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Lenten Reflections: Psalms and Songs for meditation

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The Seven Penitential Psalms and the Songs of the Suffering Servant from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah are traditionally used for meditation and prayer during Lent. Graziano Marcheschi, executive director of University Ministry at St. Xavier University in Chicago, has prepared a series of reflections on each of the Penitential Psalms and the Songs of the Suffering Servant; they may be viewed on the USCCB website, www.usccb.org; click on Liturgical resources, then Lent, then (on the right-hand side of the page) “Seven Penitential Psalms” (which also include Psalms 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143). This week, The Tidings presents Marcheschi’s reflection on Psalm 6. Each reflection is designed to encourage the practice of Lectio Divina or “divine reading,” a way of praying with Scripture that calls one to listen to, study, contemplate and thoughtfully assimilate God's Word.Psalm 6: Prayer in DistressThe Psalms stand against the human impulse to merit God’s love and mercy through goodness or obedience. A part of us clings to the naïve notion that God’s love for us is tied to our behavior: good behavior earns God’s love and acceptance; bad behavior means divine rejection. That’s a diabolical lie and the psalmist knows it. Instead, eyes wide open and looking in the mirror, the psalmist readily admits his sin and begs God’s mercy anyway. Sin darkens human vision and alienates the soul from God, self, and others. Sin’s greatest danger is its ability to make us doubt God’s love and willingness to forgive. The psalmist’s saving grace is his refusal to let sin drive that wedge between him and the Lord; in fact, it’s his painful awareness of his sin that draws the psalmist nearer. We often think we can approach God only when we’re “good” and have our lives in order. But it is sin God rejects, not the sinner. The psalmist knows if we waited for a “worthy” time, we’d never pray. So we don’t defer prayer; we don’t wait till God “is in a better mood.” At work, we might rely on a spike in sales to incline the boss to mercy, but our God has never been that kind of God. Scripture tells us to pray whenever there is the need. And need is greatest when we are mired in sin.In his mercy, God does not spare us the consequences of sin. To spur our prayer, to draw us closer when we might otherwise sulk or hide, God lets sin impact our lives. Sin’s consequence is not God’s punishment, but the natural result of our decisions that, in his love, God uses for our good (if we let him). The psalmist is well aware that his own sin has brought both physical distress and the attack of enemies into his life. Yet he prays unashamedly. As a child who has disregarded a parent’s injunction to not venture far from home comes running back when the playground bully threatens, the psalmist knows where home is. He knows where to find the strong arms and loving embrace of a God who eventually would send his own Son to save us — not when we were finally worthy, but while we were still steeped in sin. Questions for Reflection:—St. Paul says that God “proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). So why do we keep thinking that God will love us only when we stop sinning?—On the other hand, does knowledge of God’s unconditional love mean we needn’t worry about sinning? Is the destructiveness of sin related to the effects it has on God or to the effects it has on us?—Besides petitionary prayer, there are prayers of praise, thanksgiving, adoration, etc. Does a prayer of petition, asking for mercy and the forgiveness of sin, seem to you like a lower, less enlightened form of prayer? How can you combine petition and praise?PSALM 6Do not reprove me in your anger, LORD, nor punish me in your wrath. Have pity on me, LORD, for I am weak; heal me, LORD, for my bones are shuddering. My soul too is shuddering greatly — and you, LORD, how long…?Turn back, LORD, rescue my soul; save me because of your mercy.For in death there is no remembrance of you.Who praises you in Sheol? I am wearied with sighing; all night long I drench my bed with tears;I soak my couch with weeping.My eyes are dimmed with sorrow, worn out because of all my foes. Away from me, all who do evil! The LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD will receive my prayer.My foes will all be disgraced and will shudder greatly; they will turn back in sudden disgrace.Graziano Marcheschi, M.A. D.Min., is an author, lecturer, storyteller and formerly director of Ministerial Resource Development and director of Lay Ministry Formation for the Archdiocese of Chicago. He has authored books on Scripture and proclamation skills as well as audio and video works, and he contributed commentaries on the Pentateuch, Gospels and Acts for the Catholic Bible, Personal Study Edition (Oxford University Press). He also has presented many workshops with his wife Nancy at the Religious Education Congress in Anaheim.

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