By: Rev. Paul Scalia
“Give me justice, O God, and plead my cause against a nation that is faithless.
From the deceitful and cunning rescue me, for you, O God, are my strength.” Psalm 43:1
This Sunday is the fifth Sunday of Lent, formerly known as Passion Sunday. On this day, the tone of the readings and prayers for Mass becomes more intense as we enter the last two weeks of Lent. The tradition of veiling statues and sacred images, still observed in many parishes, also conveys this change of tone. In times past, this Sunday was also known as Iudica Sunday, after the first words of the entrance antiphon: Iudica me, Deus – literally, Judge me, O God. In the current translation it says, Give me justice, O God (Psalm 43:1). This title is probably not as familiar as Laetare (Rejoice) Sunday. For some reason, Judge Me Sunday never really caught on.
But this verse is placed at the head of the Mass for a reason – and it merits our attention.
As is the case with other psalms, this one has three distinct historical “moments.” First, the original composition by David, who appealed to the Lord to deliver him from the hostile nations in which he found himself. Second, fulfillment in the Person and life of Jesus. As a faithful Jew our Lord would have prayed this Psalm. Perhaps He prayed these words in the Garden of Gethsemane: Give me justice, O God… Whatever the case, He speaks them perfectly, as no one else can. He alone can appeal perfectly to the Father to be delivered from a faithless nation. He alone merits to be rescued from the deceitful and cunning.
Third, the continued fulfillment of the verse in the life of the Church. As the Body of Christ the Church gives voice to this cry for justice and for deliverance from her enemies. In His Body, our Lord continues to suffer persecution and cries out, Give me justice, O God, and plead my cause against a nation that is faithless. From the deceitful and cunning rescue me, for you, O God, are my strength.
There is still another way of understanding this verse: our own personal praying of it. Indeed, it serves as a good way to prepare for the Sacrament of Penance. The Douay Rheims translation phrases it powerfully: Judge me, O God. Yes, in a sense when we go to confession we invite God to judge us. We anticipate the final judgment by accusing ourselves. One manner of beginning confession is to say: “I accuse myself of the following sins.” We desire His judgment because we know that it is tempered by mercy. The current translation – Vindicate me, O God – gets at the same point. We enter the confessional to be vindicated – not from any external persecution or enemy but from something far worse: our own sins.
Plead my cause against a nation that is faithless. In a sense, we confess our sins in order to plead our cause. By sin we fall into the faithlessness of the world. We depart from God’s People and take up with the faithless. By Confession we ask that God correct this – that He Himself plead our cause as children of God to be brought back home. We desire that He (as the DR translation says) distinguish us from the faithless, most importantly from our fallen selves. Indeed, Penance is very much a matter of distinguishing. We distinguish our selves from our sinful actions. We distinguish the sinner – namely each of us – from the sin. And knowing our own actions to be insufficient, we beg God to distinguish, to separate us from what is incompatible with being children of God.
From the deceitful and cunning rescue me. Technically, this is a plea to be rescued from the one who is deceitful and cunning. Each of us can probably think of some such person in our lives. But the greatest threat to us – the most deceitful and cunning – is not outside of us, but within. Something within us – what Saint Paul calls the “unspiritual man” (1 Cor 2:14) – leads us into sin. Our fallen human nature, deceiving and cunning, makes us our own worst enemies. On the path to sin we invent all kinds of justifications and rationalizations for our immorality. We deceive ourselves; we cunningly blind ourselves to the wickedness we embrace. Thus, we need to be delivered from ourselves: From my deceitfulness and cunning rescue me.
In two weeks we unite ourselves with Christ in His Passion. To do so we must know what it means to be persecuted by sin. And we cannot come to that realization until and unless we confess our own sinfulness and acknowledge ourselves as our own persecutors, our own worst enemies. There are still plenty of opportunities for Confession in the remaining two weeks. If you have not done so this Lent, make a good confession. Beg Him to vindicate you, to plead your cause, to rescue – and thus say to Him: You, O God, are my strength.