Meditations on the Psalms, The Christian Life #7, by Monsignor Ronald Arbuthnott Knox

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

Psalm 31

Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord hath not imputed sin, and in whose spirit there is no guile. Because I was silent my bones grew old; whilst I cried out all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: I am turned in my anguish, whilst the thorn is fastened. I have acknowledged my sin to thee, and my injustice I have not concealed. I said I will confess against myself my injustice to the Lord: and thou hast forgiven the wickedness of my sin.

For this shall every one that is holy pray to thee in a seasonable time. And yet in a flood of many waters, they shall not come nigh unto him. Thou art my refuge from the trouble which hath encompassed me: my joy, deliver me from them that surround me. I will give thee understanding, and I will instruct thee in this way, in which thou shalt go: I will fix my eyes upon thee. Do not become like the horse and the mule, who have no understanding. With bit and bridle bind fast their jaws, who come not near unto thee. Many are the scourges of the sinner, but mercy shall encompass him that hopeth in the Lord.

Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye just, and glory, all ye right of heart.

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The Blessings of a Good Conscience

First Point. The misery of unconfessed sin on the conscience. Blessed are those who have their sins first forgiven by God, and then “covered up,” put away from sight. The law of the Christian conscience is that sin must be first revealed to God, if he is to consent to hide it, i.e. to count it against us no longer: if we attempt to hide it without forgiveness, we find that we have become false at the roots of our being; all our behaviour is an acted lie. While we hold our tongues cherish the memory of our sin, yet try to put a good face on it and live as if we were no different from our neighbours, the whole fabric of our spiritual life seems to rot away, and, in spite of our outward silence, there is something in us that cries out unceasingly. The hand of God, stretched out in chastisement, becomes burdensome to us. We feel a spiritual pain that, like a thorn in the flesh, will not let us forget its presence (or, according to the Hebrew, our moisture is turned into drought; i.e. all our prayers and exercises become intolerable to us from aridity).

Second Point. The wisdom of setting the troubled conscience at rest voluntarily, without waiting for God’s warnings. It is the part of wisdom to acknowledge our fault instead of trying to conceal it from ourselves and from God. It should be a spontaneous voice within us the voice of a well-directed conscience not any pressure from outside, that leads us to this resolution; if perfect interior contrition has been elicited, with the resolution to submit our sins to the tribunal, God forgives our sins at once. For this gift of contrition the Christian soul should pray “in a seasonable time”, i.e. as soon as possible after the commission of the sin, and before we begin to be warned by calamities, public or private, by the fear of death, etc. For although God’s chastisements are meant for our correction, it is not easy for the soul which has not disciplined itself in calmer times to rise suddenly to a consciousness of God’s claims upon us: the outward pressure of grief, fear, anxiety etc. may easily, in the case of the undisciplined soul, have a merely numbing effect. It is the soul already at peace with God that can find in him a refuge in tribulation and a source of holy joy when there is misery all round.

Third Point. The perfect conscience serves God freely without need of coercion. God promises the faithful soul, which tries to serve him, understanding, i.e. enlightenment of the conscience which naturally prefers what is pleasing to him, and instruction, i.e. guidance in the course that is best for it; a mere glance of his eye, as it were, will be enough to restrain or to encourage it. We are not to be like the dumb beasts, which serve mechanically and need constant correction – such are the worldly, whose will God overrules instead of ruling it, and the imperfect souls which have constantly to be checked by the Divine chastisements. To those who serve God freely, the troubles which exasperate the worldly and distress the sinner become mortifications, which do not for a moment lessen their sense of his all-embracing mercies. Let us then strive to attain that tightness of the heart, which alone can interpret God’s ways and enable us to be joyful even in our time of pilgrimage.

Acts: Contrition for past sins, desire for true illumination of the conscience.

Colloquy with God who invites us to be his friends, though he can exact unwilling service.