We rather rarely get to celebrate an Eighth Sunday of the Year. We do so this year because Easter is so late: April 21st. We only get a couple of days of our eighth week though, because Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and we’re into the season of lent. In the previous Calendar today was known as Quinquagesima Sunday, because it’s 50 days from today until Easter. That was a useful reminder, even before lent officially begins, that we should be preparing ourselves to celebrate Easter. The count down for Easter was traditionally pushed back, just to emphasise the importance of our preparation for it, and our need to celebrate it as worthily as we can. Easter is the day of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. That mystery is the centre of our year, and of our life. We want to understand it ever more deeply; enter into it ever more completely; participate in it ever more fully; in order to enjoy ever more and more its effects and fruits. That’s why we need to keep lent as seriously as we can. By extra prayer, and fasting, and almsgiving we seek to purify our hearts and lives. We seek to identify in concrete ways with Christ’s suffering and death, in order then to have a full share in his resurrection from the dead.
I wanted to comment today not on the Gospel, or on any other readings of today’s Mass, but on the Antiphon at Communion. As usual it’s a Psalm verse: Psalm 12 verse 6. We had it all last week as the Introit, or Entrance Antiphon. Cantabo Domino, qui bona tribuit mihi. (Et psallam nomini Domini Altissimi.) “I shall sing to the Lord, who has done good things for me. (And I shall sing a Psalm to the Name of the Lord most High.)” As the Introit we sang it in the Fifth mode. As the Communion Chant today we sing it in the Second mode transposed. If you come here to weekday Mass on a Thursday you’ll hear us sing the same text as the Antiphon for the Psalms of Thursday Prime. (The second part of this text, incidentally, is in the Vulgate, and is set to music by the Gregorian composers, but it’s not in the Hebrew, or the New Vulgate we now use.)
We don’t have personal mottos here, but if we did, and if I could choose one, this would be it. Cantabo Domino: I shall sing to the Lord, because he has given me such good things.
That somehow touches the heart of our Benedictine monastic life, and also surely the Christian life of each of us. How do we relate to God? Yes, we ask him for things. We need to do that, and the act of asking is pleasing to him. Yes, we beg pardon for our sins. That also is very necessary for us, and pleasing to him. And yes, we meditate on God, on Christ, on the mysteries of our Faith, on the Christian life. That also is both necessary and good. But when we get to heaven, all we will do is sing to God in sheer gratitude and joy for all his goodness, mercy and love. And we start doing that while on this earth. We do it not because this adds anything to God, or as if he somehow needs it, but because to do so is delightful for us; we find joy in it; and also because it’s good for us to do so. Singing to God in gratitude and joy puts us in right relationship with him, and with all things, including ourselves.
I shall sing to the Lord. That is, I relate to him directly, without any intermediary. I sing because I want to. I sing also because merely speaking or thinking just won’t do it: I have so much gratitude to express. I sing to him in the first place for his own sake, simply because God is. I could spend an eternity just on that. But more: I sing to him because he is good; because life and love pour out of him; because he gives being to everything that exists, including myself. I sing to him also because he reached out to me a sinner in Jesus Christ, and redeemed me from death by his precious blood. I sing to him for everything else he gives me: my life, my place, my family, my friends, my vocation and occupation, the air I breathe, the food I eat and the clothes I wear; all the events and circumstances of my life. All of it is sheer gift. I deserve nothing of it whatever: not one single tiny part of it; but I get it all anyway.
To relate to the Lord in this way is simply to acknowledge the truth, what is real. So that’s wisdom. Whereas; to carry on one’s life as if God did not exist, or as if he were a distant irrelevance: that is to dwell in delusion and unreality, which is sheer folly. Worse: to regard God as if he were somehow an enemy, or as if he had not been sufficiently good to me, or as if I should have had a better deal out of this life: such an attitude can only lead to madness.
Yes, I know what you want to say. What about pain, and loss, and suffering of every sort? And you’re right: these are terrible realities we cannot simply ignore. But they cannot ever or in any way cancel out God’s goodness or his gifts. In fact they show it forth all the more. Because God’s response is seen in the Cross of Jesus Christ. We see him there, hanging tortured, betrayed, abandoned, dead. But what’s he doing there? He’s turning evil into good; he’s drawing life out of death; he’s using suffering to sanctify, to purify, to atone; he’s taking all the sin of the world and turning it into mercy and forgiveness and love. He’s doing all that because he’s infinitely, superabundantly good. In the beginning he made all things good. Then, after we’d ruined everything, and twisted it out of shape, and perverted it, and even unmade it. he re-made everything in a New Creation, even better than the first.
Nor is that all. There is also me! God loves me! He loves me personally, in spite of all things in me to the contrary. He made me; he knew me and predestined me from all eternity; he died for me; he calls me; he invites me to heaven with him. So I sing to him, for he has done good things for me, without end.
Our culture nowadays puts a great focus on resentment. Everyone wants to claim victim status, to dwell on wrongs received, to expect compensation if bad things happen. Of course there are real victims of injustice and cruelty and abuse and neglect, and that is all terrible, and those wrongs should be righted. Still: it’s deeply unhealthy to dwell in resentment, in self pity, in anger, in bitterness of heart. That most certainly does not make anyone happy. But more deeply, it’s just contrary to the truth, and so must be classed as folly.
Thank God we Christians know better. We sing to the Lord, whether things are going well for us or whether we experience nothing but blows and defeats. We do so because that is right, and its end is eternal life and eternal joy.