Perhaps an Old Testament parallel to yesterday's theme. Please read the previous post, titled "Thinking about Thursday" first!
I love the ritual and rhythm of the Catholic Church! The way the hours, days, weeks, and seasons give us constant food for meditation on Christ’s life and God’s plan for our salvation. If you happen to be in the habit of praying the Liturgy of the Hours, on Friday morning you get to recite one of my favorite bits of all of scripture—Psalm 51.
Why do I love that psalm? As a sinner praying constantly for the grace of a greater conversion of heart, my two favorite passages are these:
"A pure heart create for me, O God, and put a steadfast spirit within me"
"My sacrifice is a broken spirit: a humbled and contrite heart you will not spurn."
It’s a Friday psalm, recited on the day of Jesus’s passion and death, because it is perhaps the best of the penitential psalms—those that express deep sorrow for sin. As such sorrow is the pervading feeling within the Church in the face of current scandals, this particular psalm started me down a wormhole of thought this morning.
In my last post, a meditation on Holy Thursday, I explored why it perhaps should not shock us very severely to find evil and betrayal among some of our Church leaders. (Others, I must say, particularly those good priests I am privileged to know, are utterly heroic in virtue and, like Christ, bear great weight on their shoulders because of the sins of others.)
Nevertheless, our very first Church leaders betrayed Christ, and Christ did not abandon His Church because of it, nor will He abandon His Church now. This He promises. (Matt. 16:18) Therefore, now is no time for us to abandon Him by abandoning His Church, particularly as He suffers acutely in it. This, like Holy Thursday, is the time to remain and accompany Him.
I was struck by a similar story today about God’s enduring faithfulness to us through the shocking sins of those he appoints. So, back to the beautiful Psalm. Why is perhaps the best artistic expression of penitence in all of the Old Testament attributed to David? Why would David need to enter into the sorrow necessary to write something so profound?
David, who God appointed King of Israel, committed some totally scandalizing, entirely evil sins of lust and violence. Remember? It’s all in 2 Samuel 11. One of his military officers, Uriah, had a particularly beautiful wife, which David knew because he spied on her bathing. He ended up so hot and bothered that, with his Kingly authority, he had her summoned to him and took her to bed. Due to the obvious imbalance of power involved, it’s not entirely clear that this was the least bit consensual. When things got messy because she ended up pregnant while her husband was away at war, David intentionally sent Uriah to the front lines of battle to ensure he was killed.
Right. King David, the great musician and poet of tradition, who all of Israel loved as the youth who slew Goliath and to whom God had shown such continual favor as the one He had appointed over the people, committed a series of sins successively making him a creep, an adulterer, possibly a rapist, and definitely a murderer. Talk about behavior to scandalize a people and wound their conscience! This was the divinely appointed king in whom Israel put their faith as a nation. They must have felt not entirely unlike we feel now, though the sin of certain priests and bishops from which we are reeling from was exponentially more extensive.
The thing that really strikes me, however, is that God does not allow the story to end there. In fact, He seems to make a particular point of ensuring not only that the sin is recognized and exposed for the horror it is, but that rather than abandon us because of it, He still comes through it to us. Perhaps this is because there is no other way. He allows us to be as sinful as we will, so He must deal with a world of sin and its consequences if He chooses to deal with us. And the utterly astounding thing is that He does this. He writes straight with the most crooked lines, as the old saying goes.
The genealogy of Jesus begins Matthew’s gospel. If you hear it at Mass, it’s a long series of “and so-and-so conceived so-and-so’s.” The drone would almost lull you if it didn’t have one interruption in its rhythm, which comes with an extra explanation that Matthew is compelled to add, in case we would otherwise miss the irony of the scandal.
And King David conceived Solomon, by her who had been the wife of Uriah. (Matthew 1:5)
The line of ancestry resulting from the sin of David is the legal family line of Jesus Himself via St. Joesph’s adoption. Isn’t this evidence that God does not abandon His plan of salvation for us—first through the Jewish people and continuing through the Church—because of the sins of our leaders? Let’s beg the grace to stay as faithful to Him as He has to us.
Stay Catholic, my friends!