Papal Meditation on Psalm 85(86)

John Paul II Reflects on a Prayer of Trust

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 23, 2002 ( Here is a translation of John Paul II’s address at today’s general audience, which he dedicated to a reflection on Psalm 85[86].

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1. Psalm 85[86], which we have just heard and which will be the object of our reflection, offers us a thought-provoking description of the Psalmist. He presents himself before God with these words: I am “your servant” and the “child of your handmaid” (verse 16). The expression might, certainly, belong to the language of court ceremonials, but it was also used to indicate the servant adopted as son by the head of a family or tribe. In this light, the Psalmist who also describes himself as the “faithful one” of the Lord (see verse 2), feels he is united to God not only by a tie of obedience, but also of familiarity and communion. This is why his supplication is full of trusting abandonment and hope.

Let us now follow this prayer that the liturgy of lauds proposes to us at the beginning of a day, which presumably will bring with it not only commitments and efforts, but also misunderstandings and difficulties.

2. The Psalm opens with an intense appeal, which the Psalmist addresses to the Lord, trusting in his love (see verses 1-7). At the end he expresses again the certainty that the Lord is a “merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, most loving and true” (verse 15; see Exodus 34:6). These reiterated and convincing affirmations of trust reveal an intact and pure faith, which abandons itself to the “Lord, … kind and forgiving, most loving to all who call on you” (Psalm 85[86]:5).

A hymn is raised at the heart of the Psalm, that combines feelings of thanksgiving with a profession of faith in the works of salvation that God displays before the peoples (see verses 8-13).

3. Against all temptation to idolatry, the Psalmist proclaims the absolute unity of God (see verse 8). In the end he expresses the audacious hope that one day “all the nations” will adore the God of Israel (verse 9). This wonderful prospect finds its fulfillment in the Church of Christ, because he has invited his apostles to teach “all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Only God can offer full deliverance, because all depend on him as creatures and all must turn to him in an attitude of adoration (see Psalm 85[86]:9). Indeed, he manifests his wondrous works, which attest to his absolute lordship in the cosmos and in history (see verse 10).

At this point the Psalmist presents himself before God with an intense and pure appeal: “Teach me, Lord, your way that I may walk in your truth, single-hearted and revering your name” (verse 11). This is a beautiful request to be able to know the will of God, as well as the invocation to obtain the gift of “a simple heart,” like that of an infant, who without duplicity or calculation entrusts himself fully to the Father to direct him on the road of life.

4. Then from the lips of the faithful flows praise to the merciful God, who does not let him fall into despair and death, into evil and sin (see verses 12-13; Psalm 15[16]:10-11).

Psalm 85[86] is a text that is dear to Judaism, which has inserted it in the liturgy of Yom Kippur, or day of expiation, one of the most important solemnities. The Book of Revelation, in turn, has taken a verse from it (see verse 9), placing it in the glorious heavenly liturgy at the heart of the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: ‘All nations shall come and worship thee,” and the Book of Revelation adds: “‘for your righteous acts have been revealed'” (Revelation 15:4).

St. Augustine dedicated a long and passionate comment to our Psalm in his Commentary on the Psalms, transforming it into a song of Christ and of the Christian. In keeping with the Greek version of the Septuagint, instead of “faithful,” the Latin translation in verse 2 uses the version “holy”: “Protect me because I am holy.” In reality, only Christ is holy. However, St. Augustine explains that the Christian can also apply these words to himself: “I am holy because you have sanctified me; because I have received [this title], not because I have it of myself; but because you have given it to me, not because I merited it.” Therefore, “every Christian should also say, or better the whole body of Christ should cry out everywhere, while enduring tribulations, various temptations, innumerable scandals: ‘Protect my soul, because I am holy! Save your servant, my God, who hopes in you.’ Look, this saint is not proud, because he hopes in the Lord” (Vol. II, Rome, 1970, p. 1251).

5. The holy Christian opens himself to the universality of the Church and prays with the Psalmist: “All the nations you have made shall come to bow before you, Lord” (Psalm 85[86]:9). And Augustine comments: “All the people in the one Lord are only one people and constitute unity. As there are the Church and the churches, and the churches are the Church, so that ‘people’ is the same as the peoples. At first they were varied peoples, numerous people; now they are only one people. Why only one people? Because the faith is only one, hope is one, charity is one, waiting is one. Finally, because why should it not be one people if there is only one homeland? The homeland is heaven, the homeland is Jerusalem. And the people extend from the East to the West, from the northern part to the sea, through the four parts of the whole world” (Ibid., p. 1269).

In this universal light our liturgical prayer is transformed into a breath of praise and a song of glory to the Lord on behalf of all creatures.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[The Pope later said in English:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Psalm 85 is an eloquent prayer of trust and faith in God who brings salvation to those who cry out to him. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy for his servants, for those who seek to know his ways and his truth. All the peoples of the earth are called to adore God and to glorify his name. And it is through Christ, the One who alone is Holy, that all the peoples of the earth become God’s holy people, in faith, in hope, and in love, as they lift their voices in praise of the one Lord of heaven and earth.

I extend a special greeting to the pilgrims from Gibraltar, accompanied by their Bishop, and to the members of the Cathedral Choir from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s audience — in particular those from England, Wales, Ireland, Gibraltar, Vietnam, Canada, and the United States of America — I invoke grace and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

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