Pope Benedict XVI- Audiences
“If the Lord does not build the house”
H.H. Benedict XVI
Aug 31, 2005
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
1. Psalm 127, just proclaimed, places a motion picture before
our eyes: a house under construction, the city with its watchmen,
family life, night watches, daily work, the little and great secrets
However, a crucial presence towers over everything, the presence of
the Lord who watches over the works of man, as the incisive opening
of the Psalm suggests: "If the Lord does not build the house, in
vain do its builders labour" (v. 1).
Indeed, a sound society is born from the commitment of all its
members, but it needs the blessing and support of that God who,
unfortunately, is too often excluded or ignored.
The Book of Proverbs emphasizes the primacy of divine action for a
community's well-being and does so radically, asserting: "It is the
Lord's blessing that brings wealth, and no effort can substitute for
it" (Prv 10: 22).
2. This sapiential Psalm, fruit of meditation on the reality of
everyday life, is built mainly on a contrast: without the Lord, in
vain does one seek to construct a stable house, to build a secure
city, to bring our own efforts to fruition (cf. Ps 127:
With the Lord, instead, there is prosperity and fruitfulness, a
peaceful family richly endowed with children, a well-fortified and
protected city, free of constant worry and insecurity (cf. vv. 3-5).
The text opens with a reference to the Lord, portrayed as a builder
of houses and a watchman on guard over the city (cf. Ps
121: 1-8). Man goes out in the morning to toil at a job to
support the family and serve the development of society. It is work
that consumes his energy, making his brow sweat all day long (cf.
Ps 127: 2).
3. Well, the Psalmist, although he recognizes the importance of
work, does not hesitate to say that all this work is useless if God
is not beside the labourer. And he affirms that God even goes so far
as to reward his friends' sleep.
Thus, the Psalmist desires to exalt the primacy of divine grace that
impresses substance and value on human action, although it is marked
by limitations and transience.
In the serene and faithful abandonment of our freedom to the Lord,
our work also becomes solid, capable of bearing lasting fruit. Thus,
our "sleep" becomes rest blessed by God and destined to seal an
activity that has meaning and coherence.
4. At this point we move on to the other scene outlined in our
The Lord offers the gift of children, seen as a blessing and a
grace, a sign of life that continues and of the history of salvation
extending to new stages (cf. v. 3).
The Psalmist extols in particular "the sons of youth": the father
who has had sons in his youth will not only see them in their full
vigour, but they will be his support in old age. He will be able,
therefore, to face the future confidently, like a warrior, armed
with a quiver of those victorious pointed "arrows" that are his sons
(cf. vv. 4-5).
The purpose of this image, taken from the culture of the time, is to
celebrate the safety, stability and strength found in a large
family, such as is presented anew in the subsequent Psalm 128,
in which the portrait of a happy family is sketched.
The last picture shows a father surrounded by his sons, who is
welcomed with respect at the city gates, the seat of public life.
Begetting is thus a gift that brings life and well-being to society.
We are aware of this in our days in the face of nations that are
deprived, by the demographic loss, of the freshness and energy of a
future embodied by children.
However, the blessing of God's presence, the source of life and
hope, towers over it all.
5. Spiritual authors have often made use of Psalm 127 to exalt
this divine presence, crucial to advancing on the path of good and
of the Kingdom of God.
Thus, the monk Isaiah (who died in Gaza in 491), recalling
the example of the ancient patriarchs and prophets, taught in his
Asceticon (Logos 4, 118): "They placed themselves under
God's protection, imploring his assistance, without putting their
trust in some work they accomplished. And for them, God's protection
was a fortified city, because they knew that without God's help they
were powerless; and their humility made them say, with the Psalmist:
"If the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain does the watchman
keep vigil'" (Recueil Ascétique, Abbey of Bellefontaine 1976,
Thus, it is also
true today that only communion with the Lord can safeguard our
houses and our cities.
[To special groups:]
I offer my heartfelt greetings to all the English-speaking visitors
present at today's Audience, including pilgrims from Malawi,
Ireland, Malta, Australia and the United States of America. I extend
a special welcome to the altar servers who have come from Malta with
their families, to assist in St Peter's Basilica. May your
pilgrimage strengthen your faith and renew your love for the Lord,
and may God's Blessing be upon you all!
Lastly, my greeting goes to the young people, the sick
people and the newly-weds. I urge you, dear young
people, to place Jesus at the centre of your lives, and you will
be true witnesses of hope and peace. Dear sick people, accept
with faith the mystery of suffering, after the example of the One
who died on the Cross for the redemption of all human beings. And
you, dear newly-weds, draw from the Lord every day the
spiritual strength to make your love genuine, lasting and open to
Let us now conclude our meeting by singing the Pater Noster.
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