The Psalms and Canticles of

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 15, 2006)

With this address, Pope Benedict concluded the cycle of catecheses on the Psalms and biblical canticles begun by Pope John Paul II in 2001.

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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 of God.

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.

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Commentary on Psalm 144(145):14-21
"The Lord Is Near to All Who Call Upon Him"  (February 8, 2006)

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 and salvation.

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.

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Commentary on Psalm 144(145)
"The Lord …… Concerned About All His Creatures"  (February 1, 2006)

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[145]: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 144[145]:11-13).

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 contain praise.

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 John 4:8,16).

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."

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Commentary on Psalm 143[144]: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 messianic era.

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 Gospel are.

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.

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Commentary on Colossians 1:3,12-20
"In Christ We See the Face of God"  (January 4, 2006)

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 perfect humanism.

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 are achieved.

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!

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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!

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Commentary on Psalm 143(144):1-8
"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 sections.

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[144]: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[114]: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 lacking.

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. 512-515).

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.

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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 year".
"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 manifested".

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, pacified".

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".

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Commentary on 2nd Part of Psalm 138(139)
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).

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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.


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Pre-Christmas Reflection
"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 reflect briefly.

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 generations.

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!


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Commentary on Psalm 138(139):1-12
"A Song of Confidence: God Is Always With Us"  (December 14, 2005)

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 not indifferent.

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[139]: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 actions.

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 freedom.

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).

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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[138], 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 faithful people.

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 6).

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[138]: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" (Philippians 1:6).

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 fragrance.

"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).

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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 humanity.

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 way.

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 City."

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.

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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 [5]) of the Father that the Apostle contemplates, overwhelmed.

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.

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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[136]: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" (Deuteronomy 8:7-9).

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.

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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. verses 1-9).

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. verses 2-3).

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[136]: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).


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Commentary on Psalm 111(112)
"The Faithful One Is Generous"  (November 2, 2005)

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.


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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 (2:6-11).

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 majesty.

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" (Philippians 2:5).

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, pp. 236-238).

[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.

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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 all guilt."

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).


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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 spiritual meaning.

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 sanctuary.

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[122]:5), that is, the Davidic dynasty governs, _expression of the divine action in history, which would lead to the Messiah (2 Samuel 7:8-16).

3. The "seats of the house of David" were called at the same time "thrones of judgment" (see Psalm 121[112]: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 among themselves.

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).

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Commentary on Second Part of Psalm 134(135)
"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[135]: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).

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Commentary on Psalm 134(135)
"Divine Love Becomes Concrete"  (September 28, 2005)

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 faithful's journey.

We follow the prayerful line of this first section (see Psalm 134[135]: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

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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 1:14).

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 Mary.

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, p. 285).

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.


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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 6:14-15).

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[132]: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[132]: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 by him.

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[132]: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).

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Commentary on Canticle in Colossians 1: 1,3,12,15,17-18. 
"Christ Is the Principle of Cohesion"   (September 7, 2005)

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 them.

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" (Colossians 1:13).

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 inserts us.

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 thank him.

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 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. Psalm 119[120]-133[134]).

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[125]: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[18]: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[125]: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" (Zechariah 2:9).

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[125]:3); at the same time, he preserves them from the temptation to turn their hands to evil (cf. ibid.).

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" (verse 5).
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 holiness.

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[72]: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.

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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" (Hosea 11:1,4).

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[131]: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 inferior.

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 Lord.

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[131]: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[131]: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[22]:11). "Though my father and mother forsake me, yet will the Lord receive me" (Ps 26[27]: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[71]: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[36]:12)" ("Le Istituzioni Cenobitiche," XII, 6, Abbey of Praglia, Bresseo di Teolo, Padua, 1989, p. 289).

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).

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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[127]: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[121]: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[127]: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. 74-75).


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Commentary on Psalm 124  (August 3, 2005)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Psalm 124, one of the “gradual psalms” traditionally recited during the pilgrimage to Mount Sion, proclaims that all who put their trust 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 today. As believers we may experience external difficulties and the inner burden of our own discouragement, mediocrity and fatigue, but the Lord, the just judge, gives us confidence and encouragement. With the Psalmist who contemplates the city of Jerusalem, the symbol of God’s peace, we trust in our loving Father who leads us to that peace promised in Christ to God’s faithful people.

