her soul and spirit to the Father and to the Son, she
adores with devout affection only one God, from whom everything
proceeds, and only one Lord, in virtue of whom all things exist"
("Esposizione del Vangelo Secondo Luca," 2,26-27: Saemo, XI,
Milan-Rome, 1978, p. 169).
In this wonderful commentary on the Magnificat of St. Ambrose I am
always moved by this amazing word: "If, according to the flesh, Christ
has only one mother, according to faith all souls engender Christ; each
one, in fact, receives in himself the Word of God." Thus the holy
doctor, interpreting the words of the Virgin herself, invites us to
offer the Lord a dwelling in our souls and in our lives. Not only must
we bear him in our hearts, but we must take him to the world, so that
we too might engender Christ for our times. Let us pray to the Lord to
help us to praise him with Mary's spirit and soul and to take Christ
again to our world.
Commentary on Psalm 144(145):14-21
"The Lord Is Near to All Who Call Upon Him" (February 8,
1. Following the Liturgy, which divides it in two parts, we again
reflect on Psalm 144(145), an admirable hymn in honor of the Lord, an
affectionate king attentive to his creatures. We now want to meditate
on the second part, on verses 14 to 21, which take up again the
essential topic of the hymn's first movement.
In it are exalted divine mercy, tenderness, fidelity and goodness that
extend to the whole of humanity, involving every creature. Now the
psalmist concentrates his attention on the love the Lord reserves in a
particular way for the poor and the weak. Therefore, divine royalty is
not indifferent or haughty, as can sometimes happen in the exercise of
human power. God expresses his royalty stooping down to his most
fragile and defenseless creatures.
2. In fact, above all, he is a Father who "upholds all who are falling"
and straightens those who have fallen in the dust of humiliation (cf.
verse 14). Living beings, therefore, are oriented to the Lord as if
they were hungry beggars and he offers them, as attentive Father, the
food they need to live (cf. verse 15).
Then, from the lips of the psalmist issues the profession of faith in
the two divine qualities par excellence: justice and holiness. "You,
Lord, you just in all your ways, faithful in all your works" (verse
17). In Hebrew, we come across two typical adjectives to illustrate the
Covenant that exists between God and his People: "saddiq" and "hasid."
They express justice, which wants to save and liberate from evil, and
fidelity which is a sign of the loving greatness of the Lord.
3. The psalmist places himself on the side of the benefited that he
describes with different expressions; they are terms that constitute,
in practice, a representation of the authentic believer. The latter
"invokes" the Lord in confident prayer, seeks him in life "in truth"
(cf. verse 18), fears his God, respecting his will and obeying his Word
(cf. verse 19), but above all, "loves" him, confident that he will be
received under the mantle of his protection and intimacy (cf. verse 20).
The psalmist's last word, then, is the same as that with which he began
the hymn: It is an invitation to praise and bless the Lord and his
"name," namely, the living and holy person that acts and saves in the
world and history. Beyond that, it is a call to all creatures, who have
received the gift of life, to associate themselves to the prayer of
praise: "All flesh will bless your holy name forever." It is a kind of
everlasting hymn that must be raised from earth to heaven; it is the
communal celebration of the universal love of God, source of peace, joy
4. Concluding our reflection, let us meditate again on that gentle
verse that says: "You, Lord, are near to all who call upon you, to all
who call upon you in truth" (verse 18). It was a phrase that was
particularly liked by Barsanufius of Gaza, an ascetic who died about
the middle of the sixth century, who was consulted by monks,
ecclesiastics and lay people because of the wisdom of his discernment.
For example, to a disciple who expressed the desire to discover "the
causes of the different temptations that had assailed him," Barsanufius
replied: "Brother John, do not be afraid of the temptations that arise
against you to put you to the test, do not be determined in trying to
understand what it is about; rather, cry out the name of Jesus: 'Jesus,
help me.' And he will hear you because "the Lord is near to all who
call upon him.' Do not be discouraged, run with ardor and you will
reach your end in Christ, Jesus, our Lord" (Barsanufius and John of
Gaza, "Epistolario," 39: "Collana di Testi Patristici," XCIII, Rome,
1991, p. 109).
And these words of the ancient Father are also valid for us. In our
difficulties, problems, temptations, we must not simply engage in a
theoretical reflection -- from whence do they come? -- but must react
positively, invoking the Lord, maintaining a living contact with the
Lord. Beyond that, we must cry out the name of Jesus: "Jesus, help me!"
And we may be sure that he listens to us, as he is near to those who
seek him. Let us not be discouraged; rather, let us run with ardor --
as this Father says -- and we too will reach life, Jesus, the Lord.
Commentary on Psalm 144(145)
"The Lord …… Concerned About All His Creatures" (February
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
1. We have raised the prayer of Psalm 144(145), a joyous praise to the
Lord who is exalted as loving and tender king, concerned about all his
creatures. The liturgy presents this hymn to us in two different
moments, which correspond also to the two poetic and spiritual
movements of the same psalm. Now we pause on the first part, which
corresponds to verses 1 to 13.
The psalm is addressed to the Lord who is invoked and described as
"king" (cf. Psalm 144:1), divine representation dominant in other
hymns of the Psalms (cf. Psalms 46;92;95-98). What is more, the
spiritual center of our hymn is constituted precisely by an intense and
impassioned celebration of divine royalty. In it is repeated on four
occasions -- as though indicating the four cardinal points of being and
history -- the Hebrew word "malkut," "kingdom" (cf. Psalm
We know that these royal symbols, which will have a central character
also in the preaching of Christ, are the _expression of the salvific
plan of God: He is not indifferent to human history; moreover, he
desires to work out with and for us a plan of harmony and peace. The
whole of humanity is also called to fulfill this plan to obey the
divine salvific will, a will that extends to all "men," to "all
generations" and to "all centuries." A universal action, which uproots
evil from the world and enthrones the "glory" of the Lord, namely, his
personal, effective and transcendent presence.
1. At the heart of this psalm, which appears precisely in the center of
this composition, is addressed the prayerful praise of the psalmist,
who makes himself spokesman of all the faithful and who today would
like to be spokesman for all of us. The highest biblical prayer is, in
fact, the celebration of the works of salvation which reveal the Lord's
love for his creatures. The psalm continues exalting the divine "name,"
namely, his person (cf. verses 1-2), which manifests itself in his
historic action: There is talk of "works," "wonders," "prodigies,"
"power," "greatness," "justice," "patience," "mercy," "grace,"
"goodness" and "tenderness."
It is a kind of prayer in the form of a litany which proclaims the
entry of God in human vicissitudes to lead the whole of created reality
to a salvific fullness. We are not at the mercy of dark forces, or
alone with our freedom, but we have been entrusted to the action of the
powerful and loving Lord, who will establish for us a plan, a "reign"
(cf. verse 11).
2. This "reign" does not consist of power or dominion, triumph or
oppression, as often happens, unfortunately, with earthly kingdoms, but
it is the seat of a manifestation of mercy, tenderness, goodness,
grace, justice, as confirmed on several occasions in the verses that
The synthesis of this divine portrait is in verse 8: The Lord is "slow
to anger and abounding in steadfast love." They are words that recall
the introduction that God made of himself on Sinai, where he said: "The
Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and
abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:6). We have
here a preparation for the profession of faith in God of St. John the
Apostle, saying to us simply that He is love: "Deus caritas est" (cf. 1
3. In addition to reflecting on these beautiful words, which show us a
God "slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love," always ready to
forgive and help, our attention also focuses on the very beautiful
verse 9: "The Lord is good to all, compassionate to every creature." A
word that must be meditated on, a word of consolation, a certainty that
contributes to our life. In this connection, St. Peter Chrysologus
(born around the year 380 and died around 450), expresses himself with
these words in the "Second Discourse on Fasting": "'Great are the works
of the Lord': But this grandeur that we see in the grandeur of
Creation, this power is surpassed by the greatness of mercy. In fact,
the prophet having said: 'Great are the works of God,' adds in another
passage: 'His mercy is greater than all his works.' Mercy, brothers,
fills the heavens, fills the earth. Because of this, the great,
generous, unique mercy of Christ, which reserved all judgment for only
one day, assigned all man's time to the truce of penance. Because of
this, the prophet, who did not have confidence in justice itself, has
total confidence in mercy: 'Mercy, my God, by your goodness, by your
very compassion blot out my transgression' (Psalm 50:3)" (42,4-5:
"Sermoni 1-62 bis," "Scrittori dell'Area Santambrosiana," 1,
Milan-Rome, 1996, pp. 299, 301). And we also say to the Lord: "Have
mercy on me, my God, as great is your mercy."
Commentary on Psalm 143:9-15
"A 'New' Song Is One Which Speaks of Peace and Prosperity"
(January 26, 2006)
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
1. Today the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity concludes, during which
we have reflected on the need to invoke constantly from the Lord the
great gift of full unity among Christ's disciples. Prayer, in fact,
contributes decisively to make more sincere and fruitful the common
ecumenical commitment of the Churches and ecclesial communities.
In this meeting we take up again the meditation of Psalm 143, which the
Liturgy of Vespers proposes to us on two different occasions (cf.
verses 1-8 and verses 9-15). The tone continues to be that of a song
and, in this second movement of the psalm, the figure of the "Anointed"
appears, namely, of the "Consecrated" One par excellence, Jesus, who
attracts all to himself, so that they will "be one" (cf. John
17:11,21). It is no accident that the scene that dominates in the song
is characterized by prosperity and peace, typical symbols of the
2. Because of this, the song is described as "new," a term that in
biblical language more than making reference to the exterior novelty of
the words indicates the ultimate fullness that seals hope (cf. verse
9). A song is raised, therefore, to the goal of history in which the
voice of evil will finally be silenced, described by the psalmist as
"untruth" and "lie," expressions that indicate idolatry (cf. verse 11).
But this negative aspect is followed, with much greater space, by the
positive dimension: that of the new joyful world that is about to
affirm itself. This is the true "shalom," that is, messianic "peace," a
luminous horizon articulated in a series of images of social life which
can also be for us the hope for the birth of a more just society.
3. First of all, the family appears (cf. verse 12), which is based on
the vitality of procreation. Sons, hope of the future, are compared to
strong saplings; daughters are represented as solid pillars that govern
the edifice of the house, as those of the temple. From the family one
moves to the economic life, to the land, with its fruits stored in
granaries, with pastures of grazing cattle, with draft animals working
in fertile fields (cf. verses 13-14a).
The gaze then moves to the city, namely, to the whole civil community
which finally enjoys the precious gift of peace and tranquility. In
fact, the "breaches" opened by the invaders in the urban walls during
the assault are finally finished; the incursions have ended which bring
sackings and deportations and, finally, the "outcry" is not heard of
the desperate, the wounded, the victims, the orphans, sad legacy of
wars (cf. verse 14b).
4. This picture of a different but possible world is entrusted to the
work of the Messiah, as well as to that of his people. All of us
together, under the guidance of the Messiah, Christ, must work for this
project of harmony and peace, preventing the destructive action of
hatred, of violence and of war. It is necessary, however, to be on the
side of the God of love and justice.
For this reason, the psalm concludes with the words: "Happy the people
so blessed; happy the people whose God is the Lord." God is the good of
goods, the condition of all other goods. Only a people that
acknowledges God and that defends spiritual and moral values can truly
go out to find a profound peace and become itself a force of peace for
the world, for other peoples, and, therefore, can intone with the
psalmist the "new song," full of confidence and hope. It recalls
spontaneously the new Covenant, the very novelty that Christ and his
This is what St. Augustine reminds us. On reading the psalm, he also
interprets the phrase: "on a ten-stringed lyre I will play for you."
For him, the ten-stringed lyre is the law, summarized in the Ten
Commandments. But we must find the appropriate key of these ten
strings, of these Ten Commandments. Only if these ten strings, these
Ten Commandments are made to vibrate -- says St. Augustine -- with the
charity of the heart will they sound well. Charity is the fullness of
the law. He who lives the Commandments as dimensions of the one
charity, truly sings the "new song." The charity that unites us to
Christ's sentiments is the true "new song" of the "new man," capable of
creating also a "new world." This psalm invites us to sing with "the
ten-stringed lyre," with a new heart, to sing with Christ's sentiments,
to live the Ten Commandments in the dimension of love, to thus
contribute to the peace and harmony of the world (cf. "Esposizioni sui
Salmi" [Commentaries on the Psalms], 143,16: Nuova Biblioteca
Agostiniana," XXVIII, Rome, 1977, pp. 677).
[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in
several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As we conclude today the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we
remember that the healing of divisions among Christians is the Lord's
work, it is his gift, for which we must pray constantly.
In our psalm today we sing a "new" song to the Lord. In the Bible, a
"new" song is one which speaks of peace and prosperity, signs of the
Messiah, promising us the fulfillment of all our hopes.
The psalmist describes this gift of peace, this "shalom," with a series
of images drawn from daily life. He speaks of the family. Sons, the
hope of the future, are like strong saplings; daughters are like
graceful columns, supporting the house.
Then we hear of the fruits of man's labor, the crops, the sheep, the
cattle, which are all gifts from the Lord. And the city walls are no
longer breached by enemy armies. No more do the wounded and the orphans
weep in the streets. Such is the peace brought by the Messiah.
We can help to build this peace if we choose to be faithful to God. St.
Augustine teaches that the ten-stringed harp means the Ten
Commandments. To sing a new song, and to play on the ten-stringed harp,
means to follow God's law and to usher in his kingdom of peace and joy.
I welcome the English-speaking pilgrims here today, especially the
students and teachers from Denmark and the ecumenical group from Japan.
I greet also those who have come from Ireland, New Zealand and the
United States of America. May you experience in your lives the peace
and joy of Christ our Lord, and may God bless you all.
Commentary on Colossians 1:3,12-20
"In Christ We See the Face of God" (January 4,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. At this first general audience of the new year let us pause to
meditate on the famous Christological hymn contained in the Letter to
the Colossians which constitutes, as it were, the solemn entrance into
the wealth of this Pauline text; it is also a doorway through which to
enter this year.
The hymn proposed for our reflection is framed by a rich _expression of
thanks (cf. verses 3, 12-14). It helps us to create the spiritual
atmosphere required to live well these first days of 2006 and our long
journey throughout the new year (cf. verses 15-20).
The praise of the Apostle, together with our praise, rises up to "God,
the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (cf. verse 3), the source of that
salvation which is described using negative and positive images: first
as having "delivered us from the power of darkness" (cf. verse 13),
that is, as "redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (verse 14), and then
re-presented as "the inheritance of the saints in light" (verse 12) and
as the entrance "to the Kingdom of his beloved Son" (verse 13).
2. At this point the great and full hymn unfolds: Its center is Christ
and it exalts his primacy and work both in Creation and in the history
of Redemption (cf. verses 15-20). Thus, the canticle has two movements.
In the first movement, Christ is presented as the Firstborn of all
creation, Christ "generated before every creature" (cf. verse 15).
Indeed, he is "the image of the invisible God" and this _expression has
the same impact that the "icon" has in Eastern culture: It is not only
the likeness that is emphasized but the profound intimacy with the
subject that is represented.
Christ visibly re-proposes among us the "invisible God." In him we see
the face of God through the common nature that unites them. By virtue
of his most exalted dignity, Christ precedes "all things," not only
because of his eternity, but also and especially in his creative and
provident work: "In him all things were created, in heaven and on
earth, visible and invisible ... and in him all things hold together"
(cf. verses 16-17). Indeed, they were also created "for him" (verse 16).
And so St. Paul points out to us a very important truth: History has a
destination, a direction. History moves toward humanity united in
Christ and thus moves in the direction of the perfect man, toward the
In other words, St. Paul tells us: Yes, there is progress in history.
There is, we could say, an evolution of history. Progress is all that
which brings us closer to Christ and thus closer to a united humanity,
to true humanism. And so, hidden within these indications there is also
an imperative for us: to work for progress, something that we all want.
We can do this by working to bring others to Christ; we can do this by
personally conforming ourselves to Christ, thereby taking up the path
of true progress.
3. The second movement of the hymn (cf. Colossians 1:18-20) is
dominated by the figure of Christ the Savior within the history of
salvation. His work is revealed first of all in his being "the head of
the Body, the Church" (verse 18): This is the privileged salvific
horizon that manifests the fullness of liberation and redemption, the
vital communion that joins the head and the members of the body, that
is, between Christ and Christians. The Apostle's gaze extends to the
ultimate goal toward which history converges: Christ, "the firstborn
from the dead" (verse 18), is the One who opens the doors to eternal
life, snatching us from the limits of death and evil.
Here, in fact is that pleroma, that "fullness" of life and grace that
is in Christ himself and that was given and communicated to us (cf.
verse 19). With this vital presence that allows us to share in his
divinity, we are interiorally transformed, reconciled, and peace is
re-established: This is the harmony of the entire redeemed being, in
whom henceforth God will be "all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:28). To live
as Christians means allowing ourselves, in this way, to be interiorly
transformed into the likeness of Christ. Here, reconciliation and peace
4. Let us now give this grandiose mystery of Redemption a contemplative
look, borrowing the words of St. Proclus of Constantinople, who died in
446. In his First Homily on Mary, Mother of God, he presents the
mystery of Redemption anew, as a consequence of the Incarnation.
