General Audience Address, on Psalm 76(77)

John Paul II´s Meditation

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 13, 2002 ( Here is a translation of today´s general audience address by John Paul II. The address was given in Italian.

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1. By placing Psalm 76(77), which we have just proclaimed, in the morning lauds, the liturgy reminds us that the beginning of the day is not always bright. Just as dark days appear, in which the sky is covered with clouds threatening a storm, so our life experiences days that are full of tears and fear. This is why, already at dawn, prayer becomes a lament, a supplication, an invocation for help.

Our Psalm is precisely an imploration that rises insistently to God, and is profoundly characterized by trust, indeed, by certainty of divine intervention. In fact, for the Psalmist the Lord is not an impassive emperor, relegated to his luminous heavens, indifferent to our affairs. From this impression, which at times grips the heart, very bitter questions arise that could lead to a crisis of faith: «Is God denying his love and his election? Has he forgotten the past when he sustained us and made us happy?» As we will see, such questions are swept away by renewed trust in God, redeemer and savior.

2. Let us continue, now, the development of this prayer that begins with a dramatic tone, in anguish, and then, little by little opens to serenity and hope. Here we have before us, first of all, a lamentation on the sad present and on God´s silence (see verses 2-11). A cry for help is directed to a seemingly mute heaven, the hands are raised in supplication, the heart is overwhelmed by desolation. In the sleepless night, full of tears and prayers, […] «[I meditate] in my heart,» as verse 7 says, a disconsolate refrain continually rebounds in the depth of the soul.

When pain reaches the limit and one wishes that the chalice of suffering be removed (see Matthew 26:39) words explode and become a lacerating question, as said earlier (see Psalm 76[77]:8-11). This cry questions the mystery of God and his silence.

3. The Psalmist wonders why the Lord ever rejects him, why he has changed his appearance and action, forgetting love, the promise of salvation, and merciful tenderness. «The right hand of the Most High,» which had accomplished salvific wonders in the Exodus, now seems paralyzed (see verse 11). This is a real and proper «torment,» which puts in crisis the faith of the man of prayer.

If this were the case, God would be unrecognizable, he would become a cruel being and a presence like that of idols, which do not know how to save because they are incapable, indifferent and impotent. In these verses of the first part of Psalm 76(77), is the whole drama of faith in the time of trial and of God´s silence.

4. However, there are reasons for hope. And what emerges from the second part of the supplication (see verses 12-21), is like a hymn destined to propose again the courageous confirmation of one´s faith even in the dark day of pain. One sings about the salvation of the past, which had its epiphany of light in creation and in deliverance from the slavery of Egypt. The bitter present is illuminated by the past salvific experience, which is a seed planted in history: It is not dead, but only buried, and will sprout later (see John 12:24).

Thus, the Psalmist refers to an important biblical concept, that of the «memorial,» which is not just a vague consoling memory, but the certainty of divine action that will not come to naught: «I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, your wonders of old I will remember» (Psalm 76[77]:12). To profess faith in the works of salvation of the past leads to faith in what the Lord is constantly, and, therefore, also in the present. «Your way, O God, is holy; … You alone are the God who did wonders» (verses 14-15). So the present, which seemed without a way out and without light, is illuminated by faith in God and opens to hope.

5. In order to sustain this faith the Psalmist probably quotes an older hymn, perhaps sung in the liturgy of the temple of Zion (see verses 17-20). It is a clamorous theophany in which the Lord enters the scene of history, upsetting nature and, in particular, the waters, symbol of chaos, evil and suffering. Very beautiful is the image of God´s path on the waters, sign of his triumph over negative forces: «Through the sea was your path; your way, through the mighty waters, though your footsteps were unseen» (verse 20). And one thinks of Christ who walks on the waters, eloquent symbol of his victory over evil (see John 6:16-20).

Recalling, at the end, that God guided his people «like a flock under the care of Moses and Aaron» (Psalm 76[77]:21), the Psalm leads implicitly to a certainty: God will return to lead us to salvation. His powerful and invisible hand will be with us through the visible hand of the pastors and guides chosen by him. The Psalm, which opened with a cry of pain, inspires at the end sentiments of faith and hope in the great shepherd of our souls (see Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25).

[Translation by ZENIT]

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[At the conclusion of the audience, the Pope gave this summary in English.]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Psalm 76 is a prayer of lamentation and a plea for God´s help at the beginning of a new day. The Psalmist, in his sorrow, is tempted to ask if God has forgotten his promises and abandoned his people. Yet he does not lose faith; with renewed hope he ponders God´s saving works in the past, when he led his people through the Red Sea by the hand of Moses and Aaron. This remembrance of Israel´s past experience of salvation becomes a profession of faith in God´s continued presence and saving power. The Psalm concludes with the image of God walking through the mighty waters (v. 20) at the head of his people, which Christians read as a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ who walked on the waters (cf. John 16:6-20) and even now guides the Church through faith to the fullness of salvation.

I warmly welcome the Latin students of the Katedralskolan in Skara, Sweden, and the students of the Egmont Hojskollen in Denmark. I thank the Choir from Phoenix for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today´s Audience, especially those from England, Japan and the United States, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

[text distributed by Vatican Press Office]

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