Commentary on Psalm 111(112)

«The Faithful One Is Generous»

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 2, 2005 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience. He dedicated his address to a reflection on Psalm 111.

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1. After celebrating yesterday the solemn feast of all the saints of heaven, today we remember all the deceased faithful. The liturgy invites us to pray for all our loved ones who have passed away, turning our thoughts to the mystery of death, common heritage of all people.

Illuminated by faith, we look at the human enigma of death with serenity and hope. According to Scripture, the latter in fact is not an end but a new birth, it is the imperative passage through which the fullness of life may be attained by those who model their earthly existence according to the indications of the Word of God.

Psalm 111(112), a composition of a sapiential nature, presents to us the figure of these just ones, who fear the Lord, acknowledge his transcendence and adhere with trust and love to his will in the expectation of encountering him after death.

A «beatitude» is reserved for these faithful: «Happy are those who fear the Lord» (verse 1). The psalmist specifies immediately of what this fear consists: It is manifested in docility to God’s commandments. He is proclaimed blessed who «greatly delights» in His commandments, finding in them joy and peace.

2. Docility to God is, therefore, the root of hope and interior and exterior harmony. Observance of the moral law is the source of profound peace of conscience. In fact, according to the biblical vision of «retribution,» over the just is extended the mantle of divine blessing, which imprints stability and success on his works and those of his descendants: «Their descendants shall be mighty in the land, a generation upright and blessed. Wealth and riches shall be in their homes» (verses 2-3; cf. verse 9).

However, to this optimistic vision are opposed the bitter observations of the just Job, who experiences the mystery of sorrow, feels himself unjustly punished and subjected to apparently senseless trials. Job represents many just people who suffer profoundly in the world. It is necessary, therefore, to read this psalm in the global context of Revelation, which embraces the reality of human life in all its aspects.

However, the trust continues to be valid, which the psalmist wishes to transmit and be experienced by him who has chosen to follow the way of morally irreprehensible conduct, against all alternatives of illusory success obtained through injustice and immorality.

3. At the heart of this fidelity to the divine Word is a fundamental choice, namely, charity to the poor and needy: «All goes well for those gracious in lending. … Lavishly they give to the poor» (verses 5,9). The faithful one is, therefore, generous; respecting the biblical norm, he grants loans to brothers in need, without interest (cf. Deuteronomy 15:7-11) and without falling into the infamy of usury that annihilates the life of the poor.

The just man, taking up the constant admonition of the prophets, aligns himself with the marginalized, and sustains them with abundant help. «Lavishly they give to the poor,» states verse 9, thus expressing an extreme generosity, completely disinterested.

4. In addition to the portrait of the faithful and charitable man, «good, merciful and just,» Psalm 111(112) presents finally, in only one verse (cf. verse 10), the profile of the wicked man. This individual sees the success of the just person and is gnawed by anger and envy. It is the torment of one who has a bad conscience, as opposed to the generous man whose heart is «steadfast» and «tranquil» (verses 7-8).

We fix our gaze on the serene face of the faithful man «who gives freely to the poor» and entrust our conclusive reflection to the words of Clement of Alexandria, the third-century Father of the Church who commented on an affirmation of the Lord that is difficult to understand. In the parable of the unjust steward, the expression appears according to which we must do good with «unjust money.» From whence arises the question: Are money and wealth unjust in themselves, or what does the Lord wish to say?

Clement of Alexandria explains this parable very well in his homily: «What rich man can be saved?» And he states: With this affirmation, Jesus «declares unjust by nature any possession one has for itself, as one’s own good, and does not share in common with those who are in need; but he also declares that from this injustice it is possible to accomplish a just and salutary work, giving relief to one of those little ones who have an eternal dwelling before the Father (cf. Matthew 10:42; 18:10)» (31,6: «Collana di Testi Patristici» [Collection of Patristic Texts] CXLVIII, Rome, 1999, pp. 56-57).

And, addressing the reader, Clement warns: «Keep in mind, in the first place, that he has not ordered you to be implored, or to expect to be begged, but that you yourself seek out those who are well worthy of being heard, inasmuch as they are disciples of the Savior» (31,7: ibid., p. 57).

Then, citing another biblical text, he comments: «Beautiful, therefore, is the saying of the Apostle: ‘God loves a cheerful giver'» (2 Corinthians 9:7), who enjoys giving and does not sow sparsely, so as not to gather in the same way, but shares without regret, distinctions or pain, and this is truly to do good» (31,8: ibid.).

On this day in which we commemorate the dead, as I was saying at the beginning of our meeting, we are all called to face the enigma of death and, therefore, the question of how to live well, how to find happiness. Above all, the psalm responds: Blessed is the man who gives; blessed is the man who does not spend his life for himself, but gives it; blessed is the man who is merciful, good and just; blessed is the man who lives in the love of God and of his neighbor. In this way, we live well and do not have to be afraid of death, as we live in the happiness that comes from God and that has no end.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the Pope read the following summary in English:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

After yesterday’s celebration of the solemnity of All Saints, today’s liturgy invites us to pray for our dear ones who have left us.

As we face the mystery of death, sacred Scripture strengthens our hope by assuring us that all who live in accordance with the World of God are reborn into the fullness of life. These are the just, the happy ones, of whom Psalm 111 speaks. In them, the fear of the Lord, which means respectful obedience to God’s law, brings inner harmony and peace of conscience. As they experience the definitive value of a life of moral rectitude, they confidently reject the deceitful promises of success by means of injustice and immorality.

The Psalmist clearly proposes a fundamental trait of those who walk according to the Word of God: the generous love of one’s neighbor in need. In his commentary on these verses, Clement of Alexandria invites Christians to share generously with their neighbors by giving «without regret, without distinction or pain.»
<br> [The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present in today’s audience. I extend particular greetings to the groups from England, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Malta, Canada and the United States of America. May your pilgrimage strengthen your faith and renew your love for the Lord, the giver of Life, and may God bless you all!

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