Indeed, God, the archbishop recalls, was made man in order to save us
and thus to snatch us from the powers of darkness and bring us back to
the Kingdom of the Beloved Son, exactly as this Canticle of the Letter
to the Colossians recalls: "The One who redeemed us," Proclus observes,
"is not purely human; indeed, the whole of the human race was enslaved
to sin; but he was also not merely a God deprived of human nature: He
actually had a body. If he had not been clothed in my flesh he would
not have saved me. Having been formed in the Virgin's womb, he was clad
in the guise of one condemned. In a wonderful exchange, he gave his
spirit and took on flesh" (8: "Testi mariani del primo millennio," I,
Rome, 1988, p. 561).
We therefore stand before the work of God who brought about Redemption
precisely because he was also a man. He was at the same time the Son of
God, the Savior, but also our brother, and it is with this closeness
that he pours forth in us the divine gift.
It is truly God-with-us. Amen!
* * *
To special groups
I welcome the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including groups
from Korea and the United States of America. In particular, I greet the
delegates attending the general chapter of the Congregation of the
Brothers of St. Gabriel. I pray that the time you spend here in Rome
will help you to grow in your love for the Lord. As the new year
begins, I ask God to bless all of you, as well as your friends and
families at home.
Lastly I address a special greeting to the young people, the sick and
the newlyweds. May Jesus, whom we contemplate in the mystery of
Christmas, be a sure guide for everyone, in the new year that has just
begun. Best wishes!
Commentary on Psalm
"Lord, What Is Man That You Care for Him?" (January 11, 2006)
1. Our journey through the Psalter used by the Liturgy of Vespers now
brings us to a royal hymn, Psalm 143(144), of which the first part was
proclaimed: In fact, the liturgy proposes this hymn dividing it in two
The first part (cf. verses 1 to 8) reveals clearly the literary
characteristic of this composition: The psalmist uses quotations from
other texts of the Psalms, articulated in a new hymn and prayer.
Given that the psalm belongs to a later period, it is easy to imagine
that the king who is exalted no longer has the features of the Davidic
sovereign, since Jewish royalty ended with the Babylonian exile in the
sixth century B.C., but rather those of the luminous and glorious
figure of the Messiah, whose victory is no longer a martial-political
event, but an intervention of liberation against evil. The "messiah,"
Greek word that indicated the "anointed one," is replaced by the
"Messiah" par excellence, who in Christian literature has the face of
Jesus Christ, "the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1).
2. The hymn begins with a blessing, that is, with an exclamation of
praise addressed to the Lord, celebrated with a little litany of
salvific titles: He is the sure and stable rock, he is loving grace, he
is the protected fortress, the refuge of defense, liberation, the
shield that forestalls every evil assault (cf. Psalm 143:1-2).
Also appearing is the martial image of God who trains his faithful in
the struggle so that he will be able to face the hostilities of the
environment, the dark powers of the world.
Despite his royal dignity, before the Almighty Lord, the psalmist feels
weak and fragile. Then he expresses a profession of humility that is
formulated, as he already said, with the words of Psalms 8 and 38. He
feels like "a breath," like "a passing shadow," inconsistent, submerged
in the flux of time that passes, marked by the limitation proper to the
creature (cf. Psalm 143:4).
3. The question then arises: Why is God concerned about this very
miserable and decrepit creature? To this question (cf. verse 3) the
grandiose divine apparition responds, the so-called theophany that is
accompanied by a procession of cosmic elements and historical events,
oriented to celebrate the transcendence of the supreme King of being,
of the universe and of history.
Thus, mention is made of mountains that spew forth smoke with volcanic
eruptions (cf. verse 5), of flashes of lightning that seem like arrows
flung against evildoers (cf. verse 6), of "many" oceanic "waters,"
symbol of the chaos from which the king is saved by the power of the
same divine hand (cf. verse 7). In the background are the foreign foes
who "speak untruth" and whose "[right hands are raised in lying oaths]"
(cf. verses 7-8), a concrete representation, according to the Semitic
style, of idolatry, moral perversion, of the evil that is truly opposed
to God and to his faithful.
4. In our meditation, we now pause for a moment on the profession of
humility expressed by the psalmist and we will make use of Origen's
words, whose commentary on our text has come to us through St. Jerome's
Latin version. "The psalmist speaks of the fragility of the body and of
the human condition," as in virtue of the human condition, man is
nothing. "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity," says Ecclesiastes. The
question again arises of wonder and thanksgiving: "'Lord, what is man
that you care for him? …… It is a great happiness for man to know his
own Creator. In this we are distinguished from beasts and other
animals, as we know we have a Creator, while they do not know it."
It is worthwhile to meditate for a moment on these words of Origen, who
sees the fundamental difference between man and the rest of animals in
the fact that man is able to know God, his Creator, in the fact that
man is capable of truth, of a knowledge that becomes a relationship, a
friendship. In our time, it is important that we not forget God, along
with the other knowledge that we have acquired in the meantime, which
is so much! Such knowledge becomes problematic -- what is more,
dangerous -- if the fundamental knowledge is lacking that gives meaning
and orientation to everything, if knowledge of God the Creator is
Let us return to Origen. He says: "You will not be able to save this
misery, which is man, if you yourself do not carry him on your
shoulders. 'Bow thy heavens, O Lord, and come down.' Your abandoned
sheep will not be able to cure itself if you do not carry it on your
shoulders. …… These words are addressed to the Son: 'Bow thy heavens, O
Lord, and come down.' …… You have come down, you have bowed the heavens
and you have stretched out your hand from on high, and you have deigned
to carry the flesh of man on your shoulders, and many believed in you"
(Origen-Jerome, "74 Omelie sul Libro dei Salmi," Milan, 1993, pp.
For us Christians, God is no longer, as in the philosophy prior to
Christianity, a theory but a reality, as God has "bowed the heavens and
come down." He himself is heaven, and has come down among us. With
reason, Origen sees in the parable of the lost sheep, which the
shepherd carries on his shoulders, the parable of the Incarnation of
God. If, in the Incarnation, he has come down and has carried our flesh
on his shoulders, he has carried us on his shoulders. In this way, the
knowledge of God has become a reality, it has become friendship,
communion. We give thanks to the Lord, as "he has bowed his heaven and
come down," has carried our flesh on his shoulders and leads us on the
paths of our life.
The psalm, which begins with the discovery that we are weak and removed
from the divine splendor, at the end comes to this great surprise of
the divine action: With us is the God-Emmanuel, which for Christianity
has the loving face of Jesus Christ, God made man, made one of us.
PROGRESS BRINGS US CLOSER
TO CHRIST (January 4, 2006)
VATICAN CITY, JAN 4, 2006 (VIS) - The first general audience for
2006 was divided into two separate moments: at 10:30 am, the Pope met
with the various groups of faithful in the Paul VI Hall, and after
that, he returned to the Vatican Basilica to welcome the persons who
could not get into the Hall.
The theme for the catechesis for this Wednesday was the Christological
hymn from St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians, "Christ was created
before any other creature; He is the firstborn of He who resuscitates
the dead". The Holy Father said: "The text begins with an ample formula
of thanks. This helps us to create a spiritual atmosphere to live these
first days of 2006 well, along with our path during the entire new
"Praise rises to "God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ", the source
of that salvation that is described negatively as the "liberation from
the power of the darkness", (...) then re-proposed from the positive
viewpoint as the "participation in the destiny of the saints of light".
Benedict XVI stated that at the beginning of this hymn, "Christ is
presented as the firstborn of all of creation". He is the "image of the
invisible God". He continued, saying that in the second part of this
hymn, "the figure of Christ the Saviour within the history of salvation
is dominant. (...) the head of the body, that is to say, the Church:
this is the privileged saving horizon where the liberation and the
redemption, the vital communion that runs between the head and the
parts of the body, that is between Christ and the Christians, is fully
Improvising, the Pope stated that "St. Paul shows us something of great
importance, history has a goal, it has a direction, history moves
towards a humanity united in Christ. (...) In other words, St. Paul
tells us yes, there is progress in history, there is one if we strive
for evolution in history, progress is everything that allows us to come
closer to Christ, thus bringing us closer to a united humanity, to true
humanism; and behind these indications is also hidden an imperative for
us, to work for progress, something we all want: all of us can work
towards the closeness of men towards Christ, we can personally conform
to Christ, going along the line of true progress".
He continued: "Christ is He who opens the doors to eternal life,
tearing us away from the limitation of death and evil. Here in fact, is
that "fullness" of life and grace that is in Christ Himself, and is
given and communicated to us. With this vital presence, which allows us
to participate in divinity, we are transformed internally, reconciled,
The Holy Father recalled some words from Saint Proclo of
Constantinople: "Who redeemed us was not merely man, (...) nor was He a
God deprived of a human nature: in fact, He had a body. Had He not
transformed into man, He would not have saved me. Appearing in the womb
of the Virgin, He became the condemned man. There lies the tremendous
exchange, He gave the spirit and took on the flesh".
The Pope concluded saying: "Therefore, we are faced with the work of
God, who achieved Redemption because He became man. He is at the same
time the Son of God, Saviour, but also our brother and because of this
proximity He infuses the Divine Gift in us".
Commentary on 2nd Part of
On the Embryo "God Has Already Turned His Loving
Eyes" (December 28, 2005)
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 6, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the
address Benedict XVI gave at the Dec. 28 general audience, which he
dedicated to comment on the second part of Psalm 138(139).
* * *
1. At this general audience on Wednesday of the octave of Christmas,
the liturgical feast of the Holy Innocents, let us resume our
meditation on Psalm 138(139), proposed in the Liturgy of Vespers in two
distinct stages. After contemplating in the first part (verses 1 12)
the omniscient and omnipotent God, the Lord of being and history, this
sapiential hymn of intense beauty and deep feeling now focuses on the
loftiest, most marvelous reality of the entire universe: man, whose
being is described as a "wonder" of God (verse 14).
Indeed, this topic is deeply in tune with the Christmas atmosphere we
are living in these days in which we celebrate the great mystery of the
Son of God who became man, indeed, became a Child, for our salvation.
After pondering on the gaze and presence of the Creator that sweeps
across the whole cosmic horizon, in the second part of the Psalm on
which we are meditating today Goel' turns his loving gaze upon the
human being, whose full and complete beginning is reflected upon.
He is still an "unformed substance" in his mother's womb: The Hebrew
term used has been understood by several biblical experts as referring
to an "embryo," described in that term as a small, oval, curled-up
reality, but on which God has already turned his benevolent and loving
eyes (verse 16).
2. To describe the divine action within the maternal womb, the psalmist
has recourse to classical biblical images, comparing the productive
cavity of the mother to the "depths of the earth," that is, the
constant vitality of great mother earth (verse 15).
First of all, there is the symbol of the potter and of the sculptor who
"fashions" and moulds his artistic creation, his masterpiece, just as
it is said about the creation of man in the Book of Genesis: "the Lord
God formed man out of the clay of the ground" (Genesis 2:7).
Then there is a "textile" symbol that evokes the delicacy of the skin,
the flesh, the nerves, "threaded" onto the bony skeleton. Job also
recalled forcefully these and other images to exalt that masterpiece
which the human being is, despite being battered and bruised by
suffering: "Your hands have formed me and fashioned me. …… Remember
that you fashioned me from clay ...! Did you not pour me out as milk
and thicken me like cheese? With skin and flesh you clothed me, with
bones and sinews knit me together" (Job 10:8-11).
3. The idea in our psalm that God already sees the entire future of
that embryo, still an "unformed substance," is extremely powerful. The
days which that creature will live and fill with deeds throughout his
earthly existence are already written in the Lord's book of life.
Thus, once again the transcendent greatness of divine knowledge
emerges, embracing not only humanity's past and present but also the
span, still hidden, of the future. However, the greatness of this
little unborn human creature, formed by God's hands and surrounded by
his love, also appears: a biblical tribute to the human being from the
first moment of his existence.
Let us now entrust ourselves to the reflection that St. Gregory the
Great in his Homilies on Ezekiel has interwoven with the sentence of
the psalm on which we commented earlier: "Your eyes beheld my unformed
substance; in your book were written every one of them [my days]"
(verse 16). On those words the Pontiff and Father of the Church
composed an original and delicate meditation concerning all those in
the Christian community who falter on their spiritual journey.
And he says that those who are weak in faith and in Christian life are
part of the architecture of the Church. "They are nonetheless added ...
by virtue of good will. It is true, they are imperfect and little, yet
as far as they are able to understand, they love God and their neighbor
and do not neglect to do all the good that they can. Even if they do
not yet attain spiritual gifts so as to open their soul to perfect
action and ardent contemplation, yet they do not fall behind in love of
God and neighbor, to the extent that they can comprehend it.
"Therefore, it happens that they too contribute to building the Church
because, although their position is less important, although they lag
behind in teaching, prophecy, the grace of miracles and complete
distaste for the world, yet they are based on foundations of awe and
love, in which they find their solidity" (2, 3, 12-13, "Opere di
Gregorio Magno," IIV 2, Rome, 1993, pp. 79, 81).
St. Gregory's message, therefore, becomes a great consolation to all of
us who often struggle wearily along on the path of spiritual and
ecclesial life. The Lord knows us and surrounds us all with his love.
"May Our Spirits Open to the True Spiritual
Light" (December 21, 2005)
Today's audience takes place in an atmosphere of joy and longing
expectation of the now imminent Christmas festivity. The Lord Jesus is
coming! We repeat these days in prayer, preparing our hearts to
experience the joy of the Redeemer's birth. In particular, in this last
week of Advent, the liturgy accompanies and supports our interior
journey with repeated invitations to receive the Savior, recognizing
him in the humble Child lying in a manger.
This is the mystery of Christmas, which we can understand better
through so many symbols. Among these symbols is that of light, which is
one of the richest in spiritual meaning and on which I would like to
The feast of Christmas coincides, in our hemisphere, with the time of
the year in which the sun ends its descending parabola and begins the
phase in which the time of daylight increases gradually, according to
the successive course of the seasons. This helps us to understand
better the subject of light that prevails over darkness. It is a symbol
that evokes a reality that affects man's inner being: I am referring to
the light of good that overcomes evil, of love that overcomes hatred,
of life that conquers death.
Christmas makes us think of this interior light, of the divine light
that presents to us again the proclamation of the definitive victory of
the love of God over sin and death. For this reason, in the novena of
holy Christmas that we are now living, there are many and significant
references to light.
We were also reminded of it by the antiphon sung at the beginning of
our meeting. The Savior awaited by the nations is greeted as the Rising
Sun, the star that indicates the way and the guide of people, wayfarers
amid the darkness and dangers of the world toward the salvation
promised by God and realized in Jesus Christ.
In preparing to celebrate the birth of the Savior with joy in our
families and ecclesial communities -- while a certain modern and
consumer culture tries to make the Christian symbols of the celebration
of Christmas disappear -- let us assume the commitment to understand
the value of the Christmas traditions, which are part of the patrimony
of our faith and our culture, in order to transmit them to the new
In particular, on seeing the streets and squares of our cities adorned
with glittering lights, let us remember that these lights evoke another
light, invisible to our eyes, but not to our hearts. Contemplating
them, when lighting the candles of churches or the Nativity and
Christmas tree lights in our homes, may our spirits open to the true
spiritual light brought to all men and women of good will. The God with
us, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary is the Star of our lives!
"Rising Sun, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come,
illuminate those who lie in darkness and in the shadows of death." On
assuming this invocation of today's liturgy, let us pray to the Lord to
hasten his glorious coming among us, among all those who are suffering,
as only in him can they find the answer to the authentic expectations
of the human heart.
May this Star of light that never sets, communicate to us the strength
to follow always the path of truth, justice and love! Let us live
intensely these days that precede Christmas together with Mary, the
Virgin of silence and listening. May she, who was totally enveloped by
the light of the Holy Spirit, help us to understand and to live fully
the mystery of Christ's Christmas.
With these sentiments, exhorting you to keep alive the interior wonder
in the fervent expectation of the now close celebration of the birth of
the Lord, with joy I wish all of you here present, your families, your
communities, and your loved ones a holy and happy Christmas.
Merry Christmas to all!
Commentary on Psalm 138(139):1-12
"A Song of Confidence: God Is Always With Us" (December 14,
1. In two distinct moments, the Liturgy of Vespers -- on whose psalms
and canticles we are meditating -- proposes to us the reading of a
sapiential hymn of transparent beauty and of intense emotional impact,
Psalm 138(139). Before us we have today the first part of the
composition (cf. 1-12), that is to say, the two first stanzas that
exalt, respectively, the omniscience of God (cf. 1-6) and his
omnipresence in space and time (cf. 7-12).
The vigor of the images and the expressions have as their objective the
celebration of the creator: "If the created works are so great,"
affirmed Theodoret of Cyrus, a Christian writer of the fifth century,
"how great the creator must then be!" ("Discorsi sulla Provvidenza," 4:
"Collana di Testi Patristici," LXXV [Discourse on Providence:
Compilation of Patristic Texts] Roma 1988, p. 115). The meditation of
the psalmist seeks above all to penetrate into the mystery of the
transcendent God, who at the same time is close to us.
