Monday, February 16, 2015

The Prayer of the Innocent Man

Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity,
and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind.

For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.
I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites.
I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked.

I wash my hands in innocence and go around your altar, O Lord,
proclaiming thanksgiving aloud, and telling all your wondrous deeds.
O Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells.

Do not sweep my soul away with sinners, nor my life with bloodthirsty men,
in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes.
But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me.
My foot stands on level ground; in the great assembly I will bless the Lord.
Psalm 26

Reflection – The Monday Psalter delivers up to us today for the first time a certain genre of psalm that poses a very specific problem for us in prayer. Namely, the psalm that loudly and long proclaims the total innocence and uprightness of the psalmist, on account of which the Lord simply must deliver him from harm and take care of him.

This is, of course a great challenge for us who know very well that we are not quite so innocent, that we do not always walk in integrity, trust without wavering, and all those other good things the psalmist most sincerely claims for himself here. Alas, sometimes yes, sometimes no, and so we have (among other things) the sacrament of reconciliation to cleanse us of sin.

Well, what are we to do with this psalm, then? Ignore it? Edit it from future editions of the Bible? Scoff at it, deconstruct it, implicitly or explicitly deny that it is an inspired text just as much as ‘the Lord is my shepherd’ or ‘Praise the Lord, all you nations, acclaim Him all you people’—the psalms, in other words, that may flow more readily from our mouths?

The Church has never seen fit to do that, and indeed Psalm 26 appears in its allotted place in the Liturgy of the Hours, the second psalm of Friday Daytime Prayer, Week One. It is a psalm, in fact, that lends itself to corporate liturgical prayer more than private recitation, perhaps, and in that calls us to a contemplation of some fairly deep theological and spiritual truths.

Of course we have to start with Christ in this. He, along with His Mother, is the One who prays this psalm without reservations or complications. He is the integrated one, the faithful one, the innocent one, and so this psalm first pulls us into the very prayer of Jesus Christ to God His Father. The only way we can really pray this psalm is to pray it as an expression of our unity with and in Jesus.

But this, then, means that this psalm (which most of us probably are hardly aware of and certainly don’t count as one of our favourites) factually pulls us right into the internal dialogue of the Trinity. It is a very human earthy psalm—as always there are enemies about, and the wicked, and it is all very much a psalm set in the battlefield of the world. But in that—and in the fact that God the Son became an earthy man and entered that battlefield—the very life of the Trinity, the ineffably mysterious and unknowable inner being of God is made present to us. 

And when we come together as the Church, not as simple individuals with our own struggles and failures, sins and virtues, but as the Body of believers, this psalm does become ours indeed, and in fact without reservations or hesitation.

We become innocent and faithful, with integrity and sincerity of heart, not by nature or by our own actions and perfections, but by grace. This psalm is a psalm of justification by faith and by grace—sola fides and sola gratia—but our belief is that it is a real justification, a real cleansing and purification, something that really does change us and is not simply a legal fiction.

This psalm, above all then, calls us to a searching examination of conscience that flows from an awareness of just what a gift has been given us, just how much the life of God has become the life of redeemed humanity, just how much Jesus has deigned to share His righteousness with us. So… are we walking that way? Rather than letting us off the hook or allowing us to be slack and passive in our spiritual and moral life, this psalm is a clarion call to integrity and to purity of heart, mind, and body. 

Let’s pray it, then, and know what we are praying, what gift has been given us, and what standard of life and conduct this gift calls us to, today.

1 comment:

  1. For your steadfast Love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.
    This line in particular calls to mind ones devotion and relationship with Our Blessed Mother.
    Our Lady, the faithful and steadfast one is ever so gently, calling and guiding us, deeper and deeper, into the endless expanse of the heart of her Son Our Lord who is Love incarnate.
    Though i may be far from the words in this psalm. I trust Our Lady is not. and in saying that, i Can, with confidence walk with integraty and uprightness in The Lord.


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