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Psalm 141 (142)

You are my refuge
"All these things were fulfilled by the Lord at the time of his passion" (St Hilary).

With all my voice I cry to the Lord,
  with all my voice I entreat the Lord.
I pour out my trouble before him;
  I tell him all my distress
while my spirit faints within me.
  But you, O Lord, know my path.

On the way where I shall walk
  they have hidden a snare to entrap me.
Look on my right and see:
  there is no one who takes my part.
I have no means of escape,
  not one who cares for my soul.

I cry to you, O Lord.
  I have said: 'You are my refuge,
  all I have in the land of the living.
Listen, then, to my cry
  for I am in the depths of distress.

Rescue me from those who pursue me
  for they are stronger than I.
Bring my soul out of this prison
 and then I shall praise your name.
Around me the just will assemble
 because of your goodness to me.

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II on Psalm 141 (142)
General Audience, Wednesday 12 November 2003 - also in French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

Vespers I, Sunday Week 1 - Your are my refuge
v 2-3.6-8

"1. On the evening of 3 October 1226 St Francis of Assisi lay dying: his last prayer was precisely the recitation of Psalm 141, that we have just heard. St Bonaventure recalls that Francis "burst out with the exclamation of the Psalm: 'With all my voice I cry to the Lord, with all my voice I entreat the Lord', and recited it to the very last verse: 'The righteous will surround me; for you will deal bountifully with me'" (Legenda Maior, XIV, 5, in Fonti Francescane, Padova).

The Psalm is an intense supplication, marked by a series of verbs of entreaty addressed to the Lord. "I cry to the Lord", "I entreat the Lord", "I pour out my trouble", "I tell him all my distress" (v 1-2). The central part of the Psalm is dominated by trust in God who is not indifferent to the suffering of his faithful (cf v 3-7). With this attitude, St Francis approached death.

2. God is called upon with [the familiar form of] "you", as a person who provides security: "You are my refuge" (v 5). "You know my path", that is, the itinerary of my life, a route marked by the option for justice. On that road, however, the wicked have set a hidden snare (cf v 3); it is the typical image taken from hunting scenes and frequent in the supplications of the Psalms to indicate the dangers and threats to which the just one is subjected.

Facing this nightmare, the Psalmist sends as it were an alarm signal for God to see his situation and intervene: "Look on my right and see" (v 5). Now, in Eastern use/tradition, the defender or favourable witness in a court or, in the case of war, the bodyguard, was on the right of a person. Therefore the faithful one is alone and abandoned: "there is no one who takes my part". For this reason he expresses an anguished observation: "I have no means of escape, not one who cares for my soul" (v 5).

3. A cry then immediately reveals the hope that dwells in the heart of the person of prayer. Henceforth, his only protection, his only effective closeness, is to be found in God: "You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living" (v 5). The "portion" or "destiny" in biblical language is the gift of the promised land, a sign of God's love for his people. The Lord now remains the last and only foundation to depend on, the only possibility of life, the supreme hope.

The Psalmist calls upon him insistently, because he has been "brought very low" (v 6). He entreats the Lord to intervene to break the chains of his prison of solitude and hostility (cf v 7) and to bring him out of the abyss of trial.

4. As in other psalms of petition, the final prospect is the thanksgiving that will be offered to God when he has anwered the prayer: "Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name!" (ibid). When he has been saved, the faithful one will thank the Lord in the midst of the liturgical assembly (cf ibid). The righteous will surround him and will see the salvation of their brother as a gift that is also offered to them.

This atmosphere must also pervade Christian celebrations. The suffering of the individual must echo in the hearts of all; likewise, the joy of each one must be vibrant in the whole of the praying community. "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity" (Ps 132[133], 1), and the Lord Jesus said: "Where two or three are gathered in my name there am I in the midst of them" (Mt 18, 20).

5. Christian tradition has applied Psalm 141[142] to the persecuted and suffering Christ. In this perspective, the luminous goal of the Psalm's plea is transfigured into a paschal sign on the basis of the glorious outcome of the life of Christ and of our destiny of resurrection with him. This is also what St Hilary of Poitiers, a famous fourth-century Doctor of the Church, says in his Treatise on the Psalms.

He comments on the Latin translation of the last verse of the Psalm, which speaks of a reward for the person of prayer and the expectation of being with the just: "Me expectant iusti, donec retribuas mihi". St Hilary explains that "the Apostle teaches us what reward the Father gave to Christ: "God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father' (Phil 2, 9-11). This is the reward: to the body that has ascended is given the everlasting glory of the Father".

"Then the same Apostle teaches us what the expectation of the just consists in, saying: "Our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself' (Phil 3, 20-21). Indeed, the just await his coming so that he will reward them, that is, by changing them to be like his glorious body that is blessed for ever and ever. Amen" (PL 9, 833-837)."