2. The essence of the message that is presented to us is clear: God
knows everything and he is with his creature, and it is not possible to
elude him. His presence is not threatening nor controlling, even though
his gaze certainly is grave when looking on evil, before which he is
Nonetheless, his fundamental element is of a salvific presence, capable
embracing all of being and all of history. In short, it is the
spiritual setting to which St. Paul alludes when speaking in the
Areopagus of Athens, when he quoted a Greek poet: "In him we live and
move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).
3. The first passage (cf. Psalm 138:1-6), as he says, is the
celebration of the divine omnipresence: In fact, the verbs of knowledge
such as "to probe," "to be familiar with," "to understand," "to
distinguish" and "to know" are repeated. As is it known, biblical
knowledge goes much further than mere intellectual learning and
understanding; it is a type of communion between the knower and the
known: The Lord is, therefore, intimate with us, in our thoughts and
The second passage of the psalm is dedicated to the divine omnipresence
(cf. verses 7-12). In this verse, the illusory will of man to elude the
presence of God is described in a palpitating way. All of space is
embraced: above all, the vertical axis of "heaven-abyss" (cf. verse 8),
and then the horizontal dimension, everything from the dawn, that is to
say, from the East, to "beyond the sea," the Mediterranean, that is to
say, the West (cf. verse 9). In each one of these spheres of space,
including the most secret, God is actively present.
The psalmist also introduces the other reality in which we are
submerged, time, symbolically represented by night and light, shadows
and day (cf. verses 11-12). Even darkness, in which it is difficult to
advance and see, is penetrated by the gaze and by the presence the Lord
of being and of time. He is always willing to take us by the hand to
guide us on our earthly path (cf. verse 10). Therefore, it is not a
closeness of a judge that provokes terror, but rather of support and
In this way, we are able to understand the ultimate, essential content
of this psalm. It is a song of confidence: God is always with us. Even
in the dark nights of our life, he does not abandon us. Even in the
difficult moments, he is present. And even in the final night, in the
final solitude in which no one will be able to accompany us, in the
night of death, the Lord does not abandon us. He accompanies us, as
well, in this last solitude of the night of death. And for this reason,
as Christians, we can be confident: We are never alone. The goodness of
God is always with us.
4. We began with a quote of the Christian writer Theodoret of Cyrus. We
end now commending ourselves to him and to his "Fourth Discourse on
Providence," for this is definitively the theme of the psalm. He
reflects on verse 6, in which the psalmist exclaims: "Such knowledge is
beyond me, far too lofty for me to reach." Theodoret comments on this
passage analyzing in depth in the interior of his conscience and
personal experience and affirms: "Recollected and entering into my own
intimacy, removing myself from external murmuring, I wanted to submerge
myself in the contemplation of my nature. ... Reflecting on this and
thinking of the harmony between mortal and immortal nature, I was
startled by such wonder, and when I could not contemplate this mystery,
I recognized my failure; and what's more, while I proclaim the victory
of the knowledge of the Creator, and sing to him songs of praise, I
cry: 'Such knowledge is beyond me, far too lofty for me to reach'"
("Collana di Testi Patristici" [Compilation of Patristic Texts] LXXV,
Rome, 1988, pp. 116, 117).
Commentary on Psalm 137(138)
God "Cares for the Lowly" (December 7, 2005)
1. Attributed by the Judaic tradition to David's patronage, although it
probably arose in the subsequent period, the hymn of thanksgiving that
we now heard, which constitutes Psalm 137, opens with a personal
song of the psalmist. He raises his voice in the assembly of the
temple, or at least having as a point of reference the Sanctuary of
Zion, seat of the presence of the Lord and of his encounter with the
In fact, the psalmist acknowledges that he bows "low toward your holy
temple" of Jerusalem (see verse 2): There he sings before God who is in
the heavens with his court of angels, but who is also listening in the
earthly space of the temple (see verse 1).
The psalmist is certain that the "name" of the Lord, that is, his
personal living and working reality, and his virtues of faithfulness
and mercy, signs of the covenant with his people, are the basis of all
confidence and hope (see verse 2).
2. One's gaze turns, then, for an instant to the past, to the day of
suffering: Then the divine voice responded to the cry of the anguished
faithful one. It infused courage in the disturbed soul (see verse 3).
The Hebrew original speaks literally of the Lord who "excites strength
in the soul" of the oppressed righteous one: It is like the invasion of
an impetuous wind that sweeps away hesitations and fears, imprints a
new vital energy, and makes fortitude and confidence flourish.
After this seemingly personal preamble, the psalmist extends his gaze
over the world and imagines that his testimony spans the whole horizon:
"All the kings of earth," in a sort of universal adherence, associate
themselves with the Hebrew psalmist in a common praise in honor of the
Lord's grandeur and sovereign power (see verses 4-6).
3. The content of this common praise that rises from all the peoples
enables one to see already the future Church of pagans, the future
universal Church. This content has as its first subject the "glory" and
"ways of the Lord" (see verse 5), namely, his plans of salvation and
his revelation. Thus one discovers that God is certainly "high" and
transcendent, but "cares for the lowly" with affection, while he averts
his gaze from the haughty in sign of rejection and judgment (see verse
As Isaiah proclaimed, "For thus says he who is high and exalted, living
eternally, whose name is the Holy One: On high I dwell, and in
holiness, and with the crushed and dejected in spirit, to revive the
spirits of the dejected, to revive the hearts of the crushed" (Isaiah
57:15). God chooses, therefore, to be with the weak, with victims, with
the last: This is made known to all kings, so that they will know what
their options should be in the governance of nations. Of course, he
does not just say it to kings and to all governments, but to all of us,
as we also must know which option we must choose: to be on the side of
the humble, the last, the poor and the weak.
4. After this worldwide reference to leaders of nations, not only of
that time but of all times, the psalmist again speaks of personal
praise (see Psalm 137:7-8). With a gaze that is directed to the
future of his life, he also implores help from God for the trials that
life still holds in store for him.
There is talk in a synthetic way of "the wrath of enemies" (verse 7), a
kind of symbol of all the hostilities that the just man might have to
face during his journey in history. But he knows that the Lord will
never abandon him and will stretch out his hand to support and guide
him. The end of the psalm is, therefore, a last impassioned profession
of confidence in the God of everlasting goodness: He "will not forsake
the work of his hands," namely, his creature (verse 8). And in this
confidence, in this certitude of confidence in God, we too must live.
We must be certain that, no matter how heavy and tempestuous the trials
are that await us, we will never be abandoned to ourselves, we will
never fall from the Lord's hands, those hands that have created us and
that now follow us on life's journey. As St. Paul would confess: "The
one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it"
5. Thus we have been able to pray with a psalm of praise, thanksgiving
and confidence. We want to continue with this line of hymnal praise
through the testimony of a Christian singer, the great Ephraim of Syria
(fourth century), author of texts of extraordinary poetic and spiritual
"No matter how great our wonder is for you, O Lord, your glory
surpasses what our tongues can express," sings Ephraim in a hymn ("Inni
sulla Verginitàà, 7: L'Arpa dello Spirito," [Hymns on
Virginity, 7: The Lyre of the Spirit], Rome, 1999, p. 66), and in
another he says: "Praise to you, for whom all things are possible,
because you are Almighty" ("Inni sulla Nativitàà" [Hymns
on the Nativity] 11: ibid., p. 48), this is a further reason for our
confidence: God has the power of mercy and uses his power for mercy.
And, finally, a last quotation: "Praise to you from all those who
understand your truth" ("Inni sulla Fede" [Hymns on Faith] 14: ibid., p. 27).
Commentary on Psalm 136(137)
"A National Hymn of Sorrow" (November 30, 2005)
1. On this first Wednesday of Advent, a liturgical time of silence,
watching and prayer in preparation for Christmas, we meditate on Psalm
136(137), which has become famous in the Latin version of its
beginning, "Super flumina Babylonis." The text evokes the tragedy that
the Jewish people lived through during the destruction of Jerusalem,
which took place in the year 586 B.C., and the subsequent exile in
Babylon. We are before a national hymn of sorrow, characterized by a
dry nostalgia of what was lost.
This profound invocation to the Lord to liberate his faithful from the
slavery of Babylon also expresses sentiments of hope and expectation of
the salvation with which we have begun the Advent journey.
The first part of the Psalm (cf. verses 1-4) has, as a background, the
land of exile, with its rivers and canals, which watered the plain of
Babylon, headquarters of the deported Jews. It is as a symbolic
anticipation of the extermination camps in which the Jewish people --
in the century that just ended -- were led to an infamous operation of
death, which has remained as an indelible disgrace in the history of
The second part of the Psalm (cf. verses 5-6) is full of loving
memories of Zion, the lost city, but which continues to be alive in the
hearts of the deported.
2. Involved in the psalmist's words are the hand, tongue, palate, voice
and tears. The hand is indispensable for the one who plays the lyre.
But it has remained paralyzed (cf. verse 5) by sorrow because,
moreover, the lyres have been hung on the willows.
The singer needs the tongue, but now it cleaves to his palate (cf.
verse 6). The songs of Zion are the Lord's canticles (verses 3-4), they
are not folkloric songs or performances. Only in the liturgy and in the
freedom of a people can they rise up to heaven.
3. God, who is the ultimate arbiter of history, will be able to
understand and accept, according to his justice, the cry of the
victims, beyond the harsh tones that it sometimes acquires.
We want to commend to St. Augustine a further meditation on our psalm.
In it, the Father of the Church introduces a surprising element of
great timeliness: He knows that also among the inhabitants of Babylon
there are people who are committed to peace and the good of the
community, despite the fact that they do not share the biblical faith,
that they do not know the hope of the Eternal City to which we aspire.
They have a spark of desire for the unknown, for the greatest, for the
transcendent, for a genuine redemption.
And he says that among the persecutors, among the nonbelievers, there
are people with this spark, with a kind of faith, of hope, in the
measure that is possible for them in the circumstances in which they
live. With this faith in an unknown reality, they are really on the way
to the authentic Jerusalem, to Christ. And with this opening of hope,
valid also for the Babylonians -- as Augustine calls them -- for those
who do not know Christ, and not even God, and who nevertheless desire
the unknown, the eternal, he exhorts us not to look only at the
material things of the present moment, but to persevere in the path to
God. Only with this greater hope can we transform this world in a just
St. Augustine says it with these words: "If we are citizens of
Jerusalem ... and we have to live on this earth, in the confusion of
the present world, in the present Babylon, where we do not live as
citizens but are prisoners, it is necessary that we not only sing what
the Psalm says, but that we live it: This is achieved with a profound
aspiration of the heart, fully and religiously desirous of the Eternal
And making reference to the "earthly city called Babylon," he adds: In
it "there are people who, moved by love for it, contrive to ensure
peace, temporal peace, without nourishing another hope in their hearts
than the joy of working for peace. And we see them make every effort to
be useful to the earthly society. However, if they are committed with a
pure conscience in these tasks, God will not allow them to perish with
Babylon, having predestined them to be citizens of Jerusalem, on the
condition, however, that, living in Babylon, they do not seek pride,
outdated pomp and arrogance. ... He sees their service and will show
them the other city, toward which they must really long and orient all
their effort" ("Esposizioni sui Salmi" [Commentaries on the Psalms]
136, 1-2: "New Augustinian Library," XXVIII, Rome, 1977, pp. 397, 399).
And let us pray to the Lord that he will awaken in all of us this
desire, this openness to God, and that those who do not know God may
also be touched by his love, so that all of us journey together toward
the definitive City and that the light of this City might also shine in
our time and in our world.
Comment on Ephesians 1:3-10
"Main Verbs of This Canticle Lead Us Always to the Son"
(November 23, 2005)
1. Every week the Liturgy of Vespers presents to the prayer of the
Church the solemn opening hymn of the Letter to the Ephesians, the text
just proclaimed. It belongs to the genre of the "berakot," that is, the
"blessings" that already appear in the Old Testament and that will have
a further diffusion in the Judaic tradition. It is, therefore, a
constant flow of praise that rises to God, who in Christian faith is
celebrated as "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
It is for this reason that in our hymn of praise the figure of Christ
is central, in which the work of God the Father is revealed and
fulfilled. In fact, the three main verbs of this long and compact
canticle lead us always to the Son.
2. God "chose us in him" (Ephesians 1:4): It is our vocation to
holiness and to adoptive filiation and therefore to fraternity with
Christ. This gift, which radically transforms our state of creatures,
is offered to us "by the work of Jesus Christ" (verse 5), a work that
enters in the great divine salvific plan, in that loving "favor of
[his] will" (verse ) of the Father that the Apostle contemplates,
The second verb, after that of the election ("chose us"), designates
the gift of grace: "the grace he granted us in the beloved [……]"
(ibid.). In Greek we have the same root twice, "charis" and
"echaritosen," to underline the gratuitousness of the divine initiative
which precedes every human response. The grace that the Father bestows
on us in his Only-begotten Son is, therefore, manifestation of his love
that envelops us and transforms us.
3. Then we have the third fundamental verb of the Pauline canticle: Its
object is always divine grace which was "lavished upon us" (verse 8).
We find ourselves, therefore, before a verb of abundance, we could say
-- according to its original sense -- of excess, of donation without
limits or reservations.
Thus we reach the infinite and glorious profundity of the mystery of
God, opened and revealed by grace to one called by grace and love, this
revelation being impossible to reach only with the endowment of human
intelligence and capacities. "'What eye has not seen, and ear has not
heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared
for those who love him,' this God has revealed to us through the
Spirit. For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God"
(1 Corinthians 2:9-10).
4. The "mystery" of the divine "will" has a center that is destined to
coordinate the whole of being and the whole of history, leading it to
the fullness willed by God: It is "a plan for the fullness of time, to
unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth"
(Ephesians 1:10). Prominent in this "plan," in Greek "oikonomia," that
is, in this harmonious plan of the architecture of being and existence,
is Christ, head of the body of the Church, but also axis that
recapitulates in himself "all things, things in heaven and things on
earth." Dispersion and limitations are surmounted and that "fullness"
is configured which is the true end of the plan that the divine will
had established from the beginning.
We find ourselves, therefore, before a grandiose fresco of the history
of creation and salvation, on which we now meditate and reflect further
with the words of St. Irenaeus, great Doctor of the Church of the
second century, who, in some magisterial pages of his treatise "Against
the Heresies," developed his own articulated reflection on the
recapitulation accomplished by Christ.
5. Christian faith, he affirms, recognizes that "there is only one God
and one Jesus Christ, our Lord, who came with his plan and
recapitulated all things in himself. Among all things there is also
man, fashioned by God. Therefore, he has also recapitulated man in
himself, becoming visible, he who is invisible, comprehensible, he who
is incomprehensible and man, he who is Word" (3,16,6:
"Giàà e Non Ancora" [Already and Not Yet], CCCXX, Milan,
1979, p. 268).
Therefore, "the Word of God" becomes truly man, not in appearance,
because then "his work would not have been true." Instead, "he was that
which he seemed to be: God who recapitulates in himself his old
creature, who is man, to kill sin, destroy death and vivify man. And
because of this his works are true" (3,18,7: ibid., pp. 277-278). He
made himself head of the Church to draw all to himself at the
appropriate time. Let us pray, in keeping with the spirit of these
words: Yes, Lord, draw us to yourself; draw the world to yourself and
grant us peace, your peace.
Commentary on Psalm 135(136):10-26
"God's Wondrous Deeds in the History of Salvation"
(November 16, 2005)
1. We reflect again on the hymn of praise of Psalm 135(136), which the
Liturgy of Vespers proposes in two successive stages, following a
specific distinction offered by the composition on the thematic level.
In fact, the celebration of the Lord's works is delineated in two
ambits, that of space and that of time.
In the first part (cf. verses 1-9), which was the object of our
preceding meditation, before us were the divine acts displayed in
creation: They gave origin to the marvels of the universe. In that part
of the psalm is proclaimed faith in God the Creator, who reveals
himself through his cosmic creatures. Now, instead, the psalmist's
joyous song, called by the Hebrew tradition "the great Hallel," namely,
the highest praise raised to the Lord, leads us to a different horizon,
that of history. The first part, therefore, speaks of creation as
reflection of the beauty of God; the second speaks of history and of
the good God has done to us in the course of time. We know that
biblical Revelation proclaims repeatedly that the presence of God the
Savior is manifested in a particular way in the history of salvation
(cf. Deuteronomy 26:5-9; Genesis 24:1-13).
2. Thus before the psalmist eyes pass the liberating actions of the
Lord, which have their heart in the fundamental event of the exodus
from Egypt, to which is profoundly connected the difficult journey in
the Sinai desert, which ends in the promised land, the divine gift that
Israel experiences in all the pages of the Bible.
