God Protects Us in Difficult Times
Upon returning from his vacation, Pope Benedict XVI met with 6,000 pilgrims in the Paul VI Hall for his Aug. 3 general audience. He continued his teachings on the psalms and canticles from the Liturgy of the Hours, focusing on Psalm 125.
Psalm 125, he pointed out, is one of the “Songs of Ascent” that the Jewish people traditionally recited during their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It proclaims that all who put their trust in the Lord stand solid and unshakeable.
As Jerusalem is protected from its enemies by the mountains that surround her, so the Lord's faithful are protected from all danger by his presence.
“Even when the believer feels isolated and surrounded by peril and hostility, his faith must remain calm and serene,” Pope Benedict XVI said.
The Holy Father pointed out that Psalm 125 is especially relevant today.
“The psalm instills a deep trust within the soul,” he noted. “It is a powerful aid in confronting those difficult situations where believers experience external crises, such as isolation, irony and disdain, and the internal crises that are associated with them that are a result of discouragement, mediocrity and fatigue.” The Lord, he said, gives us confidence and encouragement.
Departing from his prepared text, Pope Benedict XVI noted: “We are familiar with such situations, but the psalm tells us: “The Lord is with you, trust. I am stronger than all these evils.”
As with the psalmist who contemplates the city of Jerusalem, the symbol of God's peace, we trust in our loving Father who leads us to that peace promised in Christ to God's faithful people.
“The psalm ends with the traditional greeting of shalom,” he said. “This greeting is transformed into a wish filled with hope. We can explain it using the words of St. Paul: ‘Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule and to the Israel of God.'”
During our meeting, we will continue the journey we have been making through the Liturgy of the Hours’ evening prayer. We will focus on Psalm 125, which is part of a powerful and thought-provoking collection of psalms called the “Songs of Ascent” that functioned as a little prayer book for a pilgrimage to Zion to encounter the Lord in his Temple (see Psalms 120-134).
The psalm upon which we will now be briefly meditating is a wisdom psalm that kindles trust in the Lord and that contains a short prayer (see Psalm 125:4). Its first sentence proclaims the steadfastness of those “who trust in the Lord,” comparing their steadfastness to Mount Zion's secure and unshakeable stability, which is obviously due to the presence of God, who is, as another psalm affirms, a “rock of refuge, a shield, a saving horn, a stronghold” (see Psalm 18:3). Even when the believer feels isolated and surrounded by peril and hostility, his faith must remain calm and serene.
Even the prophet Isaiah attests to having heard the following words from God's mouth regarding those who are faithful to him: “See, I am laying a stone in Zion, a stone that has been tested, a precious cornerstone as a sure foundation; he who puts his faith in it will not be shaken” (Isaiah 28:16).
But, as the psalmist goes on to say, the trust of the faithful has an even greater source of support: the Lord is, in a sense, encamped around his people to protect them, just like the mountains that encircle Jerusalem, whose natural bulwark make it a fortified city (see Psalm 125:2). In a prophecy from Zechariah, God spoke the following words about Jerusalem: “I will be for her an encircling wall of fire and I will be the glory in her midst” (Zechariah 2:9).
God Protects Us
In this radical atmosphere of trust, the psalmist reassures “the just.” In itself, their situation might be a cause for worry given the arrogance of the wicked who want to impose their dominion over them. There is also the temptation for the just to become accomplices with evil in order to avoid any serious discomfort, but the Lord protects them from any oppression: “The scepter of the wicked will not prevail in the land given to the just” (see verse 3). At the same time, he preserves them from any temptation to “turn their hands to evil” (see verse 3).
The psalm instills a deep trust within the soul. It is a powerful aid in confronting those difficult situations where believers experience external crises, such as isolation, irony and disdain, and the internal crises that are associated with them that are a result of discouragement, mediocrity and fatigue.
The psalm's conclusion contains a plea that is directed to the Lord on behalf of “the good” and “upright of heart” (see verse 4), as well as a proclamation of the misfortune that awaits those “who turn aside to crooked ways” (see verse 5). On one hand, the psalmist asks the Lord to manifest himself as a loving father to the just and the faithful who uphold the shining torch of a good conscience and of righteousness in life. On the other hand, he expects the Lord to reveal himself as a just judge to those who have walked the crooked path of evil, whose final outcome is death.
The Desire for Peace
The psalm ends with the traditional greeting of shalom, (peace upon Israel), a rhythmic greeting that assonates with Jerushalayim with Jerusalem (see verse 2), the symbolic city of peace and holiness. This greeting is transformed into a wish filled with hope. We can explain it using the words of St. Paul: “Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule and to the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).
In his commentary on this psalm, St. Augustine makes a contrast between “those who walk along crooked paths” and “those who are upright of heart and who do not turn away from God.” If the former people find themselves about to be united with the “fate that awaits the wicked,” what is the fate of the “upright of heart?”
In the hope that he himself along with his listeners will be among those who share in the happy fate that awaits the upright of heart, the bishop of Hippo poses the following question: “What shall we possess? What will our heritage be? Where is our homeland? What name shall we bear?”
He himself is the one who answers, indicating the name: “Peace. I greet you with a wish for peace. I proclaim peace to you. The mountains will welcome peace, while justice will spread on the hillsides (see Psalm 72:3). Christ is now our peace: ‘For he is our peace’ (Ephesians 2:14)” (Esposizioni sui Salmi, IV, Nuova Biblioteca Agostiniana, XXVIII, Rome 1977, p. 105).
St. Augustine concludes with an exhortation that is, at the same time, a wish: “Let us be God's Israel and let us stand upright in peace, because Jerusalem signifies a vision for peace and we are Israel — the Israel upon whom is peace” Esposizioni, p. 107).
- August 14-20, 2005