Psalm 27, like many of the non-penitential psalms, gives upon first reading a very triumphant impression. Against all foes we will prevail because God is on our side; we wish to dwell in the house of the Lord all our lives, the better to profit from this almighty advantage. The attitude strikes the reader as verging on haughty, foolishly unaware of how easy it is to lapse into sin. The only risk, it seems, is that God will withdraw His hand from us or turn us over to our enemies, from both of which we ask Him to refrain.
But this is clearly not at all the sense if we read it more attentively. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” This is not at all the motto of the Pharisee inflamed with pride, although the tragedy of his situation is that he might believe it is. This is the cry of the man who has remember of what he is made and whither he will be returning. He knows that without God’s assistance he can do nothing of any supernatural value. He prevails over the devil, often by the skin of his teeth, only because God’s grace has supported him. The triumphant tone we detect comes not from esteeming ourselves highly but rather from despising ourselves and recognizing what dreadful things we might have been led to do had God not strengthened our resolve.
“That I may see the delight of the Lord, and may visit his temple.” This utter dependence on God applies not only in the case of avoiding sin but also in the good works and almsgiving we commit to doing during Lent. These are vital, of course, but done in a haughty spirit they defeat the purpose they were meant to serve. We have to resist the temptation to serve our fellow man out of mere natural energy rather than out of supernatural charity, that queen of the virtues. If our service is not founded in the interior life, it is nothing but an attempt to hold ourselves up by our own bootstraps, which is as much a spiritual fallacy as a logical one. Rather it must always be God Who lifts our heads above our enemies so that we might properly see those whom we are commanded to love.
By Liam Warner ’20. Liam is a junior in Adams concentrating in Classics.