Tag Archives: psalms

The Spirit Works in Green Time

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Green is the liturgy’s color for ordinary time. Not white, the bright light of Eastertime, or red the color of blood and fire. or purple the color of penance. Green is earth’s color, color of slow growing trees and grasses, of ordinary time.

An unknown 4th century spiritual writer describes the ordinary ways the Holy Spirit works in us. “In varied and different ways” invisible grace leads us. Ordinary time doesn’t mean that every day’s the same.  Sometimes we find ourselves sad at the state of things; sometimes we joyfully hold the whole world in our arms. Sometimes we feel helpless; sometimes we think there’s nothing we can’t do. Sometimes we’re brave; sometimes we escape into the supposed safety of ourselves looking for peace.

“… The soul becomes like any other human being.” Which means, I guess, that we don’t feel spiritual at all.

Far from taking us away from the human condition, the Spirit leads us by human steps in human time. Ordinary time is the natural roller-coaster of life, all right, but the Spirit leads us on.

That’s why the psalms are such wonderful prayers. They’re the great prayers of ordinary time. They take us from one human experience to another. If you don’t experience what a certain psalm describes, wait awhile–you will.

Green is the Season

Green is the season after Pentecost.
The Holy Ghost in an abstracted place
spreads out the languid summer of His peace,
unrolls His hot July.
O leaves of love, O chlorophyll of grace.
Native to all is this contemplative summer.
The soul that finds its way through Pentecost
knows this green solitude at once as homeland.
Only the heart, earth held and time engrossed,
dazed by this unforeknown and blossoming nowhere,
troubles itself with adjectives like “lost.”

Jessica Powers, 1954

Who is the “Son of David”?

The Psalms scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Mark 12:35-37

Jesus’ discourse in the temple is unintelligible unless we put on the mindset of the people who were listening. Psalm 110, a Messianic prophecy, was very familiar to the crowd in which David said, 

The Lord said to my Lord, 
“Sit at my right hand 
until I place your enemies under your feet.”

The reference to “my Lord” was understood to be “the Christ” or “Anointed One,” a king who would come from the line of David. The expectation of a “Son of David,” the primary title for the coming Messiah, was cultivated for centuries and shaped the cultural lens. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel foretold that a shoot or righteous Branch would spring from the stump of Jesse, a Davidic child and king whose name would be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). So ingrained was the hoped-for descendant of David that those who heard him and sought his healing power often cried out to him, “Son of David!” If Jesus was the Messiah, then he would sit on the throne of David and “shepherd” his flock (Ezekiel 34:23).

Jesus knew his audience well and opened with the question, “How do the scribes claim that the Christ is the son of David? …David himself calls him ‘Lord’; so how is he his son?”

Familiar words, yet it never dawned on the scribes to make the connection between sonship and lordship. Why would David call his own descendant his Lord? In this psalm, Jesus pointed out, David declares that his descendant will be equal in dignity and authority with God—one who “sits at His right hand.”

The prevailing mindset viewed the “Son of David” as an anointed king according to the flesh alone—a purely biological descendant of David. The idea that this Son is eternally begotten of God and would enter time in the womb of a Virgin Mother was completely out of their orbit. Centuries and centuries of oral tradition, rabbinic discussions, dinner conversations and “cocktail parties” had painted the “Son of David” as a political or military hero come to establish an earthly kingdom. Up until the last hour of Jesus’ earthly mission, at the Ascension, his disciples were still asking, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Cultural consciousness does not easily shift.

Jesus’ greatest challenge was transforming minds to look beyond to the heavenly kingdom, and gaining acceptance of his identity as the Son of God. Moving an ancient mindset was more difficult than raising the dead. At a mere word, lepers were healed and the lame walked, but opening the minds of free thinking persons to “see” the familiar in a new light was no easy task. 

Against the backdrop of Judaism, the later reflections of St. John, St. Paul and the Church Fathers represent a seismic shift in consciousness. Flights into the “Word made flesh,” and of an eternal Son who sits at the right hand of—not just God, but the Father (Ephesians 1:17-21)—are from another universe of thought all together. 

