10 September 2017
It’s perhaps not often you hear a Sunday Homily commenting on the Responsorial Psalm of the Mass. But the Psalm which followed our first reading today is number 94, or 95 according to the Hebrew numbering. At Pluscarden we sing this Psalm every single day. As the Rule of St. Benedict lays down, Psalm 94 always introduces the Office of Vigils, which we sing each day at 4.30 in the morning.
I have been in the monastery now for just over 33 years, so I suppose in the course of that I’ve heard this Psalm sung many thousands of times. Yet still today, and every day, somehow it has the power to touch me afresh. I might even venture to assert, I hope I’m not lying, that it has somehow touched me, inspired me, encouraged me, even thrilled me, every single time I’ve ever sung it.
Venite, exsultemus Domino, it begins: Come, let us exult before the Lord (or, more literally) let us jump about with joy before the Lord. Iubilemus Deo salutari nostro - let us sing in jubilation before God who is our Saviour, and our salvation.
This invitation, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is addressed to anyone willing to hear it, not just to monks or nuns. And it proclaims that all of us, without exception, have good reason for getting out of bed in the morning. According to the mind of St. Benedict, the reason we get up is not, in the first place, to face our day of work, or once again to confront our worries and sufferings. Nor, even less, in the first place, do we get up in the morning for the sake of our breakfast, or for a day of entertainment, relaxation and enjoyment. No, life is far better than that! We get up in order to come before our God, who made us and everything that is; who is all good, all beautiful, all love. Not only that: he is our own God; our Lord: he belongs to us, and we belong to him. Our God invites us to come before him in joy, for he is a cause of joy. So we come, in order to worship him, to praise him, because that is a good thing to do; it’s good for us, and we like doing it. And so when we monks come before him, we also sing. Each day we sing to our God, with thanksgiving and praise, and we are helped to do so, or given words to do so, by our Psalm.
But of course there is another side. It’s stated in the refrain, verse 8 of the Psalm, which today’s liturgy invites us to repeat between the other selected verses. O that today you would listen to his voice! Harden not your hearts. Here, we’re brought up against the mystery of sin; of mankind’s refusal of God. Since the time of the first sin of Adam, this refusal is somehow in all of us. God speaks to us, but we do not listen. He invites us, but we do not come. He calls to us, but we do not answer. He offers us life, and we prefer death. And so our Psalm gives us a hint not just of joyful invitation, but also of warning, and even of threat. It even ends, apparently, with a curse, and at Pluscarden we sing that every day too. Because ultimately we have a simple choice. Either we live in a close and life giving relationship with God in love, or else, we land up excluded from his presence forever. And so we are here now precisely in order to assert, once again, that we choose life; we choose love; we accept God’s invitation; we want to respond to him in joy and praise.
Psalm 94 belongs to the Old Testament: it’s wonderful poetry, and authentic religion, and its message remains ever valid and true. Yet: how much more wonderful it is when read in the light of Christ! How much more full of meaning it becomes when we sing it in the context of the Eucharistic sacrifice!
For in Jesus we are invited not just, as it were, to praise God from afar. In him, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are invited to enter the loving praise which the three trinitarian Persons ceaselessly give one another. We who are baptised come before God as the Body of Jesus. We rejoice to have been redeemed, and reconciled to God in his blood. We sing our praises now in the power of his Holy Spirit. Our song is therefore an expression of divine love: love poured out, and love given back; love received, and love passed on; love that unites, and love that elevates, transforms, makes beautiful, divinises.
Yet still, we have the refrain of our Psalm. In the light of Christ it becomes not less relevant, not less urgent, but more so. O that today we would listen to the voice of Jesus, to the authentic voice of his Church, to the promptings of our own conscience; and not harden our hearts. And this is difficult. It has been difficult from the very earliest days of the Church, which is why in today’s Gospel Jesus speaks of necessary Church discipline, and correction. The trouble is, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ invites us to a very high standard of purity and integrity of life. The world outside us does not like to listen to this, and the old man inside all of us does not like it either. Nowadays, the aggressive secularism in which we live angrily rejects it, and it urges us, by every means at its disposal, to pay no attention to the hard demands of the Gospel.
To whom should we listen? Surely only a madman could be in serious doubt? Jesus is the Truth. He offers us eternal life. In this life on earth he establishes and confirms our human dignity. He calls us to true holiness; to be better than we are, and to make our world a better place, spreading all around us hope, goodness, joy, life, love. And now he gives us, once again, all the grace, all the strength, all the inspiration we need to respond fully to his invitation. He gives us himself: in his sacrificial death for our salvation; in his Body and his Blood; in Bread from heaven, that sustains us on our journey towards eternal life.