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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 taken from the Letter to the Ephesians (see 1:3-14), which appears in the Liturgy of Vespers of each of the four weeks. This canticle is a prayer of blessing addressed to God the Father. As it unfolds, it delineates the various stages of the plan of salvation which is realized through the action of Christ.

At the heart of the blessing resounds the Greek word "mysterion," a term usually associated with the verbs of revelation ("to reveal," "to 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 decided to act on and reveal "for the fullness of times" (see verse 10) in Jesus Christ, his Son.

The stages of this plan are articulated in the canticle by the saving actions of God through Christ in the Spirit. First of all, 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 predestines us to be his children (see verses 5-6), in addition he redeems us and forgives us our sins (see verses 7-8), he unveils fully to us the mystery of salvation in Christ (see verses 9-10), finally, he gives us our eternal inheritance (see verses 11-12) offering us already as pledge the gift of the Holy Spirit in view of the final resurrection (see verses 13-14).

2. Many, therefore, are the saving events that succeeded one another in the unfolding of the canticle. They involve the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity: beginning with the Father, who is the initiator 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 imprints his "seal" on the whole work of salvation. Let us now reflect briefly on the two first stages, that of holiness and of filiation (see verses 4-6).

The first divine gesture, revealed and acted in Christ, is the election of believers, fruit of a free and gratuitous initiative of God. In the beginning, therefore, "before the foundation of the world" (verse 4), in the eternity of God, divine grace was disposed to enter into action. I am moved meditating on this truth: From eternity we are before the eyes of God and he has decided to save us. This call has our "holiness" -- a great word -- as content. Holiness is participation in the transcendent purity of the divine Being. And we know that God is charity. Therefore, to participate in divine purity means to participate in the "charity" of God, conforming ourselves with God who is "charity."

"God is love" (1 John 4:8,16). This is the consoling truth that enables us also to understand that "holiness" is not a reality removed from our life, but instead, in the measure in which we can become persons who love God, we enter into the mystery of "holiness." Thus the agape becomes our daily reality. We are led, therefore, to the sacred and vital horizon of God himself.

3. In this line we move to the other stage, also contemplated in the divine plan from eternity: our "predestination" as children of God. Not only human creatures, but really belonging to God as his children.

Elsewhere Paul exalts (see Galatians 4:5; Romans 8:15,23) this sublime condition of children implied and derived from fraternity with Christ, the Son par excellence, "the firstborn among many brothers" (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 sense of familiarity with God, in a relationship of spontaneity and love. We are, therefore, in the presence of an immense gift, made possible by "pure" divine "initiative" and by "grace," luminous _expression of saving love.

4. In concluding, we commend ourselves to the great bishop 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 superabundant 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 their head, in particular because since the beginning we have been predestined 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. 161).

The holy bishop of Milan continues his reflection observing: "Who is rich, if not God alone, creator of all things?" And he concludes: "But he is much more rich in mercy, because he has redeemed and transformed us, who according to the nature of flesh, were children of wrath and subject to punishment, so that we would be children of peace and charity" (No. 7: Ibid., p. 163).

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Commentary on Psalm 123(124)   (June 22, 2005)
"The Lord Watches Over and Saves the Just Man"

1. We have before us Psalm 123(124), a canticle of thanksgiving 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 raise a lively and sincere thanksgiving to God the Savior. If the Lord had not been on the side of the victims, they, with their limited forces, would have been powerless to free themselves and their adversaries, like monsters, would have torn and shattered them to pieces.

Although thought has been given to a particular historical event, such as the end of the Babylonian exile, it is more probable that 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 assailed 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 dominate, symbol in the Bible for devastating chaos, of evil and of death: "the waters would have engulfed us, the torrent overwhelmed us; seething waters would have drowned us" (verses 4-5). The Psalmist now feels the sensation of being on a beach, having been miraculously saved from the impetuous fury of the sea.

