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The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Archive for the ‘PAPAL COMMENTARY ON THE PSALMS’ Category

Pope Benedict XVI’s Commentary/Meditation on Psalm 131

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 3, 2012

“My heart is not proud’
Evening Prayer – Tuesday of Week Three

1. We have listened to only a few words, about 30 in the original Hebrew, of Psalm 131[130]. Yet they are intense words that convey a topic dear to all religious literature: spiritual childhood. Our thoughts turn spontaneously to St Thérèse 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” (Hos 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. Ps 131[130]: 1). This is an illustration of the proud person who is described by Hebrew words that suggest “pride” and “haughtiness”, the arrogant attitude of those who look down on others, considering them inferior.

The great temptation of the proud, who want to be like God, the arbiter of good and evil (cf. Gn 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” (Ps 131[130]: 2). Now, it is known that in the ancient Near East a special celebration marked the official weaning of a child, usually at about the age of 3 (cf. Gn 21: 8; I Sam 1: 20-23; II Mc 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” (Ps 131[130]: 3). In the entire people which receives security, life and peace from God, hope now blossoms and extends from the present to the future, “now and for ever”.

It is easy to continue the prayer by making other voices in the Psalms ring out, inspired by this same trust in God: “To you I was committed at birth, from my mother’s womb you are my God” (Ps 22[21]: 11). “Though my father and mother forsake me, yet will the Lord receive me” (Ps 27[26]: 10). “For you are my hope, O Lord; my trust, O God, from my youth. On you I depend from birth; from my mother’s womb you are my strength” (Ps 71[70]: 5-6).

5. Humble trust, as we have seen, is opposed by pride. John Cassian, a fourth-fifth century Christian writer, warned the faithful of the danger of this vice that “destroys all the virtues overall and does not only attack the tepid and the weak, but principally those who have forced their way to the top”.

He continues: “This is the reason why Blessed David preserved his heart with such great circumspection, to the point that he dared proclaim before the One whom none of the secrets of his conscience escaped: “Lord, may my heart not grow proud, nor my gaze be raised with haughtiness; let me not seek great things that are beyond my strength’…. Yet, knowing well how difficult such custody is even for those who are perfect, he does not presume to rely solely on his own abilities, but implores the Lord with prayers to help him succeed in avoiding the darts of the enemy and in not being injured by them: “Let not the foot of the proud overtake me’ (Ps 36[35]: 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 131[130]: “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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Pope John Paul II’s Commentary/Meditation on Psalm 116:1-9

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 11, 2012

“O Lord… deliver me!”

1. In Psalm 116 that has just been proclaimed, the voice of the Psalmist expresses gratitude and love for the Lord after he has granted his anguished plea:  “I love the Lord for he has heard the cry of my appeal; for he turned his ear to me in the day when I called him” (Ps 116:1-2). This declaration of love is immediately followed by a vivid description of the mortal dread that has gripped the man in prayer (cf. Ps 116:3-6).

The drama is portrayed through the symbols customarily used in the Psalms. The snares that enthral life are the snares of death, the ties that enmesh it are the coils of hell, which desire to entice the living of whom it can never have “enough” (cf. Prov 30:15-16).

2. The image is that of the prey which has fallen into the trap of a relentless hunter. Death is like a vice that tightens its grip (cf. Ps 116:3). Behind the praying person, therefore, lurked the risk of death, accompanied by an agonizing psychological experience:  “they caught me, sorrow and distress” (Ps 116:3). But from that tragic abyss the person praying cried out to the only One who can stretch out his hand and extricate him from that tangle:  “O Lord, my God, deliver me!” (Ps 116:4).

This is the short but intense prayer of a man who, finding himself in a desperate situation, clings to the one rock of salvation. Thus, in the Gospel, just as the disciples cried out during the storm (cf. Matt 8:25), so Peter cried to the Lord when, walking on the water, he began to sink (cf. Matt 14:30).

3. Having been saved, the person praying proclaims that the Lord “is gracious… and just”, indeed, he has “compassion” (Ps 116:5). In the original Hebrew, the latter adjective refers to the tenderness of a mother whose “depths” it evokes.

Genuine trust always perceives God as love, even if it is sometimes difficult to grasp the course of his action. It remains certain, however, that “the Lord protects the simple hearts” (Ps 116:6). Therefore, in wretchedness and abandonment, it is always possible to count on him, the “father of the fatherless and protector of widows” (Ps 68:6).

4. A dialogue of the Psalmist with his soul now begins and continues in the remainder of the Psalm. The Psalmist invites his soul to turn back, to rediscover restful peace after the nightmare of death (cf. Ps 116:7).

The Lord, called upon with faith, stretched out his hand, broke the cords that bound the praying person, dried his tears and saved him from a headlong fall into the abyss of hell ( Ps 116:8). Henceforth, the turning point is clear and the hymn ends with a scene of light:  the person praying returns to the “land of the living”, that is, to the highways of the world, to walk in the “presence of the Lord”. He joins in the community prayer in the temple, in anticipation of that communion with God which awaits him at the end of his life (cf. 116:9).

5. To conclude, let us re-examine the most important passages of the Psalm, letting ourselves be guided by Origen, a great Christian writer of the third century whose commentary in Greek on Ps 116 has been handed down to us in the Latin version of St Jerome.

In reading that “the Lord has turned his ear to me”, he remarks:  “We are little and low; we can neither stretch out nor lift ourselves up, so the Lord turns his ear to us and deigns to hear us. In the end, since we are men and cannot become gods, God became man and bowed down, as it has been written:  “He bowed the heavens, and came down’ (Ps 18:10)”.

