I cried and He heard me (XVIII:2)

22 Feb. 23 June. 23 Oct.
At Tierce, Sext and None on Monday are to be said the nine remaining parts of the hundred and eighteenth Psalm, three parts at each Hour. This Psalm having thus been said through in two days, that is, Sunday and Monday, let the nine Psalms from the hundred and nineteenth to the hundred and twenty-seventh be said on Tuesday at Tierce, Sext and None – three at each Hour. And these Psalms are to be repeated at the same Hours every day until Sunday; the arrangement, moreover, of hymns, lessons and versicles remaining the same throughout, so as always to begin on Sunday from the hundred and eighteenth Psalm.

Saint Benedict gives us Psalm 119 at Terce on Tuesday through Saturday.  It is the first of the Gradual Psalms and is the prayer of a man beleagured by demonic assaults and temptations. Curiously, the best way to understand this psalm is by reading it from the end to the beginning, that is, by going from the last verse to the first. I say this because the dénouement or resolution is given in the first two verses rather than at the end, where one would normally expect to find it.

7. With them that hated peace I was peaceable:
when I spoke to them they fought against me without cause.
6. Woe is me, that my sojourning is prolonged!
5. I have dwelt with the inhabitants of Cedar:
my soul hath been long a sojourner.
4. The sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals that lay waste.
3. What shall be given to thee, or what shall be added to thee, to a deceitful tongue?
2. O Lord, deliver my soul from wicked lips, and a deceitful tongue.
1. In my trouble I cried to the Lord: and he heard me.

What is the plight of the psalmist? He is a man of peace in the midst of a bellicose multitude. These are haters of peace. The psalmist tries to reason with them, but they fight against him without cause. With such as these there can be no truce. Who are these if not the demons who attack the peaceable man and seek, by every means, to rob him of his peace of soul and so to bring him down?

The psalmist realises that so long as he makes his way in this valley of tears, he will be attacked by the enemies of his soul. Who are the inhabitants of Cedar? Origen says that Cedar signifies the flesh. Saint Hilary says that Cedar means both obscurity and flesh. Saint Jerome explains Cedar as darkness or shadows. Those who are in the flesh “sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79).

The psalmist knows that he is a sojourner in the shadowlands of this life, driven by restlessness from place to place and still finding, wherever he goes, that he carries about the weaknesses and heaviness of the flesh. Non enim habemus hic manentem civitatem, sed futuram inquirimus. “For we have not here a lasting city, but we seek one that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). The sobering truth of this verse is there are no geographical cures for the anguish that weighs upon a man so long as he dwells with the inhabitants of Cedar, that is with those who live for the flesh and sin under cover of darkness. Saint Paul says, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For the things that are done by them in secret, it is a shame even to speak of” (Ephesians 5:11–12).

The psalmist knows that he has not in his arsenal the weapons needed to vanquish his spiritual enemies, and so he threatens his enemies with divine weapons, with the sharp arrows and live coals of Christ. “And one of the seraphims flew to me, and in his hand was a live coal, which he had taken with the tongs off the altar” (Isaias 6:6). And is not Christ himself the Father’s chosen arrow?

Et posuit os meum quasi gladium acutum, in umbra manus suæ protexit me, et posuit me sicut sagittam electam: in pharetra sua abscondit me.And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword: in the shadow of his hand he hath protected me, and hath made me as a chosen arrow: in his quiver he hath hidden me. (Isaias 49:2)

Finally we come to the prayer itself: “O Lord, deliver my soul from wicked lips, and a deceitful tongue.” And then to the conclusion given, as I explained, in the first verse of the psalm, “In my trouble I cried to the Lord: and he heard me.” “I cried and He heard me”: it is this that sums up Psalm 119.

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