Homily – August 14th, 2011
Psalm 84 HYMN OF JOY August 14, 2011
In the City of Rome, when I first arrived, a Jesuit friend showed me a day’s sightseeing. We turned our steps toward the Vatican. I yet remember some anticipation, for I had seen, more than once, photographs of Saint Peter’s Basilica, and always I associated that church with the Pope. In walking closer, my expectation grew. Following a bridge, we crossed the Tiber River, onto the Via Della Conciliazione, and of a sudden that basilica came into view, wide and high, all stone. Rising from that immense architectural wonder, the huge dome—round and in white marble—reached the cross skyward. The partially encircled piazza presented to me a monumental colonnade, its open arms suggesting a welcome toward the great church.
On my first seeing this Catholic home, I felt a wave of surprise and of awe. Even if over the years I had seen depictions of St. Peter’s Basilica, now I was viewing it actually, really, and it overwhelmed me. It took my breath away, not as an architectural wonder, although it is that, but as the architectural embodiment of the living Church.
In Psalm 84, a pilgrim has an analogous experience, somewhat like, yet different from my experience. In the first five stanzas of this joyful psalm, the pilgrim comes from some distance; he recalls good days, and he recalls the beauty of the Lord’s place. “How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Mighty God.” This pilgrim links the magnificent Jerusalem temple with the earthly domicile of the Holy One.
Seeing a bird fly inside, the pilgrim marvels that a sparrow and a
swallow live in the high corners of the structure. Apparently, they even build nests there, nurturing their young, undisturbed by temple custodians. Some dedicated souls live in the temple, and often they raise their hymns in joyful tribute to the Lord.
How lovely your dwelling, O Lord of hosts!
My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the Lord.
My heart and flesh cry out for the living God.
As the sparrow finds a home
and the swallow a nest to settle her young,
My home is by your altars, Lord of hosts, my king and my God!
Happy are those who dwell in your house!
They never cease to praise you.
Fittingly, we think of our beautiful island during these days of warm outdoors’ weather, and we realize that God has created this pleasing land, and that here the Creator dwells as He dwells in His entire universe.
The Jerusalem temple encompassed the Ark, God’s earthly throne. As the pilgrim yearns and pines for the Lord’s courts, so we might also long for nearness to God, to find a home that is God. The pilgrim is not so much bent upon the Jerusalem temple as he is desirous of the Lord, not so much attracted to the courts as prone to God, to rest in his creator.
In the second stanza of our Psalm, the traveler finds joy along the pilgrim roads, for he thinks of being close to God in the Holy City. Although we are unable to find an actual spot named Baca, scholars conclude that the place symbolizes some desert, arid area. Yet as the
pilgrim journeys through this unhealthy area, he imagines refreshing
rains come with him. Moreover, even the stragglers or the lost will find water pools, for to pilgrims the Lord blesses this land with life-giving water.
Finally, the pilgrim journeys to the high spot called Mount Zion, for the temple resides there. On Mount Zion, the wayfarer will pass through the temple’s first wall and then through to the inner wall and, in the Holy of Holies, there experience God. The pilgrim will feel intimacy with the Lord.
In the third stanza, the pilgrim prays for the king who wards off enemies. The king proves himself a shield who protects from those who might harm the pilgrims. The Lord has anointed this leader.
We pray for our leaders, and we call God to bless our soldiers who stand like a shield in harm’s way to ward off blows. Recently, the enemy in Afghanistan shot down a helicopter carrying thirty troops; these all perished in the crash. You and I ought to pray for these warriors. Quite distinctly, our psalm in this third verse calls upon God to aid those who defend us.
I find in our psalm’s fourth stanza, the title of a book that tells the story of several Jesuits who served the Lord, not as priests, but as religious brothers. Better a Day, a 1951 book by John Leary, S.J., offers the biographies of vowed men such as Saint Nicholas Owen, a carpenter who cleverly fashioned hiding places for priests during the seventeenth century persecution in Elizabeth’s England. The book title suggests that by their consecration, these religious lived in the house of the Lord.
Even if our pilgrim comes to the Jerusalem temple only briefly, still he relishes his day in the courts near God, and he finds his short stay there far preferable to many years dwelling with evil doers.
Our pilgrim likens God to the sun, from which corn and trees receive health and growth, from which the beasts receive blood and breath, and we humans receive warmth, light and life; so indirectly as if from the sun, yet from God we directly draw grace and human honor.
The Lord withholds no good thing
from those who walk without reproach.
O Lord of hosts, happy are those who trust in You!
You and I recognize our sustainer and protector, the giver to us of good things, the one with whom we long to dwell. This God relates to individuals, and we directly address “my King and my God.” AMEN!