VATICAN CITY, JAN. 16, 2002 ( Amid an atmosphere of religious indifference and derision, a believer´s thirst for God becomes more acute -- a thirst that can only be slaked with prayer and the never-ending search for the Almighty, John Paul II said today.

Before 2,000 faithful gathered for the general audience in Paul VI Hall, the Pope reflected on Psalm 41[42], where the man at prayer feels derided in a hostile environment of unbelievers who ask him, "Where is your God?" Within this environment, the Psalmist asks God: "Why do you forget me?"

"Will God be able to be silent in face of these parched lips that cry out, this tormented soul, this face that is about to be submerged in a sea of mire?" the Bishop of Rome asked.

"Certainly not!" he replied. In prayer, the believer will discover that God never abandons him, and that life is a never-ending search for him, the Pope said.

The Holy Father was continuing his yearlong series of meditations on the Psalms and canticles of the Old Testament.

Here is, precisely, the inspired intuition of this "veritable jewel of faith and poetry," as the Pope described the Psalm, in which every man and woman is represented in the image of a "thirsty deer, with a parched throat," which "cries out its lament in an arid desert, longing for the fresh waters of a stream."

It is the symbol of the believer, who when praying "tends with his whole being, body and spirit, toward the Lord, who seems far away but at the same time is needed: ´My being thirsts for God, the living God,´" the Holy Father explained.

"It is not accidental that a long tradition describes prayer as ´breath,´ as something original, necessary, fundamental, vital breath," John Paul II said.

Thus prayer becomes life, and life is a never-ending search for God, the Pope added, referring to Origen, the early Christian writer. The author from Alexandria wrote that the "search for God is never-ending, because progress is always possible and necessary," the Holy Father said.

He quoted Origen at length: "Those who journey on the way to find God´s wisdom do not build stable houses, but portable tents, because they live in constant movement, always going forward, and the more they advance, the more the road opens before them, presenting a horizon that is lost in the immensity."