Behold God is my helper, and the Lord is the protector of my soul: turn back the evils upon my enemies, and cut them off in thy truth, O Lord my protector. V. Save me, O God, by thy name; and deliver me in thy strength. (Psalm 53:6-7)
The text of today’s Introit, clothed in the 5th mode melody that makes it so compelling, so strong, so full of confidence, speaks directly to each of us, no matter what our circumstances. There is no one present here who does not need to repeat over and over again: «Behold God is my helper, and the Lord is the protector of my soul». When that mocking little voice from below makes its troubling intimations, one must counter them with the Word of God. “You really are a pathetic case, a failure. Your life is not salvageable. You are deluded about God, about yourself, about life”. Who among us has not heard, at one time or another, such diabolical insinuations? One should never discuss such insinuations with oneself, or try to disprove them or to think one’s way out of them. There is but one way to deal with such wicked thoughts and that is by disdaining them utterly and by countering them with the resplendent truth of the Word of God: «Behold God is my helper, and the Lord is the protector of my soul».
Let Thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of thy suppliant people; and that thou mayest grant them their petitions, make them to ask such things as shall please thee.
It is no secret that I love the Collects of these Sundays after Pentecost and want all you to come to love them as well. In every one of them we are given by the Holy Ghost, operating through the liturgy of the Church, precisely the prayer of which we are most in need. In the Collect of the day the Holy Ghost comes to the aid of our weakness to provide us with the very words that God is waiting to hear, with the very petition that God desires to grant.
God, the Collect tells us, has ears of mercy, that is, ears that are capable of listening to the sad tale of our sins, our woes, our fears, our infirmities. Pour your troubles, then, into the merciful ears of God. We describe ourselves in the Collect as a suppliant people. Suppliant means bent over, folded in half, bowed low to the ground. This is how we approach the merciful ears of God: with a profound awareness of the Divine Majesty, with consummate reverence, with a holy fear coupled with childlike confidence.
Today we ask God, quite simply, to make us ask such things as shall please Him, so that He will be able to grant our petitions. “Make Thou me ask, O God, for those things that already Thou desirest to give me. Clear away the rubble of my own confused desires and faulty notions of what I need, of what is good for me, good for the Church, good for the world, and in place of my short–sighted and flawed petitions, make me ask for the good things that, in Thy wisdom, Thou wantest me to have”.
I am reminded, again, of that wise and beautiful prayer of Mère Yvonne–Aimée de Jésus: “O Most Holy Trinity, put thou in me whatsoever Thou desirest to find in me, that Thou mayest draw out of my nothingness all of the love and all of the glory which Thou didst have in view in creating me”.
Brethren, we were not to set our hearts, as some of them set their hearts, on forbidden things. You were not to turn idolatrous, as some of them did; so we read, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to take their pleasure. We were not to commit fornication, as some of them committed fornication, when twenty-three thousand of them were killed in one day. We were not to try the patience of Christ, as some of them tried it, the men who were slain by the serpents; nor were you to complain, as some of them complained, till the destroying angel slew them. When all this happened to them, it was a symbol; the record of it was written as a warning to us, in whom history has reached its fulfilment; and it means that he who thinks he stands firmly should beware of a fall. I pray that no temptation may come upon you that is beyond man’s strength. Not that God will play you false; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond your powers. With the temptation itself, he will ordain the issue of it, and enable you to hold your own. (1 Corinthians 10:6–13)
The Epistle rather aptly describes Ireland in that short–lived period of economic prosperity that so dazzled people with false security and intoxicating pleasures that they lost sight altogether of what it means to be a Christian nation, and fell into idolatrous pursuits. “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to take their pleasure” (1 Corinthians 10:7). Ireland has not yet recovered from any of this; on the contrary, things appear to be getting worse. Just as individuals can be tempted, so too can entire nations be tempted . . . and deceived, and brought down.
This being said, there is always grace. Grace in abundance. Grace for the asking. And with the grace of Christ, nothing is impossible, nothing beyond man’s strength, nothing irremediably fatal . . . except the final refusal of grace. Grace is never denied one who asks for it. One can even ask for the grace to ask for grace, and this is the beginning of all prayer. Pray, then, in the hour of temptation — even in the very minute of temptation — and “God, who is faithful, will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able: but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
And when he drew near, seeing the city, he wept over it, saying: if thou also hadst known, and that in this thy day, the things that are to thy peace; but now they are hidden from thy eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, and thy enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and straiten thee on every side, And beat thee flat to the ground, and thy children who are in thee: and they shall not leave in thee a stone upon a stone: because thou hast not known the time of thy visitation. And entering into the temple, he began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought. Saying to them: It is written: My house is the house of prayer. But you have made it a den of thieves. And he was teaching daily in the temple. (Luke 19:41–47)
The Gospel contains a remedy for one who feels (or fears) that his life is threatened and falling into ruins. This remedy is the tears shed by Jesus. How precious are the tears of the Son in the sight of the Father. One can offer the tears of Jesus, tears shed over Jerusalem; tears shed over every obstinate, wayward, resistant soul; tears shed over every stony heart; and even, yes, tears shed over Ireland. One can apply the tears of Jesus to one’s own soul and to the souls of others as as a medicine, a potent antidote to sin. There are some people, I think, who don’t like to consider the tears of Jesus being shed over them because they have a fear of falling into vapid sentimentality. But this is not sentimentality; this is a way of laying hold of Our Lord’s sacred humanity and of saying in faith, «Christ shed tears over me no less than over Jerusalem. He wept over me because He loves me, and because He wept over me, and weeps over me, there is hope for me yet”.
The plan of God, the desire of God, indeed, the passion of God is that the world should become “a house of prayer”, a temple of perpetual adoration from which the fragrant incense of the sacrifice of the Cross rises heavenward from the rising of the sun to the setting thereof. This is the human vocation: to pray, to praise, to offer sacrifice. This is the vocation of the world: to be a place of prayer, to be home to a million altars, to be all aglow with a million tabernacles radiating the presence of “the Lamb, which was slain from the beginning of the world” (Apocalypse 13:8).
When the Lamb appeared at Knock in 1879, in the company of the Mother of God, the spotless image of the Church–at–prayer, and in the company of Saint Joseph, Saint John, and myriads of Angels in adoration all about the altar, it was to reveal that the mysterious inscription carved in stone on the parish church of Knock contained the destiny of Ireland and of the world: “My house shall be called the house of prayer, for all nations.” (Isaias 56:7).
Grant us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, worthily to frequent these sacred mysteries; for as often as this saving Victim is offered up, so often is furthered the work of our redemption.
The Secret today’s Mass confesses that so often as the saving Victim, the Lamb, is offered up, the work of redemption moves forward. The destiny of the world — like the destiny of Ireland — hangs on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. To suppress the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is, as Saint John Fisher said, to extinguish the sun.
He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. (John 6:57)
It is by the Mass, and through the Mass that each of us can say boldly and with total confidence: “Behold God is my helper, and the Lord is the sustainer of my soul”. And this because Jesus Himself says in today’s Communion Antiphon, “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him” (John 6:57). God is my helper, not outside me, not at some great distance, but abiding within me, closer to me even than I am to myself. The Lord is the sustainer of my soul: ever present to catch me when I stumble, to heal my infirmities, to restore me to His grace, to lift me in His arms to the bosom of the Father. So long as we have the Mass, so long as Ireland has the Mass, so long as the world has the Mass, there is and there will be hope, and that hope will not be disappointed.