Pope Benedict XVI- Audiences
“Judaic Hymn of Thanksgiving”
December 7, 2005
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
1. Psalm 138, the hymn of thanksgiving that we have just heard,
attributed by the Judaic tradition to the patronage of David
although it probably came into being in a later epoch, opens with a
personal hymn by the person praying. He lifts up his voice in the
setting of the assembly in the temple or at least makes a reference
to the Shrine of Zion, the chair of the Lord's presence and the
place of his encounter with the people of the faithful.
Psalmist confesses that he will "adore before your holy temple" in
Jerusalem (cf. v. 2): there he sings before God, who is in heaven
with his court of angels but is also listening in the earthly space
of the temple (cf. v. 1). The person praying is sure that the "name"
of the Lord, that is, his personal reality, alive and active, and
his virtues of faithfulness and mercy, signs of the Covenant with
his people, are the support of all faithfulness and hope (cf. v. 2).
2. He then briefly
turns his gaze to the past, to the day of affliction: at that time
the divine voice answered the anguished cry of the believer. Indeed,
it instilled courage in the distressed soul (cf. v. 3). The original
Hebrew speaks literally of the Lord who "increased the strength of
soul" of the righteous one who is oppressed. It is as if an
impetuous wind had broken into it, sweeping away hesitations and
fears, instilling in it new, vital energy and making fortitude and
seemingly personal premise, the Psalmist broadens his gaze to the
world and imagines that his testimony takes in the whole horizon:
"all earth's kings", in a sort of universalistic adherence, join
with the Jewish person praying in a common song of praise to honour
the greatness and sovereign power of the Lord (cf. vv. 4-6).
3. The content of
this unanimous praise that rises from all people already shows the
future Church of the pagans, the future universal Church. The first
theme of this content is the "glory" and the "ways of the Lord" (cf.
v. 5), that is, his projects of salvation and revelation.
Thus, one discovers
that God is certainly "exalted" and transcendent, but he looks on
the "lowly" with affection while he turns his face away from the
proud as a sign of rejection and judgment (cf. v. 6).
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" (Is
chooses to take the side of the weak, victims, the lowliest: this
is made known to all kings so that they will know what their option
should be in the governing of nations.
Naturally, this is
not only said to kings and to all governments but also to all of us,
because we too must know what choice to make, what the option is:
to side with the humble and the lowliest, with the poor and the
4. After calling
into question national leaders worldwide, not only those of that
time but of all times, the person praying returns to his personal
prayer of praise (cf. Ps 138: 7-8). Turning his gaze to his
future life, he implores God for help also for the trials that
existence may still have in store for him. And we all pray like
this, with this prayerful person of that time.
He speaks in
concise terms of the "anger of the foes" (cf. v. 7), a sort of
symbol of all the hostilities that may spring up before the
righteous person on his way through history. But he knows, and with
him we also know, that the Lord will never abandon him and will
stretch out his hand to save and guide him.
The finale of the
Psalm, then, is a last passionate profession of trust in God whose
goodness is eternal: he will not "discard... the work of [his]
hands", in other words, his creature (v. 8). And we too must live in
this trust, in this certainty of God's goodness.
We must be sure
that however burdensome and tempestuous the trials that await us may
be, we will never be left on our own, we will never fall out of the
Lord's hands, those hands that created us and now sustain us on our
journey through life. As St Paul was to confess: "he who has begun
the good work in you will carry it through to completion" (Phil
5. Thus, we too
have prayed with a psalm of praise, thanksgiving and trust. Let us
continue to follow this thread of hymnodic praise through the
witness of a Christian hymn-writer, the great Ephrem the Syrian
(fourth century), the author of texts with an extraordinary poetic
and spiritual fragrance.
"However great may
be our wonder for you, O Lord, your glory exceeds what our tongues
can express", Ephrem sang in one hymn (Inni sulla Verginità,
7: L'Arpa dello Spirito, Rome, 1999, p. 66); and in
another: "Praise to you, to whom all things are easy, for you are
almighty" (Inni sulla Natività, 11: ibid., p. 48).
And this is a further reason for our trust: that God has the power
of mercy and uses his power for mercy. And lastly, a final quote:
"Praise to you from all who understand your truth" (Inni sulla
Fede, 14: ibid., p. 27).
I welcome the
English-speaking pilgrims here today from Australia, Canada,
England, Finland and the United States of America. A special
greeting to the newly-professed Missionaries of Charity, to the
English priests who are celebrating their 10th anniversary of
ordination and to the choir members from Veteli in Finland. I pray
that your visit to Rome will strengthen your faith and your love for
the Lord. May God bless you all.
Lastly, I address
my affectionate greeting to the young people, the sick
and the newly weds, recalling among the young people in
particular the students of the Don Bosco Institute in
Cinecittà and the group Cavalieri di Sobieski, born from the
apostolic zeal that the late Mons. Luigi Giussani passed on in the
education of youth. May the Bishop St Ambrose, whose Memorial we are
celebrating today, be an example to all of fidelity to Jesus, whom
we await in this season of Advent as the Saviour of humanity.
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