Beginning a Difficult Day With Prayer

Register Summary

Psalm 5 is the morning prayer of a believer who feels “tension and anxiety” looking ahead to the day's encounters with enemies and evildoers, said Pope John Paul at his regular weekly general audience May 30.

“In the face of the anxieties of an exhausting and perhaps dangerous day, a certainty emerges,” the Pope told about 12,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's square. “The Lord is a consistent God, rigorous towards injustice, opposed to any compromise with evil.”

Morning prayer gives believers “an interior energy” that enables them to face an often hostile world.

Despite the dangers and disappointments that each day brings, those who faithfully turn to God experience a “wave of serenity and joy,” knowing that he is at their side.

At dawn you will hear my cry; at dawn I will plead before you and wait.” With these words, Psalm 5 presents itself as a morning prayer, and it is, therefore, well placed in the liturgy of lauds, the song of the believer at the beginning of the day. Tension and anxiety over the dangers and afflictions that lie ahead mark the background tonality of this plea. Trust in God, however, is not diminished, for God is always ready to sustain his faithful one so that he will not stumble in the path of life.

“No one except the Church possesses such trust” (Jerome, Tractatus LIX in Psalmos, 5,27: PL 26,829). Pointing out that the heading given this psalm in its Latin version reads “for her who receives the inheritance,” St. Augustine explains: “This refers, therefore, to the Church, which receives eternal life as an inheritance through our Lord Jesus Christ, so that she possesses God himself, clings to him, and finds her happiness in him, in keeping with what is written: ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth’” (Matthew 5:4). (Enarr. in Ps., 5: CCL 38,1,2–3).

You, the Holy God

As often happens in the psalms of “supplication” that are addressed to the Lord for deliverance from evil, there are three characters who enter the scene in this psalm. See, the first to appear is God (verses 2–7) — the “You” par excellence of the psalm, whom the person praying addresses trustfully. In the face of the anxieties of an exhausting and perhaps dangerous day, a certainty emerges: The Lord is a consistent God, rigorous towards injustice, opposed to any compromise with evil: “You are not a god who delights in evil” (verse 5).

A long list of evil people — the wicked, the arrogant, evildoers, liars, murders and deceivers — pass before the Lord's eyes. He is the holy and just God and he sides with whoever follows the paths of truth and love, opposing the one who chooses “the paths that lead to the kingdom of darkness” (see Proverbs 2:18). The faithful believer, then, does not feel alone and abandoned when he faces the city, entering society and the tangle of daily affairs.

I, the One at Prayer

In verses 8 to 9 of our morning prayer the second character, the person at prayer, presents himself as “I,” showing that his entire person is dedicated to God and to his “great mercy.” He is sure that the doors of the temple — namely, of the place of communion and of divine intimacy — barred to the godless, are opened wide before him. He enters in to experience the certainty of God's protection, while outside, evil rages and celebrates its apparent, fleeting triumphs.

From his morning prayer in the temple, the believer receives the interior energy to face an often hostile world. The Lord himself will take him by the hand and lead him through the streets of the city — he will even “make straight the way,” as the psalmist says, using a simple yet thought-provoking image. In the Hebrew original this serene trust is based on two words (hésed and sedaqáh): “mercy or faithfulness” on the one hand, and “justice or salvation” on the other. They are the characteristic words to celebrate the covenant joining the Lord with his people and with each believer.

They, the Malicious Enemies

Here, finally, the somber figure of the third character in this daily drama is outlined in the scene: It is the “enemies,” the wicked, who were already in the background in the preceding verses. After the “You” of God and the “I” of the person at prayer, there is now a “They,” indicating the hostile masses, a symbol of the evil of the world (verses 10–11). [Their misuse of] a fundamental component of social communication — the word - forms the basis of the psalmist's sketch of the evildoers' telling characteristics. Four elements — mouth, heart, throat, tongue — express the radical nature of the malice inherent in their choices. Their mouth is full of falsehood, their heart constantly plots treachery, their throat is like an open grave, quick to wish only death, their tongue is seductive but “full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).

Certainty of Blessing

After this harsh and realistic portrait of the perverse one who attacks the just man, the psalmist calls for God to condemn him, in a verse (11) that the Christian liturgy omits, with the intent of conforming to the New Testament Revelation of merciful love, which offers the possibility of conversion even to the wicked.

At this point, after the barely sketched, somber profile of the sinner, the psalmist's prayer reaches a finale full of light and peace (verses 12–13). A wave of serenity and joy envelops the one who is faithful to the Lord. The day that is now opening up before the believer, though marked by toil and anxiety, will always have the sun of God's blessing shining down on him. The psalmist, who knows God's heart and character profoundly, has no doubt: “You, Lord, bless the just; you surround them with favor like a shield” (verse 13).