What if Pope Francis Knows Something?
How Gaudete et Exsultate Utilizes Mystical Biblical Structures
Quietly stationed below the surface layers of the Exhortation, there is another immense realm waiting to be discovered and understood in Gaudete et Exsultate.
This new terrain, this uncharted continent that we have just begun discovering, concerns mystical realities in the Bible. These mystical realities are largely connected with our human evolution. And among these mysteries, a large set of these realities are actual, discernable mystical structures hidden in the Book of Psalms. These Mystical Psalm Structures have been secretly discussed by at least 20 or 30 saints of Christianity, and possibly many more have known of them. Additionally, almost every page of the New Testament is brimming over with their authors’ conscious, though hidden, references to these mystical structures. This essay linked here gives a brief overview of the forthcoming book on the Mystical Psalm Structures:
It is clear that Pope Francis knows the Mystical Psalm Structures and has woven allusions to them throughout his writings. His references to the Mystical Psalm Structures will be a major part of this third essay.
[A double caveat regarding this third essay: This reflection will be more dense than the previous two essays on Gaudete et Exsultate. If you have not read those two essays, it would make sense to read them before proceeding here.]
Besides referencing the Mystical Psalm Structures, there are other ways in which superlative Christian writers have systematically alluded to the Psalms:
A technique of the great ancient authors of the Church is to write treatises in short numbered paragraphs. The individual paragraphs of their works will correspond with the Biblical Psalm of the same number. (These collections are sometimes called “Centuries,” because they were frequently composed of 100 short nugget paragraphs/sentences. Authors such as St. Maximus Confessor would occasionally string several Centuries together.) The works of (St.) Evagrius Ponticus, the Apophthegmata of the ancient Egyptian desert monks, St. Benedict, St. Maximus Confessor, the Philokalia, (St.) Gregory Palamas, and the newly discovered Gospel of Thomas all have this ordering feature of their works: the numbers of their paragraphs correspond to the Psalm of the same number. (The Gospel of Philip, discovered at Egypt’s Nag Hammadi with the Gospel of Thomas, may also have this feature.) Although the Gospel of Thomas is not part of the Bible, it is a beautiful work. While he was the Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI mentioned the Gospel of Thomas, and encourages us Bible-lovers to read this treasure from the desert.
So, there are two qualities of the Book of Psalms that we are considering here:
1) First, there are Mystical Structures hidden in the Psalms.
Regarding these Mystical Structures, most New Testament authors are consciously aware of them, as are at least 20 or 30 Christians of the last 2000 years.
In their writings, they often give subtle hints about the Mystical Psalm Structures, but never speak of them openly.
2) Second, there is the fact that later writers who write theological treatises or groups of poems in numbered sequences often are in a direct 1-to-1 relationship with the Psalms of the Bible. Their own numbered paragraphs or poems will be in parallel dialogue with the Psalm of the same number.
Pope Francis is aware of both sets of these literary-mystical Christian writing methods, both of which are connected to the Psalms.
Pope Francis constructs his Exhortation with plentiful allusions to both of these ancient patterns of Christian literary architecture. Some of his paragraphs have very strong resonances with the Psalms of the same number. We shall consider this in Part I of the essay. In Part II, we shall consider how Pope Francis makes many allusions to the Mystical Psalm Structures themselves. Part III of the essay discusses how Pope Francis is speaking of our growth in the Holy Spirit, in stunning new ways among humanity today. This has a beginning in Paul’s discussion of our earlier evolution in Romans 7 & 8.
Simple Parallel Connections between Paragraphs of Gaudete et Exsultate
And the Psalms of the Same Number
This part of the essay will show simple parallel connections between the numbered paragraphs of the Exhortation and the Psalms of the same number.
Paragraph 1 and Psalm 1
Paragraph 1 of the Exhortation mentions “happiness,” as do the Beatitudes; and the Beatitudes are the overt Scriptural architectural backbone of the Exhortation. The Beatitudes, which are the first words of the Sermon on the Mount, are also the very first “quoted” words of Jesus’ public preaching in the Bible. And the very first word that Jesus speaks to all of us is “Happy.” It is the first word of the Sermon on the Mount, and the first word of all 8 (9) Beatitudes that begin that great communication.
