1. In Psalm 116 that has just been proclaimed, the voice of the Psalmist expresses gratitude and love for the Lord after he has granted his anguished plea: "I love the Lord for he has heard the cry of my appeal; for he turned his ear to me in the day when I called him" (vv. 1-2). This declaration of love is immediately followed by a vivid description of the mortal dread that has gripped the man in prayer (cf. vv. 3-6).
The drama is portrayed through the symbols customarily used in the Psalms. The snares that enthral life are the snares of death, the ties that enmesh it are the coils of hell, which desire to entice the living of whom it can never have "enough" (cf. Prv 30: 15-16).
2. The image is that of the prey which has fallen into the trap of a relentless hunter. Death is like a vice that tightens its grip (cf. Ps 116: 3). Behind the praying person, therefore, lurked the risk of death, accompanied by an agonizing psychological experience: "they caught me, sorrow and distress" (v. 3). But from that tragic abyss the person praying cried out to the only One who can stretch out his hand and extricate him from that tangle: "O Lord, my God, deliver me!" (v. 4).
This is the short but intense prayer of a man who, finding himself in a desperate situation, clings to the one rock of salvation. Thus, in the Gospel, just as the disciples cried out during the storm (cf. Mt 8: 25), so Peter cried to the Lord when, walking on the water, he began to sink (cf. Mt 14: 30).
3. Having been saved, the person praying proclaims that the Lord "is gracious... and just", indeed, he has "compassion" (Ps 116: 5). In the original Hebrew, the latter adjective refers to the tenderness of a mother whose "depths" it evokes.
Genuine trust always perceives God as love, even if it is sometimes difficult to grasp the course of his action. It remains certain, however, that "the Lord protects the simple hearts" (v. 6). Therefore, in wretchedness and abandonment, it is always possible to count on him, the "father of the fatherless and protector of widows" (Ps 68: 6).
4. A dialogue of the Psalmist with his soul now begins and continues in the following Psalm 116, which should be seen as a whole with our Psalm. The Judaic tradition created Psalm 116 as a single psalm, according to the Hebrew numbering of the Psalter. The Psalmist invites his soul to turn back, to rediscover restful peace after the nightmare of death (cf. Ps 116: 7).
The Lord, called upon with faith, stretched out his hand, broke the cords that bound the praying person, dried his tears and saved him from a headlong fall into the abyss of hell (cf. v. 8). Henceforth, the turning point is clear and the hymn ends with a scene of light: the person praying returns to the "land of the living", that is, to the highways of the world, to walk in the "presence of the Lord". He joins in the community prayer in the temple, in anticipation of that communion with God which awaits him at the end of his life (cf. v. 9).
5. To conclude, let us re-examine the most important passages of the Psalm, letting ourselves be guided by Origen, a great Christian writer of the third century whose commentary in Greek on Ps 116 has been handed down to us in the Latin version of St Jerome.
In reading that "the Lord has turned his ear to me", he remarks: "We are little and low; we can neither stretch out nor lift ourselves up, so the Lord turns his ear to us and deigns to hear us. In the end, since we are men and cannot become gods, God became man and bowed down, as it has been written: "He bowed the heavens, and came down' (Ps 18: 10)".
Indeed, the Psalm continues, "the Lord protects the simple hearts" (Ps 116: 6). "If someone is great and becomes haughty and proud, the Lord does not protect him; if someone thinks he is great, the Lord has no mercy on him; but if someone humbles himself, the Lord takes pity on him and protects him. Hence, it is said, "Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me' (Is 8: 18). And further, "I was helpless so he saved me'".
So it is that the one who is little and wretched can return to peace and rest, as the Psalm says (cf. Ps 116: 7), and as Origen himself comments: "When it says: "Turn back, my soul, to your rest', it is a sign that previously he did have repose but then he lost it.... God created us good, he made us arbiters of our own decisions and set us all in paradise with Adam. But since, through our own free choice, we pitched ourselves down from that bliss and ended in this vale of tears, the just man urges his soul to return to the place from which it fell.... "Turn back, my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has been good'. If you, my soul, return to paradise, it is not because you yourself deserve it, but because it is an act of God's mercy. It was your fault if you left paradise; on the other hand, your return to it is a work of the Lord's mercy. Let us also say to our souls: "Turn back to your rest'. Our rest is in Christ, our God" (Omelie sul Libro dei Salmi, Milan, 1993, pp. 409, 412-413).
To special groups:
I extend a special welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including groups from Denmark, Canada and the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke the peace and joy of our Lord, and I wish you a happy stay in Rome.
I then greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. Today, we are celebrating the liturgical memorial of Sts Timothy and Titus. Dear friends, may their example spur you always to follow Jesus, the authentic teacher of life and holiness.
