Reconciliation Lectionary: Psalm 119:169-176

mary-the-penitent.jpgMany years ago we started a look at Bible readings for Reconciliation. This was never nearly as popular as the Scriptures for funerals and weddings. (But I had to keep my focus on religion somehow.)

Newcomers to this site, few of you as there are, can reference the header above for the ones we’ve examined. When are they useful? When you go to confession, or prepare for it, I suppose. Some are designated for actual liturgies of Reconciliation.

As I was praying recently with Psalm 119, I found the concluding eight verses touched me. I know each of the twenty-two sections of that gigantic mediation on the Law are assigned to the funeral rites. Fitting that, as many of them are laments. Also fitting that they help the Christian believer focus on Christ, the revelation of the Father. Maybe these might help in preparation for the celebration of Penance:

Let my cry come before you, LORD;
in keeping with your word, give me understanding.

Let my prayer come before you;
rescue me according to your promise.

May my lips pour forth your praise,
because you teach me your statutes.

May my tongue sing of your promise,
for all your commandments are righteous.

Keep your hand ready to help me,
for I have chosen your precepts.

I long for your salvation, LORD;
your law is my delight.

Let my soul live to praise you;
may your judgments give me help.

I have wandered like a lost sheep;
seek out your servant,
for I do not forget your commandments.

Commentary:

If used in a liturgy of the word, I’d suggest the following as possibilities for a sung antiphon:

Let my soul live to praise you.

Or:

Seek out your servant, O Lord.

Each verse offers some synonym or aspect for God’s Law: word, promise, statutes, commandments, precepts, law, judgment, commandments. Obviously, the originals aren’t in English, but we get the idea. No single human word captures all of divine revelation. Many believers treat their experience of sacramental Penance as a legal matter: rules have been broken and an admission must be made.

The first four verses detail mortal expressions. In order: cry, prayer, praise, and song. As a musician, I can testify that when I’m not sure what to do or how to pray, I can’t go wrong with music. The Psalmist would likely tell you that also, even when in the struggle with sin.

When we have offered with our lips (v. 171) and tongue (172), God offers a hand (173). There is an aspect of incarnation to our petition for aid and God’s response. The Psalmist doesn’t bury it in thoughts and silent prayer.

Most significant to me today was that last verse, the admission that despite the fact of “not forgetting … commandments,” the Psalmist readily confesses an experience of wandering. Like a sheep. Something of Saint Paul’s admission of knowing the good (Cf. Romans 7:14ff) but beholding acts of personal sin. Knowing the commandments, remembering them as the Psalmist claims (v. 176) isn’t a guarantee against getting lost.

In the context of Scripture, the Psalmist has just penned 175 verses as a monumental tribute to the Law of Moses. After all that, we still read a confession of being a lost sheep. Rather than a discouraging revelation, we can always focus instead on God’s mercy, that ready hand, prepared to help us.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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