By beginning in this way, the Beatitudes amplify the Psalms—Psalm 1 also begins with the word “happy.” Thus, like the entirety of Jesus’ public teaching, the entire Book of Psalms begins with the word “happy.” This deep initial connection between the Psalms and the Beatitudes is known to Pope Francis, who puts the word “happiness” into his Paragraph #1. He underscores the “firstness” of things in Biblical orders later in the same paragraph: “The call to holiness is present in various ways from the very first pages of the Bible. (Emphasis added, as in all quotations below.)”
Paragraph 8 and Psalm 8
In Paragraph 8 Pope Francis presents a quotation from Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). Here is Paragraph 8 in its entirety; Additionally, the highlighted sections of this paragraph carry strong resonances with Psalm 8:
“Let us be spurred on by the signs of holiness that the Lord shows us through the humblest members of that people which ‘shares also in Christ’s prophetic office, speaking abroad a living witness to him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity’. We should consider the fact that, as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross suggests, real history is made by so many of them. As she writes:
‘The greatest figures of prophecy and sanctity step forth out of the darkest night. But for the most part, the formative stream of the mystical life remains invisible. Certainly the most decisive turning points in world history are substantially co-determined by souls whom no history book ever mentions. And we will only find out about those souls to whom we owe the decisive turning points in our personal lives on the day when all that is hidden is revealed’.”
And here is Psalm 8, which features a young father (or mother) of a new family in ancient Palestine venturing outside in the middle of the night to look up at the wonders of the nighttime sky. Some of the verses that echo with Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross’s statement are similarly highlighted:
“O Lord our God, how great is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and nursing infants, you have founded a bulwark against your foes, to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established (this is the young parent going outside and gazing at the night sky);
What are human beings that you are mindful of them?
Or, mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than angels (such is the power of the hidden saints’ intercession that Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross speaks of),
And crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
You have put all things under their feet,
All sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes along the (hidden) pathways of the seas.
O Lord our God, how great is your name in all the earth!”
Notice how between both Paragraphs/Psalms 1 and 8, the connections that they share are not overpowering or burdensome. Rather, they are deft and subtle—just like our communication with the Holy Spirit, when we have entered into that more mature phase of our life. The Spirit much prefers understatement, lightness of touch, art, good taste, and exquisite simplicity—not blunt stuff. Additionally, by training us in artistry of communication, it is easier for the Holy Spirit to remain completely hidden while giving us messages in the middle of the busy world.
Paragraphs 120-134 and the Psalms of Ascents (Psalms 120-134)
Whereas ancient and medieval authors such as Evagrius, the Gospel of Thomas, and Gregory Palamas often make many textual connections between all of their individual paragraphs and the Psalm of the same number, Pope Francis does not activate this style of writing quite so much as these earlier writers. When he does use this style of parallel commentary on the Psalms, perhaps it is because he is communicating a truth to us, and emphasizing something of greater importance.
For the sake of brevity, let’s jump to the second half of the Apostolic Exhortation, so that we can see a remarkable maneuver by Pope Francis.
The Psalms of Ascents, Psalms 120-134, a group of 15 Psalms, celebrate pilgrimage, as attested to by many Psalm scholars. What kind of pilgrimage? For the ancient Hebrews, it was the pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem. For Christians, they can represent the many kinds of pilgrimages that Christians engage in; additionally, it may also speak of the Spiritual growth, the ongoing journey in the Holy Spirit, that Christians engage in, and which Vatican II and Pope Francis exhort us to take up.
As Gaudete et Exsultate has shown us, the way to climb the Spiritual Ladder, the way to become closer co-operators with the Holy Spirit, the way to grow, is to practice holiness. I believe that the reason why Pope Francis places special emphasis upon the paragraphs of the Exhortation that align with the Psalms of Ascents (Psalms 120-134) is this: Pope Francis is showing us how the pursuit of holiness will take us into deeper relationship with God, and reveal new things to us:
Paragraphs 120-121 and Psalms 120-121
Psalm 120 is a fiery, angry Psalm; all people encounter these emotions. At such times, perhaps we resolve to undertake a pilgrimage, realizing that we need fresh air, renewal, and further development, spiritually. At the beginning of this Psalm, the Psalmist asks God for deliverance. This deliverance is “from lying lips,/ from a deceitful tongue.” (120:2) The next two verses speak of the revenge and retribution that the Psalmist would like to see visited upon his/her antagonists. There is some rather vicious war technology added at the end of the second verse:
What shall be given to you?
