Pope Benedict XVI- Audiences
May 4, 2005
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. As I announced last Wednesday, in our Catecheses I have decided
to continue the commentary on the Psalms and Canticles of Vespers,
using the texts prepared by my beloved Predecessor, Pope John Paul
Let us begin today with Psalm 121. The Psalm is one of the
"songs of ascents" that accompanied the pilgrimage to the
encounter with the Lord in the Temple of Zion. It is a Psalm of
trust, for the Hebrew verb shamar, "to safeguard, to
protect", is repeated in it six times. God, whose name is frequently
invoked, emerges as the ever vigilant, attentive and concerned
"guardian", the "sentinel" who keeps watch over his people to
protect them from every hazard and danger.
The song begins with the Psalmist raising his eyes "to the
mountains", that is, to the hills crowned by Jerusalem: from up
there comes help, for there, in his temple, the Lord dwells (cf. vv.
However, the word "mountains" can also conjure up images of
idolatrous shrines in the so-called "high places", which are
frequently condemned in the Old Testament (cf. I Kgs 3: 2; II Kgs
18: 4). In this case, there would have been a contrast: while the
pilgrim was advancing towards Zion, his eyes would have lit on pagan
temples that were a great temptation to him. But his faith was
steadfast and he was certain of one thing alone: "My help shall come
from the Lord, who made heaven and earth" (Ps 121: 2).
There are also similar things in our pilgrimage through life. We see
the high places that spread out before us as a promise of life:
wealth, power, prestige, the easy life. These high places are
temptations, for they truly seem like the promise of life. But with
our faith we realize that this is not true and that these high
places are not life. True life, true help, comes from the Lord. And
we turn our gaze, therefore, to the true high places, to the true
2. This trust is illustrated in the Psalm through the image of the
guardian and sentinel, who watch and protect. There is also an
allusion to the foot that does not stumble (cf. v. 3) on the way
through life, and perhaps to the shepherd who, stopping for the
night, watches over his flock without falling asleep or dozing (cf.
v. 4). The divine Pastor knows no rest in the task of caring for his
people, for all of us.
Another symbol is then introduced into the Psalm: "shade", which
implies that the journey is resumed during the heat of the day (cf.
v. 5). Let us remember the historic march through the desert of
Sinai where the Lord preceded Israel "in the daytime by means of a
column of cloud to show them the way" (Ex 13: 21). Many prayers in
the Psalter say: "Hide me in the shadow of your wings" (Ps 17:
8; cf. Ps 91: 1). Here too, there is an aspect that relates to
our life. Our lives move beneath a merciless sun; the Lord is the
shade that protects and helps us.
3. After the vigil and the shade there is the third symbol, that of
the Lord who is "at [the] right side" of his faithful (cf. Ps
121: 5). This is the position of defence, both in military and
court contexts: it is the certainty of never being abandoned in a
time of trial, in an assault by evil or by persecution. At this
point the Psalmist returns to the idea of a journey on a scorching
hot day on which God protects us from the fierce heat of the sun.
But night follows day. In ancient times it was also thought that
moonbeams were harmful and caused fever or blindness, or even
madness; thus, the Lord also protects us at night time (cf. v. 6),
in the nights of our lives.
The Psalm now draws to a close with a concise declaration of trust:
God will protect us with love at every moment, guarding our lives
from every evil (cf. v. 7). All our activities, summed up in two
opposite verbs, "going" and "coming", always take place under the
vigilant gaze of the Lord, as do all our acts and all our time,
"both now and for ever" (v. 8).
4. Let us now, in conclusion, comment on this final declaration of
trust with a spiritual testimony of the ancient Christian tradition.
In fact, in the Epistolarium of Barsanuphius of Gaza (who
died in the mid-sixth century), a widely renowned aesthete sought
out by monks, clerics and lay people for the wisdom of his
discernment, we find several references to the verse of our Psalm:
"The Lord will guard you from evil, he will guard your soul". With
this Psalm, with this verse, Barsanuphius wanted to comfort all
those who came to him with their toils, life's trials, dangers and
Once asked by a monk to pray for him and his companions,
Barsanuphius responded as follows, including the citation of this
verse in his greeting: "My beloved sons, I embrace you in the Lord,
entreating him to protect you from all evil, and to support
you as he did Job, to give you grace as he gave to Joseph,
gentleness as to Moses and valour in battle as to Joshua, the son of
Nun, mastery of thought as to the judges, victory over enemies as to
King David and King Solomon, fertile land as to the Israelites....
May he grant you forgiveness of your sins with the healing of the
body as he did to the paralytic. May he save you from the waters as
he did Peter and snatch you from troubles as he did Paul and the
other Apostles. May he protect you from every evil, as his
true children, and grant you your heart's desire, for the advantage
of your soul and your body, in his name. Amen" (Barsanuphius and
John of Gaza, Epistolario 194: Collana di Testi
Patristici, XCIII, Rome, 1991, pp. 235-236).
[To English-speaking pilgrims:]
I am pleased to greet the students of the Faculty of Canon Law of St
Paul University in Ottawa, Canada. My warm welcome goes to all the
English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, including the
pilgrimage groups from England, Ireland, Australia, Canada and the
United States. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke God's
Blessings of joy and peace.
[To special groups:]
I address a warm welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In
particular I greet the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of
Bétharram and the Little Sisters, Missionaries of Charity of St
Luigi Orione, who are celebrating their respective General Chapters.
Dear brothers and sisters, always be faithful to the spirit of your
Founders, to be courageous Gospel witnesses in our time.
I also greet the seminarians from Pius XI Regional Seminary in
Puglia: dear friends, as I assure you of my spiritual closeness, I
pray to the spirit of the Risen One to help you discern God's call.
Lastly, I would like as usual to address the young people,
the sick and the newly-weds.
In this month of May dedicated especially to the Mother of the Lord,
I invite you, dear young people, to learn from Mary to love
and follow Christ above all things. May Our Lady help you, dear
sick people, to look with faith at the mystery of pain and to
grasp the saving value of every cross. I entrust you, dear
newly-weds, to the motherly protection of the Blessed Virgin, so
that you will live out in your own family the atmosphere of prayer
and love of the home in Nazareth.
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