God Allows Himself to Be Conquered by Humility, John Paul II Says

Dedicates General Audience to Reflect on Psalm 146

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 23, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II's address at the Wednesday General Audience, which he dedicated to Psalm 146 [147], a hymn to the "power and goodness of God."




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1. The Psalm that was just sung is the first part of a composition which also includes the subsequent Psalm, 147, and which the Hebrew original has kept in its unity. It was the old Greek and Latin versions that divided the song in two different Psalms.

The Psalm begins with an invitation to praise God and then lists a long series of reasons for praise, all expressed in the present. These are activities of God considered as characteristic and always timely; however, they are of many different natures: some refer to God's interventions in human existence (see Psalm 146:3,6,11) and, in particular, in favor of Jerusalem and Israel (see verse 2); others refer to the created universe (see verse 4) and, very especially, to the earth with its vegetation and animals (see verses 8-9).

Finally, describing the one in whom the Lord is pleased, the Psalm invites us to a twofold attitude: of religious fear and of trust (see verse 11). We are not abandoned to ourselves and to cosmic energies, but are always in the hands of the Lord, in keeping with his plan of salvation.

2. After the festive invitation to praise (see verse 1), the Psalm unfolds in two poetical and spiritual movements. The first (see verses 2-6) introduces, above all, the historical action of God, under the image of a builder who is rebuilding Jerusalem, returned to life after the Babylonian exile (see verse 2). However, this great architect, who is the Lord, reveals himself also as a father who bends over the interior and physical wounds, present in his humiliated and oppressed people (see verse 3).

In the Exposition of Psalm 146 ("Esposizione del Salmo 146), held at Carthage in 412, St. Augustine commented on the phrase thus: "The Lord heals him who has a broken heart": "Whoever does not have a broken heart cannot be healed ... Who are those with broken hearts? The humble. And those who do not have broken hearts? The proud. Therefore, the broken heart is healed, and the heart swollen with pride is abased. What is more, in all probability, if it is abased it is precisely so that, once broken, it can be straightened out, can be healed ... 'He heals the broken-hearted, binds up their wounds' ... In other words, he heals the humble of heart, those who confess, who expiate, who judge themselves with severity to be able to experience his mercy. Behold the one he heals. Perfect health, however, will only be reached at the end of the present mortal state, when our corruptible being will put on incorruptibility and our mortal being will be clothed in immortality" (5-8" Expositions on the Psalms -- Esposizioni sui Salmi --, IV, Rome, 1977, pp. 772-779).

3. But God's work is not only manifested when healing his people of their sufferings. He, who surrounds the poor with tenderness and care, appears as a severe judge when confronting the wicked (see verse 6). The Lord of history is not indifferent before the rage of the arrogant who think that they are the only arbiters of human affairs: God brings down to the dust of the earth those who defy heaven with their pride (see 1Samuel 2:7-8; Luke 1:51-53).

God's action, however, is not exhausted in his lordship over history; he is also the king of creation; the whole universe responds to his appeal as Creator. Not only can he number all the limitless series of stars, but is able to give each one its name, thus defining its nature and characteristics (see Psalm 146,4).

The prophet Isaiah sang: "Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name" (40:26). The "armies" of the Lord, then, are the stars. The prophet Baruch added: "the stars shone in their watches, and were glad; he called them, and they said, 'Here we are!' They shone with gladness for him who made them" (3:34-35).

4. After a new joyful invitation to praise (see Psalm 146,7), the second movement of Psalm 146 begins (see verses 7-11). The creative action of God in the cosmos is manifested again in the setting. In a landscape often arid, as is that of the East, the first sign of divine love is the rain that makes the earth fruitful (see verse 8). In this way, the Creator prepares a table for the animals. What is more, he takes care to give food to the littlest living being, such as the young ravens crying with hunger (see verse 9). Jesus will invite us to look at "the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them" (Matthew 6:26; see also Luke 12:24 with the explicit reference to the "ravens").

But once again attention moves from creation to human existence. And thus the Psalm ends showing the Lord who bends down to the one who is righteous and humble (see Psalm 146:10-11), as was already stated in the first part of the hymn (see verse 6). Through two symbols of strength, the horse and man's leg, the divine attitude is delineated, which does not allow itself to be conquered or intimidated by force. Once again, the Lord's logic ignores the pride and arrogance of the powerful, but places himself on the side of the one who is faithful, "who hopes in his steadfast love" (verse 11), that is, who is abandoned to God's guidance in his acting and thinking, in his plans and in his daily life.

Among these the man of prayer must also place himself, basing his hope in the Lord's grace, certain of being enveloped in the mantle of divine love: "Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death, and keep them alive in famine ... Yea, our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name" (Psalm 32: 18-19,21).
[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the Audience, the Holy Father gave this summary in English:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Psalm we have just heard invites us to praise God and gives many reasons why we should acclaim him. He is the Lord of history and brings his people salvation, caring for their needs in the concrete circumstances of their lives. He is also Lord of creation, and the entire universe responds to his will. The highest praise we can give to our God is to place all our trust and hope in him, giving our lives completely over to him and to his plan of salvation for all people.

I offer special greetings to the English-speaking visitors present today, especially those from Ireland, Malta, Nigeria, Japan, and the United States of America. May they God of peace fill you always with his gift of joy and strength!