And what more shall be done to you,
You deceitful tongue?
A warrior’s sharp arrows,
With glowing coals of the broom tree!
The Psalmist is imagining arrows being shot into his/her enemies. Some of these arrows are quite hot, inflicting extra pain. To call these wishes of the Psalmist “cruel” might be accurate; it is certainly going in that direction, but perhaps the envisioned action does not actually arrive at that violent end: Many of the angry Psalms (or their technical name: “cursing Psalms”) are intended to transform our hot anger into prayer. By doing this, they take our difficult emotions and transform them into greater Spiritual capacity, and holiness, for us. By speaking our anger into prayer, we also avoid physical violence by the metamorphosis of our anger into prayer, aided by the Psalms.
Pope Francis’ use of Psalm 120 is a stroke of Christian genius. In this part of the Exhortation, Pope Francis has been speaking of humility, and how humility is important for the growth that we need to register on the Spiritual journey. To grow in humility requires humiliations, and, as we know, there are many humiliations provided to us in the course of life. Additionally, the Psalmist of Psalm 120 undergoes humiliations. Speaking to this, here is Paragraph 120:
“I am not saying that such humiliation is pleasant, for that would be masochism, but that it is a way of imitating Jesus and growing in union with him. This is incomprehensible on a purely natural level, and the world mocks any such notion. Instead, it is a grace to be sought in prayer: ‘Lord, when humiliations come, help me to know that I am following in your footsteps’.”
Pope Francis is showing us how we grow in the way of humility. On “a purely natural level,” humility does not make much sense. It actually might go against our natural drives and inclinations. However, it is both highly human and Spiritual, as everyone with experience of the Spiritual walk will attest. The Pope is showing how, in the light of Jesus and the New Testament, we rise above earlier, aggressive attitudes of more primitive humanity, such as the hopes for violent revenge demonstrated by the ferociously angry Israelite. No, we humans are meant to become creatures of love. God will take care of any corrective actions that need to be made in the offenders’ souls, so we don’t have to worry about retribution. God is also about Justice, and God will see Justice done. Our job is to grow in humility; with this growth comes the ability to handle more Spiritual energy, more of the Spirit’s gift to us, which requires patience, observation, and lots of learning. Humility helps us to bear more of the Spirit’s power.
Psalm 120 ends with the Psalmist realizing he/she must move their physical location to a place that is more conducive to their truer potential being; hence, the theme of pilgrimage/migration is struck:
…Woe is me, that I am an alien in Meshech,
That I must live among the tents of Kedar.
Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace.
I am (for) peace;
But when I speak, they are for war.
Perhaps it is this implicit desire for a change of scenery, and a chance to grow, that impels the Psalmist on the pilgrimage that the next 14 shir hammalot (Songs of Ascents) will celebrate as the voyaging pilgrims sing them on their way.
Paragraph 120 of the Exhortation ends with a similar call to pilgrimage, albeit a more Spiritual journey: “Lord, when humiliations come, help me to know that I am following in your footsteps.” We all walk along and follow the Psalmist’s path.
So important is this lesson that Pope Francis continues speaking of our growth beyond the violent attitudes of Psalm 120 well into the next paragraph, 121:
“To act in this way presumes a heart set at peace by Christ, freed from the aggressiveness born of overweening egotism. That same peacefulness, the fruit of grace, makes it possible to preserve our inner trust and persevere in goodness . . .”
Pope Francis continues this Paragraph with three quotations from the Psalms!:
“ . . . ‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death’ (Ps 23:4) or ‘a host encamp against me’ (Ps 27:3). Standing firm in the Lord, the Rock, we can sing: ‘In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety’(Ps 4:8).”
All three of these Psalm quotations chime nicely with Psalm 120.
