Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God!
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King.
Within her citadels God has made himself known as a fortress.
For behold, the kings assembled; they came on together.
As soon as they saw it, they were astounded; they were in panic; they took to flight.
Trembling took hold of them there, anguish as of a woman in labor.
By the east wind you shattered the ships of Tarshish.
As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts,
in the city of our God, which God will establish forever.
We have thought on your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple.
As your name, O God, so your praise reaches to the ends of the earth.
Your right hand is filled with righteousness. Let Mount Zion be glad!
Let the daughters of Judah rejoice because of your judgments!
Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers,
consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels,
That you may tell the next generation that this is God,
our God forever and ever. He will guide us forever.
Reflection – Well, I’m back, more or less rested up and ready to go for another year. And we’re back on the blog where we left off with the Monday Psalter, at Psalm 47. This is an unusual psalm, taking as its theme the beauty of the city of God Jerusalem, the place where God has chosen to dwell and where His help and guidance, saving love and wisdom comes forth for his people.
For Catholic Christians, there is no question that we apply this psalm to the Church and pray it in that light. It is not a question of substituting Rome for Jerusalem, or even a question of buildings and spires, Gothic architecture or Romanesque, or those sorts of visible realities. These have their proper place; we are a sacramental people and so the outward appearances of things is never just window dressing or something superfluous to the reality. The reality flows through and is expressed through these elements.
But the splendor and beauty of the Church is much deeper and more consequential than the beauty of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome or Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. All of these buildings, magnificent treasures and towering human achievements that they are, could be razed tomorrow and the splendor of the Church would be undiminished.
The splendor of the Church lies in that it is where God has chosen to dwell on earth. It is the place where the Incarnation is still occurring, in other words. God became man, assumed to Himself created reality, in Nazareth, was born in Bethlehem, walked the roads of Galilee and Judea, died, rose, and ascended to heaven in Jerusalem.
But his physical presence—the very material, concrete, visible, touchable life of God—is still on earth, and it is on earth precisely in the Church. In the Eucharist par excellence as in the other sacraments, but also in the proclaimed Word, in the ordained minister, in the gathered assembly. Christ continues His life on earth, and He does so through the instrumentality of the Church He founded.
This means that love of the Church is love of Christ. And it means that we have to be very careful how we speak of the Church, how we speak not only of our leaders and their words and deeds but how we speak of one another. There is a presence of Christ flowing through the communion of the Body of Christ—do we acknowledge it? If we do, we probably will moderate our tone when we do have something critical to say, and be quick to acknowledge and praise that which is good and true and beautiful.
We are living in an era, fueled by social media, of intense criticism and negativity, when it is too easy to constantly focus on everything that is not, everything that is wrong, everything that is lousy and shabby and mean and wretched. Our Facebook and Twitter feeds will happily dish up for us a daily menu of things happening in the world and in the Church to be incensed over.
It is vitally important that we take a stand against that, that we choose each day to “Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God.” For all that is wrong, for all that is simply human and flawed and messy, God dwells here. Take off your shoes, lower your voice, sheathe your sword—this place is holy. Not because we are holy, but because the Holy One has chosen it for his dwelling place.