The famous crossing through the Red Sea, "divided in two parts," rent
and tamed as though a conquered monster (cf. Psalm 135:13), gives birth
to the liberated people called to a mission and a glorious destiny (cf.
verses 14-15; Exodus 15:1-21), which will have its Christian
interpretation in the full deliverance from evil with baptismal grace
(cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-4). Then the itinerary of the desert opens: In
it the Lord is shown as a warrior who, continuing the work of
deliverance begun in the crossing of the Red Sea, aligns himself in
defense of his people by striking their adversaries. Desert and sea
represent, then, the passage through evil and oppression to receive the
gift of freedom and the promised land (cf. Psalm 135:16-20).
3. At the end, the psalm reveals that country that the Bible exalts in
an enthusiastic way as " a good country, a land with streams of water,
with springs and fountains ... a land of wheat and barley, of vines and
fig trees and pomegranates, of olive trees and of honey, a land where
you can eat bread without stint and where you will lack nothing, a land
whose stones contain iron and in whose hills you can mine copper"
This emphatic celebration, which goes beyond the reality of that land,
intends to exalt the divine gift, directing our expectation to the
highest gift of eternal life with God. A gift that allows the people to
be free, a gift that is born -- as is continuously repeated in the
antiphon that dots every verse from the Lord's "hesed," namely, from
his "mercy," from his faithfulness to the commitment assumed in the
Covenant with Israel, from his love that continues to reveal itself
through the "memory" (cf. Psalm 135:23). In the time of the
"humiliation," that is, of the successive trials and oppressions,
Israel will always discover the saving hand of the God of liberty and
love. In the time of hunger and misery the Lord will also appear to
offer food to the whole of humanity, confirming his identity as Creator
(cf. verse 25).
4. In Psalm 135(136) are interlaced, therefore, two modalities of the
only divine Revelation, the cosmic (cf. verses 4-9) and the historical
(cf. verses 10-25). The Lord is, of course, transcendent as Creator and
arbiter of being; but he is also close to his creatures, entering into
space and time. He does not stay far away, in the distant heaven. On
the contrary, his presence among us reaches its summit in the
incarnation of Christ.
This is what the Christian interpretation of the psalm proclaims
clearly, as attested by the Fathers of the Church who see the summit of
the history of salvation and the supreme sign of the merciful love of
the Father in the gift of the Son, as Savior and Redeemer of humanity
(cf. John 3:16).
Thus, St. Cyprian, a third-century martyr, when beginning his treatise
on "The Works of Charity and Alms," contemplates with wonder the works
that God has accomplished in Christ his Son for his people, breaking
out at the end in an impassioned acknowledgment of his mercy: "Dearest
brothers, many and great are God's benefits, which the generous and
copious goodness of God the Father and of Christ has accomplished and
will always accomplish for our salvation; in fact, to preserve us, to
give us a new life and to be able to redeem us, the Father sent the
Son; the Son, who was sent, wanted to be called also Son of Man, to
make us become children of God: He humbled himself to raise the people
who were first lying on the ground, was wounded to heal our wounds, he
became a slave to lead us, who were slaves, to freedom. He accepted
death to be able to offer immortality to mortals. These are the many
and great gifts of divine mercy" (1: "Trattati : Collana de Testi
Patristici" [Treatises: Collection of Patristic Texts] CLXXV, Rome,
2004, p. 108).
[Putting his notes to one side, the Pontiff added:]
With these words, the holy Doctor of the Church develops the psalm with
a litany of the benefits that God has given us, adding it to what the
psalmist still did not know, but still hoped for, the true gift that
God has given us: the gift of the Son, the gift of the Incarnation, in
which God has been given to us and with which he remains with us, in
the Eucharist and in his Word, every day until the end of history.
We run the danger that the memory of evil, of the evils suffered, is
often stronger than the memory of the good. The psalm helps to awaken
in us the memory of the good, of all the good the Lord has done to us
and does to us, and that we can see if our heart is attentive: It is
true, God's mercy is eternal, it is present day after day.
Commentary on Psalm 135(136):1-9
"From Created Works One Ascends to the Greatness of
God" (November 9, 2005)
1. It has been called "The Great Hallel," namely, the solemn and
grandiose praise that Judaism intoned during the paschal liturgy. We
are speaking of Psalm 135(136), of which we now heard the first part,
according to the division proposed by the Liturgy of Vespers (cf.
First we reflect on the refrain: "for his steadfast love endures for
ever." At the center of the phrase resounds the word "love" which, in
fact, is a legitimate but limited translation of the original Hebrew
word "hesed." In fact, it is part of the characteristic language used
by the Bible to express the covenant that exists between the Lord and
his people. The term seeks to describe the attitudes that are
established within this relationship: faithfulness, loyalty, love and
obviously God's mercy.
We have here the synthetic representation of the profound and
interpersonal bond established by the Creator with his creature. Within
this relationship, God does not appear in the Bible as an impassible
and implacable Lord, or an obscure and indecipherable being, or fate,
against whose mysterious force it is useless to struggle. He manifests
himself instead as a person who loves his creatures, he watches over
them, he follows them in the course of history and suffers because of
the infidelity with which the people often oppose his "hesed," his
merciful and paternal love.
2. The first visible sign of this divine charity -- says the Psalmist
-- is to be sought in creation. Then history enters. The gaze, full of
admiration and wonder, pauses first of all on creation: the heavens,
the earth, the waters, the sun, the moon and the stars.
Even before discovering the God who reveals himself in the history of a
people, there is a cosmic revelation, open to all, offered to the whole
of humanity by the only Creator, "God of gods" and "Lord of lords" (cf.
As Psalm 18(19) stated, "The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky
proclaims its builder's craft. One day to the next conveys that
message; one night to the next imparts that knowledge" (verses 2-3).
There is, therefore, a divine message, secretly inscribed in creation
and sign of the "hesed," of the loving faithfulness of God who gives to
his creatures being and life, water and food, light and time.
One must have clear eyes to contemplate this divine revelation,
recalling the warning of the Book of Wisdom, which invites us to know
the Creator by analogy "from the greatness and beauty of created
things" (Wisdom 13:5; cf. Romans 1:20). Prayerful praise then flows
from contemplation of the "wonders" of God (cf. Psalm 135:4),
displayed in creation and is transformed in a joyful hymn of praise and
thanksgiving to the Lord.
3. From created works one ascends, therefore, to the greatness of God,
to his loving mercy. It is this that the Fathers of the Church teach
us, in whose voice resounds the constant Christian Tradition.
Thus, St. Basil the Great in one of the initial pages of his first
homily on the Hexameron, in which he comments on the story of creation
according to the first chapter of Genesis, pauses to consider God's
wise action, which leads him to recognize in divine goodness the
propelling center of creation. Here are some of the expressions taken
from the long reflection of the holy bishop of Caesarea of Cappadocia:
"'In the beginning God created heaven and earth.' My word yields,
overcome by the wonder of this thought" (1,2,1: "Sulla Genesi [Omelie
sull'Esamerone]" -- On Genesis: Homily on the Hexameron -- Milan, 1990,
pp. 9,11). In fact, although some, "deceived by the atheism they bear
within them, imagined the universe deprived of a guide and order, at
the mercy of chance," the sacred writer instead "has immediately
enlightened our mind with the name of God at the beginning of the
narrative, saying: 'In the beginning God created.' And what beauty this
order has!" (1,2,4: ibid., p. 11). "Therefore, if the world had a
beginning and was created, you have to seek the one who initiated it
and who is its Creator ... Moses has prepared you with his teaching,
imprinting on our souls as a seal or phylactery the most holy name of
God, when he says: 'In the beginning God created.' The blessed nature,
goodness free from envy, he who is the object of love on the part of
all reasoning beings, the beauty greater than any that can be desired,
the beginning of beings, the source of life, the light of
understanding, the inaccessible wisdom, in a word, He 'in the beginning
created heaven and earth'" (1,2,6-7: ibid., p. 13).
Commentary on Psalm 111(112)
"The Faithful One Is Generous" (November 2,
1. After celebrating yesterday the solemn feast of all the saints of
heaven, today we remember all the deceased faithful. The liturgy
invites us to pray for all our loved ones who have passed away, turning
our thoughts to the mystery of death, common heritage of all people.
Illuminated by faith, we look at the human enigma of death with
serenity and hope. According to Scripture, the latter in fact is not an
end but a new birth, it is the imperative passage 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 111(112), a composition of a sapiential nature, presents to us
the figure of these just ones, who fear the Lord, acknowledge his
transcendence and adhere with trust and love to his will in the
expectation of encountering him after death.
A "beatitude" is reserved for these faithful: "Happy are those who fear
the Lord" (verse 1). The psalmist specifies immediately of what this
fear consists: It is manifested in docility to God's commandments. He
is proclaimed blessed who "greatly delights" in His commandments,
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. In fact, according to the biblical vision of
"retribution," over the just is extended the mantle of divine blessing,
which imprints stability and success on his works and those of his
descendants: "Their descendants shall be mighty in the land, a
generation upright and blessed. Wealth and riches shall be in their
homes" (verses 2-3; cf. verse 9).
However, to this optimistic vision are opposed the bitter observations
of the just Job, who experiences the mystery of sorrow, feels himself
unjustly punished and subjected to apparently senseless trials. Job
represents many just people who suffer profoundly in the world. It is
necessary, therefore, to read this psalm in the global context of
Revelation, which embraces the reality of human life in all its aspects.
However, the trust continues to be valid, which the psalmist wishes to
transmit and be experienced by him who has chosen to follow the way of
morally irreprehensible conduct, against all alternatives of illusory
success obtained through injustice and immorality.
3. At the heart of this fidelity to the divine Word is a fundamental
choice, namely, charity to the poor and needy: "All goes well for those
gracious in lending. …… Lavishly they give to the poor" (verses 5,9).
The faithful one is, therefore, generous; respecting the biblical norm,
he grants loans to brothers in need, without interest (cf. Deuteronomy
15:7-11) and without falling into the infamy of usury that annihilates
the life of the poor.
The just man, taking up the constant admonition of the prophets, aligns
himself with the marginalized, and sustains them with abundant help.
"Lavishly they give to the poor," states verse 9, thus expressing an
extreme generosity, completely disinterested.
4. In addition to the portrait of the faithful and charitable man,
"good, merciful and just," Psalm 111(112) presents finally, in only one
verse (cf. verse 10), the profile of the wicked man. This individual
sees the success of the just person and is gnawed by anger and envy. It
is the torment of one who has a bad conscience, as opposed to the
generous man whose heart is "steadfast" and "tranquil" (verses 7-8).
We fix our gaze on the serene face of the faithful man "who gives
freely to the poor" and entrust our conclusive reflection 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
whence 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: With this affirmation,
Jesus "declares unjust by nature any possession one has for itself, as
one's own good, and does not share in common with those who are in
need; but he also declares that from this injustice it is possible to
accomplish a just and salutary work, giving relief to one of those
little ones who have an eternal dwelling before the Father (cf. Matthew
10:42; 18:10)" (31,6: "Collana di Testi Patristici" [Collection of
Patristic Texts] CXLVIII, Rome, 1999, pp. 56-57).
And, addressing the reader, Clement warns: "Keep in mind, in the first
place, that he has not ordered you to be implored, or to expect to be
begged, but that you yourself seek out those who are well worthy of
being heard, inasmuch as they are disciples of the Savior" (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'" (2
Corinthians 9:7), who enjoys giving and does not sow sparsely, so as
not to gather in the same way, but shares without regret, distinctions
or pain, and this is truly to do 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, the question of how to live well, how to find
happiness. Above all, the psalm responds: Blessed is the man who gives;
blessed is the man who does not spend his life for himself, but gives
it; blessed is the man who is merciful, good and just; blessed is the
man who lives in the love of God and of his neighbor. In this way, we
live well and do not have to be afraid of death, as we live in the
happiness that comes from God and that has no end.
Comment on Philippians 2:6-11
"Plan of Salvation Is First Fulfilled in the
Son" (October 26, 2005)
1. Once again, following the course proposed by the Liturgy of Vespers
with various psalms and canticles, we heard resound the amazing and
essential hymn inserted by St. Paul in the Letter to the Philippians
In the past we already underlined that the text comprises a double
movement: of descent and ascent. In the first, Christ Jesus, from the
splendor of divinity that belongs to him by nature, chooses to descend
to the humiliation of "death on a cross." Thus he shows himself truly
man and our Redeemer, with a genuine and full participation in our
reality of sorrow and death.
2. The second movement, of ascent, reveals the paschal glory of Christ
that, after death, manifests itself again in the splendor of his divine
The Father, who accepted the act of obedience of the Son in the
incarnation and passion, now "exalts" him above all, as the Greek text
says. This exaltation is expressed not only through his enthronement at
the right hand of God, but also with the bestowing on Christ of a "name
that is above every name" (verse 9).
Now, in biblical language the "name" indicates the true essence and
specific function of a person; it manifests his deep and profound
reality. To the Son, who out of love humiliated himself in death, the
Father confers an incomparable dignity, the loftiest "Name," that of
"Lord," proper to God himself.
3. In fact, the proclamation of faith -- intoned unanimously in heaven,
on earth and under the earth bowed in adoration -- is clear and
explicit: "Jesus Christ is Lord" (verse 11). In Greek, it is affirmed
that Jesus is "Kyrios," certainly a royal title, which in the Greek
translation of the Bible made reference to the name of God revealed to
Moses, a sacred and unpronounceable name.
On one hand, then, there is recognition of the universal lordship of
Jesus Christ, who receives the homage of the whole of creation, seen as
a subject prostrated at his feet. On the other hand, however, the
acclamation of faith declares Christ subsistent in the divine form or
condition, presenting him therefore as worthy of adoration.
4. In this hymn, reference to the scandal of the cross (see 1
Corinthians 1:23), even before the true humanity of the Word made flesh
(cf. John 1:14), is interlaced and culminates with the event of the
Resurrection. The sacrificial obedience of the Son is followed by the
glorifying response of the Father, who unites himself to the adoration
of humanity and of creation. Christ's singularity arises from his
function of Lord of the redeemed world, which was bestowed on him
because of his perfect obedience "unto death." The plan of salvation is
first fulfilled in the Son and the faithful are invited -- above all in
the liturgy -- to proclaim it and to live its fruits. This is the end
to which we are led by the Christological hymn that for centuries the
Church has meditated on, sung and considers [a] guide of life: "Have
among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus"
5. Let us give ourselves now to the meditation that St. Gregory
Nazianzen has wisely composed on our hymn. In a poem in honor of Christ
the great Doctor of the Church of the fourth century declares that
Jesus Christ "did not strip himself of any constitutive part of his
divine nature and yet, despite this, he saved me as a healer who bends
over the fetid wounds. ... He was of David's stock, but he was the
creator of Adam. He had flesh, but was also a stranger to the body. He
was given birth by a mother, but a virgin mother; he was circumscribed,
but also immense. And he was laid in a manger, but a star served as
guide to the Magi, who arrived bringing him gifts and before him bent
their knee. As a mortal he struggled with the devil, but, invincible as
he was, he overcame the tempter with a triple combat. ... He was
victim, but also highest priest; he was sacrificer and yet he was God.
He offered to God his blood and so purified the whole world. A cross
raised him from the earth, but sin was pierced by nails. ... He visited
the dead, but rose from hell and resurrected many who were dead. The
first event is precisely of human misery, but the second shows the
richness of the incorporeal being ... the immortal Son assumed that
earthly form, because he loves you" (Carmina Arcana, 2: "Collana de
Testi Patristici" [Collection of Patristic Texts] LVIII, Rome, 1986,
[Improvising, the Holy Father added:]
At the end of this meditation, I would like to emphasize two phrases
for our life.
First of all, this piece of advice from St. Paul: "Have among
yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus." Learn
to have the same sentiments that Jesus had, to conform our way of
thinking, of deciding, of acting to Jesus' sentiments. Let us undertake
this path if we want to conform our sentiments to those of Jesus. Let
us undertake the good path.
The other phrase is of St. Gregory Nazianzen: "He, Jesus, loves you."
This word of tenderness is a great consolation for us, but at the same
time, a great responsibility, day after day.
Commentary on Psalm 129(130)
"A Canticle to Divine Mercy" (October 19, 2005)
1. Just proclaimed was one of the best-known and loved psalms of the
Christian tradition: the "De Profundis," so called by the way it begins
in the Latin version. Together with the "Miserere," it has become one
of the favorite penitential psalms of popular devotion.
Beyond its funeral application, the text is above all a canticle to
divine mercy and to reconciliation between the sinner and the Lord, a
just God, but always ready to reveal himself as "merciful and gracious,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and
transgression and sin" (Exodus 34:6-7). Precisely for this reason our
psalm is inserted in the Christmas liturgy of vespers and of the whole
Christmas octave, as well as in that of the 4th Sunday of Easter and of
the solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.
2. Psalm 129(130) opens with a voice that rises from the depths of evil
and guilt (see verses 1-2). The "I" of the psalmist addresses the Lord
saying: "I call to you, Lord." The psalm then develops in three moments
dedicated to the subject of sin and forgiveness. There is first of all
a turning to God, called directly as "thou": "If thou, O Lord, should
mark iniquities, Lord, who would stand? But there is forgiveness with
thee, that thou mayest be feared" (verses 3-4).