Pope Francis then shifts gears to the more developed humanity of the New Testament, with three quotations reflecting humanity’s advances in Christ:
“Christ, in a word, ‘is our peace’ (Eph 2:14); he came ‘to guide our feet into the way of peace ’ (Lk 1:79) [note the subtle theme of pilgrimage here, in the stunning turning from the Old Testament to the New Testament motif at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel]. As he told Saint Faustina Kowalska, ‘[Humanity] will not have peace until it turns with trust to my mercy.’ So let us not fall into the temptation of looking for security in success, vain pleasures, possessions, power over others or social status. Jesus says, ‘My peace I give to you; I do not give it to you as the world gives peace’ (Jn 14:27).”
In addition to continuing the discussion of the development of humanity beyond primitive attitudes shown in Psalm 120, Paragraph 121 also has literary connections to its numerical parallel, Psalm 121, which the reader can easily find. At this time, let us move to the next pair.
Paragraph 122 and Psalm 122
Psalm 122 celebrates the physical setting forth on pilgrimage, and even has an earlier memory of the joy of physically arriving at the end of a pilgrimage.
Then, in present time, the middle of the Psalm looks forward to arriving at Jerusalem in this current pilgrimage.
The end of Psalm 122 begins to have notions of love shared with others—that is, it has hints of going beyond mere ‘physical’ pilgrimage—however, this love is very much limited to the physically local tribe:
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
‘May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
And security within your towers.’
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.”
There is gladness at the beginning of the Psalm, and at the end of the Psalm there is an awareness of other people (still within the tribe) and hopes for their happiness. This is an early, positive step in our human evolution. It shows slight expansions in human care for other people.
Of course, with Christianity, we progress much further.
In Paragraph 122, Pope Francis begins by reminding us that Saints have evolved well beyond mere primitive attitudes: “Far from being timid, morose, acerbic, or melancholy, or putting on a dreary face, the saints are joyful and full of good humor. Though completely realistic, they radiate a positive and hopeful spirit.”
Pope Francis then cites three verses from the New Testament again; additionally, he has a quotation from Saint Thomas Aquinas that completely reconfigures the goal of ‘pilgrimage’, according to our human evolution: we do not merely arrive at a destination, a physical place, or even at a “beloved” person; rather, we arrive at a truly developmental destination, that is, we arrive at greater human and spiritual evolution, by becoming human beings of love, and as such, we simply cannot refrain from exuding joy:
“This Christian life is ‘joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Rom 14:17), for ‘the necessary result of the love of charity is joy; since every lover rejoices at being united to the beloved…the effect of charity is joy’.” Aquinas is saying that our true pilgrimage—our growth in love—results in irrepressible joy.
The ancient Psalmist of Psalm 122 rejoiced to physically arrive in Jerusalem annually.
By way of contrast, the Christian described in Paragraph 122 rejoices to evolve in love and in relationship with God. We see how meaningful is the dialogue between Pope Francis and the Psalms.
Indeed, the Christian, despite the challenges the Word calls us to engage, finds more meaning and purpose in the Word than in the armed walls of Jerusalem: “Having received the beautiful gift of God’s word, we embrace it ‘in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit’ (1 Thess 1:6). If we allow the Lord to draw us out of our shell and change our lives, then we can do as Saint Paul tells us: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; I say again, rejoice!’ (Phil 4:4).”
Indeed, Paragraph 122 is the first paragraph of the section of Chapter Four entitled ‘Joy and a Sense of Humor’.
What Pope Francis is about to do with Psalm 123 is indeed joyful and humorous:
Paragraph 123 and Psalm 123
Psalm 123 begs the Lord for mercy.
Perhaps one of the reasons for the urgency of this ancient plea is that the Psalmist finds oneself beset by haughty and scornful people; an occasional motif of the Psalms is that decent people are often targeted by the scorn of the proud.
