Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry;
give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.
From you let my vindication come;
let your eyes see the right…
I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
incline your ear to me, hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O savior of those who seek refuge
from their adversaries at your right hand.
Guard me as the apple of the eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings,
from the wicked who despoil me,
my deadly enemies who surround me…
Rise up, O Lord, confront them, overthrow them!
By your sword deliver my life from the wicked,
from mortals—by your hand, O Lord —
from mortals whose portion in life is in this world...
As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.
Psalm 17: 1-2, 6-9, 13-14a, 15
Reflection – This week’s Monday Psalter, Psalm 17, is a bit too long to include in its entirety. For the record, the omitted parts are the standard psalter fare of protestations of the innocence of the psalmist, and lengthy denunciations of the perfidy of his enemies.
I would like to focus on the last verse of the psalm – being satisfied upon awakening with the sight of God, beholding His face. This is standard psalm imagery, waking and finding oneself vindicated or delivered or restored to joy. The sense of it, in the original context, is that in sleep we are reduced to a level of utter passivity, and so whatever change occurs in our situation in our sleep is credited to God and God alone.
This is a powerful image for the mystical life, of course, which is not reserved for a few elite holy ones but is a normal part of Christian living. Every time you receive the Eucharist, you have a mystical experience, you know! God and God alone can make that particular event happen in your soul.
But in this month of November I am thinking, not of these things, but of what was certainly not part of the original intention of the psalmist. There is a falling asleep in this life and a waking up to the sight of the face of God, a satisfying of all our needs and desires that is utterly the work of God in us.
Death, and what comes after, in other words. This is something we need to ponder more frequently, I would say. For a variety of complex cultural reasons, we do not generally think about heaven, hear homilies about heaven, or generally give much time or energy towards a serious desire for heaven or a shaping of our life so that this is the key goal towards which all other goals incline.
We are a very earth-bound lot, we 21st century people, including us Catholics. Psalm 17 helps us to pray for the grace of eternal life with God in heaven. The truth is, we do not experience the full satisfaction of our desires in this world. And our world—no matter what—is full of ‘enemies’: troubles, problems, disorder, suffering.
We cry out to God for deliverance, and turn our faces to Him for help, and this is right and good. But we do need to be clear that ultimately deliverance comes only when we ‘fall asleep’ and awake to the sight of his face and the fulfillment of our desires in that vision.
November is the month of the faithful departed, the month to pray for the dead. And this is a right and proper, pious and godly thing to do. But in that prayer, we really should contemplate our own end, not with morbidity and fear, but with hope and desire. There is a falling asleep that will come to all of us in time, sooner or later. And… there is a waking up, outside of time, in some fashion we know nothing about and which fills us with dread.
But it needn’t. Keeping our eyes fixed on the Lord throughout this life, turning our face to Him continually, allowing Him to be the source and the goal of our joy and our striving—all of this will bear us over that final crossing, that mysterious awakening, that entry into the life which is the fulfillment of all joy and the end of all striving, forever.