The Passion of Jesus Christ in the Psalms (2)

April 23, 2020

The Moral Sufferings of Our Lord

We have talked about the physical and spiritual sufferings which Our Lord endured in the Agony of the Garden. We must also add the moral sufferings that He underwent. Among the most painful sufferings of His Passion, we must first name Judas’ betrayal and His friend’s abandonment. The Church emphasizes this during the liturgy in several responses form the office of Tenebrae of Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

Psalms 40 and 54 depict the attitude of Ahithophel, David’s counselor, a prefigure of Judas. Ahithophel not only abandons David but fights against him by becoming an adviser to Absalom who sought to take power. His plans failing, he ends up hanging himself in despair as Judas will do.

David describes his inner suffering when he learns that Ahithophel cowardly abandoned him to take sides with Absalom. As we read these verses, let us think of the pain endured by Our Lord on seeing Judas go to the Sanhedrin to deliver Him up.

“If my enemy had cursed me, I would have endured it, and if the one who hates me stood up against me, I would hide in front of him, but it was you who lived in the same spirit with me, who was the chief of my advice, and in my close confidence” (Ps 54:12-13). Psalm 40 gives further details on the intimacy that Judas had with Our Lord: “The man of my peace in whom I had put my hope, who shared my food, greatly supplanted me” (Ps. 40:10). Our Lord had put his hope in Judas by choosing him as an Apostle, by entrusting him with the administration of his material goods and by allowing him to share his meals. In addition, the day before he died, he designated the traitor with this sign: "He is the one to whom I will present dipped bread” (Jn. 13:26).

As we read these verses, let us also bear in mind the sufferings that Our Lord endured thinking about the faithlessness of the men of the Church of our century. May this Holy Week be the occasion for unfaithful priests and religious to return to God. And we, whoever we are, pray to God to help us maintain loyalty to our commitments.

As part of Our Lord’s moral sufferings, we must add to Judas’ betrayal, His friends abandoning Him. Psalm 87 mentions this. “You have removed from me those who knew me; they made me the object of their abomination" (Ps. 87:9). A few verses later, the Psalmist takes up the same idea:" You have removed my friends and relatives from me; my intimate friends, because of my misery"(Ps. 87:19). According to St. Robert Bellarmine, the friends in question are those who heard him preach, but above all it was His “Apostles and especially St. Peter who, without having hated Our Lord, appeared to by his imprecations that he spoke against Him.”

When we suffer, we like to be understood, to be supported, to be assisted. Our Lord did not have this consolation. The feelings of abandonment and dereliction were such in Him that He affirms: “I hoped to find someone who is compassionate, but in vain, and someone who consoles me, but I did not find any” (Ps 68:20). St. Robert Bellarmine specifies: “It is true that St. John and the Virgin Mary approached later, but their presence instead of reducing His pain increased it.”

One of the most painful sufferings when we are nearing death is loneliness. We die alone even when accompanied. May the acceptance of this solitude at our last moments lead us to unite with the Our Lord’s suffering in order to merit contemplating Him, soon after our last breath, in the blissful eternity of Heaven!

Another very humiliating feeling endured by Our Lord in his Passion is shame. The same psalm, psalm 68, points out: “You know the stigma with which they charged me, the confusion and the shame with which I am covered” (Ps 68:20). “The Savior invokes God as a witness to his Passion and especially to His most painful part, shame, which noble spirits fear more than bodily suffering.” (St. Robert Bellarmine)

The demon takes away man’s shame, which is natural, to lead him to violate the law of God. Once he has fallen into mortal sin, he gives him back this shame in order to muzzle him at the confessional so that his confession is incomplete and therefore a sacrilege when it comes to serious faults. Also, let us understand this strategy of the demon so as not to fall into his nets.

The Attitude of Our Lord in the Midst of His Torments

1. Silence

“But as a deaf man, I could not hear, and as a dumb man, I did not open my mouth, and I am become as a man that can not heat, and has no reproofs on his mouth” (Ps. 37:14- 15).

Our Lord is identified with the sinner in His Passion. The sinner has nothing to answer to the accusations against him. In certain circumstances, Our Lord is also silent because He sees the bad faith of those who accuse Him. Besides, His silence during His Passion is a silence of meditation. Our Lord draws from prayer the strength He needs to endure so many insults.

2. Prayer

Psalms 68 and 87 describe Our Lord’s prayer during His Passion. Psalm 21 already described it: “My God, I will cry out during the day and you will not hear me, and during the night, and I will not be blamed for it. […] Our fathers hoped in You; they hoped, and You delivered them. They cried out to You and they were saved; they have hoped in You and they have not been confused” (Ps. 21, 3:5-6). “Lord, do not keep your assistance away from me; try to defend me. Deliver my soul from the sword, O my God; deliver my soul from the hand of the dog which is completely abandoned. Save me from the lion's mouth and my state of humiliation from the unicorn’s horns” (Ps. 21:20-22).