Pope Francis, however, implies that none of that is to be worried about any longer, because of an event of far greater consequence: For the arrival of Jesus Christ is itself the culmination of all of these Songs of Ascents, the shir hammalot, Psalms 120-134! Indeed, this paragraph has a dense collection of poetic images that echo the physical landscapes of the Psalms of Ascents; however, the images in this paragraph are taken from other books of the Old Testament. The themes of ‘song’, ‘mountain’, ‘Zion’, ‘Jerusalem’, and more, are present both in Paragraph 123 and the Psalms of Ascents; so why does Pope Francis take this paragraph’s images from other parts of the Old Testament? Because the entire Old Testament points to the joyful Advent of Jesus Christ! [This tiny new essay shows how the Psalms of Ascents also show Jesus in the womb of Mary: https://scripturefinds.wordpress.com/2018/11/15/a-new-biblical-discovery-the-moment-of-conception-hidden-in-the-book-of-psalms/ ] To show this, Pope Francis rallies the support of the Prophets Zechariah, multiple authors in the Book of Isaiah, and Nehemiah to show how the entire Old Testament is focused on the arrival of Jesus Christ. The very notion of the Ascent to Jerusalem, the very idea of human evolution and pilgrimage, is shown to culminate in Jesus Christ.
In fact, Pope Francis chooses a text from Zechariah to celebrate the ancient Israelites waiting for Christ, who is “your king!” Here is Paragraph 123:
“The prophets proclaimed the times of Jesus, in which we now live, as a revelation of joy. ‘Shout and sing for joy!’ (Is 12:6). ‘Get you up to a high mountain, O herald of good tidings to Zion; lift up your voice with strength, O herald of good tidings to Jerusalem!’ (Is 40:9). ‘Break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people, and he will have compassion on his afflicted’ (Is 49:13). ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he’ (Zech 9:9). Nor should we forget Nehemiah’s exhortation: ‘Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!’ (8:10).”
Again, this powerfully shows how the paragraphs of the Exhortation are alluding to the Psalms of the same numbers, while, at the same time, showing how all things are recapitulated in Jesus Christ.
Paragraph 124 and Psalm 124
Psalm 124 rehearses the deliverance of the ancient Israelites from many perilous situations. Near the end of this short Psalm is a memorable stanza:
“Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us
as prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
The snare is broken,
And we have escaped.”
The people are rejoicing in the light of their escape, their journey out of the trap. Additionally, this may remind us of the escape from the dragon by the woman clothed with the sun, from the Book of Revelation, as the woman gives birth.
In fact, Pope Francis begins Paragraph 124 by speaking of Mary; and he quotes from the brilliant infancy narrative of St. Luke’s Gospel.
The Holy Spirit is the seal of our life of Resurrection in Christ. It is the seal of the Church. Pope Francis notes, “and Jesus himself ‘rejoiced in the Holy Spirit’ (Lk 10:21). As he passed by, ‘all the people rejoiced’ (Lk 13:17).”
Paragraph 125 and Psalm 125
Psalm 125 begins with a stolid image of physical security, representing a deeper security that comes from abiding in the Lord:
“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved, but abides for ever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people,
from this time on and for evermore…”
Pope Francis speaks of this security in Paragraph 125, yet tailors it to a more profound security, that of the Spirit, not mere physical security:
“Hard times may come, when the cross casts its shadow, yet nothing can destroy the supernatural joy that ‘adapts and changes, but always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.’ That joy brings deep security, serene hope and a spiritual fulfillment that the world cannot understand or appreciate.”
The end of Psalm 125 speaks of the Psalmist’s hope that God will do good things to good people, and severely punish the wicked. But the Christian attitude has evolved far beyond such earlier, undeveloped wishes. Pope Francis, fittingly, speaks of “ . . . spiritual fulfillment that the world cannot understand or appreciate.”
In the mystical architecture of the Book of Psalms, which is a marvelous system that is far beyond the capacities of the human redactors/editors to have woven into the Book of Psalms, the phrase from Psalm 125 describing the “mountains surrounding Jerusalem” has deep importance. Right after Psalm 125 we come to the truest heart of the Psalter: Psalms 126, 127, and 128.
These three Psalms are the deepest heart of the Psalter for several reasons. There are dense networks of key terms in these three Psalms, and developments and themes that make these poem-prayer-songs the theological nexus of the Book of Psalms.
Additionally, when we shall (later) bring in the Mystical Psalm Structures, we see that these three Psalms are central to those structures. Psalm 126 is a Pillar Psalm and a Ladder Psalm. Psalm 128 is the most important Psalm of the Interwoven Menorahs. As such, Psalm 128 pulls Psalm 127 into its gravitational density, and shares much meaning with its neighbor, Psalm 127, within the powerful setting of the Interwoven Menorahs.
