Commentary on Psalm 125(126)

«This Prayer Is a Song of Hope»

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 17, 2005 ( Here is a translation of Benedict XVI’s address at today’s general audience, held in the patio of the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo. The Pope dedicated the talk to a commentary on Psalm 125(126).

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1. On hearing the words of Psalm 125(126) one has the impression of seeing before one’s eyes the event being sung in the second part of the Book of Isaiah: the «new exodus.» It is the return of Israel from the Babylonian exile to the land of the Fathers, following the edict of the Persian King Cyrus in 538 B.C. Then the joyful experience is repeated of the first exodus, when the Hebrew people were liberated from Egyptian slavery.

This psalm acquired particular meaning when it was sung in the days when Israel felt menaced and fearful, as it was again subjected to trial. In fact, the psalm includes a prayer for the return of the prisoners of that time (see verse 4). It thus became a prayer of the People of God in their historical itinerary, full of dangers and trials, but always open to confidence in God, Savior and Liberator, support of the weak and the oppressed.

2. The psalm introduces one in an atmosphere of exultation: There is laughter, rejoicing for the liberation obtained, on lips are songs of joy (see verses 1-2).

There is a double reaction in the face of the recovered freedom. On one hand, the pagan nations acknowledge the greatness of the God of Israel: «The Lord has done great things for them» (verse 2). The salvation of the Chosen People becomes a limpid proof of the effective and powerful existence of God, present and active in history. On the other hand, it is for the People of God to profess their faith in the Lord who saves: «The Lord has done great things for us» (verse 3).

3. Thoughts then run to the past, relived with a shudder of fear and bitterness. We want to fix our attention on the farming image used by the psalmist: «Those who sow in tears will reap with cries of joy!» (verse 5). Under the weight of work, at times one’s face is streaked with tears: One sows with toil which might end in futility and failure. But when there is an abundant and joyful harvest, one discovers that the distress was fruitful.

In this verse of the psalm is condensed the great lesson on the mystery of fruitfulness and life that suffering can contain. Precisely as Jesus said on the approach of his passion and death: «Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit» (John 12:24).

4. The psalm’s horizon thus opens to a festive harvest, symbol of the joy generated by freedom, peace and prosperity, which are the fruit of divine blessing. This prayer is, then, a song of hope, to which recourse should be taken in times of trial, fear, external menace and internal oppression.

But it can also become a more general appeal to live one’s days and fulfill one’s choices in an atmosphere of fidelity. Perseverance in the good, even if misunderstood and opposed, in the end always leads to light, fruitfulness and peace.

It is what St. Paul reminded the Galatians: «The one who sows for the spirit will reap eternal life from the spirit. Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest» (Galatians 6:8-9).

5. Let us conclude with a reflection of St. Bede the Venerable (672/3-735) on Psalm 125(126), when commenting on the words with which Jesus announced to his disciples the sadness that awaited them and at the same time the joy that would spring from their affliction (see John 16:20).

Bede recalls that «those who loved Christ wept and lamented when they saw him taken by enemies, bound, brought to judgment, condemned, scourged, derided, finally crucified, pierced by the lance and buried. Those rejoiced instead who loved the world …, when they condemned to a shameful death the one who annoyed them just by seeing him. If the disciples were saddened by the Lord’s death, once they learned of his resurrection, their sadness was turned into joy, seeing then the miracle of the ascension, they praised and blessed the Lord with even greater joy, as the evangelist Luke attests (see Luke 24:53). But these words of the Lord are applied to all the faithful who, through the tears and afflictions of the world, seek to attain eternal joys, and who with reason now weep and are sad, because they still cannot see him whom they love, and because, as long as they are in the body, they know that they are far from the homeland and Kingdom, even if they are certain of attaining the prize through toils and struggles. Their sadness will turn into joy when, the struggle of this life having ended, they will receive the recompense of eternal life, according to what the psalm says: ‘He that goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing sheaves with him'» («Omelie sul Vangelo» [Homilies on the Gospel] 2,13: Collection of Patristic Texts, XC, Rome, 1990, pp. 379-380).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, when greeting pilgrims in English, the Holy Father said:]

I extend a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors here today. I greet particularly the following groups: the Franciscan Hospitaller Sisters of the Immaculate Conception; from Malta, the parents of altar servers assisting in St. Peter’s Basilica; from Nigeria, pilgrims to several shrines of Europe and the Holy Land; from Japan, a group of Salesian Sisters, and from the United States of America, a youth pilgrimage from St. Paul’s Parish, Houston, Texas. I invite you to join me during these days in praying for the success of the World Youth Day in Cologne. I wish you all a happy stay and invoke upon you the grace and peace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

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