Pope Benedict XVI- Audiences
“To the God of Heaven give thanks”
H.H. Benedict XVI
November 16, 2005
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Our reflection returns to the hymn of praise in Psalm 136 which
the Liturgy of Vespers presents in two successive stages, following
the specific distinction of themes offered by the composition.
Indeed, the celebration of the Lord's works is described in two
spheres: space and time.
the first part (cf. vv. 1-9), which was the subject of our last
meditation, we focused on the divine acts expressed in creation; the
marvels of the universe were born from them. In that part of the
Psalm, therefore, faith is expressed in God the Creator who reveals
himself through his cosmic creatures.
Now, instead, the joyful hymn of the psalmist, called by Jewish
tradition "the Great Hallel" or the most exalted praise raised to
the Lord, leads us to a different horizon, that of history.
The first part, therefore, addresses creation as a reflection of
God's beauty, and the second part speaks of history and the good
that God has done for us in the course of time.
know that biblical Revelation repeatedly proclaims that the presence
of God the Saviour is manifested in particular in the history of
salvation (cf. Dt 26:5-9; Jos 24:1-13).
Thus, the Lord's liberating actions, the heart of the fundamental
event of the Exodus from Egypt, pass before the psalmist's eyes.
Closely connected with the Exodus is the gruelling journey through
the Sinai Desert, whose ultimate destination is the Promised Land,
the divine gift that Israel continues to experience in all the pages
of the Bible.
famous crossing of the Red Sea, "divided in two", split as it were
in two and subdued like a defeated monster (cf. Ps 136:13),
brings forth the free people called to a mission and a glorious
destiny (cf. vv. 14-15; Ex 15:1-21), who will have a new Christian
interpretation in their full liberation from evil by baptismal grace
(cf. I Cor 10:1-4).
journey then begins through the desert: there the Lord is portrayed
as a warrior who, by continuing the work of liberation begun in the
Red Sea crossing, stands by his people to defend them by striking
down their enemies. The desert and the sea thus represent the
passage through evil and oppression, to receive the gift of freedom
and the Promised Land (cf. Ps 136:16-20).
In the finale, the Psalm looks out over that land which the Bible
praises enthusiastically as "a good country, a land with streams of
water, with springs and fountains welling up..., a land of wheat and
barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, of olive trees and
of honey, a land where you can eat bread without stint and where you
will lack nothing, a land whose stones contain iron and in whose
hills you can mine copper" (Dt 8:7-9).
This emphatic celebration, which goes beyond the reality of that
land, wants to exalt the divine gift, focusing our expectations on
the most sublime gift of eternal life with God. It is a gift that
enables people to be free, a gift that is born - as the refrain
which marks every verse continues to repeat - by the hesed of
the Lord, that is, his "mercy", by his faithfulness to the
commitment he made in the Covenant with Israel and by his love that
continues to be revealed because "he remembered" them (cf. Ps
the time of "humiliation", that is, of the series of trials and
oppression, Israel was always to discover the saving hand of the God
of freedom and love. Even in times of hunger and wretchedness, the
Lord was to arrive on the scene to offer food to all humanity,
confirming his identity as Creator (cf. v. 25).
Consequently, with Psalm 136 two forms of the one divine
Revelation are interwoven: the cosmic (cf. vv. 4-9) and the
historical (cf. vv. 10-25). The Lord, of course, is transcendent as
the Creator and Arbiter of being; but he is also close to his
creatures, entering space and time. He does not remain far away, in
a distant Heaven. On the contrary, his presence in our midst reaches
its crowning point in Christ's Incarnation.
This is what the Christian interpretation of the Psalm clearly
proclaims, as the Fathers of the Church testified: they saw as the
culminating point of the history of salvation and the supreme sign
of the Father's merciful love his gift of his Son to be the Saviour
and Redeemer of humanity (cf. Jn 3:16).
Thus, at the beginning of his treatise The Works of Charity and
Alms, St Cyprian, a third-century martyr, contemplates with
wonder the acts that God accomplished for his people through Christ
his Son, and finally bursts into passionate recognition of his
"Dearest brothers, many and great are God's benefits, which the
generous and copious goodness of God the Father and of Christ has
accomplished and will always accomplish for our salvation. In fact,
to preserve us, to give us a new life and to be able to redeem us,
the Father sent the Son; the Son, who was sent, wanted to be called
also Son of Man, to make us become children of God; he humbled
himself to raise the people who were first lying on the ground, was
wounded to heal our wounds, he became a slave to lead us, who were
slaves, to freedom. He accepted death to be able to offer
immortality to mortals. These are the many and great gifts of divine
mercy" (1: Trattati: Collana di Testi Patristici, CLXXV,
Rome, 2004, p. 108).
With these words, the holy Doctor of the Church develops the Psalm
with a litany of benefits that God has given us, adding to what the
psalmist did not yet know but expected, the true gift that God has
made to us: the gift of his Son, the gift of the Incarnation in
which God gave himself to us and stays with us, in the Eucharist and
in his Word, every day, to the very end of history.
danger is that the memory of evil, of the evils suffered, may often
be stronger than the memory of good. The Psalm's purpose is also to
reawaken in us the memory of good as well as of all the good that
the Lord has done and is doing for us, which we can perceive if we
become deeply attentive. It is true, God's mercy endures for ever:
it is present day after day.
offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors and
pilgrims present at today's Audience. I extend particular greetings
to the members of the Executive Committee of Caritas
Internationalis. I am also pleased to greet the groups from
England, Spain, South Africa and the United States of America. May
your pilgrimage strengthen your faith and renew your love for the
Lord and may God bless you all!
thoughts now turn to you, dear delegates of the Pro-Life Movement,
whom I thank for your courageous 30 years of work in promoting and
defending the right to life and the dignity of every human person
from conception to natural death. Committing yourselves to
preventing voluntary abortion, with attentive support for women and
families, you work together to write a hopeful page for the future
of humanity, proclaiming in a concrete way the "Gospel of Life".
Lastly, I greet the young people, the sick and the
newly-weds. Dear friends, after the example of St Margaret of
Scotland and St Gertrude, whose memorial we are celebrating today,
always seek in Jesus the enlightenment and support for every
decision in your daily life.
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