Meditation on Psalm 116(117)

John Paul II Highlights Mystery of God’s Love and Faithfulness

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 5, 2003 ( Here is a translation of the address John Paul II gave at today’s general audience, dedicated to Psalm 116(117).

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1. Continuing with our meditation on the texts of the liturgy of lauds, we consider again a Psalm already proposed, the briefest of all the compositions of the Psalter. It is Psalm 116[117], which we have just heard, a sort of little hymn or ejaculation that becomes a universal praise of the Lord. It expresses what it wishes to proclaim with two fundamental words: love and faithfulness (see verse 2).

With these terms, the Psalmist illustrates synthetically the Covenant between God and Israel, underlining the profound relation, loyal and trusting, which exists between the Lord and his people. Here we hear the echo of the words that God himself had pronounced on Sinai when appearing to Moses: «The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity» (Exodus 34:6).

2. Despite its brief and essential character, Psalm 116[117] captures the heart of prayer, which consists in the encounter and living and personal dialogue with God. In this event, the mystery of the Divinity is revealed as faithfulness and love.

The Psalmist adds a particular aspect of prayer: The experience of prayer should be radiated in the world, transforming itself in witness for those who do not share our faith. In fact, at the beginning, the horizon is extended to «all you peoples» and to «all you nations» (see Psalm 116[117]:1), so that, before the beauty and joy of faith they, too, will be overcome by the desire to know, encounter and praise God.

3. In a technological world threatened by an eclipse of the sacred, in a society that takes pleasure in a certain self-sufficiency, the witness of the man of prayer is like a ray of light in the darkness.

Initially it might only awaken curiosity, then it can induce the reflective person to question himself on the meaning of prayer and, finally, it can arouse a growing desire to have the experience. Because of this, prayer is never a solitary event, but tends to expand until it involves the whole world.

4. Let us now accompany Psalm 116[117] with the words of a great Father of the Eastern Church, St. Ephrem the Syrian, who lived in the fourth century. In one of his «Hymns on the Faith,» the 14th, he expresses the desire never to cease praising God, involving also «all those who understand the (divine) truth.» Here is his testimony:

«Lord, how can my harp cease to praise you? / How could I teach my tongue infidelity? / Your love has given confidence to my embarrassment, / but my will is still ungrateful (strophe 9).

«It is right that man should recognize your divinity, / it is right for the heavenly beings to praise your humanity; / the heavenly beings were astonished to see how much you annihilated yourself, / and those of the earth to see how much you were exalted» (strophe 10: L’Arpa dello Spirito [The Harp of the Spirit,] Rome, 1999, pp. 26-28).

5. In another hymn (Nisibian Hymns, 50), St. Ephrem confirms his commitment to incessant praise, and explains the motive in the divine love and compassion for us, just as our Psalm suggests.

«In you, Lord, may my mouth praise you in silence. / May our mouths not cease to praise you, / may are lips not be wanting in confessing you; / may your praise vibrate in us! (strophe 2).

«Because the root of our faith is grafted in our Lord; / although far away, he is still near in the fusion of love. / May the roots of our love be united to him, / may the full measure of his compassion be poured out over us» (strophe 6: ibid., pp. 77, 80).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father gave this summary in English:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Psalm 116 expresses the heart of the Covenant between God and his People. This brief Psalm captures the essence of prayer as a personal encounter with God, a dialogue in which the divine mystery is revealed as faithfulness and love. Through prayer, «all nations and peoples» are invited to praise God and to experience the joy of faith. Today’s world greatly needs the witness of men and women who pray and who encourage others to pray. For in prayer, we discover God as the ultimate source of our love, while he pours out upon us the fullness of his mercy (see Saint Ephrem the Syrian, Carm, Nisib., 50).

I offer a cordial greeting to the pilgrims from Saint Mary the Virgin Parish in Arlington, Texas. Upon you and your families, and upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord.

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