16 February 2010

Cleaning the Temple for God

On this day, the eve of Lent, in the wee hours of the morning, the traditional Divine Office did a splendid job of paving the way for us to enter into this penitential season. At Matins, in Psalm 34 [35] King David prays for relief against his persecutors. This prefigures our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the sufferings He would endure from His persecutors. This relief from “testes iniqui – unjust witnesses” is also the prayer of the Church. As individuals, and as a people of God, we enter into Lent having to admit that because we are sinners, we are those persecutors. But the hope for us appears in that same psalm with the words from our Lord: “Salus tua ego sum – I am your salvation.”

Psalm 36 [37] follows and begins with the words: “Noli æmulari in malignantibus, neque zelaveris facientes iniquitatem – Be not emulous of evildoers, nor envy them that work iniquity.” It’s an invitation to turn away from ungodly ways and return to God. The psalm promises that trusting in God, committing our way to His way, that we will “inhabita terram, et pasceris in divitiis eius -- dwell in the land, and… shall be fed with its riches.” Prophetically “the land” is heaven where we shall have the “riches” of eternal joy and will be “fed” at the heavenly banquet.

Psalm 37 [38] follows, which is the third penitential psalm. In it the psalmist confesses: “Iniquitates meæ supergressæ sunt caput meum, et sicut onus grave gravatæ sunt super me -- My iniquities have gone over my head, and as a heavy burden have become heavy upon me.” The psalmist knows where the answer to his troubles is to be found as he begs to God: “Ne discesseris a me – Do not depart from me.” Certainly the psalmist speaks for all devout souls.

The psalmody of Matins concludes with Psalm 38 [39]. It asks the big question: “Et nunc quæ est exspectatio mea? – And now what is my hope?” The question is answered in the form of a question: “Nonne Dominus? – Is it not the Lord?”

At Lauds, always a great psalm for cultivating a penitential heart is Psalm 50 [51], the Miserere, the fourth penitential psalm. It is very familiar to many and perhaps is the most assigned psalm to read for penance following the Sacrament of Confession.

Pope John Paul II referred to Lent as a time for “intense prayer” and surely the images of our Holy Father of happy memory remain etched in our minds, of the occasions he appeared to be in moments of intense prayer with his familiar posture of burying his face into his holy hands. A moment of intense prayer is delineated also at Lauds by the prophet Isaiah as he says: “Sicut pullus hirundinis, sic clamabo; meditabor ut columba. Attenuati sunt oculi mei, suspicientes in excelsum -- I will cry like a young swallow, I will meditate like a dove; my eyes are weakened looking upward.” This is serious prayer and our salvation is a serious matter. It is because of our weakness that the Church has an annual return to its liturgical seasons. We need to be reminded that God became Man. We need to be reminded that He suffered, died and rose again. We need to be reminded to spend intense times with Him in prayer; and we need to be reminded that we are to wait for Him in hope. The Capitulum at Lauds instructs us with a strong Lenten message: “Nox præcessit, dies autem appropinquavit. Abiiciamus ergo opera tenebrarum, et induamur arma lucis. Sicut in die honeste ambulemus -- The night is passed and the day is at hand. Let us, therefore cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day” (Romans 13:12-13).

At the hour of Prime is the daily prayer/response: “Christe, Fili Dei vivi, miserere nobis – Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on us.” These are only some of the examples for today’s assigned hours in the Breviarium Romanum which help us to prepare for tomorrow, the beginning of Lent.

Turning to another angle, Saint Caesarius of Arles, in a homily reminds us that our baptism makes us temples of Christ; and that before baptism we were shrines of the devil. He tells us that whenever we sin we harm Christ’s cause. God’s mercy and kindness has made our souls a dwelling-place for Himself. And so, Saint Caesarius of Arles bluntly says: “Noli tuam animam peccatorum sordibus inquinare – Do not pollute your soul with the filth of sin.”

Through the Sacrament of Confession the soul is made clean, making it a fit dwelling-place for the Most Blessed Trinity. In our interior life that inner-temple is also a place for us to deeply immerse ourselves in awestruck silence and holy conversation.

A Blessed and Prayerful Lent to All!