Let us now reflect upon how Pope Francis discusses these three Psalms in his Paragraphs 126, 127, and 128:
126, 127, and 128
Psalm 126 is a celebratory Psalm that recalls the return of the Hebrews from the Babylonian Captivity. The Psalm has dreaming, laughter, and shouts of joy:
“When YHWH restored the captivity of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter
And our tongue with shouts of joy.”
Full stop. This is almost incredible. Here in this ancient writing, we actually find a lighthearted use of the word “dream,” along with actual “laughter”?!?! But this is almost preposterous! Ancient writing never talks like this! Modern pop songs do, but ancient writing simply does not! Yet here it is in the center of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is as if this is making a brief, yet prophetic, prelude to something great that our developing history is unfurling at this very moment . . .
Pope Francis catches this in the first sentence of Paragraph 126:
“Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of humor.” Of course, this reflects well the “laughter” of Psalm 126, one of very few times that genuine laughter appears in the entire Old Testament.
Turning to Paragraphs 127 and 128, we see that both contain the word ‘happy’ or ‘happiness’. This is perfectly in parallel with Psalms 127 and 128, both of which contain the immensely important word for ‘happy’ or ‘blessed’, ashre. In the 18 Psalms that make up the Interwoven Menorahs, the word ashre occurs with a 300% greater frequency than in the other 132 Psalms of the Psalter. (Psalm 128 is also the most important of the Menorah Psalms, and has this word twice.)
Additionally, at the center of the Menorahs, and surrounded by the metaphorical mountains of security, there is the beautiful human family. Pope Francis makes hints of this in his Paragraphs 127 and 128. Let us consider both groups:
Paragraph 127 and Psalm 127
Like Psalm 125, Psalm 127 also speaks of security. Yet here in Psalm 127, there is a deeper sense of the dependency of humanity upon God:
“Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The guard keeps watch in vain.”
The Psalm then proceeds to realize that all is a gift from God. A rather free translation/interpretation of the final strophe of verse 2 says “God blesses God’s beloved children while they sleep,” which is something good for children and adults to think about. Here is a more literal translation of verse 2 in its entirety:
“It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives sleep to his beloved.”
Setting a model for all Christians, Saint Francis of Assisi learned and lived this divine simplicity of direct relationship with God. Gracefully transforming the impoverished appearance of ‘bread’ from the Psalm, Pope Francis writes:
“With the love of a father, God tells us: ‘My son, treat yourself well…. Do not deprive yourself of a happy day’ (Sir 14:11, 14). He wants us to be positive, grateful and uncomplicated: ‘In the day of prosperity, be joyful … God created human beings straightforward, but they have devised many schemes’ (Eccl 7:14.29). Whatever the case, we should remain resilient and imitate Saint Paul: ‘I have learned to be content with what I have’ (Phil 4:11). Saint Francis of Assisi lived by this; he could be overwhelmed with gratitude before a piece of hard bread or joyfully praise God simply for the breeze that caressed his face.”
Similarly, the Exhortation’s language of ‘father’ and ‘son’ forms echoes with the images at the end of the Psalm:
“Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
Are the sons of one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has
His quiver full of them.
He shall not be put to shame
When he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”
Paragraph 128 and Psalm 128
We arrive at the humble, majestic, and glorious Psalm 128.
As mentioned above, Psalm 128 is the central Psalm of the Interwoven Menorahs of the Mystical Psalm Structures. Indeed, Psalm 128 is the central Psalm of the entire Psalter.
Pope Francis has referred previously to this amazing Psalm:
In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, or, The Joy of Love, Pope Francis begins the Exhortation with a full discussion of Psalm 128. He quotes the Psalm in its entirety at the beginning of Amoris Laetitia. Let’s do the same:
“Happy is everyone who fears the Lord,
who walks in his ways.
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
You shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
Within the chambers of your house,
Your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
Thus shall the man be blessed
Who fears the Lord.
The Lord bless you from Zion.
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
All the days of your life.
May you see your children’s children.
Peace upon Israel!”
