Note: On Wednesday March 28, 2001 Pope John Paul II began a series of Wednesday Audiences dedicated to expounding the Psalms and Canticles used for the morning and evening prayers of the Divine Office. Pope Benedict continued the series after the death of John Paul and completed it on Wednesday, Feb 15 2006. The Office divides the Psalm into two parts and both are presented here. You can find all the meditations/commentaries here.
1. We have just prayed Psalm 145, a joyful song of praise to the Lord who is exalted as a tender and loving King, concerned for all his creatures. The liturgy presents this hymn to us in two separate parts that also correspond to the two poetical and spiritual movements of the Psalm itself. We now reflect on the first part, which corresponds to verses 1-13.
The Psalm is raised to the Lord who is invoked and described as “King” (cf. Ps 145:1), a depiction of the divine that is also dominant in other psalmic hymns (cf. Ps 47:; 93; 96-99).
Indeed, the spiritual centre of our canticle is constituted precisely by an intense and passionate celebration of the divine kingship. The Hebrew word malkut, “reign“, is repeated in it four times, almost as if to indicate the four cardinal points of being and of history (cf. Ps 145:11-13). We know that this royal symbolism, which was also to be central in Christ’s preaching, is the expression of God’s saving project: he is not indifferent to human history; on the contrary, he desires to put a plan of harmony and peace for human history into practice with us and for us.
The whole of humanity is called together to implement this plan in order that it comply with the divine saving will, a will that is extended to all “men”, to “all generations”, from “age to age”. It is a universal action that uproots evil from the world and instils in it the “glory” of the Lord, that is, his personal, effective and transcendent presence.
2. The prayerful praise of the Psalmist, who makes himself the voice of all the faithful and today would like to be the voice of all of us, is directed to this heart of the Psalm, placed precisely at the centre of the composition. The loftiest biblical prayer is in fact the celebration of the works of salvation, which reveal the Lord’s love for his creatures.
In this Psalm the Psalmist continues to praise the divine “name”, that is, the person of the Lord (cf. vv. 1-2), who manifests himself in his historical action: indeed, his “works”, “splendour”, “wonderful works”, “mighty deeds”, “greatness”, “justice”, “patience”, “compassion”, “grace”, “goodness” and “love” are mentioned.
It is a prayer in the form of a litany which proclaims God’s entry into human events in order to bring the whole of created reality to a salvific fullness. We are not at the mercy of dark forces nor alone with our freedom, but rather, we are entrusted to the action of the mighty and loving Lord, who has a plan for us, a “reign” to establish (cf. v. 11).
3. This “kingdom” does not consist of power and might, triumph and oppression, as unfortunately is often the case with earthly kingdoms; rather, it is the place where compassion, love, goodness, grace and justice are manifested, as the Psalmist repeats several times in the flow of verses full of praise.
Verse 8 sums up this divine portrait: the Lord is “slow to anger, abounding in love”. These words are reminiscent of God’s presentation of himself on Sinai when he said: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6). We have here a preparation for the profession of faith in God of St John the Apostle, who simply tells us that he is love: “Deus caritas est” (cf. 1 Jn 4:8, 16).
4. Our attention, as well as being fixed on these beautiful words that portray to us a God who is “slow to anger” and “full of compassion”, always ready to forgive and to help, is also fixed on the very beautiful verse 9 which follows: “How good is the Lord to all, compassionate to all his creatures”. These are words to meditate upon, words of consolation, a certainty that he brings to our lives.
In this regard, St Peter Chrysologus (c. 380 c. 450) says in his Second Discourse on Fasting: “”Great are the works of the Lord’; but this grandeur that we see in Creation is surpassed by the greatness of his mercy. Indeed, after the Prophet has said, “Great are the works of God’, in another passage he adds: “His compassion is greater than all his works’. Mercy, brothers and sisters, fills the heavens, fills the earth…. That is why the great, generous, unique mercy of Christ, who reserved every judgment for a single day, allotted all of man’s time to the truce of penance…. That is why the Prophet who did not trust in his own justice abandons himself entirely to God’s mercy; “Have mercy on me, O God’, he says, “according to your abundant mercy’ (Ps 51:3)” (42, 4-5: Sermoni 1-62bis, Scrittori dell’Area Santambrosiana, 1, Milan-Rome, 1996, pp. 299, 301).
