Psalm 5: Bless Our Work

Monday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

Monday, September 7, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 5. It seems to me a good prayer for Labor Day which we celebrate today in the United States.

Psalm 5 is the prayer of an upright person seeking God’s justice and protection in order to live in God’s favor.

Then all who trust in you will be glad
and forever shout for joy.
You will protect them and those will rejoice in you
who love your name.
For you, LORD, bless the just ones;
surrounding them with favor like a shield.

The U.S labor movement grew out of similar desires for protection and justice. The inequities and hardships experienced by laborers at the turn of the 19th century led to protests and changes. These are recognized and celebrated on Labor Day.

Catholic social teaching, beginning with Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum (“On the Condition of Labor”), has a long history of support for labor and unions.

“The most lasting effect of Rerum Novarum to Catholic social teaching was its approval of labor unions. Pope Leo observed that employers would not necessarily act in the best interests of their employees. Therefore, workers “must form associations among themselves and unite their forces so as to shake off courageously the yoke of so unrighteous and intolerable an oppression.” His hope was that social harmony would emerge as the three – employers, workers, and government – worked together: “Capital cannot do without labor, nor labor without capital. Mutual agreement results in pleasantness and good order; perpetual conflict necessarily produces confusion and outrage.” (Website: Diocese of Harrisburg)

Today, as we pray Psalm 5:

  • Let’s remember that all labor is a gift of participation in God’s continual act of Creation
  • Let’s be conscious of all those throughout the world whose labor is exploited. 
  • Let’s pray for all those unable to work for any reason, especially due to the effects of COVID 19.
  • Let’s give thanks for the labor of all our brothers and sisters which contribute to our wellbeing and happiness.
  • Let’s take time today to recognize the joy and blessings of our own labors throughout our lives.
  • And let’s ask ourselves these most important questions:

Why do I work?
What do I hope for as the fruit of my labors?

Our answers will tell us much about who we really are.

Poetry: What Work Is– Philip Levine

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to   
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,   
just because you don’t know what work is.

Music: Bread and Roses – Joan Baez

( Bread and Roses” is a political slogan well as the name of an associated poem and song. It originated from a speech given by American women’s suffrage activist Helen Todd; a line in that speech about “bread for all, and roses too” inspired the title of the poem Bread and Roses by James Oppenheim. The poem was first published in December 1911, with the attribution line “‘Bread for all, and Roses, too’—a slogan of the women in the West.” The poem has been translated into other languages and has been set to music by at least three composers.
The phrase is commonly associated with the successful textile strike in Massachusetts between January and March 1912, now often referred to as the “Bread and Roses strike”. The slogan pairing bread and roses, appealing for both fair wages and dignified conditions, found resonance as transcending “the sometimes tedious struggles for marginal economic advances” in the “light of labor struggles as based on striving for dignity and respect”, as Robert J. S. Ross wrote in 2013.)

As we go marching, marching
In the beauty of the day
A million darkened kitchens
A thousand mill lofts grey
Are touched with all the radiance
That a sudden sun discloses
For the people hear us singing
Bread and roses, bread and roses

As we go marching, marching
We battle too for men
For they are women’s children
And we mother them again
Our lives shall not be sweetened
From birth until life closes
Hearts starve as well as bodies
Give us bread, but give us roses

As we go marching, marching
We bring the greater days
For the rising of the women
Means the rising of the race
No more the drudge and idler
Ten that toil where one reposes
But the sharing of life’s glories
Bread and roses, bread and roses

Psalm 5: You Are God’s Flute

Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

June 30, 2020

A Brief Prayer on Today’s Gospel from 2016
Today, in Mercy, we pray for all those tossed on a stormy sea, like Christ’s disciples. For all who are alone, in darkness or full of fear. There is no storm through which God cannot come to us. May we always trust that God is taking us to a new grace beyond the storm.

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 5, the first one of several to mention “the Name of God” as a theme.  The psalm, a morning prayer to be “accompanied by a flute”, is a mix of lament and exaltation – like many of our own morning prayers, no doubt.

At dawn I bring my plea expectantly before you.
For you, O God, delight not in wickedness;

the evil one does not remain with you;
the arrogant may not stand in your sight.

