Meditation on Psalm 8, Read by Cardinal Sodano
Our Grandeur and Responsibility Before Creation
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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 24, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address prepared by John Paul II for today's general audience. It was read on his behalf by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state. The address is a meditation on Psalm 8.
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1. Meditating on Psalm 8, a wonderful hymn of praise, we arrive at the conclusion of our long itinerary through the Psalms and canticles which constitute the soul of the prayer of the Liturgy of Lauds. During these catecheses our attention was focused on 84 biblical prayers, attempting to highlight especially their spiritual intensity, without neglecting their poetic beauty.
The Bible, in fact, invites us to begin our day with a song that not only proclaims the wonders worked by God and our response of faith, but that also celebrates them "with art" (see Psalm 46:8), that is, in a beautiful, luminous way, at once gentle and strong.
Splendid among all is Psalm 8, in which man, immersed in the dark of night, when the moon and the stars light up the immensity of the heavens (see verse 4), feels like a speck in the infinite and limitless spaces that rise above him.
2. At the heart of Psalm 8, in fact, a double experience emerges. On one hand, the human person feels as though crushed by the grandeur of creation, "work" of the divine "fingers." This curious expression replaces the "work of the hands" of God (see verse 7), as though wishing to indicate that the Creator had made a design or embroidery with the brilliant stars, scattered in the immensity of the cosmos.
On the other hand, however, God bends over man and crowns him as his viceroy: "You have … crowned them with glory and honor" (verse 6). What is more, to this frail creature he entrusts the whole universe, so that he will draw knowledge and sustenance of life from it (see verses 7-9).
The extent of man's sovereignty over other creatures is specified, as though evoking the opening page of Genesis: Sheep, oxen, beasts of the field, birds of the sky, and fish of the sea were entrusted to man so that, in giving them their name (see Genesis 2:19-20), he would discover creation's profound reality, respect it, and transform it through labor, revealing it as a source of beauty and life. The Psalm makes us aware of our grandeur, but also of our responsibility before creation (see Wisdom 9:3).
3. Rereading Psalm 8, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews acquired a more profound understanding of God's plan for man. The vocation of man cannot be limited to the present terrestrial world; in affirming that God has put everything under man's feet, the Psalmist wishes to say that He also wills to subject "the world-to-come" to him (Hebrews 2:5), "the unshakable kingdom" (12:28). In a word, the vocation of man is a "heavenly calling" (3:1). God wills to "bring" to heavenly "glory" "many children" (2:10). For this divine plan to be realized, it was necessary that the vocation of man find its first perfect fulfillment in a "pioneer" (see ibid.). This pioneer is Christ.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews observed in this connection that the expressions of the Psalm are applied to Christ in a privileged way, namely in a more precise way than to other men. In fact, in the original the Psalmist uses the verb "to lower [lessen]," saying to God: "Yet you have made them little less that than a god, crowned them with glory and honor" (see Psalm 8:6; Hebrews 2:6). For ordinary men, this verb is incorrect; they were not "lowered" in regard to the angels, as they never were above them. However, for Christ, the verb is precise, because, as Son of God, he was above the angels and was abased when he became man, then he was crowned with glory in his resurrection. Thus Christ has totally fulfilled the vocation of man and has fulfilled it, the author specifies, "for the good of all" (Hebrews 2:9).
4. In this light, St. Ambrose comments on the Psalm and applies it to us. He begins with the phrase which describes the "crowning" of man: "You … crowned them with glory and honor" (verse 6). In that glory he perceives the reward that the Lord has in store for us when we have overcome the trial of temptation.
Here are the words of the great Father of the Church in his Exposition of the Gospel according to Luke: "The Lord has also crowned his chosen one with glory and magnificence. That God who desires to distribute the crowns, allows temptations: therefore, when you are tempted, remember that a crown is being prepared for you. If you discard the struggle of martyrs, you also discard their crowns; if you discard their torments, you will also discard their blessedness" (IV, 41: Saemo 12, pp. 330-333).
God prepares for us that "crown of righteousness" (2 Timothy 4:8) with which he will reward our faithfulness to him, demonstrated even in times of tempest which upset our heart and mind. But, at all times he is attentive to his chosen creature and wants to see the divine "image" shine in him always (see Genesis 1:26), so that he will be a sign of harmony, light and peace in the world.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[Following is a summary of the audience, prepared by the Holy See in English]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today's Psalm praises the greatness of God and the dignity of man. The Letter to the Hebrews invites us to read certain expressions of the Psalm in relation to Christ. By becoming man, Jesus was "for a little while made lower than the angels" (Hebrews 2:9). Now we see him "crowned with glory and honor." St. Ambrose applies the message of the Psalm to our lives: God helps us to overcome the trials of life, and will lift us up, in Christ, to glory.
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, India, Indonesia, Australia, Canada, the Philippines and the United States of America. Upon all of you I cordially invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.