Pope Benedict XVI met with 20,000 people in St. Peter's Square Nov. 2, the Commemoration of All Souls’ Day. He continued his series of reflections on the psalms and canticles from the Liturgy of the Hours’ evening prayer with a teaching on Psalm 112, “The Blessings of the Just.”
The Holy Father pointed out that it was an appropriate day to reflect on the meaning of death, but with an attitude of peace and hope.
“According to Scripture, death is not an end but a new birth,” he said. “Those who model their life here on earth according to God's word must pass through it in order to attain the fullness of life.”
According to Psalm 112, happiness begins with a fear of the Lord.
“It is manifested in docility to God's commandments,” Pope Benedict noted. “He who ‘greatly delights’ in God's commandments, finding in them peace and joy, is proclaimed blessed.”
This is also the source of peace of conscience, the Holy Father said. Furthermore, as people experience the value of a life of moral rectitude, they confidently reject the deceitful promises of success that is attained through unjust and immoral means.
The Pope also pointed out that the psalmist clearly states that the generous love of one's neighbor in need is a fundamental trait of those who walk according to God's Word.
“The faithful man is generous,” he said. “Responding to the prophets’ persistent admonitions, the just man aligns himself with society's outcasts and sustains them with abundant help.”
The Holy Father concluded his talk with a passage from Clement of Alexandria, who exhorted Christians to share generously with their neighbors by giving “without regret, distinction or pain.”
After celebrating the solemn feast of all the saints of heaven yesterday, today we remember all the faithful departed. The Liturgy invites us to pray for our loved ones who have died and to reflect on the mystery of death — a legacy that all men share.
Enlightened by faith, we look upon the enigma of human death with peace and hope. According to Scripture death is less an end than a new birth. Those who model their life here on Earth according to God's word must pass through it in order to attain the fullness of life.
Fear of the Lord
Psalm 112, a wisdom psalm, presents a portrait of the just, who fear the Lord, acknowledge his transcendence and follow his will with trust and love, in the hope of meeting him after death.
A blessing has been reserved for these faithful people: “Happy are those who fear the Lord” (verse 1). The psalmist immediately makes it clear what this fear consists of: It is shown in docility to God's commandments. He who “greatly delights” in God's commandments, finding in them peace and joy, is proclaimed blessed.
Thus, docility to God is the root of hope and of interior and exterior harmony. The observance of moral law is the source of a deep peace of conscience. Indeed, according to the biblical notion of “retribution,” the just are covered with the mantle of God's blessing, marking their endeavors and the endeavors of their descendants with stability and success: “Their descendants shall be mighty in the land, a generation upright and blessed. Wealth and riches shall be in their homes” (verses 2-3; see verse 9). Of course, the bitter observations of the just man, Job, who experiences the mystery of pain and sorrow and feels that he has been unjustly punished and subjected to apparently senseless trials, runs counter to this optimistic notion. It is necessary, therefore, to read this psalm in the wider context of the whole of Revelation, which embraces the reality of human life in all its aspects.
Nevertheless, the trust that the psalmist wishes to transmit to, and to be experienced by those who have chosen to follow the path of morally irreproachable conduct — as opposed to any illusion of success obtained through injustice and immorality — is still valid.
Charity to the Poor
At the core of this faithfulness to God's 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 person who is faithful is therefore generous. Respecting the Bible's teaching, he gives loans to his brothers in need without charging interest (see Deuteronomy 15:7-11) and without falling into the scandal of usury, which is devastating in the life of the poor.
Responding to the prophets’ persistent admonitions, the just man sides with society's outcasts and provides for them abundant help. “Lavishly they give to the poor,” verse 9 says, thereby expressing an extreme generosity that is completely devoid of any self-interest.
Besides the description of the faithful and charitable man who is “gracious, merciful and just,” at the end of Psalm 112 a single verse (see verse 10) presents a portrait of the wicked man. Such an individual looks at the success of the just man, and is consumed by rage and envy. This is the torment of the man who has a bad conscience, as opposed to the generous man whose heart is “steadfast” and “tranquil” (verses 7-8).
Clement of Alexandria
Fixing our gaze on the peaceful face of the faithful man “who gives lavishly to the poor,” let us by guided in our concluding reflection by the words of Clement of Alexandria, who, commenting on Jesus’ invitation to make friends with dishonest wealth (see Luke 16:9) in a piece entitled As a Rich Man He Will Be Saved, made the following observation: With this affirmation, Jesus “declares unjust by nature any possession that one has for one's self 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 work that is just and salutary, by providing relief to one of those little ones who have an eternal dwelling with the Father (see Matthew 10:42; 18:10)” (31,6: Collana di Testi Patristici, CXLVIII, Rome, 1999, pp. 56-57).
Addressing the reader, Clement warns: “Keep in mind, first of all, that he has not commanded you to demand to be asked or to wait to be begged, but to seek out yourself those who are well worthy of being heard, inasmuch as they are disciples of the Savior” (31,7: ibid., p. 57).
Then, citing another text from the Bible, he makes this comment: “Beautiful, therefore, is the apostle's saying: ‘God loves a cheerful giver’ (2 Corinthians 9:7) — a person who enjoys giving and does not sow sparsely so as not to gather in the same way, but shares without complaint, favoritism or regret. This is truly what it means to do good” (31, 8: ibid.).