Man's life is surrounded by the ambushes of the wicked who not only attack his life, but also want to destroy all human values. However, the Lord intervenes and watches over and saves the just man, as 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 move from the marine image to a hunting scene, typical of many Psalms of supplication (see Psalm 123[124]: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 faithful, which was a fate of death, has changed radically thanks to a saving intervention: "Blessed be the Lord, who did not leave us to be torn by their fangs. We escaped with our lives like a bird from the fowler's snare; the snare was broken and we escaped" (verses 6-7).

At this point the prayer becomes a sigh of relief that rises from the depth of the soul: Even when all human hopes are destroyed, the divine liberating power can appear. The psalm ends with a profession 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 heaven 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" and "will vindicate them speedily" (see Luke 18:7-8).

4. St. Augustine offers an articulated commentary to the psalm. In the first place, he observes that this psalm is properly sung by the "members of Christ, who have reached blessedness." In particular, "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 bodies that before were corruptible. In life, they suffered torments in the body, but in eternity these torments will be transformed into adornments of justice."

However, in a second instance the bishop of Hippo tells us that we can also sing this psalm with hope. He states: We, too, animated by a sure hope, will sing exulting. The singers of this psalm are not strangers 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 do 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 and explains: "The saints recall the sufferings they faced and from the place of happiness and tranquility in which they find themselves look at the road traveled; and, given that it would have been difficult to attain deliverance if the hand of the Liberator had not intervened to help them, full of joy, they exclaim: 'If the Lord had not been on our side.' So begins their song. They do not even speak of that from which they have been delivered because of the joy of their jubilation" ("Esposizione sul Salmo 123" [Commentary to Psalm 123], 3: "Nuova Biblioteca Agostiniana," XXVIII, Rome, 1977, p. 65).

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Commentary on Psalm 122(123)  (June 15, 2005)
"An Exchange of Glances"

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Unfortunately, you have suffered under the rain. Let's hope the weather will improve.

1. In a very incisive way, Jesus affirms in the Gospel 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 lifts his eyes to the Lord and waits for a divine reaction, to perceive a gesture of love, a look of benevolence.

Not rarely, there is talk in the Psalter of the gaze of 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 13[14]:2). 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 and its social structures, the idea is clear and significant: This image taken from the world of the ancient East, is used to exalt the adherence of the poor, the hope of the oppressed, and the availability of the just to the Lord.

2. The Psalmist is waiting for the divine hands to move, as they will act according to justice, destroying evil. For this reason, 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[25]:15), while "my eyes grow dim with waiting for my God" (Psalm 68[69]:4).

Psalm 122(123) is a plea in which the voice of a faithful 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 expressed 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 tenderness 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" (Numbers 6:25-26).

3. The importance of God's loving glance is revealed in the second part of the Psalm, characterized by the invocation: "Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us" (Psalm 122[123]:3). It is in continuity with the end of the first part, where confident expectation is confirmed, "our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he have mercy upon us" (verse 2).

The faithful are in need of God's intervention because they are in a painful situation of contempt and derision by proud people. The image the Psalmist now uses is that of satiety: "We have had more than 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 years, regarded as a sign of divine blessing, is now opposed an intolerable satiety composed of an excessive load of humiliations. And we know that today many nations, many individuals are full of worries; they are too satiated with 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 to the Lord, and he is not indifferent to those imploring eyes, he does not ignore their invocation or ours, nor does he disappoint their hope.

4. At the end, we give way to the voice of St. Ambrose, the great archbishop of Milan, who, with the spirit of the Psalmist, articulates 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 is justice; if you are in need of help, he is strength; if you fear death, he is life; if you desire heaven, he is the way; if you flee from darkness, he is light; if you seek food, he is nourishment" ("La Verginità" [Virginity], 99: SAEMO, XIV/2, Milan-Rome, 1989, p. 81).

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Commentary on Psalm 110(111)

"The First Stage of Wisdom"  (June 8, 2005)

1. Today we feel a strong wind. The wind of sacred Scripture is symbol of the Holy Spirit. We hope that the Holy Spirit will enlighten us now in the meditation of Psalm 110(111), which we have just heard. In this Psalm we find a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for his 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," "wonders," including the "food" he provides and, at the end, his glorious "name," namely, his person. The prayer is, therefore, contemplation of the mystery of God and of the wonders he works in the history of salvation.

