Here is the commentary on Psalm 112 by Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, at the meeting of ecclesial movements and new communities in St. Peter’s Square on Saturday. The groups met with Benedict XVI at the vigil of Pentecost.
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Fathers and all you friends,
To pray with the psalms on the vigil of Pentecost near the tomb of the Apostle Peter is a spiritual event that we are extremely grateful for, Holy Father. The psalms are precious for people — like ourselves — who know not how to pray: They give us an alphabet to address the Lord. With his word, the Lord teaches us how to pray: “Praise, servants of Yahweh, praise the name of Yahweh.”
“Laudate pueri”: people who pray, at any age, regain the heart of children. They cry out the name of the Lord, like a child looking for the mother in the dark. In this, there is a teaching for us, new communities and movements: “Unless you change and become like little children …” (Matthew 18:3). A charisma yields fruit with prayer and with the heart of children. Because it is a gift!
“From the rising of the sun to its setting.” The Apostle insists: “Pray constantly” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Constantly: How is it possible? We are laypersons, plunged in what is in the world: attracted and distracted by it. Prayer, however, is not only possible, it is necessary. Jesus says, “Cut off from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). It is true. Many events come to mind: storms, frailties, despair, the foolish banality of sin, evil, or immense miseries. Cut off from prayer, we would have given up. I can say this at least personally, for my friends of Sant’Egidio.
The more time goes by, the more we feel we need to pray. Community life is a school of prayer for everyone, for the young and for the old: “Blessed be the name of Yahweh, henceforth and forever.” Prayer is the material where a charisma is not extinguished, nor emptied by pride, where it yields fruit. Because a charisma is a gift, not a utopia, an ideology, or a project of power.
Over the years we have seen the light of utopias promising a new world shine and then die out, while hopelessness grew, indifferent to the sorrow of others, surrendering to an old world. The word of God, however, the liturgy and prayer, have given shape to another sentiment; it is a tenacious and patient love: love of Jesus, gift of Pentecost, the basis of every charisma, which is communicated to our hearts thanks to the Spirit.
The psalm sings “Supreme over all nations.” The pious Jews imagined God above the heavens: “supreme over the heavens his glory,” distant from the miseries down on the earth. In our world distances grow bigger — between the great and the little, between peoples and civilizations: Great distances pave the way to conflicts with despise.
On the contrary, he who is indeed distant from our miserable world is also closest: “Who is like Yahweh our God? His throne is set on high, but he stoops to look down on heaven and earth.”
The supreme stoops down. It is written in many pages of the Scripture: “I dwell in the high and holy place,” says Isaiah (57:15), “with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
Human lives do not roll by forgotten, only under the indifferent gaze of people. Psalm 11 says: “His gaze scrutinizes the children of Adam.” God is not distracted or indifferent. His eyes tear indifference. Jesus often looks at men and women in their sorrow, even at Peter, after he denies him. The Supreme stoops to look down. This does not leave the lives of men and women the same as they were. The psalm sings to this with two small, but effective pictures: the poor and the barren woman.
The poor. Whoever knows the peripheries of the world has often seen the dunghills where children often play; they have walked on dusty roads. I am thinking of Africa. But I also have in mind the poor whose home is a dunghill; abandoned elderly men and women, people living in prison. This is what quite a part of the world is.
But people do not see, nor do they stoop down. However, God is not indifferent: “He raises the poor from the dust, he lifts the needy from the dunghill, to give them a place among princes, among princes of his people.” Lifted up, the poor are seated with dignity among princes. If these do not consider the poor, they may become an assembly of evil people.
It is a world overturned by love. It happens: We have seen it. It is not a utopia. It is born from that patient and tenacious love that God outpoured in our hearts. God listens to the plea of the poor: “For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat” (Isaiah 25:4).
The barren woman. We are not condemned to the barren life of living for ourselves. The barren woman of the psalm reminds us of other barren lives: women of the Bible, but also many men and women of our times, rich in resources, but incapable of giving life. There is a world of rich and barren people. The Lord looks down on them, as well: “Yahweh looks down from heaven at the children of Adam” (Psalm 14:2). He stoops to look down at us. We see it in Jesus: “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them” (Isaiah 63:9). We celebrated it during Easter.
Today we sing to the fecundity of life in the Spirit: “He lets the barren woman be seated at home, the happy mother of sons.” It is true for many rich and barren people. It is the joy of this evening, of us rich and barren people, made humble and fecund fathers of sons in this beautiful house, without walls, but so brotherly and so intimate nevertheless.
Communities and movements, we are barren people who have received a fecund charisma thanks to God, who stoops to look down. Now we live and rejoice within the Church, with children, with you, Holy Father, with the bishops, with you all. In addition to those who are present, there are others on this square here tonight: it is an immense people of “poor and humble people” — Zephaniah says (3:12); there are many poor people lifted by the love of the humble people we are.
This is the special covenant of the poor and the humble, which lives within the Church as a fruit of the Spirit. It celebrates what you, Holy Father, wrote in the encyclical: “Love of God and love of neighbor are now truly united.”
John Chrysostom, who was bishop in troubled times, said: “This psalm asks us to be united in prayer. Indeed, it asks us to love and esteem each other. We are different, but we are not distant — called by you, Holy Father, to communicate this Gospel with more love and more strength. And so, we thank the Lord with the Hallelujah that opens and closes the psalm. In our weakness, we are clothed with the power from on high. That is why we say: “Who is like Yahweh our God?”