Students from Sct Ibs Skole, Horsens.
Pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Toronto.
From the United States of America:
The 1980 Ordination Class, St Charles Borromeo Seminary, Archdiocese of Philadelphia; a group of Church Music Directors; pilgrims from: St Andrew Parish, Avenel, New Jersey; St Gabriel Parish, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Sacred Heart Parish, Watertown, Massachusetts.
Je suis heureux d’accueillir les pèlerins de langue française. Je salue particulièrement la rédaction de La Documentation catholique et les jeunes du Collège Gerson, de Paris. À tous, je souhaite de retrouver la place essentielle de la prière dans votre vie.
I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including groups from Denmark, Canada, and the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke the peace and joy of our Lord, and I wish you a happy stay in Rome!
Von Herzen grüße ich die deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher. Gott hört das Rufen der Gläubigen und ist den Seinen nahe. Wendet euch mit Zuversicht an ihn und vertraut auf die Kraft des Gebets! Der Herr zeige euch allezeit seine Güte und Liebe.
Saludo cordialmente a los peregrinos de España y América Latina, especialmente a los del Arzobispado Castrense y de las diócesis de Mérida-Badajoz y Alcalá de Henares. ¡Qué vuestra oración ante la tumba de Pedro os ayude a descubrir el rostro amoroso de Dios que, a pesar de las dificultades y sufrimientos, nunca nos abandona! ¡Gracias!
Saluto in lingua croata:
Srdačno pozdravljam sveučilištarce iz Zagreba te gimnazijalce iz Gospića.
Predragi, želeći da vaš život uvijek bude očitovanje zahvalnosti Gospodinu za dar Euharistije, od srca udjeljujem apostolski blagoslov vama i vašim obiteljima.
Hvaljen Isus i Marija!
Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua croata:
Saluto cordialmente gli Studenti universitari di Zagabria e gli Studenti liceali di Gospić.
Carissimi, nel formulare voti che la vostra vita sempre sia la manifestazione della gratitudine al Signore per il dono dell’Eucaristia, di cuore imparto la Benedizione Apostolica a ciascuno di voi ed alle vostre famiglie.
Siano lodati Gesù e Maria!
Saluto in lingua polacca:
Psalm, który przed chwilą usłyszeliśmy mówi o wielkiej wartości modlitwy. Jest on głośnym wołaniem do Boga w sytuacji wielkiego niebezpieczeństwa. Wierzący zdaje sobie sprawę, że tylko Bóg może go uratować i daje wyraz swej miłości i wdzięczności za uwolnienie.
Autentyczna wiara dostrzega zawsze miłość Boga, nawet jeżeli czasami trudno do końca zrozumieć motywy Jego działania. Właśnie modlitwa pomaga nam odkrywać oblicze kochającego Boga. On nigdy nie opuszcza swoich wiernych. Jest tym, który sprawia, że mimo prób i cierpień w końcu zwycięża dobro.
Pozdrawiam obecnych tu biskupów i wszystkich moich rodaków. W sposób szczególny pozdrawiam młodzież. Życzę, aby napełniał was Duch modlitwy i byście zawsze doświadczali miłości Boga. Zawieźcie moje pozdrowienie swoim najbliższym. Niech wam Bóg błogosławi!
Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua polacca:
Il Salmo che abbiamo ascoltato poc’anzi presenta il grande valore della preghiera. È un’intensa invocazione di aiuto, rivolta a Dio in una situazione di grave pericolo. Il fedele si rende conto che solo Dio può salvarlo ed esprime l’amore e la gratitudine per la liberazione.
La fede autentica scorge sempre l’amore di Dio, anche se a volte è difficile comprendere fino in fondo i motivi del suo agire. Proprio la preghiera ci aiuta a riscoprire il volto amorevole di Dio. Egli non abbandona mai i suoi fedeli. Egli fa sì che, nonostante le prove e sofferenze, alla fine vince il bene.
Saluto i vescovi qui presenti e tutti i miei connazionali. In modo particolare saluto i giovani. Auguro che vi colmi lo Spirito di preghiera e che sperimentiate sempre l’amore di Dio. Portate i miei saluti ai vostri cari. Dio vi benedica!
Rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare, saluto i rappresentanti del Comitato San Floriano di Udine, guidati dall’Arcivescovo Mons. Pietro Brollo; i fedeli di Verghereto, accompagnati dal Vescovo di Cesena Mons. Antonio Lanfranchi; e i sacerdoti partecipanti all’incontro dei Cursillos di Cristianità.
Saluto poi i giovani, i malati e gli sposi novelli.
Celebriamo quest’oggi la memoria liturgica dei Santi Timoteo e Tito. Il loro esempio vi spinga, carissimi, a seguire sempre Gesù, autentico maestro di vita e di santità.