10/05/2011, 00.00
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Pope: Even in the "valley of darkness," God is always close to his flock

At the general audience, Benedict XVI says Psalm 23 3 speaks ill of "confidence" in the Lord who is the Shepherd who "knows his sheep one by one, calls them by name, treasures them, is ready to defend them, so nothing is lacking them ". Appeals for the peoples of the Horn of Africa, where "every day people die from disease and lack of food, water."
Vatican City (AsiaNews) - As "difficult, long or tortuous as the paths our lives may appear”, even in the desert "against the scorching sun rationalism," if we follow our shepherd "we will be safe", "completely abandoning ourselves to His hands" we will reach and abide in His tent receive His hospitality and live with Him in joy without end.

This is the meaning of one of the most "familiar and universally loved" Psalms, Psalm 23 which begins "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want", to which Benedict XVI dedicated his address to the 30 thousand people in St. Peter's Square for the general audience.

The gathering also saw a fresh Papal appeal for “prayers and practical help" for the peoples of the Horn of Afrca affected by drought, especially for the children who "die every day from disease and lack of food, water."

Earlier in his speech, the Pope had said prayer "always implies an act of faith" to a God who is good and merciful. In the psalm, which Benedict XVI spoke of today there is "a reference to sheep, the shepherd knows his sheep one by one, calls them by name, holds them as a valuable asset, is ready to defend them, they lack nothing" if he a with them. The sheep are "calm and confident because the place is safe, the water is fresh and the shepherd is with them."

The Psalm refers to "a largely desert land, beaten by the scorching sun, where the semi-nomadic Middle Eastern shepherd lives with his flock in the parched plains that stretch around the villages. But the shepherd knows where to find fresh grass and water, essential for life, he knows where the oasis is that brings refreshment to the soul and where we can replenish our strength and renew our energy to continue our journey".

As the psalm says, "God leads towards 'green pastures' and 'still waters', where everything is abundant, everything is given abundantly. If the Lord is the shepherd, even in the desert, a place of absence and death, there is still the certainty of the radical presence of life, so much so, that we can say, "I shall not want." The pastor, in fact, has the welfare of his flock at heart, he adjusts to their pace and this own needs to those of his flock, he goes and lives with them, guiding them along the 'right' paths, that is right for them, careful of their needs and not his own. The safety of his flock is his priority and he obeys this in guiding it. "

And if the flock moves after sundown, "when visibility becomes uncertain, it is normal that the sheep are restless, there is a risk of stumbling, of being left behind or getting lost, and there is also the fear of possible attackers”. This is the valley of "darkness", defined by the Hebrew phrase that evokes the darkness of death. "Yet, the psalmist goes safely, without fear, because he knows that the Lord is with him." He has an "unshakable faith", "the nearness of God transforms reality, the dark valley loses all danger, it is emptied of all threat”.

In the second part of the psalm, we are still in the desert, and we are in the tent where the Lord welcomes "with the signs of a generous and attentive hospitality. The divine host prepares the food”, "it is a gesture of sharing not only food but also life, an offering of communion and friendship that creates ties and expresses solidarity. And then there is the generous gift of scented oil for the head, which relieves the burning of the desert sun, refreshes and soothes the skin and raises the spirit with its fragrance. Finally, the filled cup adds a note of celebration, with its fine wine, shared with abundant generosity. Food, oil and wine are the gifts that bring joy and give life because they go beyond what is strictly necessary and express the gratitude and the abundance of love. "

The enemies "can only look on, unable to intervene because what they considered their prey has been taken to safety, has become a sacred, untouchable guest. When God opens his tent to greet us, nothing can harm us. "

"Then, when the traveller continues his journey divine protection is prolonged and accompanies him." But it is a journey that takes on a new meaning, and becomes a pilgrimage to the Temple of the Lord, the holy place where the psalmist wants to "live" forever and where he also wants to "return".

The images in this psalm, the Pope added, "have accompanied the history and religious experience of the people of Israel," but "is in the Lord Jesus that all the evocative power of our Psalm reaches completeness, finds fullness of meaning: 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 path, the right path that leads to life, the light that illuminates the dark valley and vanquishes all our fear. He is the generous host who welcomes us and keeps us safe from our enemies preparing the banquet of his body and his blood and the final messianic banquet in Heaven. "

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