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Psalm 143 (144)

For victory and peace
"I can do all things with the help of the One who gives me strength" (Phil 4, 13).

Blessed be the Lord, my rock,
  who trains my arms for battle,
  who prepares my hands for war.

He is my love, my fortress;
  he is my stronghold, my saviour
my shield, my place of refuge.
  He brings peoples under my rule.

Lord, what is man that you care for him,
  mortal man, that you keep him in mind;
man, who is merely a breath
  whose life fades like a shadow?

Lower your heavens and come down;
  touch the mountains; wreathe them in smoke.
Flash your lightnings; rout the foe,
  shoot your arrows and put them to flight.

Reach down from heaven and save me;
  draw me out from the mighty waters,
  from the hands of alien foes
whose mouths are filled with lies,
  whose hands are raised in perjury.

To you, O God, will I sing a new song;
  I will play on the ten-stringed harp
to you who give kings their victory,
  who set David your servant free.

Catechesis by Pope Benedict XVI on Psalm 143 (144) v 1-8
General Audience, Wednesday 11 January 2006 - also in Croatian, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

Vespers, Thursday Week 4 - Prayer of the King for victory and for peace

1. Our journey through the Psalter used by the liturgy of Vespers now comes to a royal hymn, Psalm 143, the first part of which has just been proclaimed: in fact, the liturgy divides this hymn into two separate sections.

The first part shows clearly the literary character of this composition: the Psalmist has recourse to citations of other texts of psalms, presenting them in a new project of song and prayer.

Precisely because the Psalm is of a later epoch, it is easy to imagine that the king who is exalted might no longer possess the features of the Davidic sovereign, since the Jewish royal house came to an end with the Babylonian Exile in the 6th century BC, but rather represents the shining and glorious figure of the Messiah, whose triumph is no longer an event of war or politics but an intervention of liberation from evil. The "messiah" - a Hebrew word that means "anointed one", as was a sovereign - thus gives way to the "Messiah" par excellence, who in the Christian interpretation has the Face of Jesus Christ, "son of David, son of Abraham".

2. The hymn opens with a blessing, that is, with an exclamation of praise addressed to the Lord, celebrated with a brief litany of saving titles: he is the rock, safe and sound, he is loving grace, he is the protected fortress, the stronghold of defence, liberation, the shield that keeps at bay any assault by evil. There is also the martial image of God who trains his faithful one for battle so that he will be able to face the hostilities of the environment, the dark powers of the world.

Before the all-powerful Lord, the person of prayer feels weak and frail, despite his royal dignity. He therefore makes a profession of humility that is formulated, as was said, with words from Psalms 8 and 39. Indeed, he feels like "a breath", similar to a fleeting shadow, ephemeral and inconsistent, plunged into the flow of time that rolls on and marked by the limitations proper to the human creature (cf Ps 143, 4).

3. Here then, is the question: why does God care for and think about this creature who is so wretched and ephemeral? This question elicits the great manifestation of the divine, the so-called theophany that is accompanied by a procession of cosmic elements and historical events, directed at celebrating the transcendence of the supreme King of being, of the universe and of history.

Here, mountains smoke in volcanic eruptions, lightning like arrows routs the wicked, here are the "mighty waters" of the ocean that are the symbol of the chaos from which, however, the king is saved by the action of the divine hand itself. In the background remain the wicked who tell "lies" and swear false oaths: a practical depiction, in the Semitic style of idolatry, of moral perversion and evil that truly oppose God and his faithful.

4. Now, for our meditation, we will reflect initially on the profession of humility made by the Psalmist, and entrust ourselves to the words of Origen, whose commentary on our text has come down to us in St Jerome's Latin version. "The Psalmist speaks of the frailty of the body and of the human condition" because "with regard to the human condition, the human person is nothing. "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity', said Ecclesiastes" But the marvelling, grateful question returns: ""Lord, what is man that you manifested yourself to him?'... It is a great happiness for men and women to know their Creator. In this we differ from wild beasts and other animals, because we know we have our Creator, whereas they do not." It is worth thinking a bit about these words of Origen, who sees the fundamental difference between the human being and the other animals in the fact that man is capable of recognizing God, his Creator, that man is capable of truth, capable of a knowledge that becomes a relationship, friendship. It is important in our time that we do not forget God, together with all the other kinds of knowledge we have acquired in the meantime, and they are very numerous! They all become problematic, at times dangerous, if the fundamental knowledge that gives meaning and orientation to all things is missing: knowledge of God the Creator.

