Christians can be joyfully confident in God despite the “muddy river” of their sinfulness and failings, Pope John Paul asserted during his Nov. 7 general audience. God's goodness, merciful love, and faithfulness “express a bond that will never be broken throughout the flow of generations.”
Addressing 8,000 pilgrims in the Paul VI Audience Hall, the Pope continued his series of talks on the Liturgy of the Hours by focusing on Psalm 100. The five-verse hymn of praise and thanksgiving crystallizes “the intimate reality” of God, he said. It also stands as a sort of creed that affirms basic truths: The Lord is God, the Lord is our creator, we are his people, the Lord is good, his love is eternal, his faithfulness has no end.
The Pope noted that the brief psalm uses at least seven strong verbs to call believers to praise and serve God, underscoring “the urgent call to prayer.”
Jewish tradition has entitled the hymn of praise we have just proclaimed “Psalm for the Todah” — that is, for thanksgiving in liturgical song. This makes it especially appropriate for singing at Morning Prayer. In the few verses of this joyful hymn, we can identify three significant elements that make it spiritually fruitful for use by the Christian community at prayer.
Come and Praise!
First of all, there is an urgent call to prayer, which is clearly described as liturgical. This becomes obvious if we list the imperative verbs the psalm uses — each combined with its directive for worship. “Shout joyfully … worship the Lord with cries of gladness; come before him with joyful song. Know that the Lord is God…. Enter the Temple gates with praise, its courts with thanksgiving. Give thanks to God, bless his name” (verses 2-4). This is a series of invitations not only to enter the Temple's sacred area through its gates and courts (see Psalm 15:1; 24:3,7-10), but also to sing God's praises joyfully.
It is like a constant thread of praise that is never broken but expresses itself in a continuous profession of faith and love. Rising from the earth to God, this praise at the same time nourishes the spirit of the believer.
The King Is Coming
I would like to make a second small observation, this one about the hymn's very beginning, where the psalmist calls on all the earth to acclaim the Lord (verse 1). Granted, the psalm then focuses its attention on the chosen people. As is usual with the psalms, however — and particularly with those psalms we refer to as “hymns to the Lord King” (Psalms 96-99) — the panorama underlying the praise encompasses the whole universe. The world and history are not at the mercy of chance, chaos or blind necessity. Rather, they are governed by a God who is admittedly mysterious but who also wants human beings to live in stability, through just and authentic relationships. He “is king. The world will surely stand fast, never to be moved. God rules the peoples with fairness. … [He] comes … to govern the world with justice and the peoples with faithfulness” (Psalm 96:10,13).
At the Heart of Praise
Therefore, we are all in the hands of God, who is Lord and King. And we all acclaim him with confidence that this Creator and Father will not allow us to fall from his hands. In this light, we can better appreciate the psalm's third significant element. This is a kind of profession of faith which lies at the center of the praise the psalmist puts on our lips. Expressed through a series of attributes that define the intimate reality of God, this essential creed contains the following affirmations: “The Lord is God, our maker to whom we belong, whose people we are … . Good indeed is the Lord, whose love endures forever, whose faithfulness lasts through every age” (verses 3-5).
In the first place, there is a renewed confession of faith in the one God, as required by the first commandment of the Decalogue: “I, the Lord, am your God … . You shall not have other gods besides me” (Exodus 20:2,3). This confession appears often in the Bible: “You must now know, and fix in your heart, that the Lord is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other” (Deuteronomy 4:39). Then the psalm proclaims faith in God the Creator, who is the source of being and life. Next, expressed in the so-called “covenant formula,” follows the affirmation of Israel's certainty about having been divinely chosen: “Whose people we are, God's well-tended flock” (verse 3). This is a certainty that the faithful of the new people of God make their own — in the awareness that they constitute the flock which the supreme Shepherd of souls leads to heaven's eternal pastures (1 Peter 2:25).
When Words Fail
After proclaiming the one God, the Creator and source of the covenant, the psalmist continues singing his portrait of the Lord with a meditation on three of God's qualities that are often exalted in the psalter: goodness, merciful love (hésed) and faithfulness. These are the three virtues that characterize God's covenant with his people; they express a bond that will never be broken throughout the flow of generations, despite the muddy river of human sins, rebellions and infidelities. With serene confidence in God's love that will never fail, the people of God travel through history with their daily temptations and weaknesses.
And this confidence becomes a hymn for which words are sometimes no longer adequate. As St. Augustine observes: “The more charity increases, the more aware you will become that you were expressing things in words, yet not expressing them. In fact, before savoring certain things, you thought you could use words to speak about God; however, once you began to enjoy the taste, you realized that you are not capable of explaining adequately what you are experiencing. But if you realize that you do not know how to express in words what you are experiencing, should you, perhaps, because of this, be silent and refrain from praising? Absolutely not. Do not be so ungrateful. To him is owed honor, respect, the greatest praise. Listen to the psalm: ‘All the earth, praise the Lord!’ You will understand the joy of all the earth, if you yourself rejoice in the Lord” (Esposizioni sui Salmi III/1, Rome 1993, p. 459).
(Translation by Zenit and Register).