Significant is the fact that what generates respect, an attitude of
fear mixed with love, is not punishment but forgiveness. More than the
anger of God, his generous and disarming magnanimity must arouse a holy
fear in us. God, in fact, is not an inexorable sovereign who condemns
the guilty, but a loving Father, whom we must love not out of fear of
punishment, but because of his goodness ready to forgive.
3. At the center of the second moment is the psalmist's "I" who no
longer addresses the Lord, but speaks about him: "I wait with longing
for the Lord, my soul waits for his word. My soul looks for the Lord
more than sentinels for daybreak" (verses 5-6). In the heart of the
repentant psalmist there now arises expectation, hope and certainty
that God will pronounce a word of deliverance and cancel his sin.
The third and last stage in the psalm's development extends to the
whole of Israel, the people often sinful and aware of the need of God's
salvific grace: "Let Israel look for the Lord, / For with the Lord is
kindness, with him is full redemption. And God will redeem Israel from
all their sins" (verses 7-8).
The personal salvation, first implored by the psalmist, is now extended
to the whole community. The psalmist's faith is inserted in the
historic faith of the People of the Covenant, "redeemed" by the Lord
not only from the anxieties of the Egyptian oppression, but also "from
From the dark depth of sin, the supplication of the "De Profundis"
reaches the luminous horizon of God, where "mercy and redemption"
prevail, two great characteristics of the God of love.
4. Let us entrust ourselves now to the meditation that Christian
tradition has made of this psalm. Let us choose the word of St.
Ambrose: In his writings, he often recalls the reasons that lead one to
invoke forgiveness from God.
"We have a good Lord who wants to forgive everyone," he reminds us in
his treatise on penance, and adds: "If you want to be justified,
confess your misdeed: a humble confession of sins loosens the tangle of
guilt. ... You see with what hope of forgiveness he leads you to
confess" (2,6,40-41: SAEMO, XVII, Milan-Rome, 1982, p. 253).
In the Commentary on the Gospel According to Luke, repeating the same
invitation, the bishop of Milan expresses wonder at the gifts that God
adds to his forgiveness: "See how good God is, and disposed to forgive
sins: not only does he give back what he had taken away, but also
grants unexpected gifts." Zechariah, father of John the Baptist,
remained mute for not having believed the angel, but later, forgiving
him, God granted him the gift of prophecy in the Canticle: "He who
shortly before was mute, now already prophesies," observes St. Ambrose,
"it is one of the greatest graces of the Lord, that the very ones who
denied him confess him. No one therefore should lose confidence, no one
should despair of receiving the divine recompenses, even if he is
remorseful of past sins. God knows how to change his mind, if you know
how to amend your guilt" (2,33: SAEMO, XI, Milan-Rome, 1978, p. 175).
Commentary on Psalm 121(122)
"The Biblical Religion Is the Leaven of Justice and Solidarity"
(October 12, 2005)
1. The canticle we just heard and enjoyed as a prayer is one of the
most beautiful and moving of the "songs of ascent." It is Psalm
121(122), a lively and participatory celebration in Jerusalem, the Holy
City toward which the pilgrims ascend.
In fact, immediately in the opening, two moments come together lived by
the faithful one: that of the day in which he accepted the invitation
to "go to the house of the Lord" (verse 1), and that of the joyful
arrival at the "gates" of Jerusalem (see verse 2); now his feet finally
tread on that holy and beloved land. Precisely then, lips part to
intone a festive song in honor of Zion, understood in its profound
2. "Built as a city, walled round about" (verse 3), symbol of security
and stability, Jerusalem is the heart of the unity of the 12 tribes of
Israel, which converge toward it as the center of their faith and
worship. There, in fact, they ascend "to give thanks to the name of the
Lord" (verse 4), in the place that the "law of Israel" (Deuteronomy
12:13-14; 16:16) established as the only legitimate and perfect
There is another important reality in Jerusalem, which is also the sign
of God's presence in Israel: "the thrones of the house of David" (see
Psalm 121:5), that is, the Davidic dynasty governs, _expression of
the divine action in history, which would lead to the Messiah (2 Samuel
3. The "seats of the house of David" were called at the same time
"thrones of judgment" (see Psalm 121:5), because the king was also
the supreme judge. Thus Jerusalem, political capital, was also the
highest judicial seat, where controversies were resolved in the last
resort: In this way, leaving Zion, Jewish pilgrims returned to their
villages more righteous and pacified.
The psalm has thus sketched an ideal picture of the Holy City in its
religious and social function, showing that the biblical religion is
not abstract or private, but is the leaven of justice and solidarity.
Communion with God is followed necessarily by communion of brothers
4. We now come to the final invocation (see verses 6-9). Its rhythm is
marked by the Hebrew word "shalom," "peace," traditionally considered
as the base of the very name of the Holy City, "Jerushalajim,"
interpreted as "city of peace."
As is known, shalom alludes to the messianic peace, which comprises in
itself joy, prosperity, good, abundance. In fact, in the final farewell
that the pilgrim addresses to the temple, to the "house of the Lord our
God," "good" is added to peace: "I will seek your good" (verse 9). Thus
we have, in an anticipated way, the Franciscan greeting: "Peace and
good!" It is the hope of blessing on the faithful who love the Holy
City, on their physical reality of walls and palaces in which the life
of a people pulsates, on all brothers and friends. In this way,
Jerusalem will become a home of harmony and peace.
5. We conclude our meditation on Psalm 121(122) with a reflection
suggested by the Fathers of the Church for whom ancient Jerusalem was
the sign of another Jerusalem, it too "built as a city which is bound
firmly together." This city -- St. Gregory the Great recalls in the
"Homilies on Ezekiel" -- "has already its great construction in the
saints' customs. In a building, one stone sustains another, because one
stone is placed on another, and the one that sustains another is in
turn sustained by yet another. So, precisely in this way, in the Holy
Church each one sustains and is sustained. The closest sustain one
another mutually, and in this way, through them, the building of
charity is erected. That is the reason Paul admonishes, saying: 'Bear
one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ' (Galatians
6:2). Underlining the force of this law, he says: 'Love is the
fulfilling of the law' (Romans 13:10). If I, in fact, do not make an
effort to accept you as you are, and you do not make an effort to
accept me as I am, the building of charity cannot rise between us, who
are also bound by mutual and patient love." And, to complete the image,
it must not be forgotten that "there is a foundation that supports the
whole weight of the construction, and it is our Redeemer, who alone
tolerates in their totality all our customs. Of him the Apostle says:
'No other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is
Jesus Christ' (1 Corinthians 3:11). The foundation bears the stones and
is not borne by the stones; that is, our Redeemer bears the weight of
all our faults, but in him there was not fault to tolerate" (2,1,5:
"Opere di Gregorio Magno" [Works of Gregory the Great] III/2, Rome,
1993, pp. 27,29).
Commentary on Second Part of
"Two Different Religious Visions" (October 5, 2005)
1. Psalm 134, a song of paschal tone, is offered to us by the liturgy
of Vespers in two distinct passages. We have just heard the second part
(see verses 13-21), sealed by the alleluia, the exclamation of praise
to the Lord which opened the psalm.
After having commemorated in the first part of the hymn the event of
Exodus, heart of Israel's paschal celebration, the psalmist now
contrasts in a decisive way two different religious visions. On one
hand, rises the figure of the living and personal God who is at the
center of authentic faith (see verses 13-14). His presence is effective
and salvific; the Lord is not an immobile and absent reality, but a
living person who "guides" his faithful," "having compassion" on them,
sustaining them with his power and love.
2. On the other hand, there is idolatry (see verses 15-18), _expression
of a deviant and deceitful religiosity. In fact, the idol is nothing
other than a "work of men's hands," a product of human desires and,
therefore, impotent to exceed creaturely limits. It does have a human
form with a mouth, eyes, ears, throat, but it is inert, lifeless, as is
the case, precisely, of an inanimate statue (see Psalm 113B:4-8).
The destiny of one who worships these dead realities is to become like
them, impotent, fragile, inert. In these verses is clearly represented
man's eternal temptation to seek salvation in the "work of his hands,"
placing hope in wealth, in power, in success, in matter. Unfortunately,
what happens to him is what the prophet Isaiah already described
effectively: "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?'" (Isaiah 44:20).
3. Psalm 134(135), after this meditation on true and false religion, on
genuine faith in the Lord of the universe and of history, and on
idolatry, ends with a liturgical blessing (see verses 19-21), which
introduces a series of figures present in the worship practiced in the
temple of Zion (see Psalm 113B:9-13).
From all the community gathered in the temple rises a blessing in
unison to God Creator of the universe and Savior of his people,
expressed in the diversity of voices and humility of faith.
The liturgy is the privileged place to listen to the divine Word, which
renders present the Lord's salvific acts, but it is also the circle in
which the communitarian prayer rises which celebrates divine love. God
and man meet in a saving embrace, which finds its fulfillment precisely
in the liturgical celebration.
4. Commenting on the verse of this psalm on the idols and the
resemblance those assume who trust in them (see Psalm 134:15-18),
St. Augustine observes: "Indeed -- believe it, brothers -- there is in
them a certain resemblance with their idols: not of course in their
body, but in their interior man. They have ears, but they do not hear
how much God cries out to them: 'Whoever has ears to hear, let him
hear.' They have eyes, but they do not see: they have, that is, the
eyes of the body, but not the eye of faith." And in the same way, "they
have noses but they do not perceive fragrances. They are unable to
perceive that aroma of which the Apostle says: Let us be the good
fragrance of Christ everywhere (see 2 Corinthians 2:15). Of what
advantage is it for them to have noses, if with them they do not
succeed in breathing the sweet perfume of Christ?"
It is true, Augustine acknowledges, that there remain people who are
bound to idolatry; "every day, however, there are people who, convinced
of the miracles of Christ the Lord, embrace the faith. Every day the
eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf open, noses that were first
blocked begin to breathe, the tongues of the mute are loosened, the
legs of paralytics are consolidated, the feet of the crippled are
straightened. From all these stones are raised up children to Abraham
(see Matthew 3:9). To all these, therefore, must be said: 'House of
Israel, bless the Lord.' Bless him, you prelates of the Church! This
means 'House of Aaron.' Bless him, you ministers! This means, 'House of
Levi.' And what to say of the other nations? 'You who fear the Lord,
bless the Lord'" ("Esposizione sul Salmo" [Commentary on Psalm] 134,
24-25): Nuova Biblioteca Agostiniana, XXVIII, Rome, 1977, pp. 375,377).
Commentary on Psalm 134(135)
"Divine Love Becomes Concrete" (September 28,
1. We have before us the first part of Psalm 134(135), a hymn of a
liturgical nature, interlaced with allusions, reminiscences and
references to other biblical texts. The liturgy, in fact, often
constructs its text taking recourse to the great patrimony of the
Bible, rich repertoire of topics and prayers that support the
We follow the prayerful line of this first section (see Psalm
134:1-12), which opens with a broad and impassioned invitation to
praise the Lord (see verses 1-3). The appeal is addressed to the
"servants of the Lord, who stand in the house of the Lord, in the
courts of the house of our God" (verses 1-2).
We are, therefore, in the living atmosphere of worship that unfolds in
the Temple, the privileged and communal place of prayer. Experienced
there in an effective way is the presence of "our God," a "good" and
"gracious" God, the God of the chosen and of the covenant (verses 3-4).
After the invitation to praise, a soloist voice proclaims the
profession of faith, which begins with the formula "I know" (verse 5).
This creed will constitute the substance of the whole hymn, which
becomes a proclamation of the greatness of the Lord (ibid.), manifested
in his wonderful works.
2. The divine omnipotence is manifested continually in the whole world
"in heaven and on earth, in the seas and the oceans." He it is who
produces the clouds, lightning and winds, imagined as kept in "stocks"
or storehouses (see verses 6-7).
But it is above all another aspect of the divine activity that is
celebrated in this profession of faith. It is the amazing intervention
in history, where the Creator shows his face as Redeemer of his people
and sovereign of the world. The great events of the Exodus are made to
pass before the eyes of Israel recollected in prayer.
Mentioned first of all is the synthetic and essential commemoration of
the "plagues" of Egypt, the scourges inflicted by the Lord to subdue
the oppressor (see verses 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
"smote many nations and slew mighty kings" (verse 10). Finally, there
is the much longed for and awaited end, the promised land: [He] "made
their land a heritage, a heritage for Israel his people" (verse 12).
Divine love becomes concrete and can almost be experienced in history
with all its harsh and glorious vicissitudes. The liturgy has the task
of making the divine gifts always present and effective, above all in
the great paschal celebration which is the root of every other
solemnity and constitutes the supreme emblem of freedom and salvation.
3. Let us take up the spirit of the psalm and of its praise of God,
reproposing it through the voice of St. Clement of Rome as it resounds
in the long conclusive prayer of his Letter to the Corinthians. He
notes that, as in Psalm 134(135), the face of the Redeemer God appears,
in the same way his protection, already granted to the ancient fathers,
is now presented to us in Christ: "O Lord, make your face shine on us,
for goodness in peace, to protect us with your powerful hand and save
us from all sin with your most high arm and save us from those who 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 invoked you in
holiness, 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 and for ever and ever.
Amen" (60,3-4;61,3: "Collana di Testi Patristici" [Collection of
Patristic Texts], V, Rome, 1984, pp. 90-91
Commentary on Psalm 131(132)11-18
On the Transfer of the Ark of the Covenant
(September 21, 2005)
1. The second part of Psalm 131(132) has just resounded. It is a song
that evokes an important event in the history of Israel: the transfer
of the Ark of the Covenant to the city of Jerusalem.
David was the author of this transfer, as is testified by the first
part of the psalm which we have already commented. The king had already
made his oath to not install himself in the royal palace until he had
found a proper place for the ark of God, the sign of the Lord's
presence among his people (cfr. vv. 3-5).
Now God himself responds to the vow made by the king, "The Lord swore
an oath to David, a pledge never to be broken" (v. 11). This solemn
promise is substantially the same that the prophet Nathan had already
made in God's name regarding the David's future descendants, destined
to stable reign (see 2 Samuel 7:8-16).
2. The divine oath implies human commitment, in such a way that it is
conditioned by an "if"; "If your sons observe my covenant, the laws I
shall teach them" (v. 12). To God's promise and gift, which has nothing
magical about it, there must be a response of faithful and active
adherence on the part of man in a dialogue that weaves two freedoms,
the divine and human.
From here the psalm is transformed into a hymn that exalts the
incredible effects of both the Lord's gift and the fidelity of Israel.
The presence of God will be felt among the people (see vv. 13-14). He
will become like an inhabitant among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, like
a citizen who lives the events of history with the other citizens, but
offering the might of his blessing.
3. God will bless the harvests, taking care that the poor have their
fill (see v.15); he will cover the priests with his protective cloak,
offering them his salvation; he will make all of the faithful live in
peace and joy (see v. 16).
His most intense blessing is once again reserved for David and his
descendants: "There I will make a horn sprout for David's line; I will
set a lamp for my anointed. His foes I will clothe with shame, but on
him my crown shall gleam."
Once again, as happened in the first part of the psalm (see v. 10), the
figure of the "anointed" enters the scene, in Hebrew, "Messiah," tying
David's lineage to the Messiah, which in the Christian rereading finds
its fulfillment in the figure of Christ. The images used here are
lively: David is represented as a horn sprout that grows vigorously.
God illuminates David's lineage with a brilliant lamp, symbol of
vitality and glory; a splendid crown will mark his triumph over his
enemies and thus the victory over evil.
4. The double presence of the Lord in a place and in history is brought
about through Jerusalem, in the temple that holds the ark, and in the
dynasty of David. Thus Psalm 131(132) becomes a celebration of God --
Emmanuel who is with his creatures, lives among them and makes them
good because they remain united to him in justice and truth. The
spiritual center of this hymn thus become a prelude to John's
proclamation, "And the Word became flesh and lived among us" (John
We conclude remembering that the beginning of this second part of Psalm
131(132) has been habitually used by the Fathers of the Church to
describe the Incarnation of the Word in the womb of the Blessed Virgin
As early as St. Irenaeus, referring to Isaiah's prophecy concerning the
virgin giving birth, explained, "The words, 'Listen, therefore, O house
of David' (Isaiah 7:13) indicate that the eternal king that God had
promised to David to rise up from 'the fruit of his womb,' an
_expression that indicates a pregnant virgin. Therefore Scripture ……
proposes and affirms that the birth of the proclaimed 'one who was to
come' would come from the Virgin. Exactly as Elizabeth, full of the
Holy Spirit confirmed saying to Mary, 'Blessed are you among all women
and blessed is the fruit of your womb' (Luke 1:42). Thus the Holy
Spirit indicates to those who want to listen that in the birth of the
Virgin, in other words, of Mary, the promise made by God to David to
bring forth a king from the fruit of his womb, is fulfilled" ("Contro
le eresie," 3,21,5: Giàà e Non Ancora, CCCXX, Milan 1997,
In this way, we see God's truthfulness and fidelity in the great span
that goes from the ancient psalm to the incarnation of the Lord. In
this Psalm, the mystery of God who lives among us appears and shines
forth as he becomes one of us in the Incarnation. God's fidelity and
our trust in the turns of history become a source of joy for us.