Step one is simply recognizing that the “Son of David” is divine. Step two—that the Son is equal to God the “Father”—is a paradigm shift. Step three—that the Spirit who “proceeds from the Father” will come to dwell in us—is yet another shift. St. John included the Last Supper Discourse in his Gospel, in which he gives the fullest revelation of the Trinity in the New Testament, to supplement the other accounts which were focused on the basics of Jesus’ revelation.

In the first four centuries after the Ascension and Pentecost, the Church Fathers advanced humanity’s reflection on the Psalms. In the light of the Trinity, they found new, hidden meanings that eluded the psalm writer himself. For example, taking Psalms 110:3 and 2:7 together, St. Athanasius reflected that it is the Father who says of His Son, “I have begotten You from the womb before the morning star;” and again, “You are my Son, this day have I begotten you” (Defense of the Nicene Definition 3:13).

This insight surpassed the limited goal of Jesus at the temple, which was simply getting to step one. St. Athanasius was not reading something alien into the Psalms, for Jesus affirmed that David was “inspired by the Holy Spirit” when he wrote it. Prophets are sometimes unaware, as when the high priest Caiaphas declared that one man should die for the people (John 11:50).

-GMC

Praying the Psalms

The psalms are prayers that never get old. Here’s Pius X, whose feast day is August 20, commenting on the psalms:

“Bless the Lord, O my soul.”

“The psalms are like a garden containing the fruits of all the other books of the Bible. Saints like Athanasius and Augustine recognized these powerful prayers. ‘The psalms seem to me to be like a mirror, in which the person using them can see himself, and the stirrings of his own heart; he can recite them against the background of his own emotions.”

Augustine says in his Confessions: “How I wept when I heard your hymns and canticles, being deeply moved by the sweet singing of your Church. Those voices flowed into my ears, truth filtered into my heart, and from my heart surged waves of devotion. Tears ran down, and I was happy in my tears. “

Pius X continues:  “Indeed, who could fail to be moved by those many passages in the psalms which set forth so profoundly the infinite majesty of God, his omnipotence, his justice and goodness and clemency, too deep for words, and all the other infinite qualities of his that deserve our praise?

Who could fail to be roused to the same emotions by the prayers of thanksgiving to God for blessings received, by the petitions, so humble and confident, for blessings still awaited, by the cries of a soul in sorrow for sin committed? Who would not be fired with love as he looks on the likeness of Christ, the redeemer, here so lovingly foretold? His was the voice Augustine heard in every psalm, the voice of praise, of suffering, of joyful expectation, of present distress.”

Psalms Say It All

I like the way psalms say it all. “Rejoice in the Lord, you just!” one of the psalms says. No need to make a prayer up on your own or think hard about saying something to God the right way. Let the psalms help you pray. “Rejoice in the Lord, you just!”

“Let the earth rejoice in God, our king.” Why not join the earth praying? The “many isles are glad.” Be glad with them.

The psalms have a way of stilling our souls and calling them into the quiet grace of God’s presence. We think everything depends on us. No, it doesn’t. God “melts the mountains like wax” and “guards the lives of his faithful ones.” We think we have to know everything. No, we don’t.  But God does.

We pray, not to know more and more, but to be drawn closer to God. The psalms feed our minds and hearts, little by little. Their special grace is their simplicity as they tell us, for example,  “rest in God as a child in a mother’s arms.”

Most of the psalms in our liturgy are songs of praise. “Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good.” Other psalms cry for help. Just a cry is enough, they say. “I cry to the Lord that he may hear me.”

The psalms call us to a simple, deep prayer. Keep your eye on them in the liturgy of the Mass, Use them in your daily prayer. They’re wonderful basic prayers for everyone.

“Although the whole of Scripture breathes God’s grace upon us, this is especially true of that delightful book, the book of the psalms.” (St. Ambrose)

Every day the church meets the morning praying the psalms; every evening we end the day with these great prayers. A good way to pray always, as Jesus asks us to do.

