Pope Benedict XVI- Audiences
“To Fear the Lord”
H.H. Benedict XVI
June 8, 2005
Dear Brothers and
1. Today we feel a strong wind. The wind in Sacred Scripture is a
symbol of the Holy Spirit. We hope that the Holy Spirit will
illumine us now in our meditation on Psalm 111 that we have
In this Psalm we find a hymn of praise and thanksgiving for the many
benefits that describe God in his attributes and his work of
salvation: the Psalmist speaks of "compassion", "love", "justice",
"might", "truth", "uprightness", "standing firm", "covenant",
"works", "wonders", even "food" which God provides, and lastly his
glorious "name", that is, God himself.
Thus, prayer is contemplation of the mystery of God and the wonders
that he works in the history of salvation.
2. The Psalm begins with the verb "to thank" that not only wells up
from the heart of the person praying but also from the whole
liturgical assembly (cf. v. 1). The subject of this prayer, which
also includes the rite of thanksgiving, is expressed with the word
"works" (cf. vv. 2, 3, 6, 7). "Works" indicate the saving
interventions of the Lord, an expression of his "justice" (cf. v.
3), a word which, in biblical language, suggests in the very first
place the love from which salvation is born.
Therefore, the heart of the Psalm becomes a hymn to the covenant
(cf. vv. 4-9), that intimate bond which binds God to his people and
entails a series of attitudes and gestures. Thus, the Psalmist
speaks of "compassion and love" (cf. v. 4) in the wake of the great
proclamation on Sinai: "The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious
God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity" (Ex 34: 6).
"Compassion" is the divine grace that envelops and transfigures the
faithful, while "love" is expressed in the original Hebrew with the
use of a characteristic term that refers to the maternal "womb" of
the Lord, even more merciful than that of a mother (cf. Is 49: 15).
3. This bond of love includes the fundamental gift of food and
therefore of life (cf. Ps 111: 5), which the Christian
interpretation was to identify with the Eucharist, as St Jerome
says: "As food he gave the Bread come down from Heaven: if we are
worthy of it, let us eat it!" (Breviarium in Psalmos, 110:
PL XXVI, 1238-1239).
Then, there is the gift of land, "the lands of the nations" (Ps
111: 6), which alludes to the great event of the Exodus when
the Lord revealed himself as the God of liberation. The synthesis of
the central body of this hymn is therefore to be sought in the theme
of the special covenant between the Lord and his people, as stated
in the lapidary declaration in v. 9: "He has... established his
covenant for ever".
4. The end of Psalm 111 is sealed by contemplation of the
divine face, the Lord's very person, symbolized by his holy and
transcendent "name". Next, quoting a sapiential saying (cf. Prov 1:
7; 9: 10, 15: 33), the Psalmist invites every member of the faithful
to cultivate "fear of the Lord" (Ps 111: 10), the beginning of
true wisdom. It is not fear and terror that are suggested by this
word, but serious and sincere respect which is the fruit of love, a
genuine and active attachment to God the Liberator.
And if the very first word of the hymn is a word of thanksgiving,
the last word is a word of praise: just as the Lord's saving justice
"[stands] firm for ever" (v. 3), the gratitude of the praying person
knows no bounds and re-echoes in his ceaseless prayer (cf. v. 10).
To sum up, the Psalm invites us, lastly, to discover the many good
things that the Lord gives us every day. We more readily perceive
the negative aspects of our lives. The Psalm invites us also to see
the positive things, the many gifts we receive, and thus to discover
gratitude, for only in a grateful heart can the great liturgy of
gratitude be celebrated: the Eucharist.
5. At the end of our reflection, let us meditate with the ecclesial
tradition of the early centuries of Christianity on the final verse
with its celebrated declaration, which is reiterated elsewhere in
the Bible (cf. Prov 1: 7): "to fear the Lord is the first stage of
wisdom" (Ps 111: 10).
The Christian writer Barsanuphius of Gaza (active in the first half
of the sixth century) comments on this verse: "What is the first
stage of wisdom if not the avoidance of all that is hateful to God?
And how can one avoid it, other than by first asking for advice
before acting, or by saying nothing that should not be said, and in
addition, by considering oneself foolish, stupid, contemptible and
of no worth whatsoever?" (Epistolario, 234: Collana di
testi patristici, XCIII, Rome, 1991, pp. 265-266).
However, John Cassian (who lived between the fourth and fifth
centuries) preferred to explain that "there is a great difference
between love, which lacks nothing and is the treasure of wisdom and
knowledge, and imperfect love, called "the first stage of wisdom'.
The latter, which in itself contains the idea of punishment, is
excluded from the hearts of the perfect because they have reached
the fullness of love" (Conferenze ai monaci, 2, 11, 13:
Collana di testi patristici, CLVI, Rome, 2000, p. 29).
Thus, on the journey through life towards Christ, our initial
servile fear is replaced by perfect awe which is love, a gift of the
[To special groups:]
I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here
today, including groups from England, Scotland, Australia and the
United States of America. Thank you for the affection with which you
have greeted me. Upon all of you, I invoke the peace and joy of
Jesus Christ our Lord!
I also greet dear Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, Major Archbishop of Lviv
for Ukrainians, and the Greek Catholic Bishops who have accompanied
him. I wish them every desirable good.
Lastly, I address a special thought to the young people, the
sick people and to newly-weds.
Dear young people,
may the riches of the Heart of Christ and the tenderness of the
Heart of Mary always sustain you. May they help you, dear sick
people, to entrust yourselves with generous abandonment to the
hands of divine Providence; and may they encourage you, dear
newly-weds, to live your family union with patient understanding
and reciprocal dedication.
The Holy Father then led the prayer of the "Our Father" and imparted
the Apostolic Blessing.
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