Commentary on Psalm 131(132):1-10
"God and Man Walk Together in History" (September 14, 2005)
1. We heard the first part of Psalm 131(132), a hymn that the Liturgy
of Vespers offers us at two different times. Not a few scholars think
that this song was heard in the solemn celebration of the transfer of
the Lord's ark, sign of the divine presence in the midst of the People
of Israel, to Jerusalem, the new capital chosen by David.
In the account of this event, as referred to us by the Bible, we read
that King David "girt with a linen apron, came dancing before the Lord
with abandon, as he and all the Israelites were bringing up the ark of
the Lord with shouts of joy and to the sound of the horn" (2 Samuel
Other scholars, instead, relate Psalm 131(132) to a commemorative
celebration of that ancient event, after the institution of worship in
the sanctuary of Zion, in fact, the work of David.
2. Our hymn seems to imply a liturgical dimension: It was probably used
during the course of a procession, with the presence of priests and
faithful and the involvement of a choir.
Following the Liturgy of Vespers, we shall pause on the first 10 verses
of the Psalm, those now proclaimed. In the heart of this section is the
solemn oath of David. It is said, in fact, that he -- leaving behind
the sharp disagreement with his predecessor, King Saul -- "swore an
oath to the Lord, vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob" (Psalm 131:2).
The content of this solemn commitment, expressed in verses 3-5, is
clear: The sovereign will not step into the royal palace of Jerusalem,
will not go calmly to rest, unless he has first found a dwelling place
for the ark of the Lord.
At the very center of social life there must be, therefore, a presence
that evokes the mystery of the transcendent God. God and man walk
together in history, and the temple has the task to point out this
communion in a visible way.
3. At this point, after David's words, is introduced, perhaps through
the words of a liturgical choir, the memory of the past. Re-evoked, in
fact, is the rediscovery of the ark in the country of Jaar, in the
region of Ephrata (see verse 6): It remained there for a long time,
after being restored by the Philistines to Israel, which had lost it
during a battle (see 1 Samuel 7:1; 2 Samuel 6:2,11). For this reason,
it was taken from the province to the future holy city and our passage
ends with a festive celebration that shows, on one hand, the
worshipping people (see Psalm 131:7,9), that is the liturgical
assembly and, on the other hand, the Lord who makes himself present and
acting with the sign of the ark placed in Zion (see verse 8).
The soul of the liturgy is in this crossing between priests and
faithful, on one hand, and the Lord with his power, on the other.
4. To seal the first part of Psalm 131(132) a prayerful acclamation is
heard in favor of the king-successors of David: "For the sake of David
your servant, do not reject your anointed" (verse 10).
It is easy to intuit a messianic dimension in this prayer, initially
destined to implore support for the Jewish sovereign in life's trials.
The term "anointed" translates in fact the Hebrew term "Messiah": the
Psalmist's gaze thus extends to other events of the kingdom of Judah
and is projected toward the great expectation of the perfect "Anointed
One," the Messiah who will always be pleasing to God, loved and blessed
5. This messianic interpretation will prevail in the Christian
rereading and will be extended to the whole psalm.
Significant, for example, is the application that Ezechias of
Jerusalem, a priest of the first half of the fifth century, makes of
verse 8, to the Incarnation of Christ. In his Second Homily on the
Mother of God, he addresses the Virgin thus: "Of you and of Him who was
born of you, David does not cease to sing on the zither: 'Arise, O
Lord, and go to thy resting place, thou and the ark of thy might'
(Psalm 131:8)." Who is 'the ark of thy might'? Ezechias responds:
"Obviously the Virgin, the Mother of God. Because, if you are the
pearl, she in good right is the ark; if you are the sun, the Virgin
will necessarily be called heaven; and if you are the uncontaminated
Flower, the Virgin will then be the plant of incorruption, paradise of
immortality" ("Testi Mariani del Primo Millennio" [Marian Texts of the
First Millennium] I, Rome, 1988, pp. 532-533).
Commentary on Canticle in
Colossians 1: 1,3,12,15,17-18.
"Christ Is the Principle of Cohesion" (September 7,
1. In the past we already reflected on the grandiose portrait of
Christ, Lord of the universe and of history, which dominates the hymn
at the beginning of the Letter of St. Paul to the Colossians. This
canticle, in fact, dots all the four weeks in which the Liturgy of
Vespers is articulated.
The heart of the hymn is composed of verses 15-20, where Christ,
described as "image" of the "invisible God," appears in a direct and
solemn manner (verse 15). The Greek term "eikon," icon, is dear to the
Apostle: He uses it nine times in his Letter, applying it either to
Christ, perfect icon of God (see 2 Corinthians 4:4), or to man, image
and glory of God (see 1 Corinthians 11:7). The latter, however, with
sin "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling
mortal man" (Romans 1:23), choosing to adore idols and becoming like
We must, therefore, constantly model our image on that of the Son of
God (see 2 Corinthians 3:18), as we have been "delivered from the
dominion of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of his beloved Son"
2. Christ is, then, proclaimed "firstborn of all creation" (verse 15).
Christ precedes the whole of creation (see verse 17), having been
begotten from all eternity: because of this "all things were created
through him and for him" (verse 16). Also in the ancient Jewish
tradition it was affirmed that "the whole world was created in view of
the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98b).
For the Apostle, Christ is the principle of cohesion ("in him all
things hold together"), the mediator ("through him"), and the final
destiny toward which the whole of creation converges. He is "the
firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:29), namely, the Son par
excellence in the great family of the children of God, in which baptism
3. At this point our gaze moves from the world of creation to that of
history: Christ is "the head of the body, the Church" (Colossians 1:18)
and he is so already through his Incarnation. In fact, he entered the
human community, to rule it and constitute it in one "body," namely in
a harmonious and fruitful unity. The consistency and growth of humanity
have their root in Christ, the vital pivot, "the principle."
Precisely with this primacy Christ can become the principle of the
resurrection of all, the "firstborn from the dead," because "in Christ
shall all be made alive ... Christ the first fruits, then at his coming
those who belong to Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:22-23).
4. The hymn moves to the conclusion celebrating the "fullness," in
Greek, "pleroma," which Christ has in himself as gift of love of the
Father. It is the fullness of the divinity which shines whether in the
universe or in humanity, becoming source of peace, unity and perfect
harmony (Colossians 1:19-20).
This "reconciliation" and "pacification" is effected through "the blood
of the cross," by which we are justified and sanctified. By shedding
his blood and giving himself, Christ has diffused peace that, in
biblical language, is synthesis of messianic goods and salvific
fullness extended to the whole of created reality.
The hymn ends, therefore, with a luminous horizon of reconciliation,
unity, harmony and peace, on which arises solemnly the figure of its
author, Christ, "beloved Son" of the Father.
5. The writers of the ancient Christian tradition have reflected on
this profound hymn. In his dialogue, St. Cyril of Jerusalem quotes the
canticle of the Letter to the Colossians to respond to an anonymous
interlocutor who asked him: "We say then that the Word begotten by God
the Father suffered for us in his flesh?"
The answer, following the line of the canticle, is affirmative. In
fact, Cyril affirms, "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of
all creatures, visible and invisible, by whom and in whom everything
exists, was given -- Paul says -- as head to the Church: He is moreover
the firstborn from the dead," namely, the first in the series of dead
who rise again. He, Cyril continues, "made his own all that is proper
to man's flesh and 'endured the cross, despising the shame' (Hebrews
12:2). We do not say that a simple man, full of honors, I know not how,
by his union with Him was sacrificed for us, but it is the very Lord of
glory who was crucified" ("Perchéé Cristo
èè uno: Collana di testi Patristici" [Why Christ is One:
Collection of Patristic Texts], XXXVII, Rome, 1983, p. 101).
Before this Lord of glory, sign of the supreme love of the Father, we
also raise our song of praise and prostrate ourselves to adore and
Address on Psalm 124(125)
(August 3, 2005)
"The Lord Is Always With Us"
Brothers and Sisters,
1. After my holidays spent in the Aosta Valley, our journey in the
Liturgy of Vespers continues at this meeting. Psalm 124(125) is now our
focus; it is part of that intense and evocative collection known as the
"Songs of Ascents," an ideal little prayer book for the pilgrimage to
Zion with a view to the encounter with the Lord in the temple (cf.
We shall now meditate briefly on a sapiential text that gives rise to
trust in the Lord and contains a short prayer (cf. Psalm 124:4).
The first sentence proclaims the stability of "those who put their
trust in the Lord," comparing it to the safety and firmness of "Mount
Zion," which "cannot be shaken." This is obviously due to the presence
of God, "rock, fortress, savior ... refuge, shield, mighty help,
stronghold," as another Psalm says (cf. 17:3).
Even when the believer feels lonely and is surrounded by risks and
hostility, his faith must be serene because the Lord is always with us;
his power surrounds us and protects us.
The prophet Isaiah also testifies to hearing God speak these words,
destined for the faithful: "See, I am laying a stone in Zion, a stone
that has been tested, a precious cornerstone as a sure foundation; he
who puts his faith in it shall not be shaken" (Isaiah 28:16).
2. However, the Psalmist continues, the trust that is the atmosphere of
faith of the faithful has a further support: the Lord is, as it were,
encamped to defend his people, just as the mountains that surround
Jerusalem make it a naturally fortified city (cf. Psalm 124:2). In
a prophecy by Zechariah, God says of Jerusalem: "I will be for her an
encircling wall of fire ... and I will be the glory in her midst"
In this atmosphere of deeply rooted trust, which is the atmosphere of
faith, the Psalmist reassures "the upright of heart," the believers.
Their situation in itself can be worrying because of the tyranny of the
wicked, who wish to impose their domination.
There might also be a temptation for the just to make themselves
accomplices of evil to avoid serious difficulties, but the Lord
protects them from oppression: "For the scepter of the wicked shall not
rest over the land of the just" (Psalm 124:3); at the same time,
he preserves them from the temptation to turn their hands to evil (cf.
Thus, the psalm instills deep trust in the soul. This is a powerful
help in facing difficult situations when the external crisis of
loneliness, irony and contempt of believers is associated with the
interior crisis that consists of discouragement, mediocrity and
weariness. We know this situation, but the psalm tells us that if we
have trust, we are stronger than these evils.
3. The finale of the psalm contains the prayer addressed to the Lord
for the "good" and the "upright of heart" (cf. verse 4), and an
announcement of misfortune to "the crooked and those who do evil"
On the one hand, the Psalmist asks the Lord to manifest himself as a
loving father to the just and the faithful who bear aloft the torch of
a righteous life and a clear conscience.
On the other hand, the hope is expressed that he will prove to be a
just judge to those who have taken the winding path of evil, which
leads ultimately to death.
The psalm is sealed by the traditional greeting, "shalom," "On Israel,
peace," a greeting that by assonance rhymes with "Jerushalajim," "on
Jerusalem" (cf. verse 2), the city that is a symbol of peace and
This greeting becomes a wish of hope: We can explain it in St. Paul's
words: "Peace and mercy on all who follow this rule of life, and on the
Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16).
4. In his commentary on this psalm, St. Augustine compares "the crooked
and those who do evil" with "the upright of heart," who never stray
from God. If the former are to find themselves associated with the
destiny of "those who do evil," what will be the destiny of the
"upright of heart"? In the hope that together with his listeners he too
will share in their happy destiny, the Bishop of Hippo wonders: "What
will we possess? What will be our inheritance? What will be our
homeland? What will it be called?"
And he answers himself, pointing out its name. I make these words my
own: "Peace. We greet you with the wish of peace; I proclaim peace to
you; may the mountains receive peace, while justice spreads over the
hills (cf. Psalm 71:3). Now, our peace is Christ: Indeed, 'It is he
who is our peace' (Ephesians 2:14)" ("Esposizioni sui Salmi," IV, Nuova
Biblioteca Agostiniana, XXVIII, Rome, 1977, p. 105).
St. Augustine concludes with an exhortation which at the same time is a
wish: "We are the Israel of God and let us cling tightly to peace, for
Jerusalem means a vision of peace and we are Israel: the Israel on
which is peace" (ibid., p. 107), and peace is Christ.
Address on Psalm 130(131)
(August 10, 2005)
"The Lord Is Always With Us"
1. We have listened to only a few words, about 30 in the original
Hebrew, of Psalm 130(131). Yet they are intense words that convey a
topic dear to all religious literature: spiritual childhood. Our
thoughts turn spontaneously to St.
Théérèèse of Lisieux, to her "Little Way,"
her "remaining little" in order to be held in Jesus' arms (cf. "Story
of a Soul," Manuscript "C," p. 208).
Indeed, the clear-cut image of a mother and child in the middle of the
psalm is a sign of God's tender and maternal love, as the prophet Hosea
formerly expressed it: "When Israel was a child I loved him. ... I drew
[him] with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered [him] like one
who raises an infant to his cheeks ... I stooped to feed my child"
2. The psalm begins by describing an attitude quite the opposite of
infancy, which, well aware of its own frailty, trusts in the help of
others. In the foreground of this psalm, instead, are pride of heart,
haughty eyes and "great things" that are "too sublime for me" (cf.
Psalm 130:1). This is an illustration of the proud person who is
described by Hebrew words that suggest "pride" and "haughtiness," the
arrogant attitude of those who look down on others, considering them
The great temptation of the proud, who want to be like God, the arbiter
of good and evil (cf. Genesis 3:5), is decisively rejected by the
person of prayer who chooses humble and spontaneous trust in the One
3. Thus, we move on to the unforgettable image of the mother and child.
The original Hebrew text does not speak of a newborn child but of a
child that has been "weaned" (Psalm 130:2). Now, it is known that
in the ancient Near East a special celebration marked the official
weaning of a child, usually at about the age of 3 (cf. Genesis 21:8; 1
Samuel 1:20-23; 2 Maccabees 7:27).
The child to which the Psalmist refers is now bound to the mother by a
most personal and intimate bond, hence, not merely by physical contact
and the need for food. It is a more conscious tie, although nonetheless
immediate and spontaneous. This is the ideal parable of the true
"childhood" of the spirit that does not abandon itself to God blindly
and automatically, but serenely and responsibly.
4. At this point, the praying person's profession of trust is extended
to the entire community: "O Israel, hope in the Lord both now and for
ever" (Psalm 130:3). In the entire people which receives security,
life and peace from God, hope now blossoms and extends from the present
to the future, "now and for ever."
It is easy to continue the prayer by making other voices in the Psalms
ring out, inspired by this same trust in God: "To you I was committed
at birth, from my mother's womb you are my God" (Psalm 21:11).
"Though my father and mother forsake me, yet will the Lord receive me"
(Ps 26:10). "For you are my hope, O Lord; my trust, O God, from my
youth. On you I depend from birth; from my mother's womb you are my
strength" (Ps 70:5-6).
5. Humble trust, as we have seen, is opposed by pride. John Cassian, a
fourth-fifth century Christian writer, warned the faithful of the
danger of this vice that "destroys all the virtues overall and does not
only attack the tepid and the weak, but principally those who have
forced their way to the top."
He continues: "This is the reason why Blessed David preserved his heart
with such great circumspection, to the point that he dared proclaim
before the One whom none of the secrets of his conscience escaped:
"Lord, may my heart not grow proud, nor my gaze be raised with
haughtiness; let me not seek great things that are beyond my strength.'
... Yet, knowing well how difficult such custody is even for those who
are perfect, he does not presume to rely solely on his own abilities,
but implores the Lord with prayers to help him succeed in avoiding the
darts of the enemy and in not being injured by them: 'Let not the foot
of the proud overtake me' (Psalm 35:12)" ("Le Istituzioni
Cenobitiche," XII, 6, Abbey of Praglia, Bresseo di Teolo, Padua, 1989,
Likewise, an anonymous elderly Desert Father has handed down to us this
saying that echoes Psalm 130(131): "I have never overstepped my rank to
walk higher, nor have I ever been troubled in the case of humiliation,
for I concentrated my every thought on this: praying the Lord to strip
me of the old man" ("I Padri del Deserto," Detti, Rome, 1980, p. 287).
Commentary on Psalm 126(127)
(August 31, 2005)
"Without the Lord, All Our Efforts Will Ultimately Fail"
1. Psalm 126(127), just proclaimed, presents before our eyes a
spectacle in movement: a house under construction, the city with its
watchmen, family life, night watches, daily work, the little and great
secrets of life. However, over all rises a decisive presence: that of
the Lord who watches over the works of man, as the incisive beginning
of the psalm suggests: "Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in
vain who build" (verse 1).
A solid society is born, indeed, from the commitment of all its
members, but it has need of the blessing and support of that God who,
unfortunately, is often excluded and ignored. The Book of Proverbs
underlines the primacy of divine action for the well-being of a
community and it does so in a radical way, affirming that "the blessing
of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it" (Proverbs 10:22).