2. The Psalm begins with a word of thanksgiving which rises not only from the Psalmist's heart, but also from all the liturgical assembly (see verse 1). The object of this prayer, which includes the rite of thanksgiving, is expressed with the word "works" (see verses 2,3,6,7). They indicate the saving interventions of the Lord, manifestation of his "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 into a hymn to the covenant (see verses 4-9), to that intimate bond that unites God to his people and includes a series of attitudes and gestures. Mention is made of "mercy and graciousness" (see verse 4), in line with the great proclamation from Sinai: "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:6).

"Mercy" is the divine grace that envelops and transfigures the faithful, while "graciousness" is expressed in the Hebrew original with a characteristic term that refers to the Lord's maternal "viscera," even more merciful than that of a mother (see Isaiah 49:15).

3. This bond of love includes the fundamental gift of food and, therefore, of life (see Psalm 110[111]:5), which, in a Christian rereading, is identified with the Eucharist, as St. Jerome says: "As food 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 the nations" (Psalm 110[111]:6), which alludes to the great event of the Exodus, when the Lord revealed himself as the God of liberation. The central synthesis of this song is to be sought, therefore, in the theme of the special pact between the Lord and his people, as verse 9 states in a succinct way: "[You] ratified your covenant forever."

4. Psalm 110(111) is sealed at the end by the contemplation of the divine countenance, of the Lord's person, expressed through his holy and transcendent "name." Then, quoting a sapiential saying (see Proverbs 1:7;9:10;15:33), the Psalmist invites the faithful to cultivate "fear of the Lord" (Psalm 110[111]:10), the beginning of wisdom. Fear and terror are not concealed under this term, but earnest and sincere respect, which is the fruit of love, genuine and active adherence to the liberating God. And, if the first word of the song was thanksgiving, the last is praise: As the saving righteousness of the Lord "endures forever" (verse 3), so the gratitude of the Psalmist is incessant, it resounds in prayer "forever" (verse 10).

In sum, the Psalm invites us at the end to discover all the good things the Lord gives us every day. We see more easily the negative aspects of our life. The Psalm invites to see the positive also, the many gifts we receive, and so find gratitude, as only a grateful heart can celebrate worthily the liturgy of thanksgiving, the Eucharist.

5. At the conclusion of our reflection, we would like to meditate, with the ecclesial tradition of the first Christian centuries, on the last verse with its famous declaration reiterated elsewhere in the Bible (see Proverbs 1:7): "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 110[111]:10).

The Christian writer Barsanuphius of Gaza (active in the first half of the sixth century) commented it thus: "What is the beginning 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 first having asked for advice, or not saying something that should not be said, or regarding oneself mad, foolish, contemptible and worthless?" ("Epistolario," 234: "Collana di Testi Patristici" [Collection of Patristic Texts], XCIII, Rome, 1991, pp. 265-266).

John Cassian (who lived between the fourth and fifth centuries) preferred to specify, however, that "there is a great difference between love, which lacks nothing and which is the treasure of wisdom and science, and imperfect love, called "beginning of wisdom"; the latter, containing in itself the idea of punishment, is excluded from the heart of the perfect to reach the fullness of love" ("Conferenze ai Monaci" [Conferences to Monks], 2,11,13: "Collana di Testi Patristici," CLVI, Rome, 2000, p. 29). Thus, in the journey of our life to Christ, servile fear which exists initially is replaced by perfect fear, which is love, gift of the Holy Spirit.

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Commentary on Philippians 2:6-11

"The Paradoxical 'Emptying' of the Divine Word"   June 1, 2005.

1. Every Sunday, in the celebration of vespers, the liturgy proposes to us the brief but profound Christological hymn from the Letter to the Philippians (see 2:6-11). It is the hymn, just heard, which we consider in its first part (see verses 6-8), which delineates the paradoxical "emptying" of the divine Word, who lays aside his glory and assumes the human condition.

