Thursday, September 8, 2016

Psalm 83 : Ascending by steps through this vale of tears

transfiguration august 6

Psalm 83: Thursday Matins II, 5 
In finem, pro torcularibus filiis Core. Psalmus.
Unto the end, for the winepresses, a psalm for the sons of Core.
1  Quam dilécta tabernácula tua, Dómine virtútum: * concupíscit, et déficit ánima mea in átria Dómini.
How lovely are your tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! 3 My soul longs and faints for the courts of the Lord.
2  Cor meum, et caro mea: * exsultavérunt in Deum vivum.
My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God.
3  Etenim passer invénit sibi domum: * et turtur nidum sibi, ubi ponat pullos suos.
4 For the sparrow has found herself a house, and the turtle a nest for herself where she may lay her young ones:
4  Altária tua, Dómine virtútum: * Rex meus, et Deus meus.
Your altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my God.
5  Beáti, qui hábitant in domo tua, Dómine: * in sæcula sæculórum laudábunt te.
5 Blessed are they that dwell in your house, O Lord: they shall praise you for ever and ever.
6  Beátus vir, cujus est auxílium abs te: * ascensiónes in corde suo dispósuit, in valle lacrimárum in loco, quem pósuit.
6 Blessed is the man whose help is from you: in his heart he has disposed to ascend by steps, 7 in the vale of tears, in the place which he has set.
7  Etenim benedictiónem dabit legislátor, ibunt de virtúte in virtútem: * vidébitur Deus deórum in Sion.
8 For the lawgiver shall give a blessing, they shall go from virtue to virtue: the God of gods shall be seen in Sion.
8  Dómine, Deus virtútum, exáudi oratiónem meam: * áuribus pércipe, Deus Jacob.
9 O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob.
9  Protéctor noster, áspice, Deus: * et réspice in fáciem Christi tui.
10 Behold, O God our protector: and look on the face of your Christ.
10 Quia mélior est dies una in átriis tuis: * super míllia.
11 For better is one day in your courts above thousands.
11  Elégi abjéctus esse in domo Dei mei: * magis quam habitáre in tabernáculis peccatórum.
I have chosen to be an abject in the house of my God, rather than to dwell in the tabernacles of sinners.
12  Quia misericórdiam et veritátem díligit Deus: * grátiam et glóriam dabit Dóminus.
12 For God loves mercy and truth: the Lord will give grace and glory.
13  Non privábit bonis eos, qui ámbulant in innocéntia: * Dómine virtútum, beátus homo, qui sperat in te.
13 He will not deprive of good things them that walk in innocence: O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusts in you.

Over at Vultus Christi Dom Mark has been providing an excellent commentary on the Prologue to the Rule of St Benedict, and mentioned the use of Psalm 83, said at Thursday Matins in the Benedictine Office as part of the ceremony for the admission of a postulant at Silverstream Monastery:
Saint Benedict would have his monks see themselves as those who dwell in the temple of the Lord. In our ceremony for the welcoming of a postulant, once the postulant has knelt on the threshold of the monastery, and kissed the crucifix presented to him, the prior leads him into the Oratory while the brethren chant Psalm 83...
The blog post includes the key verses in English, but I thought it would be nice to look briefly at the entire psalm.

Our hope of heaven

St Alphonsus Liguori points to its helpfulness in orienting us towards heaven:
This psalm shows us with what ardor the psalmist, desolate in finding himself far from the Temple of Jerusalem, sighed after the moment of seeing it again. And as the Temple was the figure of heaven, one must believe that he sighed at the same time after the happiness of going to contemplate God in the heavenly kingdom. Nothing is more fitted than this psalm to excite in us the desire of leaving the earth, and of entering the abode of the blessed.
The spiritual ascent

Verse 6 stresses the importance of treating this life as a pilgrimage towards God, and seeking to make the spiritual ascent.  St John Climacus for example commented:
Ascend, my brothers, ascend eagerly. Let your hearts' resolve be to climb. Listen to the voice of the one who says:  "Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of our God", Who makes our feet to be like the feet of the deer, "Who sets us on the high places, that we may be triumphant on his road". Run, I beg you, run with him who said, "let us hurry until we all arrive at the unity of faith and of the knowledge of God, at mature manhood, at the measure of the stature of Christ's fullness".
Crushed and pressed in this vale of tears

The path is not always an easy one, as St Augustine's commentary on the psalm makes clear.  St Augustine started from the reference to the winepresses in the title to the psalm, and notes that the grapes seem to hang free and heavy on the vine, until the time when they are harvested and pressed.  So, too, he argues it is with us:
...Men of this kind, therefore, before they draw near to the service of God, enjoy in the world a kind of delicious liberty, like hanging grapes or olives: but as it is said, My son, when you draw near to the service of God, stand in judgment and fear, and make your soul ready for temptation: so each, as he draws near to the service of God, finds that he has come to the winepress; he shall undergo tribulation, shall be crushed, shall be pressed, not that he may perish in this world, but that he may flow down into the storehouses of God. 
He has the coverings of carnal desires stripped off from him, like grape-skins: for this has taken place in him in carnal desires, of which the Apostle speaks, Put ye off the old man, and put on the new man. All this is not done but by pressure: therefore the Churches of God of this time are called winepresses...
 But being placed under pressure, we are crushed for this purpose, that for our love by which we were borne towards those worldly, secular, temporal, unstable, and perishable things, having suffered in them, in this life, torments, and tribulations of pressures, and abundance of temptations, we may begin to seek that rest which is not of this life, nor of this earth; and the Lord becomes, as is written, a refuge for the poor man.
St Augustine urges us to cultivate the mindset that the riches of this world are but transitory:
What is, for the poor man? For him who is, as it were, destitute, without aid, without help, without anything on which he may rest, in earth. For to such poor men, God is present...The poor then are destitute of all this world's substance, for even though it abounds around them, they know how fleeting it is; and crying unto God, having nothing in this world with which they may delight themselves, and be held down, placed in abundant pressures and temptations, as if in winepresses, they flow down, having become oil or wine...
Wherefore, most beloved, as each can, make vows, and perform to the Lord God what each can: let no one look back, no one delight himself with his former interests, no one turn away from that which is before to that which is behind: let him run until he arrive: for we run not with the feet but with the desire...

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