Monday, April 3, 2017

The importance of almsgiving - Psalm 125 v7

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In many respects verse 7 seems like another way of repeating the sentiments of verse 6: sorrow turned to joy.  However, the added element is the idea of 'going out', pointing us to the need not to be discouraged, but to actually be active in following the right path and helping others.

Eúntes ibant et flebant, * mitténtes sémina sua.
Euntes ibant et flebant semen spargendum portantes;
Qui ambulans ibat et flebat, portans ad seminandum sementem, 

πορευόμενοι πορεύοντο κα κλαιον αροντες τ σπέρματα ατν

Text notes: The first phrase is literally ‘Going they went’, a construction based directly on the Hebrew – St Jerome’s version from the Hebrew actually 'corrects' it to a more idiomatic Latin rendering.  In Hebrew, it conveys continuance, a prolonged state of action.

eo, ire – to go, walk, proceed (euntes = pres active participle pl; ibant=impf)
fleo, flevi, fletum, flere 2, to weep
mitto, misi, missum, ere 3,  to send; cast out, semina mittere, to sow seed
semen, mis, n. (sero), (1) seed. 

Going they went and wept, casting their seeds.
They went on and wept as they cast their seeds
They go out, they go out, full of tears, carrying seed for the sowing:
They go forth weeping, sowing their seeds
He that goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
He that now goeth on his way weeping, and beareth forth good seed,
Mournful enough they go, but with seed to scatter;

Going out

Cassiodorus argues that the idea of going forth relates to the idea of taking the right path on the pilgrimage of life:
The word Going denotes the advance of a most holy life, in which they always reach their destination by taking the right path.
St Augustine has a slightly different take on it, implicitly relating the verse back to the very first psalm of the sequence, when the decision to set out was made.  He starts from the idea that we can be reluctant to actually get started on what we must do, just as the farmer is put off by the weather.:
When the farmer goes forth with the plough, carrying seed, is not the wind sometimes keen, and does not the shower sometimes deter him? He looks to the sky, sees it lowering, shivers with cold...
The farmer, he argues, nevertheless goes out, lest he end up with no crop, and we too, he argues, need to cease procrastinating:
...nevertheless [he] goes forth, and sows. For he fears lest while he is observing the foul weather, and awaiting sunshine, the time may pass away, and he may not find anything to reap.  Put not off, my brethren; sow in wintry weather, sow good works, even while you weep; for, They that sow in tears, shall reap in joy. They sow their seed, good will, and good works. 
Why did they weep?

St Augustine's answer is because of the trials and tribulations of this world, the suffering of others, and the weight of our sins:
In this life, which is full of tears, let us sow...Why do they weep? Because they were among the miserable, and were themselves miserable...
Cassiodorus builds on this, suggesting we should cultivate a proper concern for the suffering of the poor:
They wept, then, when they saw the poor stripped naked, rigid with cold, disfigured by savage poverty, so that they evinced devotion in their hearts before their hands made any generous provision. 
What is the seed being sewn?

St Augustine focuses on the nature of the crop we should sew, pointing particularly to the importance of almsgiving and good works: 
It is better, my brethren, that no man should be miserable, so that you should do long as there are objects for its exercise, let us not fail amid those troubles to sow our seed...What shall we sow? Good works. Works of mercy are our seeds: of which seeds the Apostle says, Let us not be weary in well doing; for in due season we shall reap if we faint not. 
Cassiodorus follows St Augustine's lead and suggests that the verse is pointing to almsgiving as the particular good work we must undertake:
Though this verse too seems to point to good works in general, it is recognised—and others have thought the same—to be prescribing in particular almsgiving. Hence the words of Scripture: As water quenches fire, so alms quenches sins...
St Robert Bellarmine also takes up this theme: cannot but be of use to consider in what respect the seed may be compared with alms, in the hope that they "who have in their heart disposed to ascend by steps" may be more encouraged to divide freely with the poor. 
The grain that is sown is very small, and yet produces such a number of grains as to seem almost incredible; thus it is with alms, a small thing, a poor thing as being a human act; but when properly sown, produces, not money, nor food, nor clothes, but an eternal kingdom; just as if the grain of wheat that we sow should produce an ear of gold instead of an ear of wheat, studded with precious stones instead of grains of wheat.
Then, the grain put into the ground must corrupt and die or else it will not sprout, as our Lord has it in the Gospel, "Unless the grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, itself remaineth alone;" thus alms must be freely bestowed as a right, and not as a loan, and to those only who cannot return it; and it must be given to corrupt and per­ish, that is, without the slightest hope of getting it back in this world; for when thus lost and corrupted, it will not fail to shoot out again, and produce much fruit in life everlasting. 
Again, the grain put into the ground needs both sun and rain to germinate; and so with alms, which, as well as all other good works, needs the sun of divine grace, and the showers of the blood of the Mediator; that is, in order to become meritorious, they must spring from the grace of God, that has its source in the blood of Christ; for then a matter of the greatest insignificance becomes one of the greatest value, by reason of the stamp impressed upon it by grace; and thus merits, not only as a favor, but as a right, the grace of life everlasting...alms, when given with a proper intention, is always safe; for it is stored up in heaven, where neither moths, nor flies, nor thieves can come near it.  
Almsgiving as the key to the spiritual ascent

St Augustine provides a short exposition on how almsgiving and the works of mercy relate to making our spiritual ascent that is worth meditating on:
 In this Psalm we have chiefly exhorted you to do deeds of alms, because it is thence that we ascend; and you see that he who ascends, sings the song of steps. Remember: do not love to descend, instead of to ascend, but reflect upon your ascent: because he who descended from Jerusalem to Jericho fell among thieves...The Samaritan as He passed by slighted us not: He healed us, He raised us upon His beast, upon His flesh; He led us to the inn, that is, the Church; He entrusted us to the host, that is, to the Apostle; He gave two pence, whereby we might be healed, the love of God, and the love of our neighbour. ... All this has already happened: if we have descended, and have been wounded; let us ascend, let us sing, and make progress, in order that we may arrive.
Psalm 125 (126)
Canticum graduum.

 In converténdo Dóminus captivitátem Sion: * facti sumus sicut consoláti:
When the Lord brought back the captivity of Sion, we became like men comforted.
2  Tunc replétum est gáudio os nostrum: * et lingua nostra exsultatióne
2 Then was our mouth filled with gladness; and our tongue with joy.
3  Tunc dicent inter Gentes: * Magnificávit Dóminus fácere cum eis.
Then shall they say among the Gentiles: The Lord has done great things for them.
4  Magnificávit Dóminus fácere nobíscum: * facti sumus lætántes.
3 The Lord has done great things for us; we have become joyful.
5  Convérte, Dómine, captivitátem nostram, * sicut torrens in austro.
4 Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as a stream in the south.
6  Qui séminant in lácrimis, * in exsultatióne metent.
5 They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.

7  Eúntes ibant et flebant, * mitténtes sémina sua.
6 Going they went and wept, casting their seeds.
8  Veniéntes autem vénient cum exsultatióne, * portántes manípulos suos.
7 But coming they shall come with joyfulness, carrying their sheaves.
Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

And you can find the final set of notes on Psalm 127 here.

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