Friday Thoughts: A Call to Praise God


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Come, let us sing to the Lord

and shout with joy to the Rock who saves us.

—Psalm 95:1


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Come,

Me? Am I included? Can I come as well? But you are God? Am I really allowed to join the celebration?

But Your Word simply says “Come”. It’s an open invitation, right? An open call; no qualifications, no applications, no background checks, no letters of introduction required?

It seems pretty clear. So I guess I shall. I shall come along. After all, I’ve followed crowds all my life, perhaps it’s time to follow the “great cloud of witnesses”—Your patriarchs and Your prophets, Your holy angels and Your holy saints. I will come along then. Forgive me though, Lord, for not being properly dressed. But if I were to first run home to change, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Plus, I might then miss the entire affair.

No, I’ll come now, just as I am—no more excuses, no more procrastination—for the procession is well under way.

…let us sing to the Lord…

But…forgive me, Lord…there I go again, once more I begin a thought with such an ugly conjunction. “But”…I am so unprepared. Sing? Me? In Public? With my voice? You know well the noise I make. But then again, I cannot deny it, when I am alone, You know Lord that I love to sing. I truly do. All kinds of melodies, all kinds of hymns. I even compose. And chanting, that too I do. In fact, to be really honest, I don’t think I’m half bad. Come to think of it, I’m actually pretty good. Relatively speaking, of course. Put it this way, within my little “monastic cell”, within the confines of my “inner room”—with the “door” well “shut”—I not only “sing”, but “dance”.

Perhaps it’s time to take the show on the road?

…and shout with joy…

Yes. With this one there are no “ifs, ands, or buts.” That I can do. I can shout. I can “shout with joy”. “You are fantastic! Truly!! I love You!!!” And the more I say it, the more joy I feel. So shout? Shout with joy? Yes, that I will do. I do it now. Right now. Even if it wakes my neighbors. Maybe precisely because it might wake my neighbors. I shout. I shout. I shout. “JOY!” “JOY!” “JOY!” And as I do, I remember. A sweet memory. A joyful memory. A memory that makes a small smile grow larger and eventually into a laugh, an out-loud laugh, even while sitting all by myself. And yet, that’s just the point, “with joy” we are never alone. For a memory—a memory transformed by hope—brings resurrection and divine significance to even the smallest details of our life. “The memory of the just will be blessed.” Bringing the Kingdom to life, but not only in our here and now, for the Holy Spirit also breathes life into our past.

The specific memory I now recall—the one currently “at hand” and recreating “earth as it is in heaven”—involves a classmate I knew many years ago in elementary school. Her name was Joy.

I don’t remember shouting with Joy, but I do clearly recall that she was the prettiest girl in class.

…to the Rock who saves us.

I blame you. You blame me. We both blame Adam. He blames Eve. She blames Satan. He doesn’t care about anything, all he wants is for us not to blame ourselves. For if we don’t “repent” how can we possibly “believe in the gospel”? And that’s the beginning of the end of not buying the “good news”. For the Kingdom begins when we realize we need to be saved from ourselves. And without that self knowledge, without the realization that we cannot anchor ourselves to ourselves, we drift falsely self-assured in utter chaos, “without form and shape, with darkness over the abyss.”  In other words, for you and for me, and for all who “cast the first stone”, “the kingdom of God” is no longer “at hand.”

Lucky for us, some stones miss their target. Some even fall right as they fall into place. For “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Jesus, rejected by the builders of earthly kingdoms, fell asleep on the wood of the cross. He slept the sleep of death, dead to all the world, while His soul was still awake, truly awake to all those “saved in hope.” For “the hope of the just brings them joy.”

Jesus is then “the Rock”—“the Rock” who was laid within the “rock-hewn tomb”.

He is the “cornerstone” and the entire “temple”—the stone “temple” totally torn “down” (“not one stone…left upon another”) and completely raised up “in three days”.

He is “the living stone” toward whom we “shout with joy”.

