As many of you will remember, Psalm 41: 2-3, 4-5, 13-14 was the Responsorial Psalm at the Roman Rite Liturgy yesterday – the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time. I am choosing to write on this Psalm today because during Mass the words had a particularly strong impact on me. This is an important Psalm for us to investigate since the verses that were used at the Mass on Sunday are dealing with something that is not natural to our human condition – I am speaking of sin. When God created man in the Garden, sin was not created. The Catechism of the Catholic Church 413 says, “God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living…It was through the devil’s envy that death entered the world” (Wis 1:13 2:24). It was the first man’s disobedience and pride that transmitted the rest of humanity to be conceived in Original Sin. I often reflect on Original Sin and the effects on my own soul, especially, concupiscence, which is the inclination to sin. Although Original Sin has been washed from my soul with the Sacrament of Baptism, it’s still the remnants of original sin that often tempt me or incline me to sin otherwise.
As we enter the Season of Lent, I challenge you, as challenge myself, to be coherent of those times when you are sinning and allow Our Lord to work on you during Lent – even if it is painful. You might want to read Psalm 41 (Psalm 51 is another great one!) during Lent as your morning or evening prayer.
The theme of sin runs throughout Psalm 41 and is referred to in the psalm as sickness. This makes perfect sense because when we sin, there is a feeling of sickness that goes along with that particular sin (that’s if our conscience is formed properly…see my posts on Conscience Formation). The greater the sin becomes or as the magnitude of the sin increases (mortal sin), we feel sicker and less like ourselves. When this sickness is present in our lives, we should make a conscious effort to pray more, put our trust in God, and get to Confession as soon as possible. I know when I have committed mortal sin and have not been to Confession (a.k.a. – Medicine Box), there is a feeling of just nastiness (as if influenza and pneumonia united as one) on my soul and it truly has an impact on my relationship with the Mystical Body of Christ.
Now let’s turn to Psalm 41. The Psalmist (more than likely David) A is speaking in the first person (41:5) and asking for God to heal him of the sickness that is now upon him. This psalm is ideal for us as sinners because the psalmist seems to be speaking from personal experience – he knows what it is to sin and he seeks out the Lord for the forgiveness of that sin. There is a lot of lamentation and suffering that occurs in this psalm as well as in the entire first book of the Psalms (1-41).
Verses 2-5 are speaking of a true friend who is concerned for the lowly and the poor (weak), for he will help set the man free who is “on his sickbed.” It seems that the friend is the LORD. He will protect the man (David) from his enemies and from his infirmities (possible sins?, death?…we understand sin as death).
The enemy (Absalom – one of David’s sons) could be the one that is seeking to destroy the man. It further seems that the man is dealing with both friends and enemies, but not in the same way. The friends are pushing him one way and the enemy is pushing another way. In the life of Christ, we could relate this to Jesus at the Last Supper when he is eating with friends and an enemy – who is set to betray him. Also, think of St. Peter who rebuked Jesus shortly after he declared him the Messiah. What does he say? God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you…Jesus says…Get behind me Satan…you are a hindrance to me and nothing like God, but like men (Matthew 16: 22-23). In our lives, we can see this in our enemies who try to force our hands to sin against them or we can see our friends (as good as they are) who could lead us into sin.
Verse 5 states, Once I said, “O Lord, have pity on me; heal me, though I have sinned against you.” The sick person (the one who has sinned) starts off by asking God for forgiveness. In the Old Covenant and for a Jew in the ancient world, physical sickness and pain was the starting point of the conscience to rethink its action and to repent of its sins. As Christians, we know this to be Metanoia – change of heart. Just like the words of Psalm 51, for us as Christians, these words should remain on our lips as a permanent reminder of the sins we commit.
Verses 12-13 give us a glimmer of hope when the man seems to pray to God and he knows that God will rescue him out of the hands of his enemies (they come to destroy him in verses 6-9). God will show his love to the man and deliver the man from those who seek to harm him. The man will receive hesed and will remain in the presence of the Lord. In the Daily Roman Missal, the word used is pity, however another translation is mercy. In the Scriptures, when we see mercy we should understand that it’s the Hebrew term – hesed – covenant love or covenant fidelity.
After analyzing this short Psalm, we can now see the importance of this Psalm in our Lenten journey. As you reflect on these words in your life, put the same words on the lips of Jesus Christ as he suffers through his Passion, Death, and Resurrection (Paschal Mystery). During Lent, we must emulate our Lord in his Passion. Remember this – Lent is not just about giving something up, but it’s about conforming our wills to that of Jesus Christ.