Let us return to Origen. He says: "You will not be able to save this wretch that is man unless you take it upon yourself. "Lord.., lower your heavens and come down'. Your lost sheep cannot find healing unless it is placed on your shoulders... These words are addressed to the Son: "Lord, lower your heavens and come down'.... You have come down, lowered the heavens, stretched out your hand from on high and deigned to take our human flesh upon yourself, and many believed in you." For us Christians God is no longer a hypothesis, as he was in the philosophy that preceded Christianity, but a reality, for God "lowered the heavens and came down". Heaven is God himself and he came down among us. Origen rightly sees in the Parable of the Lost Sheep that the shepherd takes upon his shoulders the Parable of God's Incarnation. Yes, in the Incarnation, he came down and took upon his shoulders our flesh, we ourselves. Thus, knowledge of God became reality, it became friendship and communion. Let us thank the Lord because he "lowered the heavens and came down", he took our flesh upon his shoulders and carries us on our journey through life.

The Psalm, having started with our discovery that we are weak and far from divine splendour, ends up with this great surprise of God's action: beside us, with us, is God-Emmanuel, who for Christians has the loving Face of Jesus Christ, God made man, God made one of us.


"Chers frères et soeurs, Je salue cordialement les pèlerins francophones présents ce matin, en particulier les diacres et les jeunes prêtres du Séminaire de Lille, ainsi que les groupes de jeunes. Que votre pèlerinage à Rome ravive votre foi et ouvre vos coeurs à l'espérance, pour accueillir chaque jour dans vos vies l'Emmanuel, le Prince de la Paix!

Dear Brothers and Sisters, I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today, including groups from Finland, Japan, and the United States of America. Upon you and your loved ones at home, I invoke the joy and peace of Christ our Lord! I wish to offer my heartfelt greetings to the students and teachers of the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey in Switzerland. I hope that your visit to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, together with your meetings, will be a stimulus to strengthen your commitment to the vital task of promotion of unity among Christians.

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern! Von Herzen heiße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher willkommen. Gott will allen Menschen nahe sein. Seine liebende Nähe wird besonders auch in einer wahren und echten Gemeinschaft sichtbar. Liebe Freunde, tragt in eurer Umgebung dazu bei, daß Gemeinschaft wachsen und sich entfalten kann. Der Heilige Geist geleite euch auf allen Wegen.

Saúdo com viva satisfação o grupo de peregrinos de língua portuguesa e, de modo especial, os juristas brasileiros aqui presentes. Faço votos que a oportunidade de visitar o túmulo dos Apóstolos vos sirva de estímulo para uma renovada confiança na Lei de Deus e nos princípios que dela derivam. A todos desejo muita paz e alegria no Espírito Santo. Que o Senhor vos abençoe!

Queridos hermanos y hermanas: Saludo cordialmente a los visitantes y peregrinos venidos de España y de Latinoamérica. Conscientes de la dignidad de ser hijos de Dios, os animo a vivir vuestra vida cristiana con alegría y fidelidad a vuestros compromisos bautismales.

Pozdravljam sve hrvatske hodočasnike, a osobito časne sestre Službenice milosrđa te prosvjetne djelatnike iz Zagreba! Gospodin koji nas je obradovao svojim pohodom neka Vas sačuva postojanima u živoj vjeri i djelotvornoj ljubavi. Hvaljen Isus i Marija!

Witam serdecznie pielgrzymów z Polski i z innych krajów. Szczególnie pozdrawiam Regionalny Zespół Pieśni i Tańca „Pilsko”, któremu życzę wielu sukcesów w pracy artystycznej. Wszystkim tu obecnym składam życzenia owocnego pobytu w Rzymie i dobrego Nowego Roku. Proszę was o przekazanie moich pozdrowień waszym rodzinom i parafiom. Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus.

