Psalm 31: Strife of Tongues

Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

June 17, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 31, just three of its twenty-five passionate verses in today’s liturgy. These three will echo in you, as will many others if you read the whole psalm. The images are so strong and yet comforting, the prayer so sincere.

  • In you, LORD, I take refuge.
  • Let me never be put to shame.
  • Incline your ear to me;
  • For you are my rock and my fortress.
  • I will rejoice and be glad in your mercy.
  • Let your face shine on your servant.
  • Save me in your mercy.
  • You hide your beloved in the shelter of your presence.
  • You heard my voice, my cry for mercy.

In my prayer, I focused on this line:

You hide your beloved in the shelter of your presence
from the plottings of evil hearts;
You screen them within your abode
from the strife of tongues.


The strife of tongues”. What a phrase! And what a reality! Our divisive culture is drowning in it – in political, religious and civic contexts. It is often very hard for us to know whom to listen to and believe. But the psalmist helps us to understand a key characteristic of destructive speech – pride and boasting:

Love the LORD, all you his faithful ones!
The LORD keeps those who are constant,
but more than requites those who act proudly.


Today, I prayed for anyone caught in a persecution of words. Specifically, I prayed for Pope Francis and for the Archbishop of Washington, DC, Wilton Gregory. Both men have been victims of “the strife of tongues”.

In a publicized letter written to Donald Trump, Pope Francis was targeted by reactionary clergyman Carlo Viganò who dabbles in conspiracy theories and misinformation in order to undermine Francis’s ministry.

Archbishop Gregory described Donald Trump’s photo op at the Shrine of St. John Paul II as “reprehensible“, condemning the politicization of religion for “manipulative” purposes. As a result, the Archbishop, who is Black, has been racially and sexually slurred by, among others, a far-right hate group claiming to be “Catholic”.


As I prayed for these good priests, and for all others condemned for truthful and compassionate testimony, I asked God to enfold them in the verse from Psalm 31, part of which Jesus prayed on the cross:

Into your hands I commend my spirit;
you will redeem me, LORD, God of truth.

It is painful to witness this kind of sinful negativity in the Church, and the pain does enter into our prayer. Pope Francis points to a way to heal that pain:

Poetry: Our poem today is by a 19th century poet, Susan S. Button from her only book I could find which she published herself. She strikes me as an Emily Dickinson type without the same degree of literary accomplishment. There is very little information on her although she was notable enough in society to have a portrait by John Sartain (currently in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.)

The poem, although on a serious topic, still provided a level of delight about what happens to those who slander the innocent. I offer just a few verses of the long composition and hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Slander

What is the slander’s tongue? An arrow strong,
And sharp, and fierce, empoisoning many a word,
Such as to devil’s only do belong,
When they, by Envy and by Malice stirred,
Do contemplate dark deeds, and souls do gird
For vilest crimes, and with their deadly bane,
The good man rob of fame — with lies absurd
Asunder rend kind Friendship’s gold-linked chain,
And break the three-fold, silken cord of Love amain.
——
For though Slander’s pliant bow was newly strung,
And thick and fast her feathered arrows flew,
And through the misty air their echoes rung,
The light around his head more lustrous grew;
For Innonence forth from her treasures drew
A golden shield, and clasped it o’er his heart,
While Truth held up a golden lamp and new!
While through its lucent flame flew on the dart
From Slander’s quiver, brighter light it did impart.

It trembled on the shield of Innocence—
The good man gazed, and by its blood-stained shade
He knew full well who formed it, and from whence
It came — he plucked it from the shield and bade
The innocent “tremble not, nor be afraid.”
With force redoubled Slander drew her bow
And furious all her cruel haste betrayed,
But soon was heard a horrid shriek of woe,
As her rebounding dart did to her forehead go.

~ Susan S. Button (1858)

Music: Herr, auf dich traue ich – Otto Nicolai (1810-1849j, one of the founders of the Vienna Philharmonic

Psalm 31:1-2

Herr, auf dich traue ich,
Laß mich nimmermehr zu Schanden werden,
Errette mich nach deiner Barmherzigkeit,
Und hilf mir aus.
Neige deine Ohren zu mir, und hilf mir;
Sei mir ein starker Hort,
Ein Hort, dahin ich immer fliehen möge,
Der du hast zugesaget mir zu helfen.
Lord, I trust in you,
Let me never be ashamed;
Deliver me in your mercy And assist me.
Incline your ear to me and help me;
Be a strong refuge for me,
A refuge to which I may always flee,
Which you have promised to me for my aid.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s