Commentary on Second Part of Psalm 26(27)
Believer's Trust Lies in God's Tenderness, Says Pope
VATICAN CITY, APRIL 29, 2004 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the address John Paul II gave at today's general audience, dedicated to a reflection on Psalm 26(27):7-14.
* * *
1. The Liturgy of Vespers has divided Psalm 26(27) in two parts, following the same structure of the text which is like a diptych. We have just proclaimed the second part of this song of trust that is raised to the Lord in the dark day of the assault of evil. They are Verses 7-14 of the Psalm: They begin with a cry to the Lord: "Hear my voice, Lord, when I call; have mercy on me and answer me" (verse 7), then they express an intense search for the Lord, with the anguished fear of being forsaken by him (see verses 8-9). Finally they present before our eyes a dramatic horizon in which family affections themselves fail (see verse 10) while "enemies" (verse 11) "foes" and "lying witnesses" appear (verse 12).
But also now, as in the first part of the Psalm, the decisive element is the confidence of the one praying in the Lord, who saves in trials and sustains during storms. Very beautiful, in this respect, is the appeal that the Psalmist addresses to himself at the end: "Wait for the Lord, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the Lord!" (Verse 14; see Psalm 41:6,12 and 42:5).
In other Psalms too, there was profound certainty that one obtains strength and hope from the Lord: "The Lord protects the loyal, but repays the arrogant in full. Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord!" (Psalm 30:24-25). And the prophet Hosea exhorted Israel thus: "You shall return by the help of your God, if you remain loyal and do right and always hope in your God" (Hosea 12:7).
2. We will limit ourselves now to highlighting three symbolic elements of great spiritual intensity. The first, a negative one, is the nightmare of enemies (see Psalm 26:12). They are described as wild beasts that "roar" at their prey and then, in a more direct way, as "lying witnesses" who seem to breathe violence from their nostrils, just as wild beasts before their victims.
Therefore, in the world there is an aggressive evil, which is led and inspired by Satan, as St. Peter reminds us: "Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).
3. The second image illustrates clearly the serene trust of the faithful one, despite being forsaken even by his parents: "Even if my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord will take me in" (Psalm 26:10).
Even in loneliness and in the loss of the dearest affections, the man of prayer is not totally alone because the merciful God bends over him. Our thoughts go to the famous passage of the prophet Isaiah, who attributes to God sentiments of compassion and tenderness that are more than maternal: "Can a woman forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you" (Isaiah 49:15).
Let us remind all elderly, sick people, forgotten by all, to whom no one will ever show tenderness, of these words of the Psalmist and of the prophet, so that they will feel the paternal and maternal hand of the Lord silently touch with love their suffering faces, perhaps streaming with tears.
4. Thus we come to the third and last symbol, reiterated many times in the Psalm: "'Seek God's face'; your face, Lord, do I seek! Do not hide your face from me" (verses 8-9). It is, therefore, God's face that is the object of the man of prayer's spiritual quest. In the end, an indisputable certainty emerges, that of being able to "enjoy the Lord's goodness" (verse 13).
In the language of the Psalm, "to seek the face of the Lord" is often synonymous with entering into the temple to celebrate and experience communion with the God of Zion. But the expression also includes the mystical need of divine intimacy through prayer. In the liturgy, therefore, and in personal prayer, we are given the grace of intuiting that face that we will never be able to see directly during our earthly life (see Exodus 33:20).
But Christ has revealed to us, in an accessible way, the divine face and has promised that in the final encounter of eternity -- as St. John reminds us -- "we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). And St. Paul adds: "Then we will see face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12).
5. Commenting on this Psalm, Origen, the great Christian writer of the third century, noted: "If a man seeks the face of the Lord, he will see the glory of the Lord in an unveiled way and, having become equal to the angles, will always see the face of the Father who is in heaven" (PG 12, 1281).
And St. Augustine, in his commentary on the Psalms, continues the Psalmist's prayer thus: "I have not sought from you some prize that is outside of you, but your face. 'Your face, Lord, will I seek.' With perseverance I will insist on this search; I will not seek, in fact, something of little worth, but your face, O Lord, to love you freely, given that I do not find anything more precious. ... 'Do not go away angry from your servant,' so that in seeking you, I come across something else. What can be a greater sorrow than this for the one who loves and seeks the truth of your face?" ("Commentaries on the Psalms," 26,1,8-9, Rome, 1967, pp. 355, 357).
[At the end of the audience, the following summary was read in English by a papal aide]
The second part of Psalm 26 speaks of confidence in God in times of tribulation. Despite the presence of evil in the world, the Psalmist remains steadfast in hope. Confidence in the Lord should inspire and console all who feel abandoned and alone, for God has become visible to us in Christ. We encounter our Lord, especially in the liturgy and in personal prayer, as we journey towards that day when we shall see him "face to face."
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today's audience. I greet in a special way the participants in the Buddhist-Christian Symposium, and also visitors from the Orthodox Church of Finland. I am also pleased to greet the several groups from England, Japan, South Korea, Canada and the United States of America. Upon all of you, I cordially invoke joy and peace in the Risen Lord.
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Pope John Paul II - Holy See, 661 869-1000
Psalm, Pope, Liturgy, Vespers, God
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