Rivolgo un cordiale saluto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana. Grazie per il vostro entusiasmo, grazie per la gioia della fede! In particolare, saluto i rappresentanti della Federazione Italiana Comunità Terapeutiche, che ricorda il 25° anniversario di attività, ed auguro loro di proseguire con entusiasmo nell'opera di sostegno e di recupero di quanti sono vittime della droga e dell'emarginazione. Saluto poi il gruppo dell’Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi e i giovani del Movimento dei Focolari.

Il mio pensiero va infine ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli. La festa del Battesimo del Signore, che ha chiuso il tempo natalizio, vi sia di stimolo, cari amici, perché nel ricordo del vostro battesimo siate pronti a testimoniare con gioia la fede in Cristo in ogni situazione, nella salute e nella malattia, in famiglia, nel lavoro e in tutti gli ambienti."

Catechesis by Pope Benedict XVI on Psalm 143 (144) - v 9-15
General Audience, Wednesday 25 January 2006 - also in Croatian, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

Vespers, Thursday, Week 4 - "Sing a new song!"

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. Today concludes the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, during which we reflected on the constant necessity to invoke the Lord for the immense gift of full unity among all of Christ's disciples. Indeed, this prayer contributes in an essential way to make the common ecumenical effort of the Churches and Ecclesial Communities more sincere and fruitful.

At this gathering of ours, I would like to take up once more the meditation on Psalm 144[143], proposed by the Liturgy of Vespers in two distinct moments (cf. vv. 1-8 and vv. 9-15). The tone is still hymnal and entering into the scene is, also in the second movement of this Psalm, the figure of the "Anointed One", that is, the "Consecrated One" par excellence, Jesus, who draws everyone to himself to make of all "one" (cf. Jn 17:11, 21). It is not by chance that the scene dominating the hymn is marked by prosperity and peace, symbols typical of the messianic era.

2. For this reason, the hymn is defined as "new", a term which, in biblical language, evokes not so much the exterior novelty of the words, as the ultimate fullness that seals hope (cf. v. 9). It sings, therefore, of the destination of history where the voice of evil, described by the Psalmist as "lies" and "perjury", expressions which indicate idolatry (cf. v. 11), will finally be silenced.

But this negative aspect is replaced by a more spacious positive dimension, that of the new world, a joyful one about to appear. This is the true shalom or messianic "peace", a luminous horizon that is articulated with a series of images drawn from social life: they too can become for us an auspice for the birth of a more just society.

3. It is above all the family (cf. v. 12) that is founded on generations of young people. Sons, the hope of the future, are compared to strong saplings; daughters are like sturdy columns supporting the house, similar to those of a temple. From the family we pass on to agriculture and farming, to the fields with its crops stored in the barns, with large flocks of grazing sheep and the working animals that till the fertile fields (cf. vv. 13-14).

Our gaze then turns to the city, that is, to the entire civil society which finally enjoys the precious gift of public peace and order. Indeed, the city walls are never more to be "breached" by invaders during assaults; raids are over, that mean plundering and deportation, and finally, the "sound of weeping" of the despairing, the wounded, victims and orphans, the sad inheritance of war, is no longer raised (cf. v. 14).

4. This portrait of a different yet possible world is entrusted to the work of the Messiah and also to that of his people. Under the guidance of Christ the Messiah, we must work together for this project of harmony and peace, stopping war's destructive action of hatred and violence. It is necessary, however, to make a choice, choosing to be on the side of the God of love and justice.

It is for this reason that the Psalm ends with the words: "Happy the people whose God is the Lord" (v. 15). God is the Good of goods, the condition of all other goods. Only a people that knows God and defends spiritual and moral values can truly go towards a profound peace and also become a strength of peace for the world and for others; therefore, together with the Psalmist they can sing the "new song", full of trust and hope. Spontaneous reference is made to the new covenant, to the novelty itself of Christ and his Gospel.