Indeed, the Psalm continues, “the Lord protects the simple hearts” (Ps 116[114]: 6). “If someone is great and becomes haughty and proud, the Lord does not protect him; if someone thinks he is great, the Lord has no mercy on him; but if someone humbles himself, the Lord takes pity on him and protects him. Hence, it is said, “Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me’ (Is 8: 18). And further, “I was helpless so he saved me'”.

So it is that the one who is little and wretched can return to peace and rest, as the Psalm says (cf. Ps 116[114]: 7), and as Origen himself comments:  “When it says:  “Turn back, my soul, to your rest’, it is a sign that previously he did have repose but then he lost it…. God created us good, he made us arbiters of our own decisions and set us all in paradise with Adam. But since, through our own free choice, we pitched ourselves down from that bliss and ended in this vale of tears, the just man urges his soul to return to the place from which it fell…. “Turn back, my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has been good’. If you, my soul, return to paradise, it is not because you yourself deserve it, but because it is an act of God’s mercy. It was your fault if you left paradise; on the other hand, your return to it is a work of the Lord’s mercy. Let us also say to our souls:  “Turn back to your rest’. Our rest is in Christ, our God” (Omelie sul Libro dei Salmi, Milan, 1993, pp. 409, 412-413).

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Pope John Paul II’s Commentary/Meditation on Jeremiah 31:10-14 (The Canticle of Jeremiah)

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 4, 2012

1. “Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, proclaim it on the distant coasts” (Jer 31, 10). What is the good news that is to be announced with the solemn words of Jeremiah in the Canticle which we have just heard. It is consoling news, and it is no accident that the chapters that contain it (cf. 30-31) are called the “Book of Consolation”. The announcement refers directly to ancient Israel, but in some way it foreshadows the message of the Gospel.

Here is the heart of this announcement:  “The Lord will redeem Jacob, he shall redeem him from the hand of his conqueror” (Jer 31,11). The historical background of these words is found in a moment of hope experienced by the People of God, about a century after the Assyrians in 722 occupied the Northern part of the Holy Land. In the days of the prophet Jeremiah, the religious reform of King Josiah brought about a return of the people to the covenant with God and fostered the hope that the time of punishment was over. It fostered the further hope that the North might regain its freedom and that Israel and Judah might be reunited. All, even “the distant coasts” should be witnesses of this wonderful event:  God the Shepherd of Israel is about to intervene. He who allowed his people to be scattered, now comes to gather them together.

2. The invitation to rejoice is constructed with the aid of the profoundly moving images. It is an oracle which makes one dream! It delineates a future in which the exiles “will come and sing”, and will find not only the Temple of the Lord, but also every good thing:  wine, wheat, oil, the young of flocks and herds. The Bible does not know of an abstract spirituality. The promised joy does not just affect man’s inner being because the Lord takes care of human life in all its dimensions. Jesus himself highlights this, when he invites his disciples to trust in Providence even for their material needs (cf. Mt 6,25-34). Our Canticle insists on this point of view:  God wants to make the whole man happy. To convey how all embracing is the happiness, the prophet uses the image of the “watered garden” (Jer 31,12), images of freshness and fruitfulness. Mourning is turned into feasting, being satiated with choice portions (cf. v. 14) and abundant goods, so that it will come naturally for them to dance and sing. It will be an unlimited joy, the joy of the people.

3. We know from history that this dream has not yet come true. Certainly not because God has failed to keep his promise:  because of their infidelity. the people were to blame for this delusion.

The Book of Jeremiah undertakes to demonstrate it with the unfolding of the prophecy which becomes suffering and hardship, and gradually leads to some of the saddest phases of the history of Israel. Not only do the exiles of the North not return, but Judah itself will be occupied by Nabuchodonosor in 587 BC. Bitter days now begin when, on the shore of Babylon, the lyres were hung from the willows (cf. Ps 136,2). There was no desire to sing for the satisfaction of the jailers; no one can rejoice when he is uprooted by force from his own country, the land where God made his dwelling.

4. The Canticle’s invitation to rejoice does not lose its meaning. Indeed, the final reason for rejoicing on which it leans remains firm, and we find it in some very intense verses that precede the verses we use in the Liturgy of the Hours. One must keep the verses in mind while reading the expressions of joy in our canticle. The verses describe in vibrant terms the love of God for his people. They indicate an irrevocable covenant:  “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer 31,3). They sing the fatherly outburst of the God who calls Ephraim his first born and covers him with his tenderness:  “They shall go forth with weeping, I will lead them back with consolations; I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; because I am a father to Israel” (Jer 31,9). Although the promise could not then be fulfilled because of the children’s lack of correspondence, the Father’s love retains all its touching tenderness.

5. This love is the golden thread that brings together into unity the ups and downs of the history of Israel, its joys and sorrows, successes and failures. God’s love does not fail, and punishment is an expression of his love since it intends to teach and to save.

On the solid rock of this love, the invitation to joy of our Canticle evokes a future plan of God which, though delayed, will come sooner or later, despite all of human frailty. The future comes to fulfilment in the new covenant with the death and resurrection of Christ and the gift of the Spirit.

However, it will be totally fulfilled with the final return of the Lord at the end of time. Interpreted by the light of such certainty, the “dream” of Jeremiah continues to be a real historical opportunity, conditioned by faithfulness of human beings, and, above all, it refers to a final goal, guaranteed by the faithfulness of God and already begun by his love in Christ.

In reading the oracle of Jeremiah, we should let the Gospel resound in our hearts, the wonderful news proclaimed by Christ in the synagogue of Nazareth (cf. Lk 4,16-21). Christian life is called to be a true “Jubilation”, which only our sin can threaten. By making us pray these words of Jeremiah, the Liturgy of the Hours invites us to keep our life attached to Christ our Redeemer (cf. Jer 31,11) and in our personal and communal life to find in him the secret of true joy.


