Friday, December 18, 2015

Sheltering In Place

Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I call to you,
when my heart is faint.

Lead me to the rock that is higher than I;
for you are my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.
Let me abide in your tent forever,
find refuge under the shelter of your wings.
For you, O God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

Prolong the life of the king;
may his years endure to all generations!
May he be enthroned forever before God;
appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!

So I will always sing praises to your name,
as I pay my vows day after day.
Psalm 61

Reflection – A friend and neighbor of mine who is an avid reader of the blog, and particularly of this running series on the psalms, pointed out to me that my commentary on the ‘gloomy 50s’ has missed an important beat.

Namely, that the cry of the psalmist in distress has to be understood as principally (in our Christian reading of it) to refer to the cry of Christ, to the sufferings of Jesus on behalf of all humanity. That while the original and immediate occasion of these psalms’ composition was the suffering of the psalmists’ own lives, now we hear the voice of God Himself, made man in Jesus, in them.

Well, this is profound stuff. And we see the depth of it in the very first line of this psalm: ‘From the end of the earth I call to you’. How can a single individual be crying ‘from the end of the earth’? This implies something bigger than the sufferings of one man. And indeed the Church has read this psalm as referring to Christ, and because of Christ, of His Body on earth, the Church—an expression of the whole Church, which is Christ and is also redeemed humanity, crying out to God.

And in this psalm the cry of distress immediately yields to expressions of intimacy, trust, confidence. This whole business of ‘refuge’ looms large here. And we need to take this to heart, don’t we? Sometimes we can get a bit silly about this notion of seeking refuge, as if strong independent mature adult Christians shouldn’t be looking for such things.

We have to live in the real world! We can’t retreat into our safe space! Down with refuge! Up with going out there and being with the people! And so on and so forth. All of which is fine enough, so long as we know that God Himself has provided us with a refuge, and that in fact we do need said refuge, and it is no part of a real adult faith to eschew it.

That refuge is the Church Herself, but within that refuge we find ourselves delivered into the real refuge which is the Heart of Jesus. His merciful love which carves out for us on earth the only ‘safe space’ we need, and out of which safe space we can indeed traverse the rough waters and fiery passages of life in this world.

Psalm 61 is a really mystical psalm—after this expression of confidence and trust in God Our Refuge, there is all this business of the king and his long life. Again, in the original composition, this would be the actual king in Jerusalem; for us, it is again Christ and His enduring life on earth in the life of the Church.

There are fundamental matters here of good spiritual order, good spiritual foundation and grounding. We live in a world that seems to us to be a dangerous place. Fear and anger are the common lot of the day. Those of us who are Catholic Christians need to safeguard our communion with Christ, with His Church, and from this with one another, to weather the storms of the world as it is.

Of course this is challenging, since the Church itself is made up of a bunch of sinners who screw up a lot, and so life in the Church can be a fairly stormy affair much of the time, and it doesn’t necessarily ‘feel’ like much of a refuge. But as we determine that God’s plan is for us to ‘shelter in place’, so to speak—to stay with the Church and find refuge within its confines, even if the other people doing likewise are an obstreperous bunch of miscreants—we do indeed find ourselves mysteriously delivered over to the refuge within the refuge, which is Christ’s own mysterious life in the Church and in the world. And this is the surest, safest, and most secure way to live in our times and in all times.

1 comment:

  1. Ah - Fr. Denis, you have brought this meditation into a most beautiful place. Beloved John Paul II describes "Mercy as the view from God's heart" and when refuge is found in the living God, we cannot help but take on that view. Catherine's line from the Little Mandate - "Go without fear into the depths of men's hearts" - is no longer a challenge or even a command but rather an invitation to meet a most merciful God. We can go with mercy, not my own little pittance of mercy but rather, with the mercy of God. Enough work for the span of a man's life and, indeed, it is pressed down and overflowing.
    Bless you and the family you live with.
    Kindest regards - John Lynch.


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