Christ, incarnated and humiliated in the most infamous death, that of crucifixion, is proposed as a vital model for the Christian. The latter -- as affirmed in the context -- should have "the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus" (verse 5), sentiments of humility and selflessness, of detachment and generosity.

2. Undoubtedly, he possesses divine nature with all its prerogatives. But he does not interpret and live this transcendent reality 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 instrument of triumph, sign of distance, _expression of crushing supremacy (see verse 6). On the contrary, he "emptied" himself, immersing himself without reserve in the miserable and weak human condition. The divine "form" ("morphe") is hidden in Christ under the human "form" ("morphe"), that is, under our reality marked by suffering, poverty, limitation and death (see verse 7).

It is not a question therefore of a simple clothing, of 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 personally in human history, becoming "flesh," namely, fragile reality, conditioned by time and space (see John 1:14).

3. This radical sharing of the human condition, with the 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 is not the fruit of a dark mechanism or blind fatality: It is born from the choice of obedience to the Father's plan of salvation (see Philippians 2:8).

The Apostle adds that the death Jesus faces is that of the cross, namely, the most degrading, thus wishing to be truly a brother of every man and woman, including those constrained to an atrocious and ignominious end.

But precisely in his passion and death Christ attests to his free and conscious adherence to the will of the Father, as one reads in the Letter to the Hebrews: "Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered" (Hebrews 5:8).

Let us pause here in our reflection on the first part of the Christological hymn, focused on the Incarnation and redemptive Passion. We will have the occasion later on to reflect more deeply on the subsequent itinerary, the paschal, which leads from the cross to glory. The fundamental element of this first part of the hymn, it seems to me, is the invitation to penetrate into Jesus' sentiments.

To penetrate into Jesus' sentiments means not to consider power, wealth and prestige as the highest values in life, as in the end, they do not respond to the deepest thirst of our spirit, but to open our heart to the Other, to bear with the Other the burden of life and to open ourselves to the Heavenly Father with a sense of obedience and trust, knowing, precisely, that if we are obedient to the Father, we will be free. To penetrate into Jesus' sentiments -- this should be the daily exercise of our life as Christians.

4. Let us conclude our reflection with a great witness of the Eastern tradition, Theodoret who was bishop of Cyrus, in Syria, in the fifth century: "The Incarnation of our Savior represents the highest 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 his Word or rather brought to the light by his Word, according to his will, indicate his incommensurable goodness as does the fact that the only-begotten Son of God, He who subsisted in the nature of God (see Philippians 2:6), reflection of his glory, mark of his substance (see Hebrews 1:3), who in the beginning was with God and was God, through whom all things were made (see John 1:1-3), after having assumed the nature of a servant, appeared in the form of man, by his human figure was considered as a man, was seen on earth, had relationships with men, bore our infirmities and took our illnesses upon himself" ("Discorsi sulla Provvidenza Divina" [Discourses on Divine Providence], 10: "Collana di Testi Patristici" [Collection of Patristic Texts], LXXV, Rome, 1988, pp. 250-251).

Theodoret of Cyrus continues his reflection, shedding light on the very close relationship underlined by the hymn of the Letter 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 generously the gift of freedom, nor to use only mercy against the one who has subjected the human race, so that he would not accuse mercy of injustice, he devised a way full of love for men and at the same time adorned with justice. In 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 who previously had iniquitously won the victory, to free man from the tyranny of which he had been cruelly made a slave and to recover his original freedom" (ibid., pp. 251-252).

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Commentary on Psalm 115 (116)

"God Is Not Indifferent to His Creature's Drama" (May 25, 2005)

1. Psalm 115(116), which we just prayed, has always been in use in the Christian tradition, beginning with St. Paul who, quoting the introduction, following the Greek translation of the Seventy, writes to the Christians of Corinth: "Since, then, we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, "I believed, therefore I spoke," we too believe and therefore speak" (2 Corinthians 4:13).

The Apostle is in spiritual agreement with the Psalmist, in serene trust and sincere testimony, despite human sufferings and weaknesses. Writing to the Romans, Paul takes up verse 2 of the Psalm and delineates the contrast between the faithfulness of God and the inconsistency of man: "God must be true, though every human being is a liar" (Romans 3:4).