Jesus is truly “the Rock who saves us.”

And even if we reject His plea to be “also, like living stones”, failing to let ourselves “be built into a spiritual house”, there will still be praise. For His glory won’t be denied:

As Jesus Himself replied: “I tell you, if they keep silent, the very stones will cry out!”


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Come, let us sing to the Lord

and shout with joy to the Rock who saves us.

—Psalm 95:1


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—Howard Hain

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Patricia Tryon

My last blog entry was “A community of believers.” You’re blessed belonging to one.

Patricia Tryon died April 14 on the Saturday within the Octave of Easter. She was part of the believing community I’ve belonged to these past years. May God bring her a believer’s reward..

“That should be on the internet,” Patricia said on the phone the first time I spoke to her, as she inquired about a book almost 17 year ago.

“I don’t know anything about the internet,” I replied.

“I’ll do it for you and tell you about it, ” she said.

And so began “Bread on the Waters,” (www.cptryon.org)  a website “to feed the web-surfer’s spirit” launched in November, 1996, that’s attracted millions since. She opened new worlds for many of us. My own work in the new media began with her.

The phone-call was the start of a long collaboration between this brilliant, faith-filled woman and me and others. We enjoyed her friendship and were welcomed into her world of family and friends, first in Portland, Oregon, and then in Longmont, Colorado.

Patricia’s  “community of believers”– not bound in the usual way to  one place– stretched over continents. It was connected by phone calls, email, Facebook, and occasional visits. It involved websites and splendid visual art and book lists and sparkling intellectual discussions and an abundance of human kindnesses. Patricia was an enlightening presence in it. “Ask Patricia,” we would say,  about all kinds of things, and she usually had an answer. Like all communities of believers, this one was held together by faith.

Her wisdom, advice and achievements we’ll remember, but I’ll remember something else about Patricia– her deep longing for God.

What does “longing for God” mean? We sense it more than describe it, I think, but the psalms give it a voice.  “Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, O God.”  It’s a longing for that tremendous Mystery that gave us the sun and the other stars. It’s expressed in a longing for beauty, for truth, for things that matter, and no darkness or suffering can stop it.

“Why are you cast down, my soul, why groan within me. Hope in God. I will praise him still, my Savior and my God.” That longing is tested, and Patricia surely experienced the testing in a soul cast down, groaning. Still, she hoped in God, her Savior, praising him still.

Writing in her blog at the start of this year, Patricia said, “ I have decided my word will be “hope”.

St Paul writes about hope in his letter to the Romans (ch 5):

‘Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.’

And again, in chapter 15 he writes:

‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’”

On the Saturday after Easter, her Savior called; her longing ended and her hope was to be fulfilled. I’m unable to get to her funeral, but like many of her Passionist friends throughout the world I celebrated Mass for her. We extend our condolences to her husband Chuck and daughter Alys on their loss.

I’ll also be listening these days to some of the great Baptist hymns she loved so much.

“So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,

till my trophies at last I lay down;

I will cling to the old rugged cross,

and exchange it some day for a crown.”

Hope does not disappoint, Patricia.

Lord, open my lips

We begin to pray with words like this. St. Ambrose explains what they mean in one of his explanations of the psalms. We are not asking just for help to pray:

“We must always meditate on God’s wisdom, keeping it in our hearts and on our lips. Your tongue must speak justice, the law of God must be in your heart. Hence Scripture tells you: You shall speak of these commandments when you sit in your house, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down, and when you get up. Let us then speak of the Lord Jesus, for he is wisdom, he is the word, the Word indeed of God.
  It is also written: Open your lips, and let God’s word be heard. God’s word is uttered by those who repeat Christ’s teaching and meditate on his sayings. Let us always speak this word. When we speak about wisdom, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about virtue, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about justice, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about peace, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about truth and life and redemption, we are speaking of Christ.
  Open your lips, says Scripture, and let God’s word be heard. It is for you to open, it is for him to be heard. So David said: I shall hear what the Lord says in me. The very Son of God says: Open your lips, and I will fill them. Not all can attain to the perfection of wisdom as Solomon or Daniel did, but the spirit of wisdom is poured out on all according to their capacity, that is, on all the faithful. If you believe, you have the spirit of wisdom.”

