Faith Is a Leaven for Justice and Solidarity
Pope Benedict XVI met with 60,000 people in St. Peter's Square for his general audience on Oct. 12. Offering his reflections on Psalm 122, he continued the series of teachings on the psalms and canticles of the Liturgy of the Hours that Pope John Paul II began.
Psalm 122, the Holy Father pointed out, is one of the “songs of ascent” that ancient pilgrims sang during their pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem. “‘Built as a city, walled round about,’ thus a symbol of security and stability, Jerusalem is at the heart of the unity of the 12 tribes of Israel, which converge upon the city as the center of their faith and worship,” the Pope said. Besides being the political capital, Jerusalem was also the highest judicial center, where controversies were ultimately resolved. “Upon leaving Zion, the Jewish pilgrims returned to their villages more peaceful and with a greater sense of justice,” he noted.
The Holy Father went on to explain how the psalm also defined the city's religious and social role. Religion in the Bible was neither abstract nor private, he said, but a leaven for justice and solidarity among people: “Communion with God is followed necessarily by communion between brothers.”
In closing, Pope Benedict quoted St. Gregory the Great, who taught that the holy city of Jerusalem is being built today on the tradition of the saints: “In a building, one stone supports another, because one stone has been placed on another, and the one that supports another is, in turn, supported by yet another. In this very same way, each person lends supports and is supported within the holy Church.”
Yet, we must never forget, the Holy Father concluded, “there is one foundation that supports the entire weight of the construction, and it is our Redeemer.”
The canticle we just heard and enjoyed as a prayer is one of the most beautiful and moving of the “songs of ascent.” It is Psalm 122, a lively celebration in which everyone takes part that takes place in Jerusalem, the Holy City toward which pilgrims are ascending.
Right at the very beginning, two moments that these faithful people experience fuse together: the moment in the day when they accepted the invitation to “go to the house of the Lord” (verse 1), and the moment of their joyful arrival at the “gates” of Jerusalem (see verse 2). Now, their feet are finally planted on that holy and beloved ground. Then, a festive song flows from their lips in honor of Zion, reflecting on its deep spiritual significance.
City of Peace
“Built as a city, walled ‘round about” (verse 3), thus a symbol of security and stability, Jerusalem is at the heart of the unity of the 12 tribes of Israel, which converge upon the city as the center of their faith and worship. Indeed, they go up to the city “to give thanks to the name of the Lord” (verse 4) in the place that “was decreed for Israel” (Deuteronomy 12:13-14; 16:16) and established as the only legitimate and perfect place of worship.
Another important reality exists in Jerusalem that is also the sign of God's presence in Israel: “the thrones of the house of David” (see Psalm 122:5), that is, the ruling dynasty of David, which is the expression of God's work throughout history that would lead to the Messiah (2 Samuel 7:8-16).
The “thrones of the house of David” are also referred to as the “thrones of justice” (see Psalm 112:5), since the king was also the supreme judge. Thus Jerusalem, the political capital, was also the highest judicial seat, where disputes were settled in the last resort. Therefore, upon leaving Zion, the Jewish pilgrims returned to their villages more peaceful and with a greater sense of justice.
Leaven for Solidarity
The psalm has thus portrayed the ideal picture of the religious and social role of the Holy City, showing that religion of the Bible is neither abstract nor private, but a leaven for justice and solidarity. Communion with God is followed necessarily by communion between brothers.
We now come to the final prayer of petition (see verses 6-9). Its rhythm is marked by the Hebrew word shalom (peace), which traditionally has been considered as the root of the name of the Holy City, Yerushalayim (city of peace).
As it is well-known, shalom refers to the peace of the Messiah, which includes joy, prosperity, goodness and abundance. Indeed, in the final farewell that the pilgrim addresses to the Temple, to the “house of the Lord, our God,” this “blessing” is added to peace, “May blessings be yours” (verse 9), thereby foreshadowing the Franciscan greeting, “Peace and goodness!”
It is the hope for a blessing on the faithful who love the Holy City, on the physical reality of its walls and the buildings that pulsate with the life of its people, and on all brothers, sisters and friends. In this way, Jerusalem will become a home of harmony and peace.
Christ the Foundation
Let us conclude our meditation on Psalm 122 with some food for thought from the Fathers of the Church, for whom ancient Jerusalem was the sign of another Jerusalem, which “was built as a city, walled ‘round about.”
This city, as St. Gregory the Great reminds us in his Homilies on Ezekiel, “has already been largely built on the traditions of the saints. In a building, one stone supports another, because one stone has been placed on another, and the one that supports another is, in turn, supported by yet another. In this very same way, each person lends supports and is supported within the holy Church. Those who are closest to each other mutually support one another, and in this way, through them, the building of charity is erected. This is the reason why Paul admonishes us, saying: ‘Bear one another's burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ’ (Galatians 6:2). Emphasizing the force of this law, he says: ‘Love is the fulfillment of the law’ (Romans 13:10). If I, in fact, do not make an effort to accept you as you are, and you do not make an effort to accept me as I am, the building of charity cannot rise between us, who are also bound by mutual and patient love.” To complete the image, it must not be forgotten that “there is one foundation that supports the entire weight of the construction, and it is our Redeemer, who alone tolerates in their entirety all our habits. Of him the apostle says: ‘For no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 3:11). The foundation bears the stones and is not borne by the stones; that is to say, our Redeemer bears the weight of all our faults, but in him there was no fault to tolerate” (2,1,5: Opere di Gregorio Magno, III/2, Rome, 1993, pp. 27,29).
- October 23-29, 2005