Here again the Psalmist uses images to evoke Christ’s desire to overcome death and His intention to resurrect despite His enemies’ attacks, in the form of ferocious animals like the lion and the unicorn.

In Psalm 108, these beautiful words are put in Our Lord’s mouth: “And you, Lord, Lord, take my defense for the glory of your name, because your mercy is filled with sweetness. Help me, Lord, my God; save me with your mercy” (Ps. 108:20 and 25). Our Lord prays here for Himself, but also for those who will endure persecution for their faith over the centuries.

One grace we can ask Our Lord for, is to grasp the place that prayer must occupy in our Christian life. Our Lord prayed all His life, He prayed during His Passion and even on the cross. He is our model. He said to his Apostles at the time of His death: “Watch and pray not to enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt. 26:41). The spirit is willing, that means that one is full of good desires, but the flesh is weak. What must we do to tame the flesh? Watch and pray: vigilance is prudence and we must join prayer to this prudence.

Waiting for the Resurrection

“The Lord keeps all their bones: not one of them shall be broken” (Ps 33:21). This verse foreshadows how in Our Lord, in His Passion will not have a single broken bone. He was represented by the Paschal lamb, whose bones should not be broken (Ex. 12:46).

“You will not abandon my soul to hell, and you will not permit your holy saint to see the corruption of the tomb” (Ps. 15:10). This verse relates to how Our Lord’s body did not corrupt.

Psalm 87, which we have already mentioned on several occasions, gives an interesting clarification. It says that Our Lord will be “free among the dead” (Ps 87:6). This means that Our Lord was able to give His life when he wanted, and He was able to take it back (Jn. 10:18).

The Fruits of the Passion

1. The Birth of the Church and the Conversion of All the Nations

“I will announce your name to my brothers, In the middle of the Church, I will praise you. […] Near you, my praise in a large assembly. […] All the ends of the earth will remember and convert to the Lord; all the families of the nation will bow down before his face” (Ps. 21, 23, 23, and 28). It is very beautiful and consoling to see the marvelous fruits of the Passion depicted in Psalm 21. This psalm which begins with an extreme desolation, ends with a magnificent cry of victory. No! the trials endured by Our Lord were not in vain. They were the origin of the Church, of the conversion of the nations, and of the salvation of many souls

Did not Psalm 2 put on Psalmist’s lips this word of God the Father addressed to his beloved Son: “Ask me and I will give the nations unto you as an inheritance” (Ps 2:8).

2. The Eucharist

Another fruit of the Passion is the Holy Eucharist.

“You have prepared me a table, in front of my enemies” (Ps. 22:5). St. John Chrysostom writes: “This table symbolizes the altar where we consecrate Our Lord. We see the bread and the wine there, which are an image of the Body and Blood of Our Lord.”

Psalm 21 also twice evokes Holy Communion. The Psalmist says, “The poor will eat and be full, and those who seek Him will praise the Lord” (Ps. 21:27). The condition to receive Our Lord in us in the Holy Eucharist is to have the soul of a poor person, meaning, that we know that we are nothing by ourselves, and to thirst for God. On the other hand, once we consume the Holy Eucharist, we become rich. This is why the Psalmist adds: “All the mighty of the earth ate and worshipped; all who go down to the earth shall fall down before him” (Ps. 21:30). Eusebius of Caesarea comments on this verse saying: “Every Sunday, we can see those who have received communion, bow down deeply to worship the One who gives them the food of life and distributes it to them. They marvel at the donations received.”

3. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

 “From the rising of the sun to the setting of it, may Your name be praised by all the earth” (Ps. 112:3). St. John Chrysostom says that David announces here the establishment of the Church, which is no longer confined to Palestine, Judea, but which embraces the whole world. Malachias, in turn, announced the Church’s universal reign, saying: “From sunrise to sunset, my name is glorified among the nations, and there is offered everywhere a pleasant incense and a pure offering (Mal. 1:11). The pure offering, is the holy victim offered on our altars. Thus, the name of Go dis particularly glorified by the holy sacrifice of the Mass celebrated in the four corners of the world.

The great mystery for all men on earth is the mystery if the cross, whether it is the cross of our personal life or in the life or in the life of the Church. One of the ways to not be scandalized by this mystery is to contemplate with a spirit of faith and devotion to Jesus Christ in His Passion.

Let us take advantage of reading the psalms which depict for us the main features of the Passion of Our Lord to familiarize ourselves with this mystery and to draw from it the strength which we need to face our trials.

May the sight of the fruitfulness of the cross encourage us to accept it in our daily life, so that we may one day share in the glory of the Resurrection of Our lord who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit world without end.

Fr. Patrick Troadec