The Holy Father greeted the various groups of pilgrims in French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Hungarian, Czech, Slovak and Croatian. Returning to Italian, the Holy Father pointed out the bronze door for the Church of St Catherine in Bethlehem which he blessed after the audience. It was donated by the Diocese of Verona as a prayer for peace in the Holy Land. In the English greeting the Holy Father asked all to pray for peace and to be committed to building a world based on respect for the dignity of every human being and free of violence.

I extend a special greeting to the groups of young people from various countries present at this audience. I invite you all to pray for peace and to be committed to building a world without violence, founded on respect for the dignity of every human being. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors I invoke the blessings of which the Canticle of Jeremiah speaks. God be with you all!

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Pope John Paul II’s Commentary/Meditation on Jeremiah 31:10-14

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 21, 2012

Canticle of Jeremiah
(Jer 31,10-14) 

1. “Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, proclaim it on the distant coasts” (Jer 31:10). What is the good news that is to be announced with the solemn words of Jeremiah in the Canticle which we have just heard. It is consoling news, and it is no accident that the chapters that contain it (cf. 30-31) are called the “Book of Consolation”. The announcement refers directly to ancient Israel, but in some way it foreshadows the message of the Gospel.

Here is the heart of this announcement:  “The Lord will redeem Jacob, he shall redeem him from the hand of his conqueror” (Jer 31:11). The historical background of these words is found in a moment of hope experienced by the People of God, about a century after the Assyrians in 722 occupied the Northern part of the Holy Land. In the days of the prophet Jeremiah, the religious reform of King Josiah brought about a return of the people to the covenant with God and fostered the hope that the time of punishment was over. It fostered the further hope that the North might regain its freedom and that Israel and Judah might be reunited. All, even “the distant coasts” should be witnesses of this wonderful event:  God the Shepherd of Israel is about to intervene. He who allowed his people to be scattered, now comes to gather them together.

2. The invitation to rejoice is constructed with the aid of the profoundly moving images. It is an oracle which makes one dream! It delineates a future in which the exiles “will come and sing”, and will find not only the Temple of the Lord, but also every good thing:  wine, wheat, oil, the young of flocks and herds. The Bible does not know of an abstract spirituality. The promised joy does not just affect man’s inner being because the Lord takes care of human life in all its dimensions. Jesus himself highlights this, when he invites his disciples to trust in Providence even for their material needs (cf. Matt 6:25-34). Our Canticle insists on this point of view:  God wants to make the whole man happy. To convey how all embracing is the happiness, the prophet uses the image of the “watered garden” (Jer 31:12), images of freshness and fruitfulness. Mourning is turned into feasting, being satiated with choice portions (cf. v. 14) and abundant goods, so that it will come naturally for them to dance and sing. It will be an unlimited joy, the joy of the people.

3. We know from history that this dream has not yet come true. Certainly not because God has failed to keep his promise:  because of their infidelity. the people were to blame for this delusion.

The Book of Jeremiah undertakes to demonstrate it with the unfolding of the prophecy which becomes suffering and hardship, and gradually leads to some of the saddest phases of the history of Israel. Not only do the exiles of the North not return, but Judah itself will be occupied by Nabuchodonosor in 587 BC. Bitter days now begin when, on the shore of Babylon, the lyres were hung from the willows (cf. Ps 136:2). There was no desire to sing for the satisfaction of the jailers; no one can rejoice when he is uprooted by force from his own country, the land where God made his dwelling.

4. The Canticle’s invitation to rejoice does not lose its meaning. Indeed, the final reason for rejoicing on which it leans remains firm, and we find it in some very intense verses that precede the verses we use in the Liturgy of the Hours. One must keep the verses in mind while reading the expressions of joy in our canticle. The verses describe in vibrant terms the love of God for his people. They indicate an irrevocable covenant:  “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer 31:3). They sing the fatherly outburst of the God who calls Ephraim his first born and covers him with his tenderness:  “They shall go forth with weeping, I will lead them back with consolations; I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; because I am a father to Israel” (Jer 31:9). Although the promise could not then be fulfilled because of the children’s lack of correspondence, the Father’s love retains all its touching tenderness.

5. This love is the golden thread that brings together into unity the ups and downs of the history of Israel, its joys and sorrows, successes and failures. God’s love does not fail, and punishment is an expression of his love since it intends to teach and to save.

On the solid rock of this love, the invitation to joy of our Canticle evokes a future plan of God which, though delayed, will come sooner or later, despite all of human frailty. The future comes to fulfilment in the new covenant with the death and resurrection of Christ and the gift of the Spirit.

However, it will be totally fulfilled with the final return of the Lord at the end of time. Interpreted by the light of such certainty, the “dream” of Jeremiah continues to be a real historical opportunity, conditioned by faithfulness of human beings, and, above all, it refers to a final goal, guaranteed by the faithfulness of God and already begun by his love in Christ.

In reading the oracle of Jeremiah, we should let the Gospel resound in our hearts, the wonderful news proclaimed by Christ in the synagogue of Nazareth (cf. Luke 4:16-21). Christian life is called to be a true “Jubilation”, which only our sin can threaten. By making us pray these words of Jeremiah, the Liturgy of the Hours invites us to keep our life attached to Christ our Redeemer (cf. Jer 31:11) and in our personal and communal life to find in him the secret of true joy.

