Thursday, March 10, 2011

One good use for Psalms of Woe

Today's Office of Readings and Morning Prayer both start with Psalms of Misery (psalms 44 and 143). In each the psalmist bewails the suffering of his  people, and wonders why God is letting this happen. He reminds God of how good things used to be, and wonders why things are so bad now.  And above all, the present state of affairs isn't just painful.  It's humiliating:

You make us the taunt of our neighbors, the laughing stock of al who are near. Among the nations you make us a byword, among the peoples a thing of derision.
All day long my disgrace is before me: my face is covered with shame at the voice of the taunter, the scoffer, at the sight of the foe and avenger. (Ps. 44)

Psalm 143 expresses more than humilitation. It borders on despair.
Therefore my spirit fails; my heart is numb within not hide your face lest I become like those in the grave...

Yesterday I read that the diocese of Philadelphia put 21 priests on administrative leave due to allegations of sexual abuse. This kind of news--will these stories never end?--makes it all too easy to pray these psalms, crying out to God about the plight of our beloved Church. This is what  we pray when thinking about  the victims of abuse. This is what we pray when we think of the  humiliation experienced by the  good, holy priest who now feels the suspicion of those who are wondering whether  he too  is a perverted creep. This is what we pray, thinking of Pope Benedict's lonely struggle to lead the Church out of this vile pit. This is what we pray in union with  the the horror and revulsion Our Lord felt in the garden of Gethsemane as He contemplated  these same sins.