Reflection on Psalm 14(15)

On What an Encounter With God Demands

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 4, 2004 ( Here is a translation of the address John Paul II gave at today’s general audience, which he dedicated to reflect on Psalm 14(15).

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1. Psalm 14(15), which has been given to us for our reflection, is often classified by scholars of the Bible as part of an “entrance liturgy.” As occurs in some other compositions of the Psalter (see, for example, Psalms 23; 25; 94), one thinks of a sort of procession of faithful that congregates at the doors of the temple of Zion to enter for worship. In a kind of dialogue between the faithful and Levites are outlined the indispensable conditions to be admitted to the liturgical celebration and, therefore, to divine intimacy.

On the one hand, the question arises: “Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy mountain?” (Psalm 14[15]:1). On the other, there is a list of the qualities required to cross the threshold that leads to the “tent,” that is, the temple on the “holy mountain” of Zion. There are 11 qualities enumerated and they constitute an ideal synthesis of the basic moral commitments present in the biblical law (see verses 2-5).

2. At times the conditions required to enter the sacred chamber were engraved on the facade of Egyptian and Babylonian temples. However, one notes a significant difference with that suggested by our Psalm. In many religious cultures, what is required above all to be admitted before the Divinity is external ritual purification that entails ablutions, gestures and special clothing.

Psalm 14(15), on the contrary, calls for the purification of conscience, so that its choices will be inspired by love of justice and of neighbor. In these verses, therefore, one feels the vibration of the spirit of the prophets who repeatedly invite us to combine faith and life, prayer and existential commitment, worship and social justice (see Isaiah 1:10-20; 33:14-16; Hosea 6:6: Micah 6:6-8; Jeremiah 6:20).

Let us hear, for example, the vehement reprimand of the prophet Amos, who denounces in the name of God a worship detached from daily life: “I hate, I spurn your feasts, I take no pleasure in your solemnities;/ Your cereal offerings I will not accept, nor consider your stall-fed peace offerings. … Then let justice surge like water, and goodness like an unfailing stream” (Amos 5:21-22,24).

3. We now come to the 11 commitments listed by the Psalmist, which might constitute the basis of a personal examination of conscience every time we prepare to confess our faults in order to be admitted to communion with the Lord in the liturgical celebration.

The first three commitments are of a general order and express an ethical choice: to follow the way of moral integrity, of the practice of justice and, lastly, of perfect sincerity in speech (see Psalm 14[15]:2).

Three duties follow that we can describe as relating to our neighbor: to eliminate slander from our speech, to avoid every action that can harm our brother, to refrain from insulting those who live with us every day (see verse 3). Then comes the requirement to take a clear position in the social realm: to despise the wicked and honor those who fear God.

Finally, the last three precepts are listed with which to examine one’s conscience: to be faithful to one’s given word, to oaths, even in the case in which the consequences will be damaging to us; not to practice usury, a plague that also in our days is a disgraceful reality, capable of strangling the life of many people; and finally to avoid every corruption in public life, another commitment that must be practiced with rigor also in our time (see verse 5).

4. To follow this path of authentic moral decision means to be ready to encounter the Lord. Jesus also, in his Sermon on the Mount, proposed his essential “entrance liturgy”: “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

Whoever acts in the way indicated by the Psalmist — our prayer concludes — “shall never be shaken” (Psalm 14[15]:5). In his “Tractatus super Psalmos,” St. Hilary of Poitiers, fourth-century Father and Doctor of the Church, comments thus on this ending, linking it to the initial image of the tent of the temple of Zion: “Acting according to these precepts, one dwells in the tent, one rests on the hill. Therefore, the custody of the precepts and the work of the commandments remains firm. This Psalm must be rooted within, must be written in the heart, recorded in the memory; night and day we must address the treasure of its rich brevity. And thus, having acquired this richness on the path to eternity and dwelling in the Church, we will at last be able to rest in the glory of the body of Christ” (PL 9, 308).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, a papal aide from the Secretariat of State read the following summary in English:]

Today’s Psalm (No. 14) proclaims that to be close to God we must have a clear conscience, devoted to love of justice and neighbor. To achieve this we need to listen to the spirit of the Prophets, heard throughout the Psalm, reminding us that there can be no separation of faith from daily life, or of prayer from work, or adoration from social justice.

Correct morality concerns all aspects of our life — our relationships with family and friends, as well as with those whom we meet or work. It is in being people of integrity that we are pleasing to the Lord; ready to meet him in prayer and liturgical celebration.

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims. In English, he said:]

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s audience. I greet in a special way the groups from England, Ireland, Hong Kong and the United States of America. Upon all of you I cordially invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

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