A Penitent Blogger

Mindful of my imperfections, seeking to know Truth more deeply and to live Love more fully.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronum rogaturus? Cum vix iustus sit securus?
Recordare, Iesu pie, Quod sum causa tuae viae: Ne me perdas illa die...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


There was a comic strip some years ago that had a scout leader leading the recitation of a traditional prayer on a dark and scary night:

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep...

The scouts start to relax, but then the prayer takes an ominous turn

…and should I DIE before I wake...

The scouts are now absolutely terrified.

Okay, the scout leader stammers, how about some nice psalms?

The strip ends there, with what seems to be a comforting alternative.

The peaceful, gentle verses of the 23rd Psalm may then come to the reader's mind.

The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

One can imagine the little scouts starting to relax again.

though I walk
through the valley
of the shadow of death…

Boom! The night terror returns.

In truth, even with the dark imagery, the psalms are very comforting.

It is the world that is often a scary place.

Nor do the psalms bring the comfort of syrup-laden cheesecake or opium: driving fear and pain away with sweetness or numbness.

The psalms bring the comfort of real faith, struggling with real troubles and even the most terrifying moments when God seems to be silent.

Pope Benedict XVI noted this quite movingly at that most dreadful of evil places, Auschwitz:

"How many questions arise in this place! Constantly the question comes up: Where was God in those days? Why was he silent? How could he permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil?

"The words of Psalm 44 come to mind, Israel's lament for its woes:

'You have broken us in the haunt of jackals,
and covered us with deep darkness ...
because of you we are being killed all day long,
and accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?
Awake, do not cast us off forever!
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
For we sink down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up, come to our help!
Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!'

(Psalm 44:19,22-26).

"This cry of anguish, which Israel raised to God in its suffering, at moments of deep distress, is also the cry for help raised by all those who in every age -- yesterday, today and tomorrow -- suffer for the love of God, for the love of truth and goodness. How many they are, even in our own day!

"We cannot peer into God's mysterious plan -- we see only piecemeal, and we would be wrong to set ourselves up as judges of God and history. Then we would not be defending man, but only contributing to his downfall."
(Excerpt from Benedict XVI at Auschwitz-Birkenau May 28, 2006)

Many people of faith respond to the suffering of the innocent or to the perceived silence of God with pat answers. Sometimes the grace of God works wonders in those simple answers, but sometimes these trite answers are worse than useless.

Ultimately, the best response by people of faith to the terrors and the silence of the night is simply faith: that precious gift of God upon which all other gifts are built up.

We see this in the Psalms, most especially Psalm 22, which our Lord himself spoke from the Cross: those ancient words of faith in the midst of despair thus helping to complete God’s total embrace of our human suffering, so that we ourselves might be fully embraced by his eternal life and love.

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Why art thou so far from helping me,
from the words of my groaning?

O my God, I cry by day,
but thou dost not answer;
and by night,
but find no rest.

Yet thou art holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In thee our fathers trusted;
they trusted,
and thou didst deliver them.
To thee they cried,
and were saved;
in thee they trusted,
and were not disappointed.

But I am a worm,
and no man;
scorned by men,
and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me,
they make mouths at me,
they wag their heads;
"He committed his cause to the LORD;
let him deliver him,
let him rescue him,
for he delights in him!"

Yet thou art he who took me from the womb;
thou didst keep me safe upon my mother's breasts.
Upon thee was I cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me
thou hast been my God.

Be not far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is none to help.

Many bulls encompass me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax,
it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue cleaves to my jaws;
thou dost lay me in the dust of death.

Yea, dogs are round about me;
a company of evildoers encircle me;
they have pierced my hands and feet --
I can count all my bones --
they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
and for my raiment they cast lots.

But thou, O LORD, be not far off!
O thou my help, hasten to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion,
my afflicted soul from the horns of the wild oxen!

I will tell of thy name to my brethren;
in the midst of the congregation
I will praise thee:
You who fear the LORD, praise him!
all you sons of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you sons of Israel!
For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted;
and he has not hid his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.

From thee comes my praise
in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the LORD!
May your hearts live for ever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the LORD,
and he rules over the nations.

Yea, to him
shall all the proud of the earth bow down;
before him shall bow
all who go down to the dust,
and he who cannot keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve him;
men shall tell of the Lord
to the coming generation,
and proclaim his deliverance
to a people yet unborn,
that he has wrought it.