Friday, September 11, 2015

Grinning and Bearing It: 2,000+ Years Strong

In the past several months, partially at the direction of a couple priests, I've been praying the Divine Office, also known as the Liturgy of the Hours. It usually doesn't happen every day to my schedule, or I just plain forget... because I'll be the first to admit that sometimes when I get a free moment after the baby goes to sleep, I let a video game come first. Yes, even The Doctor has something to work on in managing time better. But anyway, today's Office of Readings particularly struck me. Usually when this happens, it's from a great sermon by a saint. This time, however, I was amazed by what psalm I read on this Friday afternoon.

William Holman Hunt-A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Missionary from the Persecution of the Druids 
Lately, I've become more and more aware of how Western culture can be very dismissive of the idea of God. I've seen this at work and among friends, and a few particular conversations in recent days have made me see things from these people's perspectives. "Those Christians are weird. They pray?" "All these rules that Catholics have, it's absolutely ridiculous. I'd never get involved in that." It's kind of the same thinking I have when I have to watch a safety video at work. "Do people really follow all these rules to the 'T'?" I think to myself. "Does this contractor really think I'm going to get anything from watching this video?" But then, the logical progression of these thoughts end in me thinking, "Wow... maybe this is how secular society views Christianity, and Catholicism in particular..."

Obviously, the main difference here is that these safety videos are provided only to serve as a trump card and a protection; if a construction worker gets injured after watching it, they can't pursue litigation because they watched the video and agreed in writing to follow its rules. It's a tool to cover the asses of the contractor in the wake of numerous businesses being sued for injuries big and small. How does this apply to today's reading from Psalm 69 in particular?

Although, mostly overall, the Church in the West is not suffering the persecution Christians are seeing in the Middle East, China, etc., Christians in the Western world are still undergoing a persecution as described in Psalm 69. It struck me that the speaker invoking God to deliver him from persecution, echoes the same thoughts that run through my head; the same thoughts that many Christians must be feeling right now in the face of so many laughing and insulting secularists:

More in number than the hairs of my head
    are those who hate me without cause;
many are those who would destroy me,
    my enemies who accuse me falsely...

It is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
    that shame has covered my face.
I have become a stranger to my kindred,
    an alien to my mother’s children.
It is zeal for your house that has consumed me;
    the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.
When I humbled my soul with fasting,
    they insulted me for doing so.
When I made sackcloth my clothing,
    I became a byword to them.
I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate,
    and the drunkards make songs about me.
But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
    At an acceptable time, O God,
    in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.
With your faithful help rescue me
    from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
    and from the deep waters.
Do not let the flood sweep over me,
    or the deep swallow me up,
    or the Pit close its mouth over me.
Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good;
    according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
Do not hide your face from your servant,
    for I am in distress—make haste to answer me.
Draw near to me, redeem me,
    set me free because of my enemies.
You know the insults I receive,
    and my shame and dishonor;
    my foes are all known to you.
Insults have broken my heart,
    so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none;
    and for comforters, but I found none. (Psalm 69: 4, 7-20)

Jan Sanders van Hemessen- The Prodigal Son
So often have I felt like this speaker. I mean look at what he says here: "The drunkards make songs about me". Another translation has it as, "I become the butt of their songs", in other words, the butt of their jokes. We know how crazy some of our friends, acquaintances and co-workers get when they've drank too much. Hasn't being the punch line of a joke happened to us many times in our lives, all because we tried to follow Christ? And for Catholics in particular, how often have we been insulted for fasting and abstaining during Lent? It seems like I need to constantly explain why we offer these little sacrifices to God, and sometimes, I feel some despair just as the speaker here does. Why must this life be so difficult? You would think when we're being berated for our faith, someone will come up alongside and stand up for us... but no one shows us any pity, and just joins in on the onslaught of boos and jeers for having "unpopular" opinions in the current culture climate. It starts to feel like no one in the world has a love of God anymore.

But then, we continue reading the Psalm, and see that God hasn't abandoned us. We see that there are many other people that love God, and He has a plan for us:

But I am lowly and in pain;
    let your salvation, O God, protect me.
I will praise the name of God with a song;
    I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an ox
    or a bull with horns and hoofs.
Let the oppressed see it and be glad;
    you who seek God, let your hearts revive.

For the Lord hears the needy,
    and does not despise his own that are in bonds.
Let heaven and earth praise him,
    the seas and everything that moves in them.
For God will save Zion
    and rebuild the cities of Judah;
and his servants shall live there and possess it;
the children of his servants shall inherit it,
    and those who love his name shall live in it. (Psalm 69:29-36)

This is where I, like the speaker, get that hope once again that God DOES hear our cries of anguish. He knows that we're suffering because we love him, and here we are assured that our brethren (i.e., other faithful Catholics) will find a great reward to inherit. So just as we have to sometimes grin and bear these insults and "drunken songs" today, so did our brothers and sisters well over 2,000 years ago. I think we're in good company, don't you?

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