Tag Archives: Scripture

A Lesson from King David

Frederick Leighton, David, 1865

Frederick Leighton, David, 1865 (via Wikimedia Commons)

As part of my Old Testament reading for class this week, we were assigned a selection of psalms, one of which was Psalm 51, the well-known “Miserere” prayed so often in the Liturgy of the Hours: Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness. In your compassion blot out my offense… I’ve prayed this psalm plenty of times before, but I had never noticed its context until now.

The Psalter calls it “A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” Ah, I thought. That’s why David sounds so desperate, pleading with God to forget his sins and make him clean – he composed this psalm at a moment when his spiritual life was a shambles!

So, the other day I sat down to read Psalm 51 with this fresh insight, thinking about David and his messed-up life (and sort of considering my own messiness, too) when I got to a verse that stopped me dead in my tracks:

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

(Psalm 51:17)

All I could think was: God wants me to give Him my broken spirit? In my present state of brokenness, this sounds absurd, and yes – sort of hard to believe. My spirit is broken. Nobody, God least of all, actually wants a gift that’s already broken, right? … Right?

Wrong! The answer’s right there in the psalm. God wants me to give Him my broken spirit so that He can put a new and right spirit within me (Ps 51:10). When I give Him my broken spirit, I’m getting myself out of the way and making room for Him to enter into my prayer and do what He does best: make all things new. He cannot dispel this oppressive darkness, speak Truth to the core of my being, and teach me wisdom in my secret heart (v. 6) unless I actually let Him reach into my deepest, darkest places – all the parts of me that I would prefer to keep locked up and hidden away.

It has taken me a long time to learn that I don’t need to “have it all together” when I go to pray. If that were the condition that made our prayer possible, let’s be honest: prayer would be impossible. We are urged to pray constantly (1 Thess. 5:17)  because it really is possible for us to pray in any circumstance – no matter how we feel, no matter how awful things seem, no matter how messy our lives have become.

As I continued to meditate on Psalm 51, I was reminded of a poem I wrote years ago (maybe in 2005 or 2006). I share it with you now as a second attempt to articulate what’s really been stirring in my heart these days. (For my first attempt, take a look at yesterday’s post.) I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Restore unto Me (Psalm 51)

Restore unto me, Lord, what I need.
I do not ask for the waters You calmed,
not for sweet tears of consolation,
not for the green growth You promised,
not for the fruit of my good deeds,
but for Your likeness, Your true image,
the way You chose to meet me:
violent wounds and cross and thorny crown,
entirely bruised for Your love
and unquenchable mercy.

Over my calloused heart pour Your lifeblood
and loose those streams that pulse with holy passion.
Into my stubborn hands and feet make deep those wounds
that make room for all that You would put in me.
Into Your heart’s blood and into Your hands I fall,
O Lord – burn my desires!
And restore unto me, Lord, what I need:
Your true image, crucified in me.

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“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

In light of today’s Gospel (Matthew 25:1-3)…

Jan Adam Kruseman, The Wise and Foolish Virgins, 1848

Jan Adam Kruseman, The Wise and Foolish Virgins, 1848

Be wise, make ready your lamps. Behold, the Bridegroom comes; go out to meet Him!

– Antiphon for the Consecration of a Virgin Living in the World

Lord, grant that by Your Spirit we may be truly wise, and ever ready for Your coming! Mary our Mother, Virgin most prudent, pray that we would be eager for the coming of Your Son, and ready to receive Him with joy at every moment. Amen.

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On the Calendar: St. Matthew the Apostle

The Calling of Saint Matthew Michelangelo da Caravaggio, c. 1599

Caravaggio, The Calling of St. Matthew, c. 1599

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.

(Matthew 9:9)

Caravaggio, The Calling of St. Matthew (detail)

Incredulity: "I, Lord?"

For an interesting reflection on today’s feast, check out Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s post: Wealth and Power.

(Happy Name Day to Fr. Savio and Fr. Fields! My prayers are with you both!)

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The Pope’s Wednesday Catechesis: Wrestling with God

Doré, Jacob Wrestling the Angel, 1855

G. Doré, Jacob Wrestling the Angel, 1855

“And Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day…”

(Genesis 32:24)

I have always been intrigued by this passage, and I have long wondered what it could mean. According to the Holy Father, it is meant to teach us about prayer – specifically, about perseverance and humility in prayer. Jacob “wins” the battle, but only after he surrenders to the One he’s striving against:

“Jacob therefore prevailed, he triumphed – it is the adversary himself who affirms it – but his new identity, received by the same adversary, affirms and testifies to God’s triumph. When in turn, Jacob will ask his contender’s name, he will refuse to pronounce it, but he will reveal himself in an unequivocal gesture, by giving him his blessing. That blessing which the patriarch had asked at the beginning of the battle is now granted him. And it is not the blessing grasped by deception, but that given freely by God, which Jacob is able to receive because now he is alone, without protection, without cunning and deception. He gives himself over unarmed; he accepts surrendering himself and confessing the truth about himself. And so, at the end of the battle, having received the blessing, the patriarch is able finally to recognize the other, the God of the blessing: ‘I have seen God face to face’ … and now he can cross the ford, the bearer of a new name but ‘conquered’ by God and marked forever, limping from the wound he received.”

We can only receive God’s blessing when, in our prayer, we stop trying to deceive Him and admit to who we really are. Such a difficult lesson – but a necessary one, if we want our prayer to effect its purpose; that is, if we want our prayer to leave us, like Jacob, transformed and “marked forever” by our encounter with God.

You can find the Holy Father’s entire reflection on Zenit.org – definitely a worthwhile read!

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