Subsequent tradition would transform this song into a celebration of martyrdom (see Origen, "Exhortation to Martyrdom," 18: "Testi di Spiritualità," Milan, 1985, pp. 127-129) because of the affirmation "precious is the death of his saints" (see Psalm 115[116]:15), or it would make it a Eucharistic text because of the reference to the "cup of salvation" 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 specifically to the Eucharist.

2. In the Hebrew original, Psalm 115(116) constitutes a single composition with the preceding Psalm 114(115). Both are a unitary thanksgiving addressed to the Lord who liberates from the nightmare of death.

In our text appears the memory of an anguished past: The 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 raised, because his fellowman showed himself to be false and unfaithful (see verse 11). Now, however, the prayer is transformed into gratitude because the Lord has raised his faithful one from the dark vortex of falsehood (see verse 12).

Therefore, the Psalmist prepares to offer a sacrifice 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 which to raise grateful praise to the Savior God.

3. In fact, in addition to the sacrificial rite, explicit 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 aware that, even when death is imminent, the Lord bends over him with his love. God is not indifferent to his creature's drama, but breaks his chains (see verse 16).

Saved from death, the Psalmist feels himself "servant" of the Lord, "son of his handmaid" (ibid.), a beautiful Eastern _expression to indicate the one who is born in the master's house. The Psalmist professes 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 Psalm 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 be 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 they 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 ourselves to the words of St. Basil the Great who, in his Homily on Psalm 115(116), comments thus on the question and answer present in the Psalm: "What shall I render to the Lord for all his bounty to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation. The Psalmist has understood the very many gifts received from God: from nonbeing he was brought into being, he was made from the earth and gifted with reason ... he then perceived the economy of salvation in favor of the human race, recognizing that the Lord gave himself in redemption in place of us all; and, searching through all his belongings, he is uncertain 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 whole 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: 'Father, 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?' referring clearly to the death he accepted for the salvation of the world" (PG XXX, 109).

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Commentary on Psalm 120 (121)

"The Lord Will Keep You From All Evil"     (VATICAN CITY, MAY 4, 2005)

1. As I already announced last Wednesday, I have decided to resume in the catecheses the commentary on the Psalms and canticles that are part of vespers, using the texts prepared by my predecessor John Paul II.

Psalm 120(121), on which we meditate today, is part of the collection of "songs of ascension," that is, of the pilgrimage toward the encounter with the Lord in the temple of Zion. It is a Psalm of trust because in it the Hebrew verb "shamar" -- to keep, to guard -- resounds six times. God, whose name is repeatedly invoked, emerges as the "keeper" always awake, careful and solicitous, the "sentinel" who watches over his people to protect them from every risk and danger.

The song opens with the gaze of the one praying directed on high, "toward the mountains," namely, toward the hills where Jerusalem 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 the places where idolatrous shrines rise, the so-called high places, frequently 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 eyes 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 Lord, the maker of heaven and earth" (Psalm 120[121]:2).

2. This trust is illustrated in the Psalm with the images of the keeper and sentinel, who watch and protect. There is also an allusion to the foot that does not hesitate (see verse 3) on the path of life and perhaps of the shepherd who in his nocturnal rest watches over his flock 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 implies the resumption of the journey during a sunny day (see verse 5). It brings to mind the historical march in the Sinai desert, when the Lord went before Israel "in the daytime by means of a column of cloud to show them the way" (Exodus 13:21). In the Psalter, one frequently prays thus: "hide me in the shadow of your wings" (Psalm 16[17]:8; see Psalm 90[91]:1).

3. After the vigil and shade, there is the third symbol, that of the Lord who is at the "right hand" of his faithful one (see Psalm 120[121]:5). This is the position of the defender, both military as well as in a trial: It is the certainty of not being abandoned in the time of trial, of the assault of evil, of persecution. At this point, the Psalmist takes up again the idea of the journey during a hot day in which God protects us from the burning sun.

But night follows day. In antiquity it was thought that 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 6).

