JUNE 25, 2008 2 KINGS: 8–13; 23:1–3; MATTHEW 7:15–20
INSTRUCT ME, O LORD, IN THE WAY OF YOUR STATUTES THAT I MAY EXACTLY OBSERVE THEM (Ps.119:13).This verse is from the longest of the Psalms; it is composed of 176 verses, whereas the next longest contains but 72. Each verse treats of the Torah using various terms, some nine in all, that bring out some aspect of the inspired teaching. In this verse the word used is *8(, statutes, prescriptions. Just as a physician writes a prescription for a patient that must be followed exactly, so also the Lord prescribes in his teaching precise behavior for the healing and health of his children. This Psalm in each of its verses, celebrates the Torah in such a fervent manner that it is representative of the piety of the saints of Israel through the centuries and continues to the present time among the pious believers, the Hasidim. The pious not only among the Jewish Hasidim, but Catholic saints have prayed this Psalm from earliest times, as did Jesus himself, who would have heard his Bl. Mother as she too prayed it. We ourselves just sang it following today’s first reading. It was aptly chosen in response to this passage from the book of Kings that recounts the finding, by the high-priest Hilkiah, of the Book of the Law in the temple, where it had been ignored and then its very existence was forgotten during the reign of the apostate Mannaseh.
Already in pre-Christian times the Septuagint had translated the word %9&; (torah) which means instruction, direction, and law by the term <@:@H (nomos) the sense of which is custom, ordinance. Consequently, by loss of the idea of teaching this reading lends itself to a more exterior concept than does the Hebrew torah. Jesus certainly thought of God’s torah as being interior, as a form of instruction that reshaped the individual who receive and practiced it. In fact, earlier in this same chapter of Saint Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says: “Treat others the way you would have them treat you; this sums up the law and the prophets” (7:12) Clearly, so to describe law is to situate its intent within; its observance is an expression of recognition of God’s holiness as well as his power. . When asked which is the greatest of the laws, the Lord identifies law even more emphatically with the inner disposition of the heart: “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart . . . and your neighbor as yourself.”
As our Cistercian Fathers understood so well, law together with its observances, for those who put their hope and trust in the Lord are not restrictions of liberty imposed from without; rather, the laws of God are so many ways of advancing in a love that is full of insight into the true nature of God. As Saint Bernard asserts “The unspotted law of the Lord is that love which does not seek what is useful to itself, but what is good for the many. It is called the law of the Lord either because he lives by it or because nobody possesses it except as a gift from him. It does not seem absurd for me to say God lives by a law, because it is nothing else than charity” (De Deo diligendo 12.35).
Contemplative prayer is the practice that functions as to effect the realization of this radical truth that because God lives by the law of love we are conformed to Him only through assimilating this law through practicing the expressions of this law with a willing heart. Such a way of living out the requirements of the divine law is formative precisely in the measure that it is done with love. This teaching was lived out by Saint Bernard and his disciples and before long led to still further insight that was formulated by Abbot Isaac of Stella who came to understand that the law of love according to which God himself lives is nothing other than the Holy Spirit. The secret of fulfillment and the way to perfect happiness is revealed in this teaching. For it is by the love that is the Spirit of God himself that we attain to the full liberty of the children of God that unites all the energy and powers of our self in adhering to the highest good, God our Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Amen._
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger