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Psalm 23; Words for the Living
By Thomas S. Pierog
July 17th, 2012
Prodigal Dumb Ox (prodigal-dumb-ox.blogspot.com/)
For many years, I thought that the twenty-third Psalm was only for the dead. This was probably due to a tremendous over-exposure to television funerals where the Psalm would be read or recited for the dead. For the first time I really listened to the words and I thought, "Hey! This isn't just for dead people! This is a reminder to us all about how much the living God dwells with us and wants us to dwell with Him."
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - For many years, I thought that the twenty-third Psalm was only for the dead. This was probably due to a tremendous over-exposure to television funerals where the Psalm would be read or recited for the dead. One particularly poignant incident was on a 'Little House on the Prairie' episode when Charles Ingalls recites it to himself after they lose an infant son (it's a two-parter, but well worth the time invested if you can catch the re-run). So I had this perception due to television and well, honestly, I guess a lack of really listening to the words of the twenty-third Psalm.
Recently, Matthew Kelly spoke at our parish. First, let me say, it was awesome! I just started my Mass journal this week and for anyone who hasn't heard of this idea, you should check it out. More importantly, however, he told a story in which he recited the twenty-third Psalm. For the first time I really listened to the words and I thought, "Hey! This isn't just for dead people! This is a reminder to us all about how much the living God dwells with us and wants us to dwell with Him. Curse you Michael Landon!" (I'm kidding about the cursing Michael Landon part, by the way)
So I reflected on it for a while, took some notes, and this is what I came up with. Forgive me because I am not a theologian, but I was reminded at Mass today that as Catholic Christians, we are all baptized as Prophets, Priests and Kings and that God does not call the qualified, He qualifies those that He calls. So here goes...
"1:The LORD is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack."
If we put our trust in the Lord, He will guide us and provide for us. It is sometimes difficult to see how He is doing this for us, but that is because it is so often through such ordinary means. The job that you hate still provides for your family. Or maybe in difficult times someone you least expect to do so, steps up and gives you the push you need in the right direction. These are all the mechanisms of God's love for us working through others. And when we let Him live in our hearts as well, we become that mechanism to others because by listening for God's direction we allow Him to put us right where he needs us. Remember when you feel you are struggling with the 'needs' of this world, that God has plans for us; "For I know well the plans I have in mind for you-oracle of the LORD-plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope." (Jer. 29:11)
"2:In green pastures he makes me lie down;
to still waters he leads me;
3:he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths
for the sake of his name."
By leading us to a bounty that satisfies all of our needs, God leads us to true peace. A place where we can rest and 'recharge' in comfort. It was only God who could provide the bread that would satisfy all of our hunger and the drink that would mean we never thirst again. Only the 'Good Shepherd' could lead us to the green pastures and the safe waters. Pursuing or following anything else is temporary and fleeting. And when we do wander, it is He who leads us along the right paths. For following His ways leads us to righteousness. In short, the path leads back to Him, because He wants us in His love. Think of the prodigal son who spent his inheritance from his father on the debauchery of this world, but by thinking of his father's ways and humbling himself, he returned to a bountiful feast and overwhelming joy. His father had desired his return ever since the day he left. And when he returned, his father was ecstatic! This is God's joy when we put aside the ways that lead away from His love and seek our way back through His paths.
"4:Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me."
It is a difficult world to live in as people of faith. And I don't mean the real or perceived 'assault on Christianity'. I refer to the shinier distractions of our world. This is not a world that wants to keep us on the path to righteousness. From the acceptance and availability of pornography to the pressures and expectations that have driven us from a real understanding of chastity and modesty.... and that's just how attractive this world makes sexual sin appear. We have rampant greed and a total lack of humility or charity. We have become a society centered on the 'self' to a point where we have diminished the miracle of new life to a 'choice'.
But we must remember that if we hear the Shepherd, if we recognize His voice, then He will guide us. Sometimes it will be a gentle nudge with the staff, but sometimes it is a loving reprimand from the rod. Remember the unexpected 'push' I mentioned? Well sometimes those pushes are not so subtle and are applied by a foot to our backside. They may sting a bit at the time, but when we look back, sometimes we see that a kick in the butt was just there to keep us on track.
"5:You set a table before me
in front of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows."
If we follow God's ways, we will have joy. It is that simple. God will shower us with His love and it will be apparent to everyone who sees us. He does not set this banquet before us to inspire envy in our enemies. He does it to show His love for us. And sometimes when others see the joy that love brings us, they too will return to His love.
He anoints us all as a sign that He has chosen us as beloved and special in His eyes. From the moment we exist, God has a plan for us. His cup for us is overflowing with love and blessings for us. We only need to trust Him, reach out, and take the cup.
"6:Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me
all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of the LORD
for endless days."
When we live seeking God's will, we increase the good and love that surrounds us. So it follows that goodness and mercy would pursue us, but negativity will get out of the race. I, for one, need to work on this as I have been playing the role of Eeyore in our family's Winnie the Pooh production for a while now. But if I can trust in the Lord and hear His plan for me, I know He will lead me to true peace in this world. And when my time comes, He will lead me to His house, and I will dwell there in the place He has prepared for me, for endless days.
Our Savior called some of the apostles by saying simply, "Follow me."
Sure, it sounds a lot easier than it really is, but I have a feeling that it is so worth it! Come on, let's pursue it together. Let's get to know the Shepherd and not just memorize the words.
Note: Psalm 23 and Jeremiah 29:11 are from the translation used on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (www.usccb.org)
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