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Pope John Paul II’s Commentary/Meditation on Isaiah 38:10-14, 17-20

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 14, 2012

Canticle of thanksgiving after nightmare of illness
Canticle of King Hezekiah in Isaiah, chapter 38.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. In the various canticles that it combines with the Psalms, the Liturgy of the Hours offers us a hymn of thanksgiving with the title:  “The Canticle of Hezekiah, King of Judah, after he had been sick and recovered from his sickness” (Is 38,9). It is found in a section of the book of the prophet Isaiah that is given to historical narratives (cf. Is 36-39), whose histories repeat, with few variants, those presented in the Second Book of Kings (cf. chapters 18-20).

Following the liturgy of Lauds, today we have heard and used for our prayer two strophes of the Canticle that describe the two typical movements of the prayer of thanksgiving:  first, one evokes the nightmare of suffering from which the Lord has freed his faithful one, and second, one joyfully sings in thanksgiving for the recovery of life and salvation.

King Hezekiah, a just ruler and friend of the prophet Isaiah, was struck down by a serious illness, that the prophet Isaiah said to be mortal (Is 38,1). “Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, and said “Remember Lord I beseech you, how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight’. Hezekiah wept bitterly. Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah:  “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father:  I have heard your prayer and have seen your tears; behold I will add fifteen years to your life!’ “(Is 38,2-5).

2. At this point the canticle of thanksgiving bursts from the heart of the king. As I said earlier, he first looks to the past. According to the ancient conception of Israel, death introduced one into a subterranean existence, in Hebrew Sheol, where light was put out, life faded away and became almost ghostlike, time came to a halt, hope was extinguished, and above all there was no longer any possibility of calling upon God and meeting him in worship.

This is why Hezekiah recalled first of all the words full of bitterness that he spoke when his life was sliding towards the frontier of death:  “I shall not see the Lord in the land of the living” (v. 11). The Psalmist also prayed this way on the day of his sickness:  “No one among the dead remembers you, O Lord. Who sings your praises in Sheol?” (Ps 6,6). Instead, freed from the danger of death, Hezekiah could confirm forcefully and joyfully:  “The living, the living, give you thanks as I do this day” (Is 38,19).

3. On this subject, the Canticle of Hezekiah takes a new tone, if read in the light of Easter. Already in the Old Testament, great flashes of light were reflected in the psalms, when the one praying proclaimed his certainty that “you will not abandon me to Sheol, nor let your faithful one see corruption. You will show me the path of life, fullness of joy in your presence, at your right hand rejoicing without end” (Ps 15[16], 10-11; cf. Ps 48[49] and 72[73]). For his part, the author of the Book of Wisdom no longer hesitates to affirm that the hope of the righteous is “full of immortality” (Wis 3,4), because he is convinced that the experience of communion with God lived during the earthly life will not be broken. We will remain always beyond death, sustained and protected by the eternal and infinite God, because the “souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them” (Wis 3,1).

Above all, with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, a seed of eternity was planted and made grow in our mortal perishability, which is why we can repeat the words of the Apostle, based on the Old Testament:  “And when that which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and that which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about:  “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, o death, is your victory? Where, o death, is your sting?’ ” (I Cor 15,54-55; cf. Is 25,8; Hos 13,14).

4. However, the canticle of King Hezekiah also invites us to reflect on the fragility of the creature. The images are thought-provoking. Human life is described with the nomadic symbol of the tent:  We are always pilgrims and guests on earth. It also refers to images of cloth, that is woven and can remain incomplete when the thread is cut and the work is interrupted (cf. Is 38,12). The Psalmist feels the same sensation:  “You have given my days a very short span; my life is as nothing before you. All mortals are but a breath. Mere shadows, we go our way; mere vapour our restless pursuits” (Ps 38[39],6-7). We should recover an awareness of our limitations, knowing that “seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty, if we are strong; most of them are sorrow or toil; they pass quickly, we are all but gone”, as the Psalmist says again (Ps 89 [90],10).

5. Therefore, in the day of sickness and suffering, it is right to raise one’s lament to God, as Hezekiah teaches us; using poetic images, he describes his weeping as the chirping of a swallow and the moaning of a dove (cf. Is 38,124). And, even if he doesn’t hesitate to admit that he feels that God is an adversary, almost like a lion that breaks all his bones (cf. v. 13), he does not cease to invoke him:  “O Lord, I am in straits; be my surety!” (v. 14).

The Lord is not indifferent to the tears of the one who suffers, and he responds, consoles and saves, although not always in ways that coincide with what we expect. It is what Hezekiah confesses at the end, encouraging all to hope, to pray, to have confidence, with the certainty that God will not abandon his creatures:  “The Lord is our saviour; we shall sing to stringed instruments in the house of the Lord all the days of our life” (v. 20).

6. The medieval Latin tradition conserves a spiritual commentary on the canticle of King Hezekiah by one of the most important mystics of Western monasticism, St Bernard of Clairvaux. It is the third of his Various Sermons. In it, Bernard, applying to the life of each one the drama lived by the ruler of Judah, and internalizing his experience, writes:  “I will bless the Lord at all times, namely from morning until evening, as I have learned to do, and not like those who only praise you when you do good to them, nor like those who believe for a certain time, but in the hour of temptation give way; but with the saints I will say:  If we received good things from the hand of God, should we not also accept evil things? … Thus both these moments of the day will be a time of service to God, because at night there will be weeping, and in the morning, joy. I will submerge myself in suffering at night so that I can then enjoy the happiness of the morning” (Scriptorium Claravallense, Sermo III, n. 6, Milan 2000, pp. 59-60).

Thus, St Bernard reads the prayer of the king as representing the prayerful song of the Christian should have the same constancy and serenity in the darkness of the night and of trial, and in the light of day and of joy.

