Saturday, November 12, 2011

Psalm 119

Gottfried Hintz
Psalm 119;37: Er kehre ab meine Augen daß sie nicht sehen
Mühlhausen (Kreis Preußisch Eylau) / Gwardejskoje

The Russian town of Gwardeiskoje was originally part of East Prussia and called Mühlhausen (Kreis Preußisch Eylau)

Originally founded by the Teutonic Knights, the town later became the home of one of the daughters of Martin Luther when she married

The Church became Lutheran and had strong Lutheran connections

The fresco above has as its theme Psalm 119, v, 37:

"37 Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way"

Psalm 119 is one of the alphabetic acrostic poems in the Bible. Its 176 verses are divided into twenty-two stanzas, one stanza for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet; within each stanza, each of the eight verses begins (in Hebrew) with that letter

It is the longest Psalm and the longest Chapter in the Bible

It celebrates God’s law and speaks of the wonders of the Torah (the Law of Moses) and helps worshipers to aspire to obey it more fully

It is prized and celebrated in the Jewish religion, the Orthodox Churches and all Western Christian Churches (Catholic and non-Catholic)

In Orthodox liturgical practice it occupies a whole division of the Psalter. In Orthodox monasteries it is read daily at the Midnight Office and at Orthodox funeral services

Martin Luther said that he prized the Psalm so highly that he would not exchange the whole world for a leaf of it

In his commentary on Psalm 119[118] St Augustine wrote on how happiness derives from observing the Law of the Lord.

"From the very beginning, this very long Psalm invites us to happiness, which, as everyone knows, constitutes the hope of every man. Indeed, could there (was there or will there) ever be anyone who did not desire to be happy? And if this is so, what need is there to invite people to a goal that the human soul spontaneously strives for?...

Might not the reason be that although we all aspire to happiness, most of us do not know how to attain it? Yes, this is precisely the lesson that is taught by the One who says: "Blessed are those who are undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord'.

It seems to say: "I know what you desire; I know you are seeking happiness; if, then, you wish to be happy, be undefiled. All seek the former, whereas few trouble about the latter: however, without it, what all wish for cannot be attained.

But where can anyone be undefiled, except in the way, which is none other than the Law of the Lord? Hence, it is those who are undefiled in the way, those who walk in the laws of the Lord who are happy! This exhortation is not superfluous but necessary to our spirit" (Commentary on the Psalms, III, Rome, 1976, p. 1113).

Only last year at the Mass for the End of the Year of the Priest (2010), Pope Benedict XVI repeated this idea when he talked of "the Great Psalm":

"The people of Israel continue to be grateful to God because in the Commandments he pointed out the way of life. The great Psalm 119(118) is a unique expression of joy for this fact: we are not fumbling in the dark. God has shown us the way and how to walk aright.

The message of the Commandments was synthesised in the life of Jesus and became a living model.

Thus we understand that these rules from God are not chains, but the way which he is pointing out to us. We can be glad for them and rejoice that in Christ they stand before us as a lived reality. He himself has made us glad. By walking with Christ, we experience the joy of Revelation"

On Wednesday last Pope Benedict delivered a lengthy catechesis on the Psalm reported here.

In part of his lengthy talk he said:

"The Psalmist proclaims his love for God's Law, which brings light, life and salvation. ... A striking example of the Psalmist's devotion is seen in his words: "The Lord is my portion" (v. 57).

We can apply these words in a special way to priests, whose lives of celibacy testify to their call to complete devotion to the Lord and his Kingdom. But they can also be applied to all the faithful, who share in Christ's royal priesthood and are called daily to bear witness to the Gospel."