Papal Meditation on Psalm 83(84)

General Audience at Castel Gandolfo

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 28, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II's address at today's general audience. The address was in Italian.



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1. We continue our journey through the Psalms of the liturgy of lauds. We now heard Psalm 83[84], attributed by the Jewish tradition "to the sons of Korah," a priestly family that attended to the liturgical service and guarded the threshold of the tent of the ark of the covenant (see 1 Corinthians 9:19).

This is a most charming song, suffused with mystical longing for the God of life, repeatedly celebrated (see Psalm 83[84]:2-4,9,13), entitled "Lord of the Armies," namely, Lord of the heavenly hierarchies and, therefore, of the cosmos. Moreover, this title was related in a special way to the ark kept in the temple, which was called "the ark of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned upon the cherubim" (1 Samuel 4:4; see Psalm 79[80]:2). In fact, it was regarded as the sign of divine protection in days of danger and war (see 1 Samuel 4:3-5; 2 Samuel 11:11).

The background of the whole Psalm is represented by the temple toward which the pilgrimage of faithful is directed. The season seems to be autumn, because there is a reference to the "first rains" which placate the scorching heat of summer (see Psalm 83[84]:7). Therefore, one could think of the pilgrimage to Zion for the third principal feast of the Hebrew year, that of Capanne, in remembrance of Israel's pilgrimage in the desert.

2. The temple is present in all its fascination at the beginning and end of the Psalm. In the opening (see verses 2-4), we find the wonderful and delicate image of the birds who have made their nests in the sanctuary, an enviable privilege.

This is a representation of the happiness of all those -- such as the priests of the temple -- who have fixed residence in the House of God, enjoying its intimacy and peace. In fact, the whole being of the believer is stretched out to the Lord, impelled by an almost physical and instinctive desire: "My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the Lord. My heart and flesh cry out for the living God" (verse 3). The temple reappears, then, at the end of the Psalm (see verses 11-13). The pilgrim expresses his great happiness to spend some time in the courts of the house of God and contrasts this spiritual happiness with the idolatrous illusion, which pushes one toward "the tents of wickedness," namely, the infamous temples of injustice and perversion.

3. There is light, life and joy only in the sanctuary of the living God and "happy are those" who "trust in you," choosing the way of righteousness (see verses 12-13). The image of the way takes us to the heart of the Psalm (see verses 5-9), where a higher and more meaningful pilgrimage takes place. Blessed is the one who dwells in the temple in a stable way, even more blessed is the one who decides to undertake a journey of faith toward Jerusalem.

In their comments on Psalm 83[84], the Church Fathers also highlight especially verse 6: "Happy are they who find refuge in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrim roads." The early translations of the Psalter spoke of the decision to complete the "ascensions" toward the Holy City. Therefore, for the Fathers the pilgrimage to Zion became the symbol of the continuous progress of the righteous toward the "eternal tents," where God receives his friends in full joy (see Luke 16:9).

We wish to reflect for a moment on this mystical "ascension," which finds an image and sign in the earthly pilgrimage. And we will do so through the words of a Christian writer of the seventh century, abbot of the monastery of Sinai.

4. This was John Climacus, who dedicated a full treatise -- "The Ladder of Paradise" -- to illustrate the innumerable steps by which the spiritual life ascends. At the end of his work he gives the word to charity itself, placed at the top of the ladder of spiritual progress.

It is charity that invites and exhorts, proposing sentiments and attitudes already suggested in our Psalm: "Go up, brothers, ascend. Cultivate in your heart, brothers, the lively desire to ascend always (see Psalm 83:6). Listen to the words that invite: 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and to the house of our God' (see Isaiah 2:3), may our feet be rendered swift like those of a deer and may we be given the goal of a sublime place, so that by following his ways we will succeed in conquering (see Psalm 17:33). Therefore, let us make haste -- as is written -- while we have not all yet found the face of God in the unity of faith and, recognizing him, have not yet attained to the perfect man in full maturity of the age of Christ (see Ephesians 4, 13)" ("The Ladder of Paradise," Rome, 1989, p. 355).

5. The Psalmist is thinking first of all of the concrete pilgrimage that leads to Zion from the various localities of the Holy Land. He sees the falling rain as an anticipation of the joyful blessings that will envelop him like a mantle (see Psalm 83:7) when he will be before the Lord in the temple (see verse 8). The exhausting journey through "the valley of tears" (see verse 7) is transfigured by the certainty that God is the end, he who gives vigor (see verse 8), hears the supplications of the faithful (see verse 9), and becomes their protective "shield" (see verse 10).

The concrete pilgrimage is transformed precisely in this light -- as the Fathers intuited -- in a parable of the whole of life, set between distance and intimacy with God, between the mystery and the revelation. Even in the desert of daily existence, the six workdays of the week are made fruitful, illuminated and sanctified by the meeting with God on the seventh day through the liturgy and prayer.

Let us also walk, then, when we are in the "valley of tears," keeping our eyes fixed on that luminous end of peace and communion. We also repeat in our heart the final beatitude, similar to the antiphon that seals the Psalm: "O Lord of hosts, happy are those who trust in you" (verse 13).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[The Holy Father then summarized his catechesis in French, English, German, Spanish and Portuguese. The following was his summary in English, as released by the Vatican Press Office.]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Psalm 83 is a hymn of mystic longing for the Lord of life. It evokes a pilgrimage to the Temple, the sanctuary of the living God, where the faithful find light, life, and joy. In this holy sanctuary, the Lord of Hosts is no longer far-removed from his people, but comes to them in intimate friendship. Like the Psalmist, we too turn our gaze to the Lord of life, and in faith, we walk the light-filled path which leads to peace and communion with our God.

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims present in today's Audience, especially those from England, Ireland, Denmark, and Japan. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in Hungarian, Lithuanian, Croatian and Italian. Lastly, John Paul II made the following appeal in Italian.]

In the last weeks bad weather has affected some regions of Europe and Asia, causing enormous damages. In particular, in Central China, millions of people have had to face tragic hardships. The populations in the Czech Republic and in Germany, hit by disastrous floods, are setting about a long work of reconstruction. While I assure all of my closeness in affection and prayer, I encourage and bless the competition in solidarity that has been noted among nations and the populations themselves, victims of the painful events.

[Translation by ZENIT]