Meditation on Psalm 142(143)

John Paul II Reflects on a Prayer Amid Anguish

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 9, 2003 ( Here is a translation of the address John Paul II gave at today’s general audience, which he dedicated to comment on Psalm 142(143).

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Psalm 142[143] has just been proclaimed, the last of the so-called Penitential Psalms, which make up the seven supplications distributed in the Psalter (see Psalm 6; 31; 37; 50; 101; 129; 142). Christian tradition has used them to invoke from the Lord the forgiveness of sins. The text which we wish to reflect on today was especially dear to St. Paul, who deduced the radical sinfulness of every human creature: «before you no living being can be just» (verse 2). This phrase is used by the apostle as the basis of his teaching on sin and grace (see Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:20).

The Liturgy of Lauds proposes this supplication to us as a resolution of faithfulness and of imploration of divine help at the beginning of the day. The Psalm, in fact, makes us say to God: «At dawn let me hear of your kindness, for in you I trust» (Psalm 142[143]:8).

2. The Psalm begins with an intense and insistent invocation addressed to God, faithful to the promises of salvation offered to the people (see verse 1). The man of prayer acknowledges that he has no merits to make him worthy and, therefore, humbly asks God not to assume the attitude of a judge (see verse 2).

Then he portrays the dramatic situation, similar to a mortal nightmare, in which he is struggling: The enemy, which is the representation of the evil in history and in the world, has lead him to the threshold of death. There he is, in fact, prostrate in the dust of the earth, which is an image of the sepulcher; he presents the darkness, which is the negation of light, divine sign of life; and mentions, finally, «those long dead,» that is, the deceased (see verse 3), among whom he seems already to be relegated.

3. The very existence of the Psalmist is devastated: At this point he has no breath, his heart seems like a piece of ice, unable to continue beating (see verse 4). For the faithful, terrified and trampled upon, only his hands remain free, which are raised to heaven in a gesture that is, at the same time, of imploration of help and a seeking of support (see verse 6). His thoughts revert to the past in which God worked wonders (see verse 5).

This spark of hope warms the ice of suffering and of the trial in which the man of prayer feels himself immersed and about to be swept away (see verse 7). The tension remains, however, ever strong; but a ray of light seems to appear on the horizon. Thus we pass to the second part of the Psalm (see verses 7-11).

4. It begins with a new and urgent invocation. The faithful feeling that life is escaping from him, cries out to God: «Hasten to answer me, Lord; for my spirit fails me» (see verse 7). What is more, he fears that God has hidden his countenance and has distanced himself, abandoning him and leaving his creature alone.

The disappearance of the divine countenance makes man fall into desolation, in fact, into death itself, as the Lord is the source of life. Precisely in this sort of extreme limit flowers trust in God, who does not abandon. The man of prayer multiplies his invocations and supports them with declarations of trust in the Lord. «For in you I trust … for to you I lift up my soul … I have fled to you for refuge … for you are my God.» He asked that he be delivered from his enemies (see verses 8-12) and freed from anguish (see verse 11) but he also makes a repeated request, which manifests a profound spiritual aspiration: «Teach me to do your will, for you are my God» (verse 10a; see verses 8b, 10b). We must make our own this admirable request. We must understand that our greatest good is the union of our will with the will of the heavenly Father, because only in this way can we receive all his love, which brings salvation and the fullness of life. If it is not accompanied by a strong desire of docility to God, our trust in him is not authentic.

The man of prayer is aware of this and therefore expresses this desire. He raises a true and proper profession of faith in God the Savior, who breaks the anguish and restores the taste of life, in the name of his «justice,» in other words of his loving and salvific faithfulness (see verse 11). Arising from a particularly anguishing situation, prayer leads to hope, to joy and to light, thanks to a sincere adherence to God and to his will, which is a will of love. This is the power of prayer, generator of life and salvation.

5. Fixing his gaze on the morning light of grace (see verse 8), St. Gregory the Great, in his commentary on the seven Penitential Psalms, describes thus the dawn of hope and joy: «It is the day illuminated by that true sun that knows no setting, which the clouds do not render dark and the fog cannot darken. … When Christ, our life, will appear, and we will begin to see God with an uncovered face, then every shade of darkness will disappear, the smoke of ignorance will vanish, the mist of temptation will dissipate. … It will be the most luminous and splendid day, prepared for all the elect by him who has snatched us from the power of darkness and has transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.

«The morning of that day is the future resurrection. … In that morning the happiness of the righteous will shine, glory will appear, exultation will be seen, when God will wipe away every tear from the eyes of the saints, when death, at last, will be destroyed, when the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father.

«That morning, the Lord will make his mercy felt, saying: ‘Come blessed of my Father’ (Matthew 25:34). Then the mercy of God will be manifested which, in the present life, the human mind cannot conceive. In fact, the Lord has prepared for those who love him that which no eye has seen and no ear has heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man» (LF 79, coll. 649-650).

[Translation by ZENIT]

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Psalm 142 is the last of the so-called Penitential Psalms. It invokes God’s promise of salvation and recalls the past wonders accomplished by the Lord. Faced with adversity and trials, God’s holy people do not lose hope, rather they cry out to him, confident that he will hear them and respond. Thus we see the true power of prayer: For those who place their trust in the Lord’s faithful and saving love, prayer brings hope, joy and light, and leads to eternal life.

I offer special greetings to the English-speaking visitors present today, especially those from Scotland, New Zealand and the United States of America. May this summer period of rest and relaxation bring you renewed joy and strength in our Lord Jesus Christ. Happy holidays!

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