Pope Benedict XVI met with 8,000 pilgrims during his general audience on Jan.25, the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. He resumed his catechesis on Psalm 144, offering his reflections on the second part of the psalm.
“This psalm celebrates history’s final goal when the voice of evil will finally be silenced,” the Pope said. He pointed out that it is a “new song” that speaks of peace and prosperity — signs of the Messiah who promises us the fulfillment of all our hopes.
The Holy Father noted that the psalmist describes this gift of peace with a series of images drawn from daily life. “First and foremost, there is the family,” he said, “which is based on the vitality of its offspring.” He pointed out that the psalm then moves on to the fruits of man’s labor — the crops, the sheep and the cattle — that are all gifts from the Lord. Finally, the psalmist gazes upon the new city whose walls are no longer breached by enemy armies and where the cries of the wounded and of the orphans — the sad legacy of war — are no longer heard.
“This portrait of a world that is different yet possible is entrusted to the work of the Messiah and of his people,” the Pope emphasized. “All of us together, under the guidance of Christ the Messiah, must work for this plan for harmony and peace, putting an end to the destructive activity of hatred, violence and war. It is necessary, though, to make a choice to be on the side of the God of love and justice.”
Today marks the end of The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, during which we have reflected on the need to constantly ask the Lord for the great gift of full unity among all Christ’s disciples. Prayer contributes substantially to making the ecumenical commitment that the Churches and the ecclesial communities share more sincere and more fruitful.
During our gathering, we would like to resume our meditation on Psalm 144, which the Liturgy of the Hours’ evening prayer presents in two different parts (see verses 1-8 and verses 9-15). The tone throughout is always that of a hymn and, in this second part of the psalm, the focus is once again on the figure of the “anointed one,” that is, the “consecrated one” par excellence — Jesus — who draws everyone to himself “so that they may all be one” (see John 17:11, 21). Fittingly, the scene that dominates the hymn is one that is marked by well-being, prosperity and peace — the typical symbols of the Messianic era.
A New Song
For this reason, the hymn is described as a “new” song, which in biblical language suggests not so much that the words of the hymn are new as that the theme is the ultimate fullness that is the outcome of hope (see verse 9). So, the psalm celebrates history’s final goal when the voice of evil will finally be silenced, which the psalmist describes as “untruths” and “lying oaths,” expressions meant to signify idolatry (see verse 11). It is in this light that the psalmist speaks about wicked people, who are seen as oppressing the people of God and their faith.
However, this negative aspect is followed by a positive dimension, to which far greater space is dedicated — that of a new and joyful world that is about to come into being. This is the true shalom, the Messiah’s true “peace,” a bright panorama that is described in a series of vignettes drawn from daily life. These can become for us too an expression of hope for the birth of a more just society.
A New City
]So, first and foremost, there is the family (see verse 12), which is based on the vitality of its offspring. Sons — the hope of the future — are compared to strong saplings; daughters are depicted as solid columns supporting the house, like the columns in a temple. We then move from the family to economic life — to the countryside with the fruit of its crops preserved in storehouses, with rapid growth among the sheep that are grazing, and with animals of labor at work in its fertile fields.
Finally we move on to the city, in other words, the entire civic community, which is finally enjoying the precious gift of peace and public order. The “breaches” that invaders open in the walls of the cities during their assaults have ceased forever; the “raids,” which entail devastation and deportations, have come to an end; and finally, the “outcry” is no longer heard of the afflicted, the wounded, the victims and the orphans — the sad legacy of wars (see verse 14b).
A New People
This portrait of a world that is different yet possible is entrusted to the work of the Messiah and of his people. All of us together, under the guidance of Christ the Messiah, must work for this plan for harmony and peace, putting an end to the destructive activity of hatred, violence and war. It is necessary, though, to make a choice to be on the side of the God of love and justice.
This is why the psalm closes with the words, “Happy the people whose God is the Lord” (verse 15). God is the good of goods, the condition for all other good things. Only the people that knows God and defends spiritual and moral values is really able to journey toward a deep peace and also become a force for peace in the world for the other peoples. And so it can sing with the psalmist this “new song” full of faith and hope. One spontaneously thinks of the New Covenant, to newness itself, which is Christ and his Gospel.
St. Augustine reminds us of this. Upon reading this psalm, he offered this interpretation of the words, “On a 10-stringed lyre I will play for you.” For him, the ‘10-stringed lyre’ is the law that is summed up in the Ten Commandments. But with these 10 strings, with the Ten Commandments, we have to find the right key. Only if these 10 strings of the Ten Commandments vibrate with love from the heart, St. Augustine tells us, do they sound right. Love is the fullness of the law. Those who live out the commandments as dimensions of this one love are truly singing this “new song.” Love that unites us to Christ’s feelings is the true “new song” of the “new man” who is capable of creating also a “new world.” This psalm invites us to sing with “the 10-stringed lyre” with a new heart, to sing with Christ’s feelings, to live out the Ten Commandments within this dimension of love, and to contribute in this way to peace and harmony in the world (see Esposizioni sui Salmi, 143, 16: Nuova Biblioteca Agostiniana, XXVIII, Rome, 1977, p. 677).
Register translation of the
Jan. 25 general audience.