Reminding us that neither money nor consumerism is the key to life, Pope Francis writes in Paragraph 128:
“This is not the joy held out by today individualistic and consumerist culture. Consumerism only bloats the heart. It can offer occasional and passing pleasures, but not joy. Here I am speaking of a joy lived in communion which shares and is shared, since ‘there is more happiness in giving than in receiving’ (Acts 20:35) and ‘God loves a cheerful giver’ (2 Cor 9:7).”
Then, like Psalm 128, he underscores family:
“Fraternal love increases our capacity for joy, since it makes us capable of rejoicing in the good of others . . .”
Here is the blessed table of Psalm 128. Another wonder of Psalm 128 is that it overturns the curse from the Garden of Eden, when humanity was cursed to draw its bread by hard and long work (see again Psalm 127) from the unyielding earth.
Christianity teaches that we really undo the primordial curse when we learn to live in love, when we realize that all people are our sisters and brothers. This is the great pivot, this is the fulcrum over which humanity converts from defensive fearful animals into beings of love who treasure all people in the local and global community.
Here, in the second half of Paragraph 128, observe with what skill Pope Francis has woven in how the full fruition of our human joy is directly related to our capacity to love our neighbor:
“Fraternal love increases our capacity for joy, since it makes us capable of rejoicing in the good of others: ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice’ (Rom 12:15). ‘We rejoice when we are weak and you are strong’ (2 Cor 13:9). On the other hand, when we ‘focus primarily on our own needs, we condemn ourselves to a joyless existence’.”
Rejoicing for others, we realize unity with them.
This is amazing. This is loving our neighbor as ourself, because our neighbor is ourself. Rejoicing for others teaches and incarnates this unity!
Pope Francis brilliantly transforms the center of the Interwoven Menorahs into the evolutionary development of “fraternal love,” a love that is shared not only between members of the same family, no, not even among mere members of the same tribe or larger ethnic group, or nation—no, Pope Francis is describing the development of love, fraternal love, among all of humanity, wherein we realize that everyone is our sister, our brother.
At this point, although there are Paragraphs 129-134 and Psalms 129-134 to consider as the remaining “Psalms of Ascents” pairs, let us finish this section here. We have arrived at the center of this group of Psalms, and seen how, with the lens of Christ, these Psalms speak of human global unity.
The Interwoven Menorahs, the Beatitudes, and the Exhortation
The first part of this essay has considered the one-to-one correspondence between the paragraphs of Gaudete et Exsultate, and the Psalms of the same number.
We shall now consider how Gaudete et Exsultate is also in conversation with the Mystical Psalm Structures.
The Beatitudes are the centerpiece of Gaudete et Exsultate. The Beatitudes are the subject of the central chapter of the treatise, and Beatific themes run throughout the entire document. The title of the Exhortation is “Rejoice and Be Glad,” which is from Matthew 5:12, from the “9th Beatitude” that turns from the 3rd person address of first 8 Beatitudes to the direct 2nd person address of the 9th Beatitude: “Blessed are YOU, when . . . rejoice and be glad (gaudete et exsultate) . . .”
Of the 5 chapters of the Exhortation, the central 3rd chapter is a brilliant exegesis of the Beatitudes, in which Pope Francis reveals his vast pastoral skill and experience. And abundant references to the Beatitudes echo throughout the Exhortation.
Let’s reflect for a moment upon the placement of the Beatitudes in the Bible.
The New Testament begins with Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus’ first real public words are the Sermon on the Mount, the great discourse on the mild mountain, the conferring of the New Torah, the Torah of Love and Human Evolution, upon Humanity.
The Sermon on the Mount takes up three chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, Chapters 5-7.
Although Jesus’ first Biblical spoken words occur in Chapter 3 of Matthew, the Beatitudes are his first truly public, projected speech, meant for multiple immediate hearers, and us, to reflect upon. The Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes. So the first truly public words of Jesus in the Bible are the Beatitudes. The importance of this cannot be emphasized enough.
To prove that this is the case, let’s review his words prior to the Beatitudes:
-As mentioned above, Jesus’ first spoken words in the Bible are a brief exchange with John the Baptist at Matthew 3:15. One of the things going on here is a transition from the Law of the Old Testament to the Love that is taught in the New Testament. (Zechariah fulfills a similar role of transition in Luke’s Gospel, as do Anna and Simeon—all three people are in the old temple.)
