VATICAN CITY, JAN. 26, 2005 ( Prayer, especially in times of despair and anguish, moves the heart of God if offered with humility, says John Paul II.

The Pope gave that commentary on Psalm 114(116), a song of thanksgiving raised by the man at prayer, at today's general audience attended by some 6,000 people in Paul VI Hall.

"I was caught by the cords of death," the Psalm reads, "the snares of Sheol had seized me; I felt agony and dread. Then I called on the name of the Lord, 'O Lord, save my life!'"

"It is a brief but intense prayer of the man who, finding himself in a desperate situation, holds fast to the only plank of salvation," said the Holy Father in the catechesis he prepared and which, as on previous occasions, he did not read completely.

"Once saved, the person at prayer proclaims that the Lord is 'gracious and just,' more than that, 'merciful,'" he said. "This last adjective, in the Hebrew original, makes reference to the tenderness of a mother.

"Genuine trust always sees God as love, even if at times it is difficult to understand his actions. It is certain, nevertheless, that 'The Lord protects the simple.' Therefore, in misery and abandonment, one can always count on him, 'Father of the fatherless, defender of widows.'"

The Pope continued: "Invoked with faith, the Lord extended his hand, broke the coils that encircled the person at prayer, dried the tears from his eyes, and stopped his precipitous descent into the infernal abyss."

The song, he reminded the faithful, "ends with a scene of light: The person at prayer returns to 'the land of the living,' that is, to the paths of the world, to 'walk before the Lord.'"

An English-language summary of the catechesis, read by a papal aide, explained: "Prayer helps to discover the loving face of God. He never abandons his people but guarantees that, notwithstanding trials and suffering, in the end good triumphs."

The Pope concluded his meditation by quoting third-century Christian thinker Origen, who in one of his texts said: "If one is great, if one exalts oneself and is proud, the Lord does not protect one; if one thinks one is great, the Lord does not have mercy on one; but if one abases oneself, the Lord has mercy on one and protects one.

"The one who is little and poor can recover peace, rest," the Pope said. Origen, paraphrasing the Psalm, concluded: "Let us also say to our souls: 'Return to your rest.' Our rest is Christ, our God."

John Paul II was continuing his series of reflections on the Psalms and canticles of the liturgy of vespers, the Evening Prayer of the Church. Others are posted in the Wednesday's Audience section of ZENIT's Web page.