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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Hypocrisy in Prayer

Earlier today, when praying the Office of Readings, I was growing very, very discouraged. I absolutely love praying the Liturgy of the Hours, but there is one psalm which, every time I pray it or similar ones, I cringe.

Psalm 18

He rewarded me because I was just,
repaid me, for my hands were clean,
for I have kept the way of the Lord
and have not fallen away from my God.

For his judgments are all before me;
I have never neglected his commands.
I have always been upright before him;
I have kept myself from guilt.

He repaid me because I was just
and my hands were clean in his eyes.

Uh...right. Every time I pray that psalm, I apologize. I pray the words because they are there, but I know the words are empty shells. They mean nothing. I'm a hypocrite, for I have never lived up to that psalm. I don't think I've ONCE prayed it without the following dialogue:

He rewarded me because I was just, (When have I been just?)
repaid me, for my hands were clean, (My hands are filthy!)
for I have kept the way of the Lord (No, I haven't)
and have not fallen away from my God. (Yes, I have)

For his judgments are all before me; (He holds up a powerful mirror)
I have never neglected his commands. (I've neglected all of them)
I have always been upright before him; (Am I supposed to pray this with a straight face?)
I have kept myself from guilt. ( I haven't. Guiltier than Judas, here.)

He repaid me because I was just (Again...when have I been just?)
and my hands were clean in his eyes. (my hands are rarely clean)

You get the picture.

I don't honestly know how to pray those kinds of psalms. They seem arrogant to me, for really...who, in the history of the world (barring our Blessed Mother) has EVER been able to truly claim those words? We can claim to have TRIED, but...who doesn't fail, over and over again?

So it was that I spent some time on that psalm today, turning it over in my mind. The psalms are very human, and maybe sometimes we pray what we wish we could say, even when we know we haven't lived up to our end of the bargain. I know that when I am faced with my own hypocrisy, I cringe, and perhaps that's intended to force us to honestly examine our consciences.

One of my pitfalls, I've learned, is that I become easily discouraged, never seeming to make any spiritual progress, and so I become a bit...well...gloomy. This afternoon as I prayed, I nearly broke down in tears and had to remember that contrition is a good thing, recognizing our failures is a good thing...and that Jesus hung on a cross because I can't get my life together. He can, though, and He doesn't want us to focus on what we've done wrong, but rather, rejoice in His Mercy. As a priest once told me, "Don't give the devil a back door!"

My problem is that's exactly what I do: I give the devil a back door, through which he enters to discourage me and focus on the lost ground. And every time I do that, I take my eyes from Christ, forget His love, doubt in his Love, and...I quit praying.

Yup. one of the signs that I need to go to Confession is that I quit praying, or find it nearly impossible. I find I can barely address God at all, and isn't that what the devil wants? Doesn't he want to make us believe we can't go to Our Father in Heaven? Doesn't he want us to doubt in his mercy?

I've also at times considered NOT going to Confession if I'm dealing with a habitual sin that seems to be rooted deeply. Sometimes I think that maybe I'm just not sorrowful enough, or maybe not at all, and so I shouldn't go to Confession. I begin to resign myself to attending Mass without going to Communion until I can have the proper attitude towards my sin and confess it fully and sincerely and with whatever I might finally judge is the proper amount of contrition.

You see, of course, the problem in that thought process, don't you?

And there, the words of another priest come back to me, and save me from myself. One day in discussing teens and confession, specifically, he brought up the necessity of their being able to confess anonymously. He noted that when he hears their confessions behind the screen versus face to face, the serious sins are more likely to be confessed (and not tiptoed around) when they know he can't see them. And he observed, "When they stop confessing those sins...then we've lost them."

That's not just true of teens. It's true of adults, too. Because if we stop confessing our sins...then we've forfeited ourselves to the enemy. It is better to go to Confession, and maybe confess our imperfect or lack of contrition, than not to go at all. We need grace, and if we are truly struggling with sorrow for sin, avoiding the Sacrament will not help us find that sorrow.

So I will go to Confession, praying for perfect contrition, real sorrow for my sin, lest I be one of those who are lost.

I'll pray the psalms that make me cringe, and thank God that I CAN cringe, for it means that even if my conscience has been damaged, it's still working somehow, and God's grace is present in my life, drawing me to Him.

So, yes, I'm a hypocrite when I pray that I've toed the line and have remained upright in God's eyes. He and I both know that I can make no such claim. What God does is sets the bar, gives us a goal to reach. Do we reach it on the first try? Never. It takes time, we need reminders, and we don't pray those psalms in order to destroy hope, but rather, to better know ourselves in relation to God, and in recognition of our sinfulness, realize what we must do if we truly seek to become holy.

I have a very, very long ways to go.


Raphael said...

this one really hit home. I know exactly what you're talking about in this post

oremus pro invicem

Julia said...

My confessor reminds me at almost every confession that the devil works through discouragement.

Contrition and feelings of weakness that bring you to the foot of the cross are gifts from God; drowning guilt and feelings of hopelessness that keep you from God are works of the devil.

