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Quakes and Waves and Psalms

As someone new to praying the liturgy of the hours, I never before fully understood the place of the psalms in the prayer of the Church.  “In [Christ],” the Catechism says, “the psalms continue to teach us how to pray”, so much so that the Church calls the psalms a “school of prayer” (2587 and index).

Praying the liturgy of the hours brings that home, for the psalms form the bulk of the prayers. Through them one relives salvation history and is caught up in how the drama of God’s romance with humanity intersects the quotidian realities of every kind of suffering with its attendant supplication heavenward.

Perhaps nothing calls forth more fervent prayers than great disasters such as the one just experienced by the people of Japan in the apocalyptic destruction wrought by Friday’s earthquake and tsunami. Watching the events, I thought of the lessons that I was finding afresh in the daily exposure to the psalms in the liturgy of the hours.

[Editor’s note: for your convenience and to encourage you in the habit of prayer, find links to the liturgy of the hours in both the ordinary form and the extraordinary form in the blue Church box right on the front page of Catholic Lane every day.]

Dependence

We are utterly and absolutely dependent upon God. God begins us and sustains us from moment to moment. All of creation is kept in existence by an act of His creative power, by His will continuously.

With creation, God does not abandon his creatures to themselves. He not only gives them being and existence, but also, and at every moment, upholds and sustains them in being, enables them to act and brings them to their final end. Recognizing this utter dependence with respect to the Creator is a source of wisdom and freedom, of joy and confidence (CCC 301).

The psalms constantly remind us that everything we are and have comes from God.  They remind us that any solidity or permanence we seek or think we find in the things man makes is illusory. We are not only dependent; we are in ourselves weak and as fleeting as mist.

Surrender

God’s power is total and we are completely at His mercy.

When we see the devastating forces unleashed that crumble the work of human hands as easily as you might pulverize a dry leaf, that sweep human constructions away as easily as you blow dust from a shelf, and that toss buildings and vehicles as you might shuffle sand with your foot — we are not seeing God’s power. We are seeing the power of natural forces, infinitesimal in comparison to the power of God.

If we must bend before such power as nature exerts, why should we not bow abjectly before nature’s God? His ways are truly mysterious and appearances hide meaning from us. The psalms are replete with an interweaving pattern made of seeming contradictions:

  • God’s people rebel against Him and suffer His wrath
  • God allows His people to suffer even when they are faithful
  • God punishes the wicked
  • God allows the wicked to prosper

The bottom line is this: from the human perspective, we cannot deduce the favor or displeasure of God on any person or peoples by looking at what has or has not befallen them. There is nothing in the end but to declare with Job, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

Praise

As Job and the psalmists understood, while we have breath and under every circumstance, God is to be praised. He is to be praised for His superlative qualities and for giving us and every creature existence. Ultimately, whatever befalls us in this life, existence itself is a good thing.

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the lands! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the LORD is God! It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him, bless his name! (Psalm 100).

Hope

This life is short but God’s goodness to us transcends this life. Pain, destruction, and grief do not have the last word for us.

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor requite us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear him (Psalm 103: 10-17).

No one suffers in this life now without the chance to have God give him or her a glorious new eternal life in a world without pain and sorrow. That is no platitude. That is the reality behind the wind, the waves, the quaking of the earth and whirling of the sea, for our God of power is a God of grace and mercy and everlasting love.

(© 2011 Mary Kochan)


Mary Kochan, former Senior Editor of CatholicExchange, is Editor-at-Large  of CatholicLane.com.

Raised as a  third-generation Jehovah's Witness, Mary worked her way backwards through the Protestant Reformation to enter the Catholic Church on Trinity Sunday, 1996.  Mary has spoken in many settings, to groups large and small, on the topic of destructive cultism and has been a guest on both local and national radio programs. To arrange for Mary to speak at your event, you may contact her at kochanmar@gmail.com.

  • Our Lady of Nagasaki, please pray for the people of Japan.

  • goral

    It can all end so quickly and unexpectedly. All the scientific models and wisest of clairvoyants saw nothing coming. Surely modern man continues to be grass.

  • Some did get a 30-second warning via cellphone and TV, thanks to modern technology. But you’re right, Goral, they really had no time at all to prepare.

  • “Dependency, Surrender, Praise, Hope…” all reflect our relation to God during various developmental stages of our spiritual growth. The ability to recognize each in our lives changes and grows with circumstances and ability. Some days it is easier to know my dependence on God, and others it is not so much so. Some days the praise from my lips will flow, and other days, not so much so, and so it goes. Like yourself, I am learning to pray the liturgy of the hours. Why? Because during such times of tragedy, it is helpful to know with certainty a more clear language to fellowship with God and understand how we should handle ourselves and come to the aid of others (Though the Spirit helps us in our weakness. Romans 8:26). Learning how to pray, learning how to find appropriate scripture for that matter, is much like a child learning how to speak and communicate. As babes in the Lord, all we can do is cry out for our heavenly parent when faced with events beyond our abilities. As faithful and spiritually minded adults, if we have acquired the ability for language, then our fellowship with God is more so clear and steadfast in any event we find ourselves faced with individually and as a community. If we unify our voice in prayer, we ultimately find our hands together aid those in needs.

    “The Liturgy of the Hours, however, is always much more than our own personal prayer. It is the prayer of the whole Church, uttered in many, many languages around the world” (A Companion to the Liturgy of the Hours, Shirley Darcus Sullivan. 2004: 15).

  • Kathleen Woodman

    I love the readings of the church. They are often so timely, coming with the message people need at that moment in time.

    • TT

      The Holy Spirit is the director of our Soul and the Church is our Spiritual Mother:

      “Let the liturgy of the Church form and fashion your prayer life. Let the Church be a mother guiding you by her liturgical worship. In this way the liturgy will animate your interior life and anchor you in Christ. Be mindful of the Church’s liturgy and draw from it. It will be a fountain of grace for your soul. God will speak to you through the Church’s liturgy. Listen for the Lord’s voice.”
      (unknown)

  • Laurie

    and repent….
    Let’s not forget the words of Jesus.
    “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you thinkg that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.
    (Luke 13:1-5)

  • Some of you may be interested in a five-part series I started on the Liturgy of the Hours yesterday on my blog: http://new-wood.blogspot.com/2011/03/learning-to-pray-as-jesus-did-daily.html