2. This sapiential psalm, fruit of meditation on the reality of
everyday life, is built essentially on a contrast: without the Lord, in
vain does one seek to erect a stable house, to build a secure city, to
have one's labor fructify (see Psalm 126:1-2). With the Lord,
instead, one has prosperity and fruitfulness, a family rich in children
and serene, a city well supplied and defended, free of constant worry
and insecurity (see verses 3-5).
The text begins with a reference to the Lord, portrayed as the builder
of the house and watchman who watches over the city (see Psalm
120:1-8). Man goes out in the morning to be diligent in his work
to support his family and to serve the development of society. It is
work that consumes his energies, making his brow sweat (see Genesis
3:19) the whole day (see Psalm 126:2).
3. Well, the psalmist does not hesitate to affirm that all this labor
is useless if God is not beside the one who labors. And he affirms, on
the contrary, that God even rewards his friends' sleep. So the psalmist
wishes to exalt the primacy of divine grace, which gives consistency
and value to human action, even though characterized by limitations and
transience. In serene and faithful abandonment of our freedom to the
Lord, our works also become solid, capable of lasting fruit. So our
"sleep" becomes a blessed, God-given rest, destined to seal an activity
that has meaning and consistency.
4. At this point we move to the other scene outlined by our psalm. The
Lord gives the gift of children, seen as a blessing and grace, a sign
of life that continues and of the history of salvation moving toward
new stages (see verse 3). The psalmist exalts, in particular, "the
children born in one's youth": The father who has had children in his
youth not only will see them in all their vigor, but they will also be
his support in old age. So he will be able to face the future with
security, having become like a warrior, armed with those sharp and
victorious "arrows" that are his sons.
The purpose of the image, taken from the culture of the time, is to
celebrate security, stability, the strength of a numerous family, as is
repeated in the subsequent Psalm 127(128), in which the portrait of a
happy family is sketched.
The last image portrays a father surrounded by his children, who is
greeted with respect at the gate of the city, seat of public life.
Procreation is, therefore, a gift bearing life and well-being for
society. We are aware of it in our days in the face of nations that are
deprived, by the demographic loss, of freshness, vitality and the
future incarnated in children. Over all, however, rises the blessed
presence of God, source of life and hope.
5. Psalm 126(127) was often used by spiritual authors precisely to
exalt this divine presence, decisive to proceed on the path of goodness
and of the Kingdom of God. Thus the monk Isaiah (who died in Gaza in
491), recalling in his "Asceticon" (Logos 4,118) the example of the
ancient patriarchs and prophets, teaches: "They placed themselves under
the protection of God, imploring his assistance, without placing their
trust in some work they accomplished. And God's protection was for them
a fortified city, because they knew that without God's help they were
impotent and their humility made them say with the Psalmist: 'Unless
the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the
Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain'"
("Recueil Ascéétique," Abbey of Bellefontaine, 1976, pp.
Commentary on Psalm 124
(August 3, 2005)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Psalm 124, one of the “gradual psalms” traditionally
during the pilgrimage to Mount Sion, proclaims that all who put their
in the Lord stand solid and unshakeable. As Jerusalem is protected from
its enemies by the mountains that surround her, so the Lord’s faithful
are defended from all danger by his presence. This psalm speaks to us
As believers we may experience external difficulties and the inner
of our own discouragement, mediocrity and fatigue, but the Lord, the
judge, gives us confidence and encouragement. With the Psalmist who
the city of Jerusalem, the symbol of God’s peace, we trust in our
Father who leads us to that peace promised in Christ to God’s faithful
Commentary on Canticle in Ephesians 1:3-14
(July 6, 2005)
"From Eternity We Are Before the Eyes of God"
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
1. Today we did not hear a Psalm but a canticle
from the Letter to the Ephesians (see 1:3-14), which appears in the
of Vespers of each of the four weeks. This canticle is a prayer of
addressed to God the Father. As it unfolds, it delineates the various
of the plan of salvation which is realized through the action of Christ.
At the heart of the blessing resounds the Greek word
a term usually associated with the verbs of revelation ("to reveal,"
know," "to manifest"). This is, in fact, the great secret plan that the
Father had kept to himself from eternity (see verse 9) and that he
to act on and reveal "for the fullness of times" (see verse 10) in
Christ, his Son.
The stages of this plan are articulated in the
by the saving actions of God through Christ in the Spirit. First of
the Father -- this is the first act -- chooses us from eternity so that
we will be holy and blameless in love (see verse 4), then he
us to be his children (see verses 5-6), in addition he redeems us and
us our sins (see verses 7-8), he unveils fully to us the mystery of
in Christ (see verses 9-10), finally, he gives us our eternal
(see verses 11-12) offering us already as pledge the gift of the Holy
in view of the final resurrection (see verses 13-14).
2. Many, therefore, are the saving events that
one another in the unfolding of the canticle. They involve the three
of the Most Holy Trinity: beginning with the Father, who is the
and supreme author of the plan of salvation; fixing the gaze on the Son
who realizes the plan in history; coming to the Holy Spirit who
his "seal" on the whole work of salvation. Let us now reflect briefly
the two first stages, that of holiness and of filiation (see verses
The first divine gesture, revealed and acted in
is the election of believers, fruit of a free and gratuitous initiative
of God. In the beginning, therefore, "before the foundation of the
(verse 4), in the eternity of God, divine grace was disposed to enter
action. I am moved meditating on this truth: From eternity we are
the eyes of God and he has decided to save us. This call has our
-- a great word -- as content. Holiness is participation in the
purity of the divine Being. And we know that God is charity. Therefore,
to participate in divine purity means to participate in the "charity"
God, conforming ourselves with God who is "charity."
"God is love" (1 John 4:8,16). This is the consoling
that enables us also to understand that "holiness" is not a reality
from our life, but instead, in the measure in which we can become
who love God, we enter into the mystery of "holiness." Thus the agape
our daily reality. We are led, therefore, to the sacred and vital
of God himself.
3. In this line we move to the other stage, also
in the divine plan from eternity: our "predestination" as children of
Not only human creatures, but really belonging to God as his children.
Elsewhere Paul exalts (see Galatians 4:5; Romans
this sublime condition of children implied and derived from fraternity
with Christ, the Son par excellence, "the firstborn among many
(Romans 8:29) and from intimacy with the heavenly Father who can now be
invoked as Abba, whom we can call "beloved Father," with a genuine
of familiarity with God, in a relationship of spontaneity and love. We
are, therefore, in the presence of an immense gift, made possible by
divine "initiative" and by "grace," luminous _expression of saving love.
4. In concluding, we commend ourselves to the great
of Milan, St. Ambrose, who in one of his letters comments on the words
of the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians, reflecting precisely on the rich
content of our Christological canticle. He underlines above all the
grace with which God has made us his adopted children in Christ Jesus.
"There is no need to doubt, therefore, that the members are united to
head, in particular because since the beginning we have been
to the adoption of children of God, through Jesus Christ" ("Lettera XVI
ad Ireneo" [Letter XVI to Irenaeus] 4: SAEMO, XIX, Milan-Rome, 1988, p.
The holy bishop of Milan continues his reflection
"Who is rich, if not God alone, creator of all things?" And he
"But he is much more rich in mercy, because he has redeemed and
us, who according to the nature of flesh, were children of wrath and
to punishment, so that we would be children of peace and charity" (No.
7: Ibid., p. 163).
Commentary on Psalm 123(124) (June
"The Lord Watches Over and Saves the Just Man"
1. We have before us Psalm 123(124), a canticle of
intoned by the whole praying community, which raises praise to God for
the gift of deliverance. At the beginning, the Psalmist proclaims this
invitation: "Let Israel say" (verse 1), stimulating all the people to
a lively and sincere thanksgiving to God the Savior. If the Lord had
been on the side of the victims, they, with their limited forces, would
have been powerless to free themselves and their adversaries, like
would have torn and shattered them to pieces.
Although thought has been given to a particular
event, such as the end of the Babylonian exile, it is more probable
the psalm is an intense hymn to thank the Lord for having overcome the
dangers and to implore him for deliverance from all evil.
2. After the initial reference to some "men" who
the faithful and were capable of "swallowing them up alive" (see verses
2-3), the song has two passages. In the first part, the raging waters
symbol in the Bible for devastating chaos, of evil and of death: "the
would have engulfed us, the torrent overwhelmed us; seething waters
have drowned us" (verses 4-5). The Psalmist now feels the sensation of
being on a beach, having been miraculously saved from the impetuous
of the sea.
Man's life is surrounded by the ambushes of the
who not only attack his life, but also want to destroy all human
However, the Lord intervenes and watches over and saves the just man,
sung in Psalm 17(18): "He reached down from on high and seized me; drew
me out of the deep waters. He rescued me from my mighty enemy, and foes
too powerful for me ... the Lord came to my support. He set me free in
the open; he rescued me because he loves me" (verses 17-20).
3. In the second part of our song of thanksgiving we
from the marine image to a hunting scene, typical of many Psalms of
(see Psalm 123:6-8). It evokes a beast which has its prey between
its teeth, or a snare of fowlers that captures a bird. But the blessing
expressed by the psalm leads us to understand that the fate of the
which was a fate of death, has changed radically thanks to a saving
"Blessed be the Lord, who did not leave us to be torn by their fangs.
escaped with our lives like a bird from the fowler's snare; the snare
broken and we escaped" (verses 6-7).
At this point the prayer becomes a sigh of relief
rises from the depth of the soul: Even when all human hopes are
the divine liberating power can appear. The psalm ends with a
of faith, which centuries ago entered the Christian liturgy as an ideal
premise of all prayer: "Adiutorium nostrum in nomine Domini, qui fecit
caelum et terram -- Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made
and earth" (verse 8). The Almighty places himself in particular on the
side of the victims and the persecuted "who cry to him day and night"
"will vindicate them speedily" (see Luke 18:7-8).
4. St. Augustine offers an articulated commentary to
psalm. In the first place, he observes that this psalm is properly sung
by the "members of Christ, who have reached blessedness." In
"it has been sung by the holy martyrs, who having left this world, are
with Christ in happiness, ready to take up incorrupt again those same
that before were corruptible. In life, they suffered torments in the
but in eternity these torments will be transformed into adornments of
However, in a second instance the bishop of Hippo
us that we can also sing this psalm with hope. He states: We, too,
by a sure hope, will sing exulting. The singers of this psalm are not
to us. Therefore, let us all sing with only one heart: both the saints
who already possess the crown as well as ourselves, who with affection
unite ourselves to their crown. Together we desire that life which we
not have down here, but which we will never be able to have if we have
not first desired it."
St. Augustine then returns to the first perspective
explains: "The saints recall the sufferings they faced and from the
of happiness and tranquility in which they find themselves look at the
road traveled; and, given that it would have been difficult to attain
if the hand of the Liberator had not intervened to help them, full of
they exclaim: 'If the Lord had not been on our side.' So begins their
They do not even speak of that from which they have been delivered
of the joy of their jubilation" ("Esposizione sul Salmo 123"
to Psalm 123], 3: "Nuova Biblioteca Agostiniana," XXVIII, Rome, 1977,
Commentary on Psalm 122(123) (June
"An Exchange of Glances"
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Unfortunately, you have suffered under the rain.
hope the weather will improve.
1. In a very incisive way, Jesus affirms in the
that the eyes are an expressive symbol of the innermost self, a mirror
of the soul (see Matthew 6:22-23). Well, Psalm 122(123), which was just
proclaimed, is summarized in an exchange of glances: The faithful one
his eyes to the Lord and waits for a divine reaction, to perceive a
of love, a look of benevolence.
Not rarely, there is talk in the Psalter of the gaze
the Most High who "looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to
see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God" (Psalm
The Psalmist, as we heard, makes use of an image, that of the slave and
maid who look to their master for a liberating decision.
Although the scene is linked to the ancient world
its social structures, the idea is clear and significant: This image
from the world of the ancient East, is used to exalt the adherence of
poor, the hope of the oppressed, and the availability of the just to
2. The Psalmist is waiting for the divine hands to
as they will act according to justice, destroying evil. For this
often in the Psalter the one praying lifts his eyes full of hope toward
the Lord: "My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet
out of the net" (Psalm 24:15), while "my eyes grow dim with waiting
for my God" (Psalm 68:4).
Psalm 122(123) is a plea in which the voice of a
one is united with that of the whole community: In fact, the Psalm goes
from the first person singular -- "I lift up my eyes" -- to the plural
-- "our eyes" and "mercy upon us" (see verses 1-3). The hope is
that the Lord's hands will open to shower gifts of justice and freedom.
The just man waits for God's gaze to reveal itself in all its
and goodness, as one reads in the ancient priestly blessing of 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"
3. The importance of God's loving glance is revealed
the second part of the Psalm, characterized by the invocation: "Have
upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us" (Psalm 122:3). It is in
with the end of the first part, where confident expectation is
"our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he have mercy upon us" (verse
The faithful are in need of God's intervention
they are in a painful situation of contempt and derision by proud
The image the Psalmist now uses is that of satiety: "We have had more
enough of contempt. Too long our soul has been sated with the scorn of
those who are at ease, the contempt of the proud" (verses 3-4).
To the traditional biblical satiety of food and
regarded as a sign of divine blessing, is now opposed an intolerable
composed of an excessive load of humiliations. And we know that today
nations, many individuals are full of worries; they are too satiated
the worries of the satisfied, the contempt of the arrogant. Let us pray
for them and let us help these humiliated brothers of ours.
For this reason, the just have entrusted their cause
the Lord, and he is not indifferent to those imploring eyes, he does
ignore their invocation or ours, nor does he disappoint their hope.
4. At the end, we give way to the voice of St.
the great archbishop of Milan, who, with the spirit of the Psalmist,
poetically the work of God, which is achieved in Jesus Savior: "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
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
he is light; if you seek food, he is nourishment" ("La
[Virginity], 99: SAEMO, XIV/2, Milan-Rome, 1989, p. 81).
Commentary on Psalm 110(111)
"The First Stage of Wisdom" (June 8, 2005)
1. Today we feel a strong wind. The wind of sacred
is symbol of the Holy Spirit. We hope that the Holy Spirit will
us now in the meditation of Psalm 110(111), which we have just heard.
this Psalm we find a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for
many benefits, which makes reference to his attributes and his work of
salvation. Mention is made of "mercy," "graciousness," "righteousness,"
"power," "truth," "uprightness," "faithfulness," "covenant," "works,"
including the "food" he provides and, at the end, his glorious "name,"
namely, his person. The prayer is, therefore, contemplation of the
of God and of the wonders he works in the history of salvation.
2. The Psalm begins with a word of thanksgiving
rises not only from the Psalmist's heart, but also from all the
assembly (see verse 1). The object of this prayer, which includes the
of thanksgiving, is expressed with the word "works" (see verses
They indicate the saving interventions of the Lord, manifestation of
"righteousness" (see verse 3), term that in biblical language indicates
above all the love that generates salvation.
Therefore, the heart of the Psalm is transformed
a hymn to the covenant (see verses 4-9), to that intimate bond that
God to his people and includes a series of attitudes and gestures.
is made of "mercy and graciousness" (see verse 4), in line with the
proclamation from Sinai: "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness"
"Mercy" is the divine grace that envelops and
the faithful, while "graciousness" is expressed in the Hebrew original
with a characteristic term that refers to the Lord's maternal
even more merciful than that of a mother (see Isaiah 49:15).
3. This bond of love includes the fundamental gift
food and, therefore, of life (see Psalm 110:5), which, in a
rereading, is identified with the Eucharist, as St. Jerome says: "As
he gave the bread descended from heaven: If we are worthy, let us eat!"
("Breviarium in Psalmos," 110: PL XXVI, 1238-1239).
Then there is the gift of the earth, "the lands of
nations" (Psalm 110:6), which alludes to the great event of the
when the Lord revealed himself as the God of liberation. The central
of this song is to be sought, therefore, in the theme of the special
between the Lord and his people, as verse 9 states in a succinct way:
ratified your covenant forever."
4. Psalm 110(111) is sealed at the end by the
of the divine countenance, of the Lord's person, expressed through his
holy and transcendent "name." Then, quoting a sapiential saying (see
1:7;9:10;15:33), the Psalmist invites the faithful to cultivate "fear
the Lord" (Psalm 110:10), the beginning of wisdom. Fear and terror
are not concealed under this term, but earnest and sincere respect,
is the fruit of love, genuine and active adherence to the liberating
And, if the first word of the song was thanksgiving, the last is
As the saving righteousness of the Lord "endures forever" (verse 3), so
the gratitude of the Psalmist is incessant, it resounds in prayer
In sum, the Psalm invites us at the end to discover
the good things the Lord gives us every day. We see more easily the
aspects of our life. The Psalm invites to see the positive also, the
gifts we receive, and so find gratitude, as only a grateful heart can
worthily the liturgy of thanksgiving, the Eucharist.
5. At the conclusion of our reflection, we would
to meditate, with the ecclesial tradition of the first Christian
on the last verse with its famous declaration reiterated elsewhere in
Bible (see Proverbs 1:7): "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of
The Christian writer Barsanuphius of Gaza (active in
first half of the sixth century) commented it thus: "What is the
of wisdom if not to abstain from everything that is hateful to God? And
in what way can one abstain, if not by not doing something without
having asked for advice, or not saying something that should not be
or regarding oneself mad, foolish, contemptible and worthless?"