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Pope John Paul II’s Commentary/Meditation on Psalm 48

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 23, 2012

The numbering  of the Psalms differs between various bibles, a fact reflected in both the Hebrew and Greek texts. A reference such as this (Ps 48:3~47:3) indicates a citation from Psalm 48, verse 3 as found in most modern bibles, corresponding with what is designated as Psalm 47, verse 3 in some older versions. Reference links are to the New Revised Standard Version.

O God we ponder your love within your temple

1. The Psalm just proclaimed is a canticle in honour of Zion, “the city of the great King” (Ps 48:3~47:3), at the time, the seat of the temple of the Lord and the place of his presence in the midst of humanity. Christian faith now applies it to “Jerusalem above” which is “our mother” (Gal 4:26).

The liturgical tone of this hymn, which evokes a festive procession (cf. vv. 13-14), the peaceful vision of Jerusalem that reflects divine salvation, renders Psalm 48 (47) a prayer that we can use to begin the day, offering a canticle of praise, even if clouds form on the horizon.

To appreciate the meaning of the Psalm, three helpful acclamations are placed at the beginning, the middle and the end, almost as though offering the spiritual key of the composition and introducing us to its interior atmosphere. The three invocations are:  “The Lord is great and worthy to be praised in the city of our God” (v. 2); “O God we ponder your love within your temple” (v. 10); “Such is our God, our God forever and always, it is he who leads us” (v. 15).

2. These three acclamations, which exalt the Lord but also “the city of our God” (v. 2), frame two great parts of the Psalm. The first is a joyful celebration of the holy city, Zion, victorious against the assaults of her enemies, serene under the mantle of divine protection (cf. vv. 3-8). There is a virtual litany of definitions of this city:  it is a wonderful height that is set up as a beacon of light, a source of joy for the peoples of the earth, the only true “Olympus” where heaven and earth meet. It is – to use the expression of the prophet Ezekiel – the Emmanuel-city because “the Lord is there”, present in it (cf. Ezekiel 48:35). But besieging troops are massed around Jerusalem for an assault, it is a symbol of the evil that attacks the splendour of the city of God. The clash has an immediate and foreseen outcome.

3. Indeed, the powerful of the earth, by assaulting the holy city, also provoked its king, the Lord. The Psalmist shows the dissolution of the pride of a powerful army with the thought-provoking image of the pains of childbirth:  “A trembling seized them there like the pangs of birth” (v. 7). Arrogance is transformed into feebleness and weakness, power into collapse and rout.

Another image expresses the same idea:  the routed army is compared to an invincible naval fleet, on which a typhoon is unleashed caused by a violent East wind (cf. v. 8). What remains is an unshaken certainty for the one who stands within the shadow of divine protection:  the last word is not in the hands of evil, but of good; God triumphs over hostile powers, even when they seem great and invincible.

4. The faithful one celebrates his thanksgiving to God the deliverer in the temple itself. His is a hymn to the merciful love of the Lord, expressed with the Hebrew word hésed, typical of the theology of the covenant. We come now to the second part of the psalm (cf. vv. 10-14). After the great canticle of praise to the faithful, just and saving God (cf. vv. 10-12), there is a sort of procession around the temple and the holy city (cf. vv. 13-14). The towers of the sure protection of God, are counted, the ramparts are observed, expressions of the stability offered to Zion by its Founder. The walls of Jerusalem speak and its stones recall the deeds which must be transmitted “to the next generation” (v. 14) through the stories that fathers will tell their children (cf. Ps 78:3-7~77:3-7).

Zion is the place of an uninterrupted chain of saving actions of the Lord, that are announced in the catechesis and celebrated in the liturgy, so that believers will continue to hope in God who intervenes to set them free.

5. In the concluding antiphon there is one of the most beautiful definitions of the Lord as shepherd of his people:  “It is he who leads us” (v. 15). The God of Zion is the God of the Exodus, of freedom, of closeness to the people enslaved in Egypt and pilgrims in the desert. Now that Israel is settled in the promised land, she knows that the Lord will not abandon her:  Jerusalem is the sign of his closeness and the temple is the place of his presence.

As he rereads these expressions, the Christian moves to the contemplation of Christ, the new and living temple of God (cf. John 2:21), and he turns to the heavenly Jerusalem, which no longer needs a temple or an external light, because “its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb…. the glory of God is its light and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev 21:2-23). St Augustine invites us to this “spiritual” rereading because he was convinced that in the Books of the Bible “there is nothing that only concerns the earthly city, because all that is said about it refers to her, or what is realized by her, symbolizes something that by allegory can also be referred to the heavenly Jerusalem” (City of God, XVII, 3,2). St Paulinus of Nola echoes him, because commenting on the words of the Psalm he exhorts us to pray so that “we can be found to be living stones in the walls of the heavenly and free Jerusalem” (Letter 28,2 to Severus). Contemplating the solidity and compactness of this city, the same Father of the Church continues:  “In fact, he who dwells in this city, is revealed to be One in three persons…. Christ is not only the foundation of the city but also its tower and door…. If the house of our soul is founded on Him and a construction rises on Him worthy of such a great foundation, then the door of admission into the city will be precisely him who will lead us forever and will take us to the place of his pasture” (ibid.). source.

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Pope Benedict XVI’s Commentary/Meditation on Psalm 123

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 3, 2012

BENEDICT XVI
GENERAL AUDIENCE

Wednesday, 15 June 2005

 Psalm 123[122]
“Have mercy on us!’
Evening Prayer – Monday of Week Three

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Unfortunately, you have suffered under the rain. Let us hope that the weather will now improve.

