This morning the Holy Father travelled by helicopter from the Apostolic Palace at Castelgandolfo to the Vatican, where he held his weekly general audience in the Paul VI Hall. In his catechesis he dwelt on the first part of Psalm 22, focusing on the theme of prayers of supplication to God.
The Psalm, which remerges in the narrative of Christ’s Passion, presents the figure of an innocent man persecuted and surrounded by adversaries who seek his death. He raises his voice to God “in a doleful lament which, in the certainty of faith, mysteriously gives way to praise”.
The Psalmist’s opening cry of “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is “an appeal addressed to a God Who appears distant, Who does not respond”, said the Holy Father. “God is silent, a silence that rends the Psalmists heart as he continues to cry out incessantly but finds no response”. Nonetheless, he “calls the Lord ‘my’ God, in an extreme act of trust and faith. Despite appearances, the Psalmist cannot believe that his bond with the Lord has been severed entirely”.
The opening lament of Psalm 22 recurs in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark in the cry the dying Jesus makes from the cross. This, Benedict XVI explained, expresses all the desolation the Son of God felt “under the crushing burden of a mission which had to pass through humiliation and destruction. For this reason He cried out to the Father. … Yet His was not a desperate cry, as the Psalmist’s was”.
Sacred history, the Pope continued, “has been a history of cries for help from the people, and of salvific responses from God”. The Psalmist refers to the faith of his ancestors “who trusted … and were never put to shame”, and he describes his own extreme difficulties in order “to induce the Lord to take pity and intervene, as He always had in the past”.
The Psalmist’s enemies surround him, “they seem invincible, like dangerous ravening beasts. … The images used in the Psalm also serve to underline the fact that when man himself becomes brutal and attacks his fellow man, … he seems to lose all human semblance. Violence always contains some bestial quality, and only the salvific intervention of God can restore man to his humanity”.
At this point, death begins to take hold of the Psalmist. He describes the moment with dramatic images “which we come across again in the narrative of Christ’s Passion: the bodily torment, the unbearable thirst which finds an echo in Jesus’ cry of ‘I am thirsty’, and finally the definitive action of his tormenters who, like the soldiers under the cross, divide among themselves the clothes of the victim, whom they consider to be already dead”.
At this point a new cry emerges, “which rends the heavens because it proclaims a faith, a certainty, that is beyond all doubt. … The Psalm turns into thanksgiving. … The Lord has saved the petitioner and shown him His face of mercy. Death and life came together in an inseparable mystery and life triumphed. … This is the victory of faith, which can transform death into the gift of life, the abyss of suffering into a source of hope”. Thus the Psalm leads us to relive Christ’s Passion and to share the joy of His resurrection.
In closing, the Pope invited the faithful to distinguish deeper reality from outward appearance, even when God is apparently silent. “By placing all our trust and hope in God the Father, we can pray to Him with faith at all moments of anguish, and our cry for help will turn into a hymn of praise”.
AG/ VIS 20110914 (630)
Published by VISarchive 02 – Wednesday, September 14, 2011
God my God, look upon me: why have you forsaken me? Far from my salvation are the words of my sins.
3 O my God, I shall cry by day, and you will not hear: and by night, and it shall not be reputed as folly in me.
4 But you dwell in the holy place, the praise of Israel.
5 In you have our fathers hoped: they have hoped, and you have delivered them.
6 They cried to you, and they were saved: they trusted in you, and were not confounded.
7 But I am a worm, and no man: the reproach ofmen, and the outcast of the people.
8 All they that saw me have laughed me to scorn: they have spoken with the lips, and wagged the head.
9 He hoped in the Lord, let him deliver him: let him save him, seeing he delights in him.
10 For you are he that have drawn me out of the womb: my hope from the breasts of my mother.
11 I was cast upon you from the womb. From my mother’s womb you are my God,
12 depart not from me. For tribulation is very near: for there is none to help me.
13 Many calves have surrounded me: fat bulls have besieged me.
14 They have opened their mouths against me, as a lion ravening and roaring.
15 I am poured out like water; and all my bones are scattered. My heart has become like wax melting in the midst of my bowels.
16 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue has cleaved to my jaws: and you have brought me down into the dust of death.
17 For many dogs have encompassed me: the council of the malignant has besieged me. They have dug my hands and feet.
18 They have numbered all my bones. And they have looked and stared upon me.
19 They parted my garments amongst them; and upon my vesture they cast lots.
20 But you, O Lord, remove not your help to a distance from me; look towards my defence.
21 Deliver, O God, my soul from the sword: my only one from the hand of the dog.
22 Save me from the lion’s mouth; and my lowness from the horns of the unicorns.
23 I will declare your name to my brethren: in the midst of the church will I praise you.
24 You that fear the Lord, praise him: all you theseed of Jacob, glorify him.
25 Let all the seed of Israel fear him: because he has not slighted nor despised the supplication of the poor man. Neither has he turned away his face form me: and when I cried to him he heard me.
26 With you is my praise in a great church: I will pay my vows in the sight of them that fear him.
27 The poor shall eat and shall be filled: and they shall praise the Lord that seek him: their hearts shall live for ever and ever.
28 All the ends of the earth shall remember, and shall be converted to the Lord: And all the kindreds of the Gentiles shall adore in his sight.
29 For the kingdom is the Lord’s; and he shall have dominion over the nations.
30 All the fat ones of the earth have eaten and have adored: all they that go down to the earth shall fall before him.
31 And to him mysoul shall live: and my seed shall serve him.
32 There shall be declared to the Lord a generation to come: and the heavens shall show forth his justice to a people that shall be born, which theLord has made.