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Psalms of God’s Tenderness – Psalm 34

Ed Hahnenberg

 Psalm 34

I will bless the LORD at all times; praise shall be always in my mouth.

My soul will glory in the LORD that the poor may hear and be glad.

Magnify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together.

I sought the LORD, who answered me, delivered me from all my fears.

Look to God that you may be radiant with joy and your faces may not blush for shame.

In my misfortune I called, the LORD heard and saved me from all distress.

The angel of the LORD, who encamps with them, delivers all who fear God.

Learn to savor how good the LORD is; happy are those who take refuge in him.

Fear the LORD, you holy ones; nothing is lacking to those who fear him.

The powerful grow poor and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

When the just cry out, the LORD hears and rescues them from all distress.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted, saves those whose spirit is crushed.

Many are the troubles of the just, but the LORD delivers from them all.

God watches over all their bones; not a one shall be broken.

Evil will slay the wicked; those who hate the just are condemned.

The LORD redeems loyal servants; no one is condemned whose refuge is God.

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I sought the LORD, who answered me, delivered me from all my fears.

Fear can be a paralyzing force. It can immobilize one to a state of inaction or it can mobilize the brain, psychologists tells us, to “fight or flee.” If we fear the judgment of God for our past sins, St. Ignatius of Antioch, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, has some good advice for us: “For either let us fear the wrath to come, or let us love the grace which is present — either this or that; only be it ours to be found in Christ Jesus unto life which is life indeed. Apart from Him, let nothing dazzle you.” Obviously, Ignatius would prefer we “love the grace which is present,” the grace of God’s generous forgiveness. Even the guilt we may still feel for our transgressions should, upon their forgiveness, be as “nothing” to bother us. God forgives and forgets. In Psalm 102, the psalmist says of this forgiving God: “As far as the east is from the west, so far have our sins been removed from us.” I am a believer in the doctrine of Purgatory; however, I think of Purgatory as a place of suffering, of purgation, or, at the very least, a temporary place where our happiness is not complete due to temporal punishment due to our forgiven sins. And yet, I think of how cold it can get in the Midwest during winter. If a child is freezing outside the warmth of his home, and he knocks on the door to ask his father to let him in, what kind of a father would not rush to the door to let him in. Jesus put it another way in Luke’s Gospel:

“Suppose one of you has a friend to -whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him, ‘and he says in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’ I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?

Or again, Jesus’ words to the criminal on the cross: “This day you will be with me in paradise.” I have this conviction that if we love much, much will be forgiven, and so I don’t fear Purgatory. If it is to be for me, then the justice of God will be satisfied. However, God’s tender love can overpower, in an instant, any fear we have of being separated from Him in Purgatory.

In my misfortune I called, the LORD heard and saved me from all distress.