And so, let us too say to the Lord, “Have mercy on me, O God, you who are great in your mercy”.
1. Following the liturgy that divides it into two parts, let us return to , a wonderful hymn in honour of the Lord, a loving King who is attentive to his creatures. Let us now meditate upon the second part of the Psalm: they are verses 14 to 21, which take up the fundamental theme of the hymn’s first part.
In them are exalted the divine compassion, tenderness, fidelity and goodness which are extended to the whole of humanity, involving every creature. The Psalm now focuses on the love that the Lord reserves particularly for the poor and the weak.
Divine kingship is not, therefore, detached and haughty, as can be the case in the exercise of human power. God expresses his sovereignty by bending down to meet the frailest and most helpless of his creatures.
2. Indeed, he is first and foremost a father who supports those who falter and raises those who have fallen into the dust of humiliation (cf. v. 14). Consequently, living beings are reaching out to the Lord like hungry beggars and he gives them, like a tender parent, the food they need to survive (cf. v. 15).
At this point the profession of faith in justice and holiness, the two divine qualities par excellence, emerges from the lips of the person praying: “The Lord is just in all his ways and loving in all his deeds” (cf. v. 17).
In Hebrew we have two typical adjectives to illustrate the Covenant between God and his People: saadiq and hasid. They express justice that seeks to save and to liberate from evil, and the faithfulness that is a sign of the Lord’s loving greatness.
3. The Psalmist takes the side of those who have benefited, whom he describes in various words: in practice, these terms portray true believers. They “call on” the Lord in trusting prayer, they seek him in life with a sincere heart (cf. v. 18); they “fear” their God, respecting his will and obeying his word (cf. v. 19), but above all “love” him, certain that he will take them under the mantle of his protection and his closeness (cf. v. 20).
Then, the Psalmist’s closing words are the ones with which he opened his hymn: an invitation to praise and bless the Lord and his “name”, that is, as a living and holy Person who works and saves in the world and in history.
Indeed, his call is an assurance that every creature marked by the gift of life associates himself or herself with the prayerful praise: “Let all mankind bless his holy name for ever, for ages unending” (v. 21). This is a sort of perennial hymn that must be raised from earth to heaven; it is a community celebration of God’s universal love, source of peace, joy and salvation.
4. To conclude our reflection, let us return to that sweet verse which says: “[The Lord] is close to all who call him, who call on him from their hearts” (v. 18). This sentence was particularly dear to Barsanuphius of Gaza, an ascetic who died in the mid-sixth century, to whom monks, ecclesiastics and lay people would often turn because of the wisdom of his discernment.
Thus, for example, to one disciple who expressed his desire “to seek the causes of the various temptations that assailed him”, Barsanuphius responded: “Brother John, do not fear any of the temptations that come to test you, for the Lord will not let you fall prey to them. So, whenever one of these temptations comes to you, do not tire yourself by endeavouring to discern what is at stake, but cry out Jesus’ Name: “Jesus, help me!’. And he will hear you, for he “is close to all who call on him’. Do not be discouraged, but run on with enthusiasm and you will reach the destination in Christ Jesus, Our Lord” (Barsanuphius and John of Gaza, Epistolario, 39: Collana di Testi Patristici, XCIII, Rome, 1991, p. 109).
And these words of the ancient Father also apply to us. In our difficulties, problems, temptations, we must not simply make a theoretical reflection – where do they come from? – but must react positively; we must call on the Lord, we must keep alive our contact with the Lord. Indeed, we must cry out the Name of Jesus: “Jesus, help me!”.
And let us be certain that he hears us, because he is close to those who seek him. Let us not feel discouraged, but let us run on with enthusiasm, as this Father says, and we too will reach the destination of our lives: Jesus, the Lord.