Friday, May 19, 2006

We pray all of Psalm 78 on Thursday mornings. Most monks I know find it a hardship. It is long and maybe less interesting than others. On the other hand, if one knows the monastic tradition, one discovers that the Fathers often found Christ in the most unlikely places. We monks sing "Suscipe me, Domine..." when we make Solemn Vows, and this is a phrase from the longest and most repetitive Psalm of the all, Psalm 119. In any case, two thoughts have hung with me from praying this Psalm yesterday.

The late Abbot Jerome Theissen is reported to have said of this Psalm, "When I was young, I thought that this Psalm was too long. At some point as I grew older, I realized that the story in it was my own life's story. Then it seemed all too short."

Second: this Psalm relates the curious story from Numbers 11 about the quails. The people complain about having manna to eat and nothing else. So God sends them quails to eat. They eat it up, and then God sends a plague because they ate the quails. The question that often arises in this episode is, "Why was God angry that they ate the quails? He sent them after all!" Perhaps we read this story backward. The Psalm twice mentions the people's 'craving' ('awah). Among other places this word appears is Genesis 3:6: "And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat and that it was ta'awah to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for wisdom..." The RSV renders ta'awah as "a delight," the NAB "pleasing," KJV "pleasant," DRV "fair," Vulgate "pulchrum" (beautiful)--these all carry generally positive overtones. The Hebrew uses tip the scales in favor of a slightly more unfavorably rendering, something like "lusty" or "craved." Interesting in this regard is 1 John 2:16 "the lust of the not of the Father."

The long and short of it is this, just because we want something, demand it of God and have Him give it to us does not mean that we have pleased God. Is it not possible that God sometimes allows us to have something that we want even when He knows it will harm us because He wishes to teach us something? Certainly that is one of the lessons of the Psalm. The flip side of this is that when we ask for something and God does not give it, we should not presume that God has not heard or is angry with us. He may well be withholding something from us that would only cause us harm.

Peace to you in Jesus Christ!


Scott said...

Thank you for this very helpful meditation, Father Prior. Quick question: Does your community base its Office on Thesaurus Liturgiae, Scheme A? I have this excessive fascination for finding out exactly what monastic communities use in their Opus Dei.

Prior Peter, OSB said...

Hi Scott,
We do base the arrangement on Schema A, which is simply the arrangement recommended by Benedict himself. We make a few adjustments on the fact that we do not pray the Minor Hours together on Monday and that the Psalms for Prime are quite lengthy. These we divide up. Some of them we move into Terce, Sext and None.


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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
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may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
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