The Psalm comes to an end with a brief statement of trust: God will protect us with love in every instant, keeping our life from all evil (see verse 7). All our activity, summarized in the two extreme verbs of "going out" and "coming in," is always under the Lord's vigilant gaze, 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 trust 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, ecclesiastics 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 evil, he will keep your life." In this way, he wished to comfort all those who manifested their toils, the trials of life, the dangers, and the misfortunes.

On one occasion, when Barsanuphius was asked by a monk to pray for him and his companions, he answered including in his good wishes 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 of 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 from 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 the soul and body. Amen" (Barsanuphius and John of Gaza, Epistles, 194: "Collana de Testi Patristici" [Collection of Patristic Texts], XCIII, Rome, 1991, pp. 235-236).

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Commentary on Canticle of Revelation (15:3-4)   (May 11, 2005)

"Thanks to Fear of the Lord, There Is No Fear of Evil"

"Great and wonderful are your works, Lord God almighty. Just and true are your ways, O king of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, or glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All the nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed." (Revelation 15:3-4)

1. Brief and solemn, incisive and grandiose in its tonality, is the canticle which we now made ours, elevating it as a hymn of praise to the "Lord God Almighty" (Revelation 15:3). It is one of the many prayerful texts set in Revelation, book of judgment, salvation and, above all, hope.

History, in fact, is not alone in the hands of dark powers, chance or human choices. Over the unleashing of evil energies, the vehement irruption of Satan, and the emergence of so many scourges and evils, the Lord rises, supreme arbiter of historical events. He leads history wisely towards the dawn of the new heavens and the new earth, sung in the final part of the book under the image of the new Jerusalem (cf. Revelation 21-22).

Those who intone the canticle that we will now meditate are the righteous of history, the conquerors of the Satanic beast, those who go through the apparent defeat of martyrdom are, in reality, the builders of the new world, with God the supreme architect.

2. They begin by exalting the "great and wonderful" deeds and the "just and true" ways of the Lord (cf. Revelation 15:3). The language is that characteristic of the exodus of Israel from Egyptian slavery. Moses' first canticle -- pronounced after the passage of the Red Sea -- celebrates the Lord "terrible in renown, worker of wonders" (Exodus 15:11). The second canticle -- referred to in Deuteronomy at the end of the life of the great lawgiver -- confirms that "how faultless are his deeds, how right all his ways!" (Deuteronomy 32:4).

It must be reaffirmed, therefore, that God is not indifferent to human events, but penetrates them realizing his "ways," namely his plans and his efficacious "deeds."

3. According to our hymn, this divine intervention has a very specific purpose: to be a sign that invites all the peoples of the 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 perverse. There is the possibility to recognize divine action hidden in it. In the pastoral constitution "Gaudium et Spes," Vatican Council II also invites the believer to scrutinize, in the light of the Gospel, the signs of the times to see in them the manifestation of the very action of God (cf. n. 4 and 11). This attitude of faith leads man to recognize the power of God operating in history, and thus to open himself to fear of the name of the Lord. In biblical language, in fact, this "fear" does not coincide with dread, but is the recognition of the mystery of the divine transcendence. 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 in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (cf. Deuteronomy 10:12).

Following this line, in our brief hymn, taken from Revelation, 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 fear 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 procession of peoples who will appear before the Lord of history, revealed through his "righteous acts" (cf. Revelation 15:4). They will prostrate themselves in adoration. And the one Lord and savior seems to repeat to them the words pronounced on the last evening of his earthly life: "take courage, I have conquered the world" (John 16:33).

And we wish to conclude our brief reflection on the canticle of the victorious lamb (Revelation 15:3), intoned by the righteous of Revelation, with an ancient hymn of twilight, namely of the evening prayer, that St. Basil of Caesarea already knew: "Having reached sunset, in seeing the light of evening, let us sing to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit of God. You are worthy of being praised at all times with holy voices, Son of God, you who give life. Because of this the world glorifies you" (S. Pricoco and M. Simonetti, "La Preghiera dei Cristiani," (The Prayer of Christians), Milan, 2000, p. 97).

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