Good St. Anthony, come around

“Good St. Anthony come around, something’s lost and can’t be found.”

The famous 13th Franciscan saint  was born in Portugal and died in Padua, Italy.  He was canonized almost immediately after he died in 1231. A brilliant preacher and teacher of scripture he was declared a doctor of the church in 1946.

Anthony’s skill at finding things seems to come from a personal experience–he lost his psalter, the book of scripture that contains the psalms. In his day the psalter was the prayer-book of religious, who carried it around with them always. Gradually printing made it possible to put all the scriptures and prayers  in one book, but in Anthony’s day the psalter was it, most likely the only book a poor friar could call his own.

What makes the story more interesting is that some say a disgruntled student of Anthony’s stole the book. I wouldn’t be surprised if all of Anthony’s class notes–he was a teacher–and all of his sermon notes–he was a preacher in demand– were in that psalter too. So. imagine losing your computer with all your files and personal information on it?

Horrors!

You can see why Anthony prayed to get that book back, and why he has sympathy for those who  experience losing important things.

The story also reminds us that Anthony not only taught, he prayed as he taught. The way he lived matched the words he spoke. That was the secret of his effective preaching.

Here’s some words of Anthony from one of his sermons:

“The one who is filled with the Holy Spirit speaks in different languages. These different languages are different ways of witnessing to Christ– humility, poverty, patience and obedience. We speak these languages when we reveal these virtues to others. Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak… Gregory says: ‘A law is laid upon the preacher to practice what he preaches.’”

Praise

Here’s Augustine, wise as ever, with some thoughts on the Easter Alleluia.

“ Our thoughts in this present life should turn on the praise of God, because it is in praising God that we shall rejoice for ever in the life to come; and no one can be ready for the next life unless he trains himself for it now. So we praise God during our earthly life, and at the same time we make our petitions to him. Our praise is expressed with joy, our petitions with yearning. We have been promised something we do not yet possess, and because the promise was made by one who keeps his word, we trust him and are glad; but insofar as possession is delayed, we can only long and yearn for it. It is good for us to persevere in longing until we receive what was promised, and yearning is over; then praise alone will remain.”

And one of my favorite passages from CS Lewis as he discovers what praise means:

“,,,the most obvious fact about praise — whether of God or anything — strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless . . . shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise — lovers praising their beloved, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. . . . Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible. . . . I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: ‘Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?’ The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value.”  Reflections on the Psalms

Sing a New Song

Here’s St. Augustine’s comments on a psalm:

“Sing to the Lord a new song; his praise is in the assembly of the saints. We are urged to sing a new song to the Lord, as new people who have learned a new song. A song is a thing of joy; more profoundly, it is a thing of love. Anyone, therefore, who has learned to love the new life has learned to sing a new song, and the new song reminds us of our new life. The new person, the new song, the new covenant, all belong to the one kingdom of God, and so the new people will sing a new song and will belong to the new covenant.

“There is not one who does not love something, but the question is, what to love. The psalms do not tell us not to love, but to choose the object of our love. But how can we choose unless we are first chosen? We cannot love unless someone has loved us first. Listen to the apostle John: We love him, because he first loved us. The source of our love for God can only be found in the fact that God loved us first. He has given us himself as the object of our love, and he has also given us its source. What this source is you may learn more clearly from the apostle Paul who tells us: The love of God has been poured into our hearts. This love is not something we generate ourselves; it comes to us through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

“Since we have such an assurance, then, let us love God with the love he has given us. As John tells us more fully: God is love, and whoever dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him. It is not enough to say: Love is from God. Which of us would dare to pronounce the words of Scripture: God is love? He alone could say it who knew what it was to have God dwelling within him. God offers us a short route to the possession of himself. He cries out: Love me and you will have me for you would be unable to love me if you did not possess me already.”