This is what St Augustine reminds us. Reading this Psalm, he also interprets the words: "I will play on the ten-stringed harp to you". To him, the ten-stringed harp is the law summed up in the Ten Commandments. But we must find the right peg for these ten strings, these Ten Commandments. And only if these ten cords of the Ten Commandments - as St Augustine says - are strummed by the charity of the heart do they sound well. Charity is the fullness of the law. He who lives the Commandments as a dimension of the one charity, truly sings the "new song". Charity that is united to the sentiments of Christ is the authentic "new song" of the "new man", able to create also a "new world". This Psalm invites us to sing "on the ten-stringed harp" with a new heart, to sing with the sentiments of Christ, to live the Ten Commandments in the dimension of love and to thereby contribute to the peace and harmony of the world (cf. Esposizioni sui Salmi, 143, 16: Nuova Biblioteca Agostiniana, XXVIII, Rome, 1977, p. 677)."


"Je suis heureux de vous accueillir, chers pèlerins de langue française. Je vous invite à demander au Seigneur, avec toujours plus de ferveur, de faire à son Église le don de l’unité. Soyez toujours et partout des artisans ardents de paix et de fraternité ! Avec ma Bénédiction apostolique.

I welcome the English-speaking pilgrims here today, especially the students and teachers from Denmark and the ecumenical group from Japan. I greet also those who have come from Ireland, New Zealand and the United States of America. May you experience in your lives the peace and joy of Christ our Lord, and may God bless you all.

Mit diesen Gedanken heiße ich euch, liebe Pilger und Besucher aus den Ländern deutscher Sprache, herzlich willkommen. Mit besonderer Freude begrüße ich die Dechanten und die Mitarbeiter der Bischöflichen Kurie der Diözese Gurk-Klagenfurt in Begleitung ihres Bischofs sowie die Pilgergruppe der Hauptabteilung „Seelsorge" im Kölner Generalvikariat. Das heutige Fest der Bekehrung des heiligen Paulus sei euch allen ein Ansporn, in das „neue Lied" der Jünger Christi einzustimmen und Gott für die guten Gaben zu danken, die wir aus seiner Güte und Liebe empfangen haben. Euch allen wünsche ich von Herzen einen gesegneten Tag!

Saludo cordialmente a los peregrinos de lengua española, en particular al grupo de la Fundación Interfamilias, así como a las demás personas venidas de España y Latinoamérica. En el día que se clausura la Semana de oración por la unidad de los cristianos, invito a todos unirse con sus plegarias, para que se cumpla el deseo de Jesús: «que todos sean uno». Muchas gracias por vuestra visita.

Srdeÿnÿzdravím poutníky z ÿevnic a Bÿeclavi. Podle vzoru svatého Pavla, jehoÿobrácení dnes slavíme, vás vybízím, abyste aÿdo krajnosti vydávali svÿdectví evangeliu. Všem vám ÿehnám!

Saluto cordialmente i pellegrini di ÿevnice e Bÿeclav. Sull'esempio di San Paolo, della cui conversione facciamo oggi memoria, vi invito a testimoniare con piena coerenza il Vangelo. A tutti imparto la mia benedizione.

Rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana. Grazie, grazie a voi tutti, grazie per l’affetto e per la cordialità. In particolare saluto voi, rappresentanti degli allevatori "Margari" di Cuneo, e vi incoraggio a perseverare nel vostro lavoro a contatto con la natura, che può facilitare l’incontro con il Creatore. Saluto poi voi, Arbitri di calcio della Serie D. Cari amici, alla necessaria preparazione tecnica e sportiva, unite un’adeguata formazione umana e spirituale, che vi renda sempre più persone mature e responsabili.

Il mio pensiero va, infine, a voi giovani, malati e sposi novelli.

Tra i giovani ricordo particolarmente gli studenti del liceo "Leopardi" di S. Benedetto del Tronto, accompagnati dal loro Vescovo Mons. Gervasio Gestori, e gli alunni della scuola Pontificia "Pio IX" di Roma. Sull’esempio dell’Apostolo Paolo, di cui oggi facciamo memoria della conversione, invito tutti a vivere in modo autentico la vocazione cristiana. Il Signore vi benedica tutti."