John Paul II's Meditation on Psalm 84(85)

«A Joyful Celebration of Israel’s Return from Exile»

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 25, 2002 ( Here is a translation of John Paul II’s address at today’s general audience, a meditation on Psalm 84(85). The audience was held in St. Peter’s Square.

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1. Psalm 84[85], which we just proclaimed, is a joyful song full of hope in the future of salvation. It reflects the exultant moment of Israel’s return to the land of the fathers from the Babylonian exile. National life begins again in that beloved homeland, which was burnt-out and destroyed in the conquest of Jerusalem by the army of King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.

Indeed, in the Hebrew original of the Psalm the verb «shûb» is heard repeatedly, which indicates the return of the deported, but it also means a spiritual «return,» namely «conversion.» The rebirth, therefore, does not refer only to the nation but also to the community of faithful, who regarded the exile as a punishment for the sins committed and who now saw the repatriation and new freedom as a divine blessing, because of the conversion they experienced.

2. The Psalm may be followed in its development according to two fundamental stages. The first articulated in the theme of «return,» with all the meanings we mentioned.

Israel’s physical return is celebrated first of all: «You …, Lord, … restored the good fortune of Jacob» (verse 2); «Restore us once more, God our savior; … Please give us life again» (verses 5,7). This is a precious gift of God, who is concerned to deliver his children from oppression and is attentive to their prosperity. Indeed, «for you love all things that are … you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls» (see Wisdom 11:24,26).

However, next to this «return,» which specifically unifies the scattered, there is another more interior and spiritual «return.» The Psalmist gives ample space to this, attributing to it a particular importance, which is valid not only for ancient Israel but for the faithful of all times.

3. The Lord acts effectively in this «return,» revealing his love in forgiving the iniquity of his people, in canceling all their sins, in withdrawing his wrath and turning away his anger (see Psalm 84[85]:3-4).

In fact, the deliverance from evil, the forgiveness of faults, the purification of sins create the new people of God. This is expressed through an invocation that has also entered Christian liturgy: «Show us, Lord, your love; grant us your salvation» (verse 8).

However, to this «return» of God who forgives must correspond the «return,» that is, the conversion, of the man who repents. In fact, the Psalm states that peace and salvation are offered «to those who trust in him» (verse 9). Whoever is determined in the way of holiness receives the gifts of joy, liberty and peace.

It is noted that biblical terms concerning sin often evoke a mistaken road, a failure of the goal, a deviation from the straight path. Conversion is, precisely, a «return» to the straight way that leads to the house of the Father, who waits to embrace us, to forgive us, and to make us happy (see Luke 15:11-32).

4. Thus we come to the second part of the Psalm (see Psalm 84[85]:10-14), so dear to Christian tradition. It describes a new world, in which the love of God and his fidelity embrace as if they were persons; similarly, justice and peace also meet and kiss one another. Truth sprouts as in a renewed spring and justice, which for the Bible is also salvation and holiness, appears from heaven to begin its journey in the midst of humanity.

All the virtues, at first expelled from the earth because of sin, now re-enter history and meet, designing the map of a world of peace. Mercy, truth, justice and peace become almost the four cardinal points of this geography of the spirit. Isaiah also sings: «Let justice descend, O heavens, like dew from above, like gentle rain let the skies drop it down. Let the earth open and salvation bud forth; let justice also spring up! I, the Lord, have created this» (Isaiah 45:8).

5. The words of the Psalmist were already read as a proclamation of the «generation of Christ from the Virgin» by St. Irenaeus of Lyon in the second century («Adversus haereses,» III, 5, 1). The coming of Christ is, in fact, the source of mercy, the sprouting of truth, the flowering of justice, the splendor of peace.

Because of this the Psalm, especially in its final part, is reread in terms of Christmas in the Christian tradition. This is how St. Augustine interprets it in his discourse for Christmas. Let us allow him to end our reflection. «‘Truth sprang from the earth’: Christ, who said: ‘I am the truth’ (John 14:6) is born of a Virgin. ‘And justice appeared from heaven’: whoever believes in him who was born does not justify himself, but is justified by God. ‘Truth sprang from the earth’: because ‘the Word became flesh’ (John 1:14). ‘And justice appeared from heaven’: because ‘every excellent grace and every perfect gift descends from on high’ (James 1:17). ‘Truth sprang from the earth,’ namely it took a body from Mary. ‘And justice appeared from heaven’: because ‘no one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven’ (John 3:27)» («Discorsi» (Discourses), IV/I, Rome, 1984, p. 11).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[The Holy Father then summarized his catechesis in French, English, German, Spanish and Portuguese. Speaking in English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Psalm 84 is a joyful celebration of Israel’s return from exile and a call to renewed hope in God’s promise of salvation. The Chosen People are invited not only to return to the Promised Land but also to turn back to the Lord in faith and obedience to his Covenant. The Psalmist describes a future in which God’s faithful love will make justice and peace spring up from the earth. The Church sees this prophecy fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ and the spread of his Kingdom of justice, truth, and peace.

I am pleased to greet the Felician Sisters meeting in Rome for their Biennial Assembly, as well as the Missionary Benedictine Sisters taking part in a Week of Encounter. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Ireland, Australia, and the United States, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

[At the end of the audience, the Pope greeted pilgrims in Dutch, Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, Lithuanian and Italian]

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