Meditations on the Psalms, The Christian Life #14, by Monsignor Ronald Arbuthnott Knox

cover of the ebook 'Meditations on the Psalms, by Monsignor Ronald Arbuthnott Knox'

Psalm 38

I said: I will take heed to my ways: that I sin not with my tongue. I have set guard to my mouth, when the sinner stood against me. I was dumb, and was humbled, and kept silence from good things: and my sorrow was renewed. My heart grew hot within me: and in my meditation a fire shall flame out. I spoke with my tongue: O Lord, make me know my end. And what is the number of my days: that I may know what is wanting to me.

Behold thou hast made my days measurable: and my substance is as nothing before thee. And indeed all things are vanity: every man living. Surely man passeth as an image: yea, and he is disquieted in vain. He storeth up: and he knoweth not for whom he shall gather these things. And now what is my hope? is it not the Lord? and my substance is with thee. Deliver thou me from all my iniquities: thou hast made me a reproach to the fool. I was dumb, and I opened not my mouth, because thou hast done it.

Remove thy scourges from me. The strength of thy hand hath made me faint in rebukes: Thou hast corrected man for iniquity. And thou hast made his soul to waste away like a spider: surely in vain is any man disquieted. Hear my prayer, O Lord, and my supplication: give ear to my tears. Be not silent: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner as all my fathers were. O forgive me, that I may be refreshed, before I go hence, and be no more.

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Right Dispositions in Loss or Bereavement

First Point. Not only the tongue, but the heart, must refrain from murmuring against Providence. It is something if we have learned not to murmur openly in times of distress, by complaining against Providence and courting human sympathy. This is a matter we should be all the more careful about when we are in the presence of such as neglect God, for in that case murmuring causes scandal, as well as being a sin. But, this grace once given us, how hard it is not to relieve, in secret, the pent-up distress of our minds, by outbursts of self-commiseration and recrimination with God! With this bereavement, this loss, this humiliation behind us, what are we to make of the span of Me God has left us? Is it worth while to try and build up the shattered life anew; or is the time too short, and had we better creep to the grave in bitterness of soul? God remains silent, although he knows precisely the circumstances of our future: does he care at all, or is the fortune of one soul a matter of indifference to him?

Second Point. We must learn our own littleness if we are to acquire such patience as that. It is the fact that the fortunes, not merely of one soul but of the whole human race, are vanity when compared with God: they can add nothing to his essential glory. And it is the fact that, in the light of eternity, man’s life is but for a moment, like a dream just before we awake from sleep. Man’s feverish efforts to gain reputation, or to collect riches, are efforts vainly bestowed: the fame is lost and its echoes die away amid the noise of later reputations, and the riches pass, almost as soon as they are acquired, into the hands of an heir who may misuse or dissipate them. What hope then is left to man? Only the hope of being united to God and enjoying him for ever. What reality remains amid the flux of mortal things? Only the eternal value which each soul has in the sight of God’s Providence. Measured by this standard, our sins and imperfections are follies that a child might laugh at. Be dumb, my soul; cease from these impertinent murmurings; the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; he has smitten and only he can save.

Third Point. Our prayer should be only that we may not give way to despair. Humiliation is good for us, inasmuch as it reminds us of our sins, corrects their effects, and in part atones for them. It must not be allowed to break our spirits. The ambitions we so prized, the hopes we had so lovingly formed, have vanished from us like a torn spider’s web, vain efforts, like all the efforts of man. But our tears must not be the tears of petulance and despair; rather the tears of penitence, that will call down a renewal of God’s favours. He has not become deaf to our prayers; he does but pity us the more, because we are only pilgrims on earth, strangers that remain but for a day in a country not ours. He will give us times of refreshment, and restore the wasted fibres of the soul: only let us learn to make the rest of our lives a right preparation for eternity.

Acts: Resignation, sense of our own nothingness, resolution against the sin of despair.

Colloquy with our Creator upon the use of the years that remain to us.