234: "Collana di Testi Patristici" [Collection of Patristic Texts],
Rome, 1991, pp. 265-266).
John Cassian (who lived between the fourth and fifth
preferred to specify, however, that "there is a great difference
love, which lacks nothing and which is the treasure of wisdom and
and imperfect love, called "beginning of wisdom"; the latter,
in itself the idea of punishment, is excluded from the heart of the
to reach the fullness of love" ("Conferenze ai Monaci" [Conferences to
Monks], 2,11,13: "Collana di Testi Patristici," CLVI, Rome, 2000, p.
Thus, in the journey of our life to Christ, servile fear which exists
is replaced by perfect fear, which is love, gift of the Holy Spirit.
Commentary on Philippians 2:6-11
"The Paradoxical 'Emptying' of the Divine
June 1, 2005.
1. Every Sunday, in the celebration of vespers, the
proposes to us the brief but profound Christological hymn from the
to the Philippians (see 2:6-11). It is the hymn, just heard, which we
in its first part (see verses 6-8), which delineates the paradoxical
of the divine Word, who lays aside his glory and assumes the human
Christ, incarnated and humiliated in the most
death, that of crucifixion, is proposed as a vital model for the
The latter -- as affirmed in the context -- should have "the same
that is also yours in Christ Jesus" (verse 5), sentiments of humility
selflessness, of detachment and generosity.
2. Undoubtedly, he possesses divine nature with all
prerogatives. But he does not interpret and live this transcendent
as a sign of power, of greatness, and of dominion. Christ does not use
his being equal to God, his glorious dignity and his power as an
of triumph, sign of distance, _expression of crushing supremacy (see
6). On the contrary, he "emptied" himself, immersing himself without
in the miserable and weak human condition. The divine "form" ("morphe")
is hidden in Christ under the human "form" ("morphe"), that is, under
reality marked by suffering, poverty, limitation and death (see verse
It is not a question therefore of a simple clothing,
a changeable appearance, as it was believed happened to the gods of the
Greco-Roman culture: It is Christ's divine reality in an authentically
human experience. God does not appear only as man, but becomes man and
is really one of us, he is truly "God-with-us," not content with gazing
on us with a benign look from his throne of glory, but enters
in human history, becoming "flesh," namely, fragile reality,
by time and space (see John 1:14).
3. This radical sharing of the human condition, with
exception of sin (see Hebrews 4:15), leads Jesus to that frontier which
is the sign of our finiteness and frailty, death. However, the latter
not the fruit of a dark mechanism or blind fatality: It is born from
choice of obedience to the Father's plan of salvation (see Philippians
The Apostle adds that the death Jesus faces is that
the cross, namely, the most degrading, thus wishing to be truly a
of every man and woman, including those constrained to an atrocious and
But precisely in his passion and death Christ
to his free and conscious adherence to the will of the Father, as one
in the Letter to the Hebrews: "Although he was a Son, he learned
through what he suffered" (Hebrews 5:8).
Let us pause here in our reflection on the first
of the Christological hymn, focused on the Incarnation and redemptive
We will have the occasion later on to reflect more deeply on the
itinerary, the paschal, which leads from the cross to glory. The
element of this first part of the hymn, it seems to me, is the
to penetrate into Jesus' sentiments.
To penetrate into Jesus' sentiments means not to
power, wealth and prestige as the highest values in life, as in the
they do not respond to the deepest thirst of our spirit, but to open
heart to the Other, to bear with the Other the burden of life and to
ourselves to the Heavenly Father with a sense of obedience and trust,
precisely, that if we are obedient to the Father, we will be free. To
into Jesus' sentiments -- this should be the daily exercise of our life
4. Let us conclude our reflection with a great
of the Eastern tradition, Theodoret who was bishop of Cyrus, in Syria,
in the fifth century: "The Incarnation of our Savior represents the
fulfillment of the divine solicitude for men. In fact, neither heaven,
nor earth, nor the sea, nor the air, nor the sun, nor the moon, nor the
stars, nor the whole visible and invisible universe, created only by
Word or rather brought to the light by his Word, according to his will,
indicate his incommensurable goodness as does the fact that the
Son of God, He who subsisted in the nature of God (see Philippians
reflection of his glory, mark of his substance (see Hebrews 1:3), who
the beginning was with God and was God, through whom all things were
(see John 1:1-3), after having assumed the nature of a servant,
in the form of man, by his human figure was considered as a man, was
on earth, had relationships with men, bore our infirmities and took our
illnesses upon himself" ("Discorsi sulla Provvidenza Divina"
on Divine Providence], 10: "Collana di Testi Patristici" [Collection of
Patristic Texts], LXXV, Rome, 1988, pp. 250-251).
Theodoret of Cyrus continues his reflection,
light on the very close relationship underlined by the hymn of the
to the Philippians between the incarnation of Jesus and the redemption
of men. "The Creator worked for our salvation with wisdom and justice.
Because he did not wish to make use only of his power to give us
the gift of freedom, nor to use only mercy against the one who has
the human race, so that he would not accuse mercy of injustice, he
a way full of love for men and at the same time adorned with justice.
fact, after having united to himself man's vanquished nature, he leads
it to the struggle and disposes it to repair the defeat, to rout him
previously had iniquitously won the victory, to free man from the
of which he had been cruelly made a slave and to recover his original
(ibid., pp. 251-252).
Commentary on Psalm 115 (116)
"God Is Not Indifferent to His Creature's Drama"
1. Psalm 115(116), which we just prayed, has always
in use in the Christian tradition, beginning with St. Paul who, quoting
the introduction, following the Greek translation of the Seventy,
to the Christians of Corinth: "Since, then, we have the same spirit of
faith, according to what is written, "I believed, therefore I spoke,"
too believe and therefore speak" (2 Corinthians 4:13).
The Apostle is in spiritual agreement with the
in serene trust and sincere testimony, despite human sufferings and
Writing to the Romans, Paul takes up verse 2 of the Psalm and
the contrast between the faithfulness of God and the inconsistency of
"God must be true, though every human being is a liar" (Romans 3:4).
Subsequent tradition would transform this song into
celebration of martyrdom (see Origen, "Exhortation to Martyrdom," 18:
di Spiritualità," Milan, 1985, pp. 127-129) because of the
"precious is the death of his saints" (see Psalm 115:15), or it
make it a Eucharistic text because of the reference to the "cup of
which the Psalmist lifts invoking the name of the Lord (see verse 13).
Christian tradition identifies this cup with the "cup of blessing" (see
1 Corinthians 10:16), the "cup of the New Covenant" (see 1 Corinthians
11:25; Luke 22:20): expressions which, in the New Testament, refer
to the Eucharist.
2. In the Hebrew original, Psalm 115(116)
a single composition with the preceding Psalm 114(115). Both are a
thanksgiving addressed to the Lord who liberates from the nightmare of
In our text appears the memory of an anguished past:
Psalmist has held high the flame of faith, even when on his lips there
was the bitterness of despair and unhappiness (see Psalm 115(116):10).
All around him, in fact, an icy curtain of hatred and deceit was
because his fellowman showed himself to be false and unfaithful (see
11). Now, however, the prayer is transformed into gratitude because the
Lord has raised his faithful one from the dark vortex of falsehood (see
Therefore, the Psalmist prepares to offer a
of thanksgiving, in which the ritual cup will be drunk, the cup of the
sacred libation, which is the sign of acknowledgment of the liberation
(see verse 13). The liturgy, therefore, is the privileged place from
to raise grateful praise to the Savior God.
3. In fact, in addition to the sacrificial rite,
reference is also made to the assembly of "all the people," before whom
the Psalmist pays his vow and witnesses his faith (see verse 14). It is
in this circumstance that he renders public his thanksgiving, well
that, even when death is imminent, the Lord bends over him with his
God is not indifferent to his creature's drama, but breaks his chains
Saved from death, the Psalmist feels himself
of the Lord, "son of his handmaid" (ibid.), a beautiful Eastern
to indicate the one who is born in the master's house. The Psalmist
humbly and with joy his belonging to the house of God, to the family of
creatures united to him in love and faithfulness.
4. Always with the words of the one praying, the
ends by evoking again the rite of thanksgiving that will be celebrated
in the context of the temple (see verses 17-19). Thus his prayer will
placed in the ambit of the community. His personal story is narrated so
that it can be a stimulus for all to believe and love the Lord. In the
background, therefore, we can perceive the whole people of God while
thank the Lord of life, who does not abandon the righteous in the dark
realm of pain and death, but leads him to hope and life.
5. Let us conclude our reflection commending
to the words of St. Basil the Great who, in his Homily on Psalm
comments thus on the question and answer present in the Psalm: "What
I render to the Lord for all his bounty to me? I will lift up the cup
salvation. The Psalmist has understood the very many gifts received
God: from nonbeing he was brought into being, he was made from the
and gifted with reason ... he then perceived the economy of salvation
favor of the human race, recognizing that the Lord gave himself in
in place of us all; and, searching through all his belongings, he is
about what gift he can ever find that is worthy of the Lord. What then,
shall I render to the Lord? Not sacrifices or holocausts ... but the
of my life. This is why he says: 'I will lift up the cup of salvation,'
calling a 'cup' the suffering in the spiritual combat, the resisting of
sin till death. Moreover, it is what our Savior taught in the Gospel:
if thou art willing, remove this cup from me'; and when he said to the
disciples: 'Are you able to drink the cup that I shall drink?'
clearly to the death he accepted for the salvation of the world" (PG
Commentary on Psalm 120 (121)
"The Lord Will Keep You From All
(VATICAN CITY, MAY 4, 2005)
1. As I already announced last Wednesday, I have
to resume in the catecheses the commentary on the Psalms and canticles
that are part of vespers, using the texts prepared by my predecessor
Psalm 120(121), on which we meditate today, is part
the collection of "songs of ascension," that is, of the pilgrimage
the encounter with the Lord in the temple of Zion. It is a Psalm of
because in it the Hebrew verb "shamar" -- to keep, to guard -- resounds
six times. God, whose name is repeatedly invoked, emerges as the
always awake, careful and solicitous, the "sentinel" who watches over
people to protect them from every risk and danger.
The song opens with the gaze of the one praying
on high, "toward the mountains," namely, toward the hills where
rises: from on high comes help, because the Lord dwells on high in his
holy temple (see verses 1-2). However, the "hills" can also refer to
places where idolatrous shrines rise, the so-called high places,
condemned in the Old Testament (see 1 Kings 3:2; 2 Kings 18:4). In this
case there is a contrast: While the pilgrim journeys toward Zion, his
fall on the pagan temples, which constitute a great temptation for him.
But his faith is firm and he has a certainty: "My help comes from the
the maker of heaven and earth" (Psalm 120:2).
2. This trust is illustrated in the Psalm with the
of the keeper and sentinel, who watch and protect. There is also an
to the foot that does not hesitate (see verse 3) on the path of life
perhaps of the shepherd who in his nocturnal rest watches over his
without slumbering or sleeping (see verse 4). The Divine Shepherd does
not rest in watching over his people.
Another symbol follows later, that of "shade," which
the resumption of the journey during a sunny day (see verse 5). It
to mind the historical march in the Sinai desert, when the Lord went
Israel "in the daytime by means of a column of cloud to show them the
(Exodus 13:21). In the Psalter, one frequently prays thus: "hide me in
the shadow of your wings" (Psalm 16:8; see Psalm 90:1).
3. After the vigil and shade, there is the third
that of the Lord who is at the "right hand" of his faithful one (see
120:5). This is the position of the defender, both military as
as in a trial: It is the certainty of not being abandoned in the time
trial, of the assault of evil, of persecution. At this point, the
takes up again the idea of the journey during a hot day in which God
us from the burning sun.
But night follows day. In antiquity it was thought
moons rays were also harmful, the cause of fever, of blindness, or even
of madness; that is why the Lord protects us also at night (see verse
The Psalm comes to an end with a brief statement of
God will protect us with love in every instant, keeping our life from
evil (see verse 7). All our activity, summarized in the two extreme
of "going out" and "coming in," is always under the Lord's vigilant
every act of ours and all our time, "both now and forever" (verse 8).
4. We now wish to comment on this last statement of
with a spiritual testimony of the ancient Christian tradition. In fact,
in the Epistles of Barsanuphius of Gaza (who died around the middle of
the sixth century) -- a very famous ascetic, questioned by monks,
and lay people because of the wisdom of his discernment -- the verse of
the Psalm is recalled several times: "The Lord will keep you from all
he will keep your life." In this way, he wished to comfort all those
manifested their toils, the trials of life, the dangers, and the
On one occasion, when Barsanuphius was asked by a
to pray for him and his companions, he answered including in his good
the quotation of this verse: "My beloved children, I embrace you in the
Lord, imploring him to keep you from all evil and to give you endurance
like Job, grace like Joseph, meekness like Moses and courage in combats
like Joshua, the son of Nun, mastery of your thoughts like the Judges,
the subjection of enemies as to kings David and Solomon, fruitfulness
the earth as to the Israelites. May he grant you the remission of your
sins with healing of the body like the paralytic. May he rescue you
the waves like Peter, and snatch you from tribulation like Paul and the
other apostles. May he keep you from all evil, as his true children and
grant you, in his name, what your heart requests, for the benefit of
soul and body. Amen" (Barsanuphius and John of Gaza, Epistles, 194:
de Testi Patristici" [Collection of Patristic Texts], XCIII, Rome,
Commentary on Canticle of Revelation
(May 11, 2005)
"Thanks to Fear of the Lord, There Is No Fear of
"Great and wonderful are your works, Lord God
Just and true are your ways, O king of the nations. Who will not fear
Lord, or glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All the nations
come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been
1. Brief and solemn, incisive and grandiose in its
is the canticle which we now made ours, elevating it as a hymn of
to the "Lord God Almighty" (Revelation 15:3). It is one of the many
texts set in Revelation, book of judgment, salvation and, above all,
History, in fact, is not alone in the hands of dark
chance or human choices. Over the unleashing of evil energies, the
irruption of Satan, and the emergence of so many scourges and evils,
Lord rises, supreme arbiter of historical events. He leads history
towards the dawn of the new heavens and the new earth, sung in the
part of the book under the image of the new Jerusalem (cf. Revelation
Those who intone the canticle that we will now
are the righteous of history, the conquerors of the Satanic beast,
who go through the apparent defeat of martyrdom are, in reality, the
of the new world, with God the supreme architect.
2. They begin by exalting the "great and wonderful"
and the "just and true" ways of the Lord (cf. Revelation 15:3). The
is that characteristic of the exodus of Israel from Egyptian slavery.
first canticle -- pronounced after the passage of the Red Sea --
the Lord "terrible in renown, worker of wonders" (Exodus 15:11). The
canticle -- referred to in Deuteronomy at the end of the life of the
lawgiver -- confirms that "how faultless are his deeds, how right all
ways!" (Deuteronomy 32:4).
It must be reaffirmed, therefore, that God is not
to human events, but penetrates them realizing his "ways," namely his
and his efficacious "deeds."
3. According to our hymn, this divine intervention
a very specific purpose: to be a sign that invites all the peoples of
earth to conversion. Nations must learn to "read" in history a message
of God. Humanity's history is not confused and without meaning, nor is
it given over, without appeal, to the malfeasance of the arrogant and
There is the possibility to recognize divine action hidden in it. In
pastoral constitution "Gaudium et Spes," Vatican Council II also
the believer to scrutinize, in the light of the Gospel, the signs of
times to see in them the manifestation of the very action of God (cf.
4 and 11). This attitude of faith leads man to recognize the power of
operating in history, and thus to open himself to fear of the name of
Lord. In biblical language, in fact, this "fear" does not coincide with
dread, but is the recognition of the mystery of the divine
Because of this, it is the basis of faith and is joined with love: "the
Lord your God requires of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk
all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your
and with all your soul" (cf. Deuteronomy 10:12).
Following this line, in our brief hymn, taken from
fear and glorification of God are united: "Who will not fear you, Lord,
or glorify your name?" (15:4). Thanks to fear of the Lord there is no
of the evil that rages in history and one takes up again with vigor the
journey of life, as the prophet Isaiah declared: "Strengthen the hands
that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose
hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!'" (Isaiah 35: 3-4).
4. The hymn ends with the expectation of a universal
of peoples who will appear before the Lord of history, revealed through
his "righteous acts" (cf. Revelation 15:4). They will prostrate
in adoration. And the one Lord and savior seems to repeat to them the
pronounced on the last evening of his earthly life: "take courage, I
conquered the world" (John 16:33).
And we wish to conclude our brief reflection on the
of the victorious lamb (Revelation 15:3), intoned by the righteous of
with an ancient hymn of twilight, namely of the evening prayer, that
Basil of Caesarea already knew: "Having reached sunset, in seeing the
of evening, let us sing to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit of
You are worthy of being praised at all times with holy voices, Son of
you who give life. Because of this the world glorifies you" (S. Pricoco
and M. Simonetti, "La Preghiera dei Cristiani," (The Prayer of
Milan, 2000, p. 97).