Alphabet Psalm Gives Guide to Happiness, Says Pope

Affirms God’s Word Bestows Joy and Life

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 9, 2011 ( God’s law is not a yoke of slavery, but rather the path to happiness, Benedict XVI affirmed today as he offered a reflection on Psalm 119.

The Pope continued at today’s general audience with his series of catecheses on prayer, taking up the «acrostic» psalm for a meditation on God’s Word.

He explained how this psalm is unique in that it is constructed according to the Hebrew alphabet, which is made up of 22 letters. Each of its 22 stanzas corresponds to a letter of that alphabet, and with this letter the first word of the stanza’s eight verses begins. 

«It is an original and very demanding literary construction in which the psalm’s author had to employ all his skill,» the Holy Father observed.

«And this psalm is wholly pervaded by love for God’s Word,» he continued. «It extols its beauty, its saving power, and its capacity to bestow joy and life. For the divine Law is not a heavy yoke of slavery but a gift of grace that liberates and leads to happiness.»

«As the center of life, God’s Law asks for the heart’s listening — a listening carried out in an obedience that is not servile but filial, trusting and mindful. Hearing the Word is a personal encounter with the Lord of life, an encounter that must be translated into concrete choices,» the Pontiff added.


He went on to reflect on just one verse of the psalm’s 176 verses: Verse 57: «The Lord is my portion; I promise to keep thy words.» 

Benedict XVI noted that various other psalms refer to this same idea of the Lord as portion.

«The word ‘portion’ evokes the event of the apportionment of the Promised Land among the tribes of Israel, when the Levites were assigned no portion of the territory, because their ‘portion’ was the Lord himself,» he explained.

«The priests, who belonged to the tribe of Levi, could not be proprietors of land in the Land that God was giving as an inheritance to his people,» he continued. «(…) Wholly given to the Lord, they must live from him alone, abandoned to his provident love and to the generosity of the brethren, without having an inheritance — since God is their portion of the inheritance, God is their land, who makes them live in fullness.»

The one who prays Psalm 119 applies this to himself, such that «this is the psalmist’s happiness: To him, as to the Levites, the Word of God was given as his portion of the inheritance.»

The Holy Father drew from this a lesson for priests, «who are called to live only from the Lord and from his Word, without other securities, having him as their only good and only source of true life.»

«But these verses are also important for all the faithful, the People of God who belong to him alone, ‘a kingdom of priests’ for the Lord,» he added. «(…) The Lord and his Word: these are the ‘land’ we live in, in communion and in joy.

«Let us therefore allow the Lord to place within our hearts this love for his Word, and may he grant us always to have him and his will as the center of our lives.»

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