“This cry of anguish is transformed and transfigured in the mystery of the Resurrection. With these words, Jesus gives us the weight of his unspeakable suffering, beyond which the certainty of glory opens. Faith transforms death into a gift of life, and the abyss of pain into a source of hope” – Pope Benedict XVI
By F. K. Bartels
14 September 2011
Pope Benedict XVI gave his catechesis on Wednesday to his weekly general audience in the Paul VI Hall, in which he reflected on the first portion of Psalm 22 and the theme of prayers of supplication to God.
Psalm 22 presents us with the prayer of an innocent man who, persecuted and surrounded by deadly enemies, cries out to God “in a doleful lament which, in the certainty of faith, mysteriously gives way to praise,” said the Pope.
Our Holy Father explained that Psalm 22 has “strong Christological implications because they are the words spoken by Christ on the cross.”
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 Pope. “God is silent, a silence that rends the Psalmists heart as he continues to cry out incessantly but finds no response.” Nevertheless, the Psalmist “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 cry of the Psalmist echoes the reality of our own lives, one encountered as we face the temptation which often urges us to think that God is distant in the face of the tragedies we experience. However, it is the Holy Spirit who convinces us of the Father’s personal intimacy and immediate nearness, and who calls us ultimately to abandon those fears rooted in human weakness and give ourselves over in faith and trust to God.
Thus our apparent “aloneness” is an illusion which we ourselves manufacture and which we ourselves then embrace. Let us look for a moment on our human condition: we are contingent beings who rely on God’s sustaining power each moment; we breathe and function and move about only as an effect of the Creator’s divine wisdom; we exist only because the Father has willed that we should and continues to do so. In reality, God’s infinite presence is on an extreme level of closeness which the human mind cannot grasp.
Jesus Cries Out Under The Crushing Burden of The Cross
As stated above, the opening cry of the Psalmist recurs in the gospels of Matthew (27:46) and Mark (15:34) as it falls from the lips of the dying Jesus on the cross. Some point to these words of Jesus as an indication of a lack of knowledge of his divine mission of salvation as the Father’s only Son. The notion is that Jesus did not fully understand his purpose nor his relation to the Father as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.
These words of Jesus from the cross, Pope Benedict explained, express the terrible desolation our Savior 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.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the Church “confesses that Jesus is inseparably true God and true man. He is truly the Son of God who, without ceasing to be God and Lord, became a man and our brother” (CCC 469).
It is true that, since the Son of God assumed a human soul, Jesus is endowed with true human knowledge. “As such, this knowledge could not in itself be unlimited: it was exercised in the historical conditions of his existence in space and time” (CCC 472). Yet it is necessary to balance this with the fact that “the human nature of God’s Son, not by itself but by its union with the Word, knew and showed forth in itself everything that pertains to God” (CCC 473). Therefore “Christ enjoyed in his human knowledge the fullness of understanding of the eternal plans he had come to reveal” (CCC 474).
Human Violence Strips Man of His Humanity
The history of the People of God, explained our Holy Father, “has been a history of cries for help from the people, and of salvific responses from God.” The Psalmist points to the faith of his ancestors “who trusted . . . and were never put to shame.” In describing his own peril, the Psalmist hopes “to induce the Lord to take pity and intervene, as He always had in the past.”
Surrounded by enemies who “seem invincible, like dangerous ravening beasts,” the Psalmist uses imagery that serves “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.”
As death appears to take hold of the Psalmist, he describes his severe anxiety with 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.”
But, in facing death, the Psalmist utters a wholly new cry: a cry “which rends the heavens because it proclaims a faith, a certainty, that is beyond all doubt.” Now the Psalm turns into a boundless prayer of 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,” explained the Pope, “which can transform death into the gift of life, the abyss of suffering into a source of hope.”
In closing, Pope Benedict reminded the world’s faithful that it is our faith and trust in God which opens the doorway to understanding reality as it is: God’s apparent silence is no indication of his absence: “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” (Benedict XVI qtd. from Vatican Information Service).
Please consider helping us maintain this site. Even small tips help!
Photo Credit: By Giuseppe Ruggirello [CC BY-SA 3.0 (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.