It sounds so obvious and yet it's so hard to recognize the difference when you're facing your own feelings of guilt and unworthiness. At least that's my problem (one of many, I assure you!).

Quantitative Metathesis said...

I know exactly what you mean, Adoro! And here is a helpful pearl from the priest who first taught me the Liturgy of the Hours:

"It is the prayer of the whole Church. Some days, you will be experiencing what the psalm is singing. Some days, you will be voicing what someone else in the Church is experiencing. It is not your personal is larger than you...and so in a sense it doesn't matter whether the words ring true for you at the moment you say them. What matters is that you are praying along with the whole Church as she lives out her life of grace."

Mark said...

St Augustine reminds us that, when we pray the psalms, we're often praying in the person of Christ, or in the person of the Church, rather than as ourselves.

For Augustine, we are members of the mystical body of which Christ is the head, with the result that we pray some psalms in the person of the head and others in the person of the body.

It's more or less impossible (as you rightly say) to pray the psalm you mention as yourself, but it *is* possible to pray it in the person of Christ, who is the head of the body of which we are truly members - after all, as Aquinas says, whatever can be said of the head of the mystical body can also be said of the members.

For Augustine, we are in Christ and Christ is in us, and, when we pray that particular psalm (and others like it), Christ the head is praying in us his members, and we the members are praying in Christ the head.

Brother Charles said...

Thanks for the honest and humble post, Adoro. I riffed on it here:

Hidden One said...


youknowwho said...

My confessor also warns me that discouragement is a tool of the devil. And, he reminds me that it's in times of discouragement and temptation that communion is needed the MOST... he reminds me "it's when you're sickest that you need the (divine) physician most. Communion is medicine for your soul!"

Adoro said...

youknowwho ~ You still need to be in a state of grace to go to Communion. I know I don't suffer from scrupulosity. Thus if there is any doubt, or certain knowledge,'s best to abstain from Holy Communion so as not to profane the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ.

(I know you know that, but stating that for the benefit of those who need the reminder and might come across this post)

We all need the reminder.

Mark said...

To enlarge on what (the other) Mark said, read the psalm as Jesus speaking as the second Person of the Holy Trinity, in his sacred humanity, or as His Body, the Church.

Read Augustine's commentary:

Exposition on Psalm 18
To the end, for the servant of the Lord, David himself.

1. That is, for the strong of hand, Christ in His Manhood. [...]

2. Christ, then, and the Church, that is, whole Christ, the Head and the Body, says here, I will love You, O Lord, My strength [18:1] [...]

Reno said...

I think you are copping out and you are even more of a hypocrite. You mention that to confess anonymously is better than not at all. How about instead of hiding behind a screen and confessing anonymously to a stranger, you confess to those you hurt face to face? Do you really think that you will bring yourself solace in a confession booth? That's the problem when people rely upon religion to make them feel better- rather than taking responsibility for their actions. I don't know what it is you must confess, but your conscience should be your guide, rather than a religion you so often question.

pennyante said...

Adoro, though I love the psalms, I also have had problems relating to the psalms, especially those that call down vengence on others. However, Quan. Met.'s remarks were very helpful to me:

" Some days, you will be experiencing what the psalm is singing. Some days, you will be voicing what someone else in the Church is experiencing. It is not your personal is larger than you...and so in a sense it doesn't matter whether the words ring true for you at the moment you say them. What matters is that you are praying along with the whole Church as she lives out her life of grace."

As for your other points, I really relate to much of what you have written. I have faced similar issues and often don't know how to resolve them...

When I told my SD that I was disappointed in myself, he said: "You know why? You are trying to do it all by yourself, instead of letting God work in you."

So true...

Adoro said...

Pennyante~ Click on Fr. Charle's link...he links to this post and gives an incredible explanation, which I found to be very helpful

(By the way... QM is now in a Passionist Monastery, a cloistered Nun. Please pray for her and for all her dear Sisters!)

To make finding Father's post easy and because blogger is inconsistent in showing linkbacks:

This will help you!

Adoro said...

Reno ~ Yes, I'm a hypocrite and so are you. Welcome to the club.

What makes you think I DON'T address my sins to those I have hurt by them, face to face? That's a separate discussion.

We don't go to Confession to bring OURSELVES solace, although that is sometimes a nice side-effect. We go to Confession to be reconciled to GOD and the Church recognizing that we have offended Him.

The Priest stands in the person of Christ; it is Christ who forgives us, if we are contrite and truly wish to amend our lives.

You don't know what it is I must confess? ARe you expecting me to give you a shopping list of my sins?

I'm not going to do that. But I can tell you my conscience has been and is being formed according to absolute Truth, and going to Confession helps to do that because it makes me more and more responsible for my actions, my thoughts, my relationship with God.

Whether I go behind a screen or face to face to the priest isn't important, for is Christ who hears the Confession, and no one can hide from Him. Not even you, even if you deny His existence.