Reflection on Psalm 118(119)

Will of God Is Lamp of Believer, Says John Paul II

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 21, 2004 ( Here is a translation of the address John Paul II gave at today’s general audience, which he dedicated to a reflection on Psalm 118(119), verses 105-112.

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1. After the pause because of my stay in Valle d’Aosta, we now continue in this general audience our catechesis on the Psalms found in the liturgy of vespers. Today we reflect on verses 105-112 of Psalm 118(11), a grandiose hymn to God’s law, expression of his will. The number of the strophes corresponds to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and indicates fullness; each of them is composed of eight verses and of words that begin, in succession, with the corresponding letter of the alphabet.

In this case, the Hebrew letter “nun” opens the initial words of the verses that we just heard. This strophe is illuminated by the image of its first verse: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path” (verse 105). Man penetrates the often-dark path of life, but all of a sudden the darkness is rent by the splendor of the Word of God.
Psalm 18 also compares the Law of God to the sun, when it states that “the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart, … enlightening the eye (18[19]:9). Afterward, the Book of Proverbs confirms that “the bidding is a lamp, and the teaching a light” (6:23). Christ himself will present his person as the definitive revelation precisely with the same image: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

2. The Psalmist then continues his prayer recalling the sufferings and dangers of life he must face and his need for light and support: “I am very much afflicted, Lord; give me life in accord with your word. … My life is always at risk, but I do not forget your teaching” (Psalm 118[119]:107,109).

The whole strophe is characterized by a dark thread: “The wicked have set snares for me” (verse 110), the man at prayer again confesses, taking recourse to a well-known hunting image in the Psalter. The faithful one knows that he journeys through the roads of the world in the midst of dangers, anxieties and persecutions; he knows that trials always lie in ambush. For his part, the Christian knows that he must carry the cross every day and ascend to Calvary (see Luke 9:23).

3. Yet, the just man keeps his faithfulness intact: “I make a solemn vow to keep your just edicts. … I do not forget your teaching … from your precepts I do not stray” (Psalm 118[119]:106,109,110). Peace of mind is the strength of the believer; his constancy, in obedience to the divine commandments, is the source of his serenity.

So the final statement is consistent: “Your decrees are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart” (verse 111). This is the most precious reality, the “heritage,” the “reward” (verse 112), which the Psalmist guards with vigilant care and ardent love: the teachings and commandments of the Lord. He wants to be wholly faithful to the will of God. On this path he will find peace of soul and will succeed in going through the dark tangle of trials, attaining true joy.

4. Illuminating, in this connection, are the words of St. Augustine who, beginning the commentary of Psalm 118(119), develops the theme of joy that arises from the observance of the Law of the Lord. “From the very beginning, this very long Psalm invites us to blessedness, which as is known, constitutes the hope of every man. Can there be anyone who does not wish to be happy? And if it is so, is there any need to invite to attain an end to which the human spirit tens spontaneously. … Is it not, perhaps, because although all aspire to blessedness, the majority, however, do not know how to attain it? Yes, this is precisely the teaching of him who begins by saying: Blessed are those who are without stain in life, who walk in the Law of the Lord.

“It seems to say: I know what you want; I now that you are seeking blessedness: well, if you wish to be blessed, you must be exempt from every stain. Everyone seeks the first, but few, however, are concerned about the second: but without this one cannot attain the common aspiration. Where, then, must we be immaculate if not in life? This, in fact, is none other than the Law of the Lord. Therefore, blessed are those who are without stains in life, those who walk in the Law of the Lord! It is not a superfluous exhortation, but something that is necessary for our spirit” (“Esposizioni sui Salmi” [Commentaries on the Psalms], III, Rome, 1976, p. 1113).

Let us make our own the conclusion of the great bishop of Hippo, who confirms the permanent timeliness of the blessedness promised to all those who make the effort to obey faithfully the will of God.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, one of the Holy Father’s aides read the following summary in English:]

Having recently returned from my trip to the Valle d’Aosta, we now once again continue our catechesis on the Psalms which are found in the liturgy of vespers. Today we reflect upon verses 105-112 of Psalm 118, which sing of the psalmist’s promise to keep God’s commandments.

This part of the psalm finds its dominant image in the very first line: “Your word is a lamp for my steps and a light for my path” (verse 105). On the path of life, we often encounter moments of darkness, but the light of God’s word dispels that darkness, often quite unexpectedly. The perfect image of God’s light is Christ himself, who proclaims: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Every Christian passes through this world amidst dangers, cares and persecutions. We know that, for our part, we are called to take up our cross every day. If, however, we remain faithful to the Lord’s commands, we find in them our source of peace. To quote the Psalm, the divine commands become our “heritage,” they are the “joy” of our hearts.

The great Saint Augustine saw Psalm 118 as a profound invitation to happiness. Let us share in this meditation with him, recognizing the unending joy promised to those who strive faithfully to do the will of God.

[The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including members of the general chapter of the Congregation of Holy Cross. I also greet young Ursulines from all over the world gathered here in Rome, as well as groups from England, Ireland, the Philippines and the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of Our Lord, and I wish you a happy stay in Rome.

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