Now, first off in the morning, we’re probably not going to talk to God about wickedness, evil, and arrogance unless we went to bed pretty upset the night before. The psalmist apparently has “slept on” his troubles without complete resolution.

We had a dear, wise Directress of Postulants who, on many an evening, patiently listened to our various vocational waverings. We were young. Just like the disciples in Matthew’s boat, we really weren’t as sure of our calls as we would like to have been. Sister Inez’s repeated advice soothed a lot of our growing pains, “Just give it to God and get a good night’s sleep. Things will be clearer in the morning.” And they always were.

As the psalmist prays this morning prayer, things clear as well. After a brief diatribe, the prayer realizes:

But I, through the abundance of your mercy,
will enter into your house.
I will bow down toward your holy sanctuary

in awe of your greatness.

Psalm 5 beautifully complements today’s Gospel. Jesus is in the storm-tossed boat peacefully “sleeping on it”. The disciples, on the other hand, cannot just “give” their terror over to God. When they wake Jesus, terrified, he gently reprimands them, “O ye of little faith”.

Jesus wants them and us, to realizes what the psalmist realizes in verse 12:

All who trust in God will be glad
and forever shout for joy.
God protects them 
and their lives are a melody
to God’s beloved Name

Poetry: A Hole in a Flute ~ Hafiz

I am a hole in a flute
that the Christ's breath moves through; 
listen to this music.

I am the concert 
from the mouth of every creature 
singing with the myriad chorus.

I am a hole in a flute 
that the Christ's breath moves through; 
listen to this music.

Music: The Edge of Night by a group called “Siyotanka” which is actually the Lakota name for this type of flute.

Psalm 5: A Deep Groan

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

June 15, 2020

Click here for readings.

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 5, a psalm of lament.

Do you ever get really fed up with the world, to a point that you can’t even put into words? If so, and when, Psalm 5 is your psalm.

David can’t even describe how disgusted he is with the evil around him. As is his custom, he wants to tell God all about it, but he can’t find words enough to do so. The best he can do is groan!

My own heart has sounded such a prayer many times. Hasn’t yours? 

Sometimes, it’s a petty prayer, frustrated with individuals or myself. But usually such a groan rises from a more global consciousness:

  • When we see bombed out and weeping children on the evening news
  • When wanton violence infects our city streets
  • When clerical and other institutional sex abuse is uncovered
  • When suffering refugees are rebuffed, caged, and abused
  • When human beings are degraded and persecuted because of their race, sexual identity, ethnicity, or personal traits
  • Whenever people with power exploit it for their own deceitful self-interest 

We could go on and on, couldn’t we? We know what David felt like when he arose and offered his morning prayer:

At dawn I bring my plea expectantly before you.
For you, O God, delight not in wickedness;
no evil man remains with you;
the arrogant may not stand in your sight.

David is confident that, ultimately, God will not abide such evil, and that gives him hope:

You hate all evildoers.
You destroy all who speak falsehood;
The bloodthirsty and the deceitful
the LORD abhors.

But in the meantime, how will David stand up in the face of it all?

This is the very question that gnaws at us as we find ourselves in a place of “groaning” prayer. How do we respond to evil with good?

The final verse of Psalm 5, not included in today’s response, offers an answer:

For you, LORD, bless the just one;
you surround that person with favor like a shield.

By our choices and our actions, we must become a “just one”. Doing so, we give God the instrument to bring right-balance to Creation.

Then all who trust in you will be glad
and forever shout for joy.

You will protect them and those will rejoice in you
who love your name. (Psalm 5:12)

Living justice is hard work. Such enduring labor will draw many a prayerful sigh from us. But always, like David, if we work patiently, we can be confident:

For to you I will pray, LORD;
in the morning you will hear my voice;

in the morning I will plead before you and wait.

Poem: The Weighing – Jane Hirshfield 

The heart’s reasons
seen clearly,
even the hardest
will carry
its whip-marks and sadness
and must be forgiven.

As the drought-starved
eland forgives
the drought-starved lion
who finally takes her,
enters willingly then
the life she cannot refuse,
and is lion, is fed,
and does not remember the other.

So few grains of happiness
measured against all the dark
and still the scales balance.

The world asks of us
only the strength we have and we give it.
Then it asks more, and we give it.

Music: Psalm 5 – Chuck Girard