Pope´s Address at Wednesday General Audience

On «the Psalm of Seven Thunders»

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 13, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II´s address at today´s general audience at the Vatican.

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1. Some scholars regard Psalm 28, which we have just heard, as one of the oldest texts of the Psalter. Powerful is the image that sustains it in its poetical and prayerful development: Indeed, we are before the progressive unleashing of a storm. It is strewn in the Hebrew original with the word «qol,» which means both «voice» and «thunder.» Because of this, some commentators entitle this text «the Psalm of seven thunders,» for the number of times in which that word is mentioned. In fact, it can be said that the Psalmist conceives thunder as a symbol of the divine voice, with its transcendent and unattainable mystery, which invades created reality to disturb and frighten it, but which in its profound meaning is a word of peace and harmony. One thinks at that moment of Chapter 12 of the fourth Gospel, where the voice that responds to Jesus from heaven is perceived by the crowd as thunder (see John 12:28-29).

In proposing Psalm 28 for the prayer of lauds, the Liturgy of the Hours invites us to assume an attitude of profound and confident adoration of the divine Majesty.

2. There are two moments and places to which the biblical cantor leads us. At the center (verses 3-9) is the representation of the storm that is unleashed from the «immensity of the waters» of the Mediterranean. In the eyes of the man of the Bible, the waters of the sea incarnate the chaos that attacks the beauty and splendor of creation, until it corrodes, destroys and knocks it down. Therefore, in the observation of the raging storm, one discovers the immense power of God. The man of prayer sees how the storm moves to the north to come down on terra firma. The very tall cedars of Mount Lebanon and Mount Sirion, sometimes called Hermon, are struck by lightning and seem to leap under the thunder as frightened animals. The bursts come closer, crossing the whole of the Holy Land, and go down toward the south, to the desert steppes of Kadesh.

3. Following this scene of intense movement and tension we are invited to contemplate in total contrast another scene represented at the beginning and the end of the Psalm (verses 1-2 and 9b-11). The dismay and fear are now overtaken by the adoring glorification of God in the temple of Zion.

It is almost a channel of communication that unites the sanctuary of Jerusalem and the heavenly sanctuary: In both these sacred spheres there is peace and the praise of divine glory is raised. The deafening sound of thunder is followed by the harmony of the liturgical singing, terror is replaced by the certainty of divine protection. God now appears «enthroned over the flood» as «King forever» (verse 10), namely, as the Lord and supreme Sovereign of all creation.

4. In the face of these two antithetical scenes, the man of prayer is invited to undergo a double experience. First of all he must discover that the mystery of God, expressed in the symbol of the storm, cannot be captured and dominated by man. As the prophet Isaiah sings, the Lord, like lightening or a storm, bursts into history sowing panic in confrontations with the perverse and oppressors. Before his judgment, proud adversaries are uprooted as trees struck by a storm or cedars shattered by divine thunderbolts (see Isaiah 14:7-8).

What becomes evident in this light is what a modern thinker (Rudolph Otto) has described as the «tremendum» of God, that is, his ineffable transcendence and presence as just judge in the history of humanity. The latter is vainly deluded in opposing his sovereign power. In the Magnificat, Mary also exalts this aspect of God´s action: «He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones» (Luke 1:51-52a).

5. However, the Psalm gives us another aspect of the face of God, the one that is discovered in the intimacy of prayer and the celebration of the liturgy. According to the above-mentioned philosopher, it is the «fascinosum» of God, namely, the fascination that emanates from his grace, the mystery of love that is poured out on the faithful, the serene security of the blessing reserved for the just one. Even before the chaos of evil, the storms of history, and the very anger of divine justice, the man of prayer feels at peace, enveloped in the mantle of protection that Providence offers the one who praises God and follows his ways. Through prayer one learns that the Lord´s real desire is to give peace.

In the temple, our apprehension is healed and our terror removed; we participate in the heavenly liturgy with all «the children of God,» angels and saints. And following the storm, similar to the destructive deluge of human malice, now arches the rainbow of divine blessing, which recalls «the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon earth» (Genesis 9:16).

This, above all, is the message that emerges in the «Christian» rereading of the Psalm. If the seven «thunders» of our Psalm represent the voice of God in the cosmos, the highest expression of this voice is the one in which the Father, in the theophany of the Baptism of Jesus, has revealed his most profound identity as «beloved Son» (Mark 1:11 and paragraph). St. Basil wrote: «´The voice of the Lord on the waters´ resounded, perhaps more mystically, when a voice came from on high at the baptism of Jesus and said: This is my beloved Son. Indeed, the Lord then hovered over many waters, sanctifying them with baptism. The God of glory thundered from on high with the strong voice of his testimony. And one can understand as ´thunder´ that change that, after baptism, takes place through the great ´voice´ of the Gospel» (Homilies on the Psalms: PG 30,359).

[Translation by ZENIT]

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