Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Has the Way of the Most High Changed?

Praying the Psalms with the Liturgy of the Hours is the best way to become steeped in the mind of the Church. That is because the Psalms have always been the prayer book of the Church, starting with Jesus Himself.

Often a passage will seem to be highlighted, as if in answer to a present concern. It may spark a meditation.

Psalm 77, the first Psalm of Lauds today, speaks to the feeling that God is not present in our world as He was in the past. "What has happened to the Church?" is the question that troubles us. This perplexity eventually leads us back to God Himself.

I was troubled, I could not speak.
I thought of the days of long ago
and remembered the years long past.
At night I mused within my heart.
I pondered and my spirit questioned.

"Will the Lord reject us for ever?
Will he show us his favor no more?
Has his love vanished for ever?
Has his promise come to an end?
Does God forget his mercy
or in anger withhold his compassion?"

I said: "This is what causes my grief;
that the way of the Most High has changed."

I remember the deeds of the Lord,
I remember your wonders of old,
I muse on all your works
and ponder your mighty deeds.

That is from the poetic Grail translation of the Psalms. Other translations also focus on change or abandonment.

  • I conclude: “My sorrow is this, the right hand of the Most High has abandoned us." -- NABRE
  • And I say, “It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.” -- RSVCE, NRSV
  • And I said, Now have I begun: this is the change of the right hand of the most High.  -- DR

This inevitably calls to mind Jesus' cry of abandment from the cross. Matthew says "Jesus cried in a loud voice." It carries in the Greek the sense of "great," even "surprising."

How startling it must have been to hear this powerful cry issue from the parched throat and cramped chest of a half-asphyxiated, dying man! Crucifixion was agonizing because it was really a prolonged suffocation. Victims had to push their bodies up with their nailed feet for every gasp. (That is why the soldiers broke the legs of the robbers to hasten death.) One can imagine the sudden silence that followed until speculation began about the meaning of the cry.

God, why?

Why? is the quintessential human question. Why? is the heart's challenge. It does not arise out of intellectual curiosity. It is wrenched out of us by pain. And it is not answered by an explanation, but only by its own echo across two millennia. "And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying: Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani? That is, My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Matthew 27.46.

This is -- very significantly -- the beginning of the prophetic 22nd Psalm, and Jesus' final witness before His death. This would certainly not have been lost on the Jews present. The Psalm predicted what was unfolding before their very eyes! "They have pierced my hands and feet."

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? 
Why so far from my call for help,
from my cries of anguish?
My God, I call by day, but you do not answer;
by night, but I have no relief.

Psalm 22.2-3 (NABRE).

Are we truly any more abandoned than at many other times in Church history? Perhaps. The Bear does not argue. The only answer comes from the mute and splintered wood of the cross. For true Catholics, that is enough.

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