After two catechetical teachings devoted to the meaning of the Easter celebrations, we are resuming our reflection on morning prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours. Tuesday of the fourth week includes Psalm 101, which we have just heard.
This meditation paints the portrait of the ideal political ruler, whose model in life should be the way God governs the world: working in an upright way based on perfect moral integrity and a vigorous commitment to fighting injustice. This text is now offered as a plan for the life of the faithful as they begin their workday and begin to relate to their neighbors. It is a plan based on “love and justice” (see verse 1), which is expressed along two broad moral lines of thought.
The first is called the “way of integrity,” which is oriented to exalting our personal choices in life that are made “with integrity of heart,” or perfect righteousness of conscience (see verse 2).
On one hand, positive reference is made to the great moral virtues that illuminate the “court” or “house,” that is, the just man's household (see verse 2): wisdom, which helps to fully understand and judge properly; innocence, which is purity of heart and of life; and finally, integrity of conscience, which does not tolerate any compromise with evil.
The ideal political ruler should work in an upright way based on perfect moral integrity and a vigorous commitment to fighting injustice.
On the other hand, the psalmist introduces an obligation that has a negative overtone. This is the struggle against every form of wickedness and injustice in order to keep every perversion of a moral order far from our homes and the choices we make (see verses 3-4).
As St. Basil, one of the great Fathers of the Eastern Church, writes in his work called Baptism, “not even an instant's pleasure that contaminates one's thoughts should disturb those who have been buried with Christ in a death like his” (Opere Ascetiche, Turin, 1980, p. 548).
The Rejection of Evil
The second line of thought is developed in the last part of the psalm (see verses 5-8). It specifies the importance of those talents that are more typical of public and social behaivior. Here, too, the essential points are listed for living a life intent on rejecting evil sharply and firmly.
First of all, there is the struggle against slander and secret denunciation, which is a fundamental commitment in a society based on oral communication, which attributes special importance to the role of speech in interpersonal relationships. The king, who also exercised the role of judge, announces that he will use the utmost severity in this struggle: He will reduce the slanderer to silence, that is, destroy him (see verse 5). Afterward, he rejects all arrogance and haughtiness; he refuses the company and counsel of those who always act deceitfully and untruthfully. Finally, the king makes known the way in which he will choose his “companions” (see verse 6), who are his ministers. He will carefully select them from “the faithful of the land.” He wishes to surround himself with people of integrity and refuse to have any contact with anyone “who practices deceit” (see verse 7).
The last verse of this psalm is particularly forceful. It might be a source of perplexity for the Christian reader, since it speaks about wholesale destruction: “Each morning I clear the wicked from the land and rid the Lord's city of all evildoers” (verse 8). However, it is important to remember one thing: The person who is speaking in this way is not just any ordinary person but the king, who is ultimately responsible for justice in the land. He uses these words to express in an exaggerated way his unrelenting commitment to combating crime, a duty that is shared by all those who have responsibility for public affairs.
Clearly the job of being an avenger is not the duty of every citizen! Therefore, if individuals among the faithful wish to apply these words from the psalm to themselves, they must do so in an analogical sense by deciding every morning to uproot from their own hearts and conduct the weeds of corruption, violence, perversion and wickedness, as well as every form of selfishness and injustice.
The Primacy of Love
Let us conclude our meditation by returning to the verse at the beginning of the psalm: “I sing of love and justice” (verse 1). In his Commentaries on the Psalms, Eusebius of Caesarea, an early Christian writer, emphasizes the primacy of love over justice, however necessary it may be: “I will sing of your mercy and your judgment, showing the way in which you usually act: not by judging first and then having mercy, but by having mercy first and then judging, sentencing with clemency and mercy.
“For this reason I, myself, by exercising mercy and judgment toward my neighbor, dare to draw near and sing psalms to you. Aware, therefore, that one must act like this, I keep my ways immaculate and innocent, convinced that in this way you will be pleased with my singing psalms through good works” (PG23, 1241).