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How long, O Lord?


In mid-January 2020 who would have thought that two years on we would still be encountering the unpredictability of the COVID pandemic? Who might have been bold enough to predict that fear and uncertainty would upstage certainty and hope as the default position of our lives? Not many, and yet for good or ill this is what surrounds us

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The prayer book of Jesus, and the heartbeat of Christian prayer, the Psalms, captures every single aspect of human hope, despair and emotion.

An echo of Psalm 13 might just be what is spinning slowly around in our thoughts, hearts and prayer:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I bear grief in my soul,

have sorrow in my heart all day long?

How long shall my enemy prevail over me?

(Psalm 13:1-3)

It is easy to just stop there, and we need to do that from time to time and experience this ‘how long’ question that rises in our hearts and seeks an immediate and sustaining answer. It can be tempting to linger longer on the being forgotten, which nobody actually enjoys. We need to remember that we cannot actually answer this question ourselves. Even though these past two years have felt like a combination of Advent (waiting) and Lent (austerity) combined, both are seasons of preparation for the great seasons of Easter and Christmas.

If we have learnt to be patient, have we learnt to be more compassionate? Has our gaze turned inward actually connected us more deeply with the God of all things and deepened our communion with our sisters and brothers?

Yet we must not linger on that ‘how long’, for the Psalm continues after another pleading paragraph:

As for me, I trust in your merciful love

Let my heart rejoice in your salvation.

I will sing to the Lord who has been bountiful with me.

(Psalm 13:6)

It is no wonder then that the Psalms, sadly so little appreciated, bear not only our sorrow and grief, but also our hope. They sing our lament and balance our affliction. Maybe a project for 2022 is to pray a psalm a day. There are 150 Psalms, if you take out Sunday and other holy days that means each year we could pray each psalm twice! Any takers?

If we are to take the Psalmist’s logic to heart, then yes, we must speak out our lament. The ‘how long, O Lord?’ is a deep and real prayer that many of us can share in at the moment. Yet we do not stay there, the joy of the gift of faith is that it leads us to the end of the Psalm, ‘As for me, I trust in your merciful love’.

Again this is a most personal statement, as all faith is, but never private. This statement shows us that which faith leads toward, namely trust. And while trust has been, like the Commonwealth budget at the moment, deep in debt, it is the most important quality that is needed for each missionary disciple. Notice too that it is not a blind trust in something vague, but rather something particular, that is, ‘your merciful love’. Pope Francis, some six years ago, reminded us in the Year of Mercy that we are to be ‘Merciful like the Father’ and that ‘Jesus is the face of the  Father’s mercy’. Was that Year of Mercy teaching us something that we needed to recall six years later? Might we pray more fervently ‘As for me, I trust in your merciful love’.

Might this small phrase become something of a daily prayer for each of us. It is a great little prayer, easy to remember, personal and deep and what’s more a great antidote to fear. The first part of the Psalm acknowledges and speaks of our lament, the second of our hope. Any takers?

I have spoken a lot about the Psalms and prayer in this column, for unless we do so ours is no different from any other organisation. Prayer, especially the Psalms allows us to put God at the centre from which all goodness flows. Dare we? We must.

Looking forward to some of the things we know will happen in 2022, in a super-cycle of elections, there will be both a State and Federal election this year. We pray for the wisdom to elect the leaders we need and especially those who have an eye for the excluded, vulnerable and marginalised, all too often forgotten and invisible. We pray that we might elect leaders who build up the common good and not lead us into the every widening gap between rich and poor. Pope Francis’ encyclicals would furnish many good underlying ideas of what this looks like. Any takers?

Within our faith community there are many joys and challenges that await: establishing our new Diocesan Pastoral Council and renewing the Bishop’s Council of Priests and other Diocesan bodies; and our second Diocesan assembly later in the year as well as the second session of the Plenary Council to name but a few. Whatever the year might bring, may we summon up the courage to pray ‘As for me, I trust in your merciful love’. Any takers?

God is good, good indeed.


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