The Holy Father dedicated his catechesis October 5th to Psalm 23 which begins with the words: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”. “Addressing the Lord in prayer implies a radical act of confidence, the awareness of entrusting oneself to God Who is good”, he said.
Psalm 23 is an example of such confidence. “The Psalmist expresses his tranquil certainty that he will be guided and protected, sheltered from all danger because the Lord is his shepherd. … The image evokes an atmosphere of trust, intimacy, tenderness. The shepherd knows his sheep individually, he calls them by name and they follow him because they recognise and trust him. He takes care of them, protects them like a treasure, and is ready to defend them in order to guarantee their wellbeing, to ensure they live in peace. They shall want nothing if the shepherd is with them”.
The Psalm describes the oasis of peace to which the shepherd leads his flock. The setting is a desert landscape, “yet the shepherd knows where to find pasture and water, which are essential for life, he knows the way to the oasis in which the soul can be ‘restored’ with new energies to start the journey afresh. As the Psalmist says, God guides him to ‘green pastures’ and ‘still waters’ where all things are in abundance. … If the Lord is the shepherd, even in the desert, a place of scarcity and death, we do not lose our certainty in the radical presence of life”.
The shepherd adapts his rhythms and his needs to those of his flock. “If we walk behind the ‘Good Shepherd’”, the Pope said, ” however difficult, tortuous and long the paths of our life may seem, we too can be certain that they are right for us, that the Lord guides us and that He is always close”.
Hence the Psalmist adds: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me”. Benedict XVI explained how, although the Psalmist here uses a Hebrew expression which evokes the shadows of death, he nonetheless proceeds without fear because he knows the Lord is with him. “This is a proclamation of unshakeable trust and encapsulates a radical experience of faith: the closeness of God transforms reality, the darkest valley loses all its perils”.
This image concludes the first part of the Psalm and opens the way to a change of scene. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows”. The Lord is now presented “as the One Who welcomes the Psalmist with generous hospitality…. Food, oil, wine are the gifts that enable us to live, they bring joy because they lie beyond what is strictly necessary, an expression of the gratitude and abundance of love”. In the meantime the enemies look on powerlessly because “when God opens His tent to welcome us, nothing can harm us”.
The Psalmist goes on “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long”. The Psalmist’s journey “acquires fresh meaning and becomes a pilgrimage towards the Temple of the Lord, the holy place in which he wishes ‘to dwell’ forever”. Likewise, living near God and His goodness is what all believers long for, the Holy Father said.
This Psalm has accompanied the entire history and religious experience of the People of Israel, but only in Jesus Christ is its evocative strength “fulfilled and fully expressed: Jesus is the ‘Good Shepherd’ Who goes in search of the lost sheep, Who knows His sheep and gives His life for them. He is the way, the way that leads to life, the light that illuminates the dark valley and overcomes all our fears. He is the generous host Who welcomes us and saves us from our enemies, preparing the banquet of His Body and His Blood for us, and the definitive banquet … in heaven. He is the regal Shepherd, King in meekness and mercy, enthroned on the glorious seat of the cross”.
Psalm 23 invites us to renew our trust in God, the Pope concluded, “to abandon ourselves completely in His hands. Let us, then, trustingly ask the Lord to allow us always to walk on His paths, even along the difficult paths of our own times, as a docile and obedient flock; let us ask Him to welcome us into His house, at His table, and to lead us to ‘still waters’ so that, in welcoming the gift of His Spirit, we may drink from His spring, source of that living water which ‘gushes up to eternal life’”.