Misfortune can strike any of us without warning. The case of Gabriel Gargam is probably one of the best known of all the thousands of cures at Lourdes, partly because he was so well known at the Shrine for half a century, partly because it was a twofold healing, spiritual and physical. He obtained a position in the postal service and was carrying out his duties as a sorter in December of 1899, when the train on which he was traveling from Bordeaux to Paris collided with another train, running at 50 miles per hour. Gargam was thrown fifty-two feet from the train. He lay in the snow, badly injured and unconscious for seven hours. He was paralyzed from the waist down. He was barely alive when lifted onto a stretcher. Taken to a hospital, his existence for some time was a living death. After eight months he had wasted away to a mere skeleton, weighing seventy-eight pounds, although normally a big man. His feet became gangrenous. He could take no solid food and was obliged to take nourishment by a tube. Previous to the accident Gargam had not been to Church for fifteen years. His aunt, who was a nun of the Order of the Sacred Heart, begged him to go to Lourdes. He refused. She continued her appeals to him to place himself in the hands of Our Lady of Lourdes. He was deaf to all her prayers. After continuous pleading of his mother he consented to go to Lourdes. It was now two years since the accident, and not for a moment had he left his bed all that time. He was carried on a stretcher to the train. The exertion caused him to faint, and for a full hour he was unconscious. They were on the point of abandoning the pilgrimage, as it looked as if he would die on the way, but the mother insisted, and the journey was made. Arrived at Lourdes, he went to confession and received Holy Communion. There was no change in his condition. Later he was carried to the miraculous pool and tenderly placed in its waters – no effect. Rather a bad effect resulted, for the exertion threw him into a swoon and he lay apparently dead. After a time, as he did not revive, they thought him dead. Sorrowfully they wheeled the carriage back to the hotel. On the way back they saw the procession of the Blessed Sacrament approaching. They stood aside to let it pass, having placed a cloth over the face of the man whom they supposed to be dead. As the priest passed carrying the Sacred Host, he pronounced Benediction over the sorrowful group around the covered body. Soon there was a movement from under the covering. To the amazement of the bystanders, the body raised itself to a sitting posture. While the family were looking on dumbfounded and the spectators gazed in amazement, Gargam said in a full, strong voice that he wanted to get up. They thought that it was a delirium before death, and tried to soothe him, but he was not to be restrained. He got up and stood erect, walked a few paces and said that he was cured. The multitude looked in wonder, and then fell on their knees and thanked God for this new sign of His power at the Shrine of His Blessed Mother. As Gargam had on him only invalid’s clothes, he returned to the carriage and was wheeled back to the hotel. There he was soon dressed, and proceeded to walk about as if nothing had ever ailed him. For two years hardly any food had passed his lips but now he sat down to the table and ate a hearty meal. On August 20th, 1901, sixty prominent doctors examined Gargam. Without stating the nature of the cure, they pronounced him entirely cured.

The angel of the LORD, who encamps with them, delivers all who fear God.

One evening I was watching a popular TV series on unexplained miracles. The story involved a young teenage girl who was on a trip out west. Perhaps it was the Grand Canyon … I can’t remember. However, it seems that as she peered over the edge of a precipice, she lost her balance and fell … to the horror of her friends. Later, her mother, hundreds of miles away, felt that something awful had happened at the same time as her daughter’s fall. The mother, with only the sense of foreboding about her daughter, said a quick prayer to the daughter’s guardian angel. At the scene of the tragedy, the girl’s friends looked over the edge of the cliff and feared the worst. Then, suddenly, the girl appeared up on the ledge several yards away. When asked how she got there, the girl replied that she felt a “presence” catch her on her fall and lift her back up to safety. “The angel of the Lord delivers all who fear God.”

Learn to savor how good the LORD is; happy are those who take refuge in him.

To “savor” something is to taste and enjoy it. We savor good wine; we savor the Thanksgiving turkey; we savor ice cream or an expensive chocolate candy. I remember a priest telling how he feared that, if he became a priest, he would have to give up prime rib and filet mignon dinners. Well, he became a priest and to his surprise, he got invited repeatedly to … you guessed it … restaurants for prime rib and filet mignon dinners. I have a passion of another sort … I like to ride motorcycles. Well, in my last year before I retired as a teacher, I bought a touring bike. However, the one I chose was not all that comfortable, but it was new and the price was right. I secretly wished I had bought another variety… an upgrade, classy model with cruise control and a radio. Almost a year to the day, on a trip back from giving a seminar on the Bible, and after a trip of 180 miles in the mist and rain, I lost control of the bike on a turn and totaled the bike. I was very thankful that all I suffered was my hurt pride and a sprained finger. However, the insurance company covered the entire cost of the bike and allowed me to purchase the bike I really wanted. Some people think I’m crazy to ride a cycle, but for me it is a taste of earthly bliss and I do a lot of meditating on it, believe it or not. I got to Denver from Michigan on my new bike and had intended to travel to Nevada. To make a long story short, the cover picture of this book is of the Grand Canyon (my wife and I got there by other means!) … I guess I will always “savor” the mud on my face and in my mouth I got when I slid into that wet, blanket of mud as I totaled that first bike … God has strange ways of making us happy when we take refuge in him!

When the just cry out, the LORD hears and rescues them from all distress.

