JOHN PAUL II
Psalm 80  of Lauds
1. "Blow the trumpet at the full moon, on our feast day" (Ps 80 ,4). These words of Psalm 80 , that we just proclaimed, refer to a liturgical celebration according to the lunar calendar of ancient Israel. It is difficult to identify the precise festival to which the Psalm refers; what is certain is that the biblical liturgical calendar, although it is based on the cycle of the seasons and thus of nature, it is clearly presented as firmly anchored to the history of salvation and, in particular, to the capital event of the exodus from Egyptian slavery, that is linked to the full moon of the first month (cf. Ex 12,2.6; Lv 23,5). There, God is revealed as Liberator and Saviour.
As verse 7 of the Psalm poetically states, God himself relieved the Hebrew slave in Egypt of the basket on his back, full of the bricks needed to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses (cf. Ex 1,11.14). God had stood beside the oppressed people and with his power removed the bitter sign of slavery, the basket of bricks baked in the sun, a symbol of the forced labour to which the children of Israel were constrained.
The theme developed is simple and rotates round two ideal poles. On the one hand there is the divine gift of freedom offered to Israel, oppressed and wretched: "In distress you called, and I delivered you" (v. 8). The Psalm also mentions the Lord's support of Israel on the journey through the desert, that is, the gift of the waters at Meribah, in a context of hardship and trial.
The Lord first invites it to observe faithfully the First Commandment, the pillar of the whole Decalogue, that is, faith in the one Lord and Saviour and the rejection of idols (cf. Ex 20,3-5). The words of the priest speaking in God's name are punctuated by the verb "to listen", dear to the Book of Deuteronomy, which expresses obedient adherence to the Law of Sinai and is a sign of Israel's response to the gift of freedom. In fact, we hear repeated in our Psalm: "Hear, O my people ... O Israel, if you would but listen to me! ... But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would have none of me.... O that my people would listen to me...!" (Ps 80,9.12.14).
Only through faithful listening and obedience can the people receive fully the gifts of the Lord. Unfortunately, God must attest with bitterness to Israel's many infidelities. The journey through the desert, to which the Psalm alludes, is strewn with these acts of rebellion and idolatry which reach their climax in the representation of the golden calf (cf. Ex 32,1-14).
However, this melancholy is inspired by love and is united with his deep desire to fill the chosen people with good things. If Israel were to walk in the ways of the Lord, he would soon subdue their enemies (cf. v. 15), feed them "with the finest of the wheat" and satisfy them "with honey from the rock" (v. 17). It would be a joyful feast of fresh bread accompanied by honey that seems to run from the rocks of the Promised Land, representing prosperity and total well-being, a recurrent theme in the Bible (cf. Dt 6,3; 11,9; 26,9.15; 27,3; 31,20). In offering this wonderful perspective, the Lord obviously seeks to obtain his people's conversion, a response of sincere and effective love to his own love that is more generous than ever.
The liturgy becomes the privileged place in which to hear the divine call to conversion and return to the embrace of God "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Ex 34,6).
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:
I am pleased to greet the members of the Gregorian University Foundation from the United States of America. I also greet the pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Colombo in Sri Lanka. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Norway, Sweden, Finland and the United States, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Holy Father concluded with a heartfelt appeal to the faithful to pray for peace in the Holy Land and for the religious community and many others who are isolated in the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
My thoughts go constantly to the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where the religious community and many others continue to suffer the siege that has been going on for 22 days. Their conditions, already dramatic due to the lack of water and food, have been further aggravated by having their telephone lines cut off. Let us continue to pray the Lord that a solution to this inhuman situation may be found at last, and that with everyone's help the longed-for peace be achieved in that region, which is so dear to the hearts of all believers.