1. Jesus very vigorously affirms in the Gospel that the eyes are an expressive symbol of the innermost self, a mirror of the soul (cf. Mt 6: 22-23). Well, Psalm 123[122], which has just been proclaimed, is the focal point of an exchange of glances: the faithful person lifts his eyes to the Lord, awaiting a divine reaction, ready to glimpse a gesture of love or a look of kindness. We too, as it were, raise our eyes and await a gesture of benevolence from the Lord.

The gaze of the Most High who “looks down on the sons of men to see if any are wise, if any seek God” (Ps 14[13]: 2), is often mentioned in the Psalter. The Psalmist, as we have heard, uses an image, that of the servant and slave who look to their master, waiting for him to make a decision that will set them free.

Even if this scene is connected with the ancient world and its social structures, the idea is clear and full of meaning: the image taken from the world of the ancient East is intended to exalt the attachment of the poor, the hope of the oppressed and the availability of the just to the Lord.

2. The person of prayer is waiting for the divine hands to move because they will act justly and destroy evil. This is why, in the Psalter, the one praying raises his hope-filled eyes to the Lord. “My eyes are always on the Lord; for he rescues my feet from the snare” (Ps 25[24]: 15), while “My eyes are wasted away from looking for my God” (Ps 69[68]: 4).

Psalm 123[122] is an entreaty in which the voice of one of the faithful joins that of the whole community: indeed, the Psalm passes from the first person singular, “I lifted up my eyes”, to the first person plural, “our eyes” and “show us his mercy” (cf. vv. 1-3). The Psalmist expresses the hope that the Lord will open his hands to lavish his gifts of justice and freedom upon us. The just person waits for God’s gaze to reveal itself in all its tenderness and goodness, as one reads in the ancient priestly blessing from the Book of Numbers: “The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you: the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace!” (Nm 6: 25-26).

3. The great importance of God’s loving gaze is revealed in the second part of the Psalm which features the invocation: “Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy” (Ps 123[122]: 3), that comes in continuity with the finale of the first part in which trusting expectation is reaffirmed, “till [the Lord our God] show us his mercy” (cf. v. 2).

The faithful are in need of God’s intervention because they are in a painful plight, suffering the contempt and disdain of overbearing people. The image the Psalmist uses here is that of satiety: “We are filled with contempt. Indeed, all too full is our soul with the scorn of the rich, with the proud man’s disdain” (vv. 3-4).

The traditional biblical fullness of food and years, considered a sign of divine blessing, is now countered by an intolerable satiety composed of an excessive load of humiliations. And we know today that many nations, many individuals, are truly burdened with derision, with the contempt of the rich and the disdain of the proud. Let us pray for them and let us help these humiliated brethren of ours.

Thus, the righteous have entrusted their cause to the Lord; he is not indifferent to their beseeching eyes nor does he ignore their plea – and ours – or disappoint their hope.

4. To conclude, let us make room for the voice of St Ambrose, the great Archbishop of Milan who, in the Psalmist’s spirit, gives poetical rhythm to the work of God that reaches us through Jesus the Saviour: “Christ is everything for us. If you wish to cure a wound, he is doctor; if you burn with fever, he is fountain; if you are oppressed by iniquity, he is justice; if you are in need of help, he is strength; if you fear death, he is life; if you desire heaven, he is the way; if you flee from darkness, he is light; if you seek food, he is nourishment” (La verginità, 99: SAEMO, XIV/2, Milan-Rome, 1989, p. 81). (source)

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Pope John Paul II’s Commentary/Meditation on Psalm 11

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 20, 2012

A prayer of trust to the Lord
who is not indifferent to right and wrong

1. We continue our reflection on the Psalms, which comprise the essential element of the Liturgy of Vespers. We have just made ring out in our hearts Psalm 11[10], a brief prayer of trust that, in the original Hebrew, is studded with the holy name ‘Adonaj, the Lord. This name echoes at the beginning (cf. v. 1), is found three times at the heart of the Psalm (cf. vv. 4-5), and returns at the end (cf. v. 7).

The spiritual key of the entire psalm is well-expressed in the concluding verse:  “For the Lord is just, he loves just deeds”. This is the root of all trust and the source of all hope on the day of darkness and trial. God is not indifferent to right and wrong:  he is a good God and not a dark, incomprehensible, mysterious destiny.

2. The psalm unfolds substantially in two scenes: in the first (cf. vv. 1-3), the wicked man is described in his apparent victory. He is portrayed in the guise of a warrior or hunter:  the evildoer bends his long or hunter’s bow to violently strike his victim, that is, the just one (cf. v. 2). The latter, therefore, is tempted by the thought of escape to free himself from such a merciless fate. He would rather flee “to the mountain like a bird” (v. 1), far from the vortex of evil, from the onslaught of the wicked, from the slanderous darts launched by treacherous sinners.

There is a kind of discouragement in the faithful one who feels alone and powerless before the irruption of evil. The pillars of a just social order seem shaken, and the very foundations of human society undermined (cf. v. 3).

3. Now, the turning point comes in sight, outlined in the second scene (cf. vv. 4-7). The Lord, seated on the heavenly throne, takes in the entire human horizon with his penetrating gaze. From that transcendent vantage point, sign of the divine omniscience and omnipotence, God is able to search out and examine every person, distinguishing the righteous from the wicked and forcefully condemning injustice (cf. vv. 4-5).

The image of the divine eye whose pupil is fixed and attentive to our actions is very evocative and consoling. The Lord is not a distant king, closed in his gilded world, but rather is a watchful Presence who sides with goodness and justice. He sees and provides, intervening by word and action.