Mother Teresa, the acclaimed saint of our time … I don’t think she needed the process of canonization, just as St. Francis of Assisi was never formally canonized … was in Beirut, Lebanon in 1982, during fierce fighting between Israelis and Palestinians. There was a hospital with young children in it. She saw the need to rescue them before their lives would be in irreversible danger. Everyone patiently listened to her requests to get the children out, but told her it was too dangerous to send rescue vehicles to them. She persisted in her prayer to Jesus, the lover of children, and miraculously there was a break in the fighting and the children were rescued. This saint of God never gave up on the cries of those children for help, and God, in his tenderness, provided the timing and safe passage for the innocent.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted, saves those whose spirit is crushed.

I love this verse. Of particular memory to me is a young Spanish-speaking girl who was part of a migrant family which had come to Michigan to pick cherries. I remember the scene as if it were yesterday. I had been informed that her brother had been killed in an automobile accident. Since the family worked on my father’s farm, it fell to me to inform the family of the tragedy. The parents left for the hospital, leaving me in charge of three of their children. I remember taking them down to our dock on the lake. Maria was about twelve, and I explained to her that her brother had died. Tears streamed down her face in moments of silence that followed. I tried to explain that he was in a better place. Her only question was: “Is he with Jesus?” If there ever was an innocent child who was crushed in spirit, it was Maria then and there. I always have felt that Jesus was also very close to Maria on that dock, holding her by the hand and comforting her brokenhearted spirit.

Many are the troubles of the just, but the LORD delivers from them all.

My father was a long-suffering man, whose dying began when he retired at 60. For the next twenty years he endured one illness after another, from diabetes to prostate surgery, from two hip replacements to several ambulance emergency trips to the hospital for life-threatening heart problems. He was, however, a fan of Francis Thompson … especially Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven.” He would remind me that I was being pursued by the Hound of Heaven. I, too, during that time, was enduring struggles within myself, raising a family of eight children on an income that was inadequate. (Teaching in a Catholic school was not the land of milk and honey… we actually used powdered milk for many years, although I did raise bees, so we had the honey!) Anyway, the last verses of the poem bespeak of the Lord’s tenderness in delivering the just, though sometimes misguided, soul from all its troubles:

Alack, thou knowest not 

How little worthy of

Any love thou art!

Whom wilt thou find to

Love ignoble thee,

Same Me, Save only Me?

All which I took from

Thee I did but take,

Not for thy harms,

But just that thou

Mightest seek it in My arms.

All which thy child’s mistake

Fancies as lost, I have

Stored for thee at home:

Rise, clasp My hand, and come.

The LORD redeems loyal servants; no one is condemned whose refuge is God.

The picture is crystal clear in the gospel: The woman is caught in the act of adultery. She is not exactly a loyal servant of the Lord. She is prostrate on the ground, an object of derision and scorn. Her action is revealed to the world till the end of time. Yet the tender and loving Savior gives her refuge from certain death. His poignant question is followed by a counsel she never forgot: “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I. Go, and sin no more.” The woman was not falsely accused. She was guilty of the sin. However, God takes her part against the righteous.  He,  after all,  came to  save sinners. In our lives … and most of us are loyal servants … we can expect to be falsely accused for little things, even serious things. How do we respond? Angrily? Defensively? Revengefully? The tender Godhead is asking us to turn to him as the only sure refuge. If we do, this world may treat us as a pariah, but not the One who really matters.

(To be continued from my book, Psalms of God’s Tenderness, ISBN-13: 978-1420821253)

  • http://www.facebook.com/sam.tamp Sam Tamp

    John 15:21-27 (New Living Translation)

    21
    The people of the world will hate you because you belong to me, for they don’t know God who sent me.

    22
    They would not be guilty if I had not come and spoken to them. But now they have no excuse for their sin.

    23
    Anyone who hates me hates my Father, too.

    24
    If I hadn’t done such miraculous signs
    among them that no one else could do, they would not be counted guilty.
    But as it is, they saw all that I did and yet hated both of us — me and
    my Father.

    25
    This has fulfilled what the Scriptures said: ‘They hated me without cause.’ ”

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