4th Sunday after Pentecost

Introit (Psalm 26:1-2, 3)
The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life: of whom shall I be afraid? My enemies that trouble me, have themselves been weakened, and have fallen. V. If armies in camp should stand together against me, my heart shall not fear.

At the Wednesday Audience of 21 April 2004, Saint John Paul II offered a memorable commentary on Psalm 26; he related the Psalm, given us as the Introit of today’s Mass, to the words of the Apostle. «It almost seems», he said, «as though we were hearing the voice of Saint Paul proclaiming: If God is for us, who is against us? (Romans 8:31)». It is remarkable that today’s Epistle is taken from the very same Chapter 8 of the Epistle to the Romans that Saint John Paul II quoted in his commentary on Psalm 26. Romans 8 and Psalm 26 throw light one upon the other. Psalm 26 must be sung and heard in the light of what the Apostle says:

I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us . . . . Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation? or distress? or famine? or nakedness? or danger? or persecution? or the sword? (As it is written: For thy sake we are put to death all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.) But in all these things we overcome, because of him that hath loved us.

Here I seem to hear the Apostle interject:

The Lord watches over my life; whom shall I hold in dread? Vainly the malicious close about me, as if they would tear me in pieces, vainly my enemies threaten me; all at once they stumble and fall. Though a whole host were arrayed against me, my heart would be undaunted; though an armed onset should threaten me, still I would not lose my confidence. (Psalm 26:1-3)

And the Apostle concludes:

For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

The Collect for this Fourth Sunday After Pentecost formulates two petitions, both of which are related to the gift of peace of which Our Lord spoke in the Cenacle on the night before He suffered:

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid. (John 14:27)

Just as Romans 8 sheds light on Psalm 26 in the Introit, so too do the words of Our Lord shed light on the Collect. The first petition of the Collect is this:

Grant us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that the course of the world may be directed for us peacefully according to Thine order.

This prayer that the divine order may prevail echoes, in some way, the third petition of the Our Father: «Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven». Saint Thomas, quoting Saint Augustine, says that «peace is the tranquillity of order». The Collect asks, then, for that peace that is the tranquillity of order; it is a peace that reflects on earth the tranquillity of order that is one of the accidental joys and beauties of heaven. There all things are ordered to the praise of God. The pax benedictina—a blessing that we associate with life according to the Holy Rule—is a foretaste in this valley of tears of the tranquillity of order that prevails amidst the choirs of heaven. For the monks of the Middle Ages, the cloister, like heaven itself, was a visio pacis, a vision of heaven.

The second petition is this:

 Et Ecclésia tua tranquílla devotióne lætétur. «And that Thy Church may find joy in quiet devotion». The Latin word devotio derives from devoveo, to vow, which verb is related to the offering of sacrifices in fulfilment of a sacred vow. We sing in Psalm 64: Te decet hymnus, Deus, in Sion, et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem. «A hymn, O God, becometh thee in Sion: and a vow shall be paid to thee in Jerusalem» (Psalm 64:2). And in Psalm 50 we sing of offering «the sacrifice of justice, oblations and whole burnt offerings» (Psalm 50:21), sacrificium justitiæ, oblationes et holocausta. Peace is at once the necessary condition for the worship of God and a fruit of the worship of God to which, as Saint Benedict says, «nothing else is to be preferred» (Chapter XLIII).

The Gradual (Psalm 78: 9-10) and the Alleluia Verse (Psalm 9: 5, 10) are cries for pardon, for divine succour, and for security in the stronghold of God:

Forgive us our sins, O Lord, lest the Gentiles should at any time say: Where is their God? Help us, O God, our Savior and for the honor of Thy Name, O Lord, deliver us.

Alleluia, alleluia.  O God, who sittest upon the throne, and judgest justice, be Thou the refuge of the poor in tribulation. Alleluia.

In the Gospel (Luke 5:1-11), Saint Peter, struck with a holy terror at the manifestation of the divine power of Jesus, falls to his knees and makes a prayer not unlike that of the prophet Isaias in the temple:

Which when Simon Peter saw, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying: Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. (Luke 5:8)

Woe is me, because I have held my peace; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people that hath unclean lips, and I have seen with my eyes the King the Lord of hosts. (Isaias 6:5)

The response of Jesus is addressed not only to Peter, but to us as a community, and to each of us personally: «Do not be afraid». Jesus speaks to Peter using the imperative form. Noli timére. The divine imperative gives what it commands and commands what it gives.  So compelling was this divine imperative, this reassurance, this gift, that the Apostles «when they had brought their boats to land, left all and followed Him». Saint Luke’s whole account of the miraculous draught of fishes corresponds, in effect, to the account of the vocation of Isaias, which ends with these words:

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. And he touched my mouth, and said: Behold this hath touched thy lips, and thy iniquities shall be taken away, and thy sin shall be cleansed. And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send? and who shall go for us? And I said: Lo, here am I, send me. (Isaias 6:6-8)

The Offertory is drawn from that most poignant of Psalms, one that every man will be drawn to pray in his hour of terror and darkness; it is, in some way, a prayer of Jesus in Gethsemani:
«Give light to my eyes that I may never sleep in death, lest my enemy say, I have overcome him» (Psalm 12:4-5). Does not Psalm 12 correspond to what we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews concerning the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemani?

Who in the days of his flesh, with a strong cry and tears, offering up prayers and supplications to him that was able to save him from death, was heard for his reverence. (Hebrews 5:7)

The Secret will make us utter a very bold petition. We shall ask God to turn «even our rebellious wills» to Himself. It is a bold prayer with life-changing consequences. I cannot pray this Secret without thinking of the poem of John Donne in which he prays:

Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

The Communion Antiphon is addressed directly to Our Lord Jesus Christ at the moment of receiving His adorable Body. What do we say to Him?

O Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer: my God, my rock of refuge! (Psalm 17:3)

Let this be our prayer today, not only at the moment of Holy Communion, but also when we find ourselves face-to-face with the Sacred Host in the secret of adoration. Deus meus, adjútor meus.

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