The righteous person foresees that, as happened in Sodom (cf. Gn 19: 24), the Lord makes “rain upon the wicked fiery coals and brimstone” (Ps 11[10]: 6), symbols of God’s justice that purifies history, condemning evil. The wicked man, struck by this burning rain – a prefiguration of his final destiny – finally experiences that “there is a God who is judge on earth!” (Ps 58[57]: 12).

4. The Psalm, however, does not end with this tragic image of punishment and condemnation. The final verse opens onto a horizon of light and peace intended for the righteous one who contemplates his Lord, a just Judge, but especially a merciful liberator:  “the upright shall see his face” (Ps 11[10]: 7). This is an experience of joyful communion and of serene trust in God who frees from evil.

Down through history, countless righteous people have had a similar experience. Many stories tell of the trust of Christian martyrs during torment and their steadfastness that kept them firm in trial.

In the Atti de Euplo, the deacon martyr from Sicily who died around 304 A.D. under the rule of Diocletian spontaneously exclaims in this sequence of prayers:  “Thank you, O Christ:  shield me as I suffer for you…. I adore the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. I adore the Holy Trinity…. Thank you, O Christ. Come to my aid, O Christ! For you I suffer, Christ…. Great is your glory, O Lord, in the servants whom you count worthy to call to yourself!… I thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, because your strength has comforted me; you have not permitted my soul to be lost with the evildoers and you have given me the grace of your name. Now confirm what you have done in me, so that the shameless enemy is put to confusion” (cf. A. Hamman, Preghiere dei Primi Cristiani, Milan, 1955, pp. 72-73). [source]

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Pope John Paul II’s Commentary/Meditation on Psalm 47 (46)

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 12, 2012

In the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate this is Psalm number 46. In most modern bibles it is identified as Psalm 47.

PRAISE THE LORD, KING OF ALL THE EARTH

1. “The Lord, the most high, is a great King over all the earth!”. This initial acclamation is repeated in different tones in Psalm 46 (47), which we just prayed. It is designed as a hymn to the sovereign Lord of the universe and of history:  “God is king over all the earth … God rules over all nations” (vv. 8-9).

Like other similar compositions in the Psalter (cf. Ps 92; 95-98), this hymn to the Lord, the king of the world and of mankind presumes an atmosphere of liturgical celebration. For that reason, we are at the heart of the spiritual praise of Israel, which rises to heaven from the Temple, the place where the infinite and eternal God reveals himself and meets his people.

2. We will follow this canticle of joyful praise in its fundamental moments like two waves of the sea coming toward the shore. They differ in the way they consider the relationship between Israel and the nations. In the first part of the psalm, the relationship is one of domination:  God “has subdued the peoples under us, he has put the nations under our feet” (v. 4); in the second part, instead, the relationship is one of association:  “the princes of the peoples are gathered with the people of the God of Abraham” (v. 10). One can notice great progress.

In the first part (cf. vv. 2-6) it says, “All you peoples clap your hands, shout to God with joyful cries!” (v. 2). The centre of this festive applause is the grandiose figure of the supreme Lord, to whom the psalm attributes three glorious titles:  “most high, great and terrible” (v. 3). They exalt the divine transcendence, the absolute primacy of being, omnipotence. The Risen Christ will also exclaim:  “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mt 28,18).

3. In the universal lordship of God over all the peoples of the earth (cf. v. 4) the psalmist stresses his particular presence in Israel, the people of divine election, “the favourite”, the most precious and dear inheritance (cf. v. 5). Israel is the object of a particular love of God which is manifested with the victory over hostile nations. During the battle, the presence of the Ark of the Covenant with the troops of Israel assured them of God’s help; after the victory, the Ark was returned to Mount Zion (cf. Ps 67 [68],19) and all proclaimed, “God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy, the Lord amid trumpet blasts” (Ps 46 [47],6).

4. The second part of the Psalm (cf. vv. 7-10) opens with another wave of praise and festive chant:  “Sing praise to God, sing praise; sing praise to our king, sing praises … sing hymns of praise!” (vv. 7-8). Even now one sings to the Lord seated on his throne in the fullness of his sovereignty (cf. v. 9). The royal seat is defined as “holy”, because it is unapproachable by the finite and sinful human being. But the Ark of the Covenant present in the most sacred part of the Temple of Zion is also a heavenly throne. In this way the distant and transcendent God, holy and infinite, draws near to his creatures, adapting himself to space and time (cf. I Kgs 8,27.30).

5. The psalm finishes on a surprising note of universalist openness:  “the princes of the peoples are gathered with the people of the God of Abraham” (v. 10). One goes back to Abraham the patriarch who is at the root, not only of Israel but also of other nations. To the chosen people who are his descendents, is entrusted the mission of making converge towards the Lord all nations and all cultures, because he is the God of all mankind. From East to West they will gather on Zion to meet the king of peace and love, of unity and brotherhood (cf. Mt 8,11). As the prophet Isaiah hoped, the peoples who are hostile to one another, will receive the invitation to lay down their arms and to live together under the divine sovereignty, under a government of justice and peace (Is 2,2-5). The eyes of all are fixed on the new Jerusalem where the Lord “ascends” to be revealed in the glory of his divinity. It will be “an immense multitude, which no one can count, from every nation, race, people and tongue … they (all) cried out with a loud voice:  Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on his throne and to the Lamb” (Apoc 7,9.10).

6. The Letter to the Ephesians sees the realization of this prophecy in the mystery of Christ the Redeemer when it affirms, addressing Christians who did not come from Judaism:  “Remember, that one time you pagans by birth,… were without Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, extraneous to the covenant of the promise, without hope and without God in this world. Now instead, in Christ Jesus, you who were once far off have been brought near thanks to the blood of Christ. In fact, he is our peace, he who made of the two one people, destroying the dividing wall of enmity” (Eph 2,1-14).

In Christ then, the kingship of God, sung by our psalm, is realized on earth in the meeting of all people. This is the way an anonymous 8th century homily commented on this mystery:  “Until the coming of the Messiah, hope of the nations, the Gentiles did not adore God and did not know who he is. Until the Messiah redeemed them, God did not reign over the nations through their obedience and their worship. Now instead, with his Word and his Spirit, God reigns over them because he saved them from deception and made them his friends” (Anonymous Palestinian, Arab-Christian Homily of the Eighth Century, Rome 1994, p. 100).

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Pope John Paul II’s Commentary/Meditation on Psalm 148

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 12, 2012

PRAISE TO HIM WHO SITS UPON THE THRONE

1. Psalm 148 that we have just lifted up to God is a true “canticle of creatures”, a kind of Old Testament Te Deum, a cosmic “alleluia” that involves everyone and everything in divine praise.

This is how a contemporary exegete has commented on it:  “The Psalmist, calling them by name, puts beings in order. Above are the heavens with two heavenly bodies, that move according to time, and then the stars; on the one side are the fruit-trees and on the other the cedars; on one level the reptiles, on the other birds; here the princes, over there the people; in two lines, perhaps holding hands, young men and maidens …. God has established them, giving them their place and role; the human being accepts them, giving them their place in language, and arranged in this way, introduces them into the liturgical celebration. Man is the “shepherd of being’ or the liturgist of creation” (L. Alonso Schökel, Trenta salmi:  poesia e preghiera [Thirty Psalms, Poetry and Prayer], Bologna, 1982, p. 499).

Let us too follow this universal chorus that echoes in the apse of heaven and whose temple is the whole cosmos. Let us join in the breathing forth of the praise that all creatures raise to their Creator.

2. We find in the heavens the singers of the starry universe:  the remotest heavenly bodies, the choirs of angels, the sun and moon, the shining stars, the “highest heavens” (v. 4), that is, the starry space and the waters above the heavens, which the man of the Bible imagines were stored in reservoirs before falling on the earth as rain.

The “alleluia”, that is, the invitation to “praise the Lord”, resounds at least eight times, and has as its final goal the order and harmony of the heavenly bodies:  “He fixed their bounds which cannot be passed” (v. 6).

We then lift our eyes to the earthly horizon where a procession of at least 22 singers unfolds:  a sort of alphabet of praise whose letters are strewn over our planet. Here are the sea monsters and the depths of the sea, symbols of the watery chaos on which the earth is founded (cf. Ps 23[24],2), according to the ancient Semite conception of the cosmos.

St Basil, a Father of the Church observed:  “Not even the deep was judged as contemptible by the Psalmist, who included them in the general chorus of creation, and what is more, with its own language completes the harmonious hymn to the Creator” (Homiliae in hexaemeron, III 9:  PG 29,75).

3. The procession continues with the creatures of the atmosphere:  the flash of lightening, hail, snow, frost and stormy winds, thought to be a swift messenger of God (Ps 148,8).

Then the mountains and hills appear, popularly held to be the most ancient creatures (cf. v. 9a). The vegetable kingdom is represented by the fruit-trees and cedars (cf. v. 9b). The animal kingdom is represented by the beasts, cattle, reptiles and flying birds (cf. v. 10).

Finally, the human being, who presides over the liturgy of creation, is represented according to all ages and distinctions:  boys, youth and the old, princes, kings and nations (cf. vv. 11-12).

4. Let us now entrust to St John Chrysostom the task of casting a comprehensive look upon this immense chorus. He does so in words that refer also to the Canticle of the three young men in the fiery furnace, which we meditated upon in the last catechesis.

The great Father of the Church and Patriarch of Constantinople says:  “Because of their great rectitude of spirit, when the saints gather to thank God, they used to invite many to join with them in singing his praise, urging them to take part with them in this beautiful liturgy. This is what the three young men in the furnace also did, when they called the whole of creation to praise and sing hymns to God for the benefit received” (Dn 3).

This Psalm does the same calling both parts of the world, that which is above and that which is below, the sentient and the intelligent. The Prophet Isaiah also did this, when he said: “Sing for joy, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth! … for the Lord has comforted his people and shows mercy to his afflicted” (Is 49,13). The Psalter goes on:  “When Israel went forth from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language … the mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs” (Ps 113[114],1,4); and elsewhere in Isaiah, “Let the heavens rain down justice like dew from above” (Is 45,8). Indeed, considering themselves inadequate on their own to sing praise to the Lord, the saints “turn to all sides involving all things in singing a common hymn” (Expositio in psalmum CXLVIII:  PG 55, 484-485).

5. We are also invited to join this immense choir, becoming the explicit voice of every creature and praising God in the two fundamental dimensions of his mystery. On the one hand, we must adore his transcendent greatness, “for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven” as our Psalm says (v. 13). On the other hand, we should recognize his goodness in coming down to us because God is close to his creatures and comes especially to help his people:  “He has raised up a horn for his people … for the people of Israel who are near to him” (v. 14), as the Psalmist re-affirms.

Before the almighty and merciful Creator, let us take up St Augustine’s invitation to praise him, exalt him and celebrate him in his works:  “When you observe these creatures and enjoy them and rise up to the Architect of all things and of created things, when you contemplate his invisible attributes intellectually, then a confession rises on earth and in heaven…. If creation is beautiful, how much more beautiful must its Creator be?” (Esposizioni sui Salmi [Expositions on the Psalms], IV, Rome, 1977, pp. 887-889).

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