-In Chapter 4 of Matthew, Jesus argues with, and refutes, the devil (see Mt 4:1-11).
-When John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus went to Capernaum. “From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’.” (Mt 4:17) This shows that Jesus continues the work of John the Baptist, who had the same spoken words attributed to him (Mt 3:2). However, it is difficult to imagine that this is a transcript of Jesus’ actual words. He certainly did not go about repeating this phrase to everyone he saw at Capernaum.
So what are we to make of these words? Perhaps Jesus is working out his call, his vocation, and the way in which he is being guided to speak in public. Perhaps Jesus, like many holy people, has to work out the way in which he is being called to speak the Word. His words may have been wonderful at first, as we might expect, but perhaps he was working out the more full messages that God was leading him to speak. By the time he speaks the Sermon on the Mount, the message is far more powerful and integrated than it could have been at earlier stages. (Also, the repetition of the words spoken by his older cousin John may reflect teaching that both of them learned at Qumran or at another community.)
-Next, Jesus calls the first disciples (see Mt 4:18-22).
-Then, Matthew tells us that, “He (Jesus) went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all of Syria…” (Mt 4:23-24a). We are not told precisely what he said.
Then we arrive at the Sermon on the Mount. These are the first literal words that Matthew tells to us that are spoken by Jesus and intended to be heard by many people. So they are the truly first publicly-intended words of Jesus Christ in the Bible.
The Beatitudes all begin with the Greek word ‘makarioi’, which means ‘blessed’ or ‘happy’. So, the first word Jesus speaks in public is ‘blessed’ or ‘happy’. This reminds us directly of Psalm 1, the first word of which is ‘blessed’ or ‘happy’, translating the Hebrew word ‘ashre’. The Book of Psalms begins, “Ashre ha-ish asher . . .” or, “Blessed the person who . . .” (Psalm 1:1)
The fact that this first word, makarioi, ‘happy’, is constantly repeated for a total of 9 (nine) appearances in the first 9 (nine) verses of the Sermon on the Mount is stunning. It speaks of the importance of beginnings, and of the caring return to our beginnings, and to the power of beginnings to steer future development.
The connections between the Psalms and the Beatitudes are beginning to sound and echo, as a new music begins to weave and reverberate through and between the centuries. The great religious feat of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, his transformation of the entire Torah from Mount Sinai into the Christian Gospel of Love, begins with the transformation of a great hidden mystical treasure of the Book of Psalms.
First, some comparisons between the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai and Jesus’ teaching of deep fraternal love in the Sermon on the Mount:
-Only Moses can go up the mountain. If anyone touches the mountain, even an animal, they will be struck dead. On the other hand, Jesus sits with all the people, and teaches them. As the dignity of the human person begins rising far beyond animals (the Gospel is largely about the liberation and growth of the Human Person), Jesus is teaching all of us the evolutionary path of love, which, of course, includes deep concern for the animals.
-There is lightning, thunder, and storm clouds on the mountain as Moses is in conversation with God. On the other hand, Jesus speaks calmly with the people, caringly teaching them. People are calmly gathered, and listen calmly.
-The torah that was handed down at Mount Sinai taught hatred of enemies, as well as the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” teaching, which, of course, the torah is borrowing from the ancient Code of Hammurabi. Jesus overturns this violence with the teaching on love.
-God, at the literary level, is the author of the torah, given at Mount Sinai. Moses copied it directly from God. On the contrary, a well-formed human-divine being, named Jesus, is the giver of the Sermon on Mount; he was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and was a co-author of that discourse.
-The torah has lots of punishments. The Sermon on the Mount is about God’s mercy and love becoming human mercy and love.
-The torah is God’s commands being given down, down to Moses, who came down the mountain, and gave them down to the people; they’ve been given down every generation since. The Sermon on the Mount is about humanity being invited to ascend to a more Jesus-like posture through love.
A Mystical Structure: The Interwoven Menorahs, in the Psalms and Beatitudes
One of the hidden mystical wonders of the Book of Psalms is a pair of 9-branched menorahs interwoven with each other. Some themes of this series of 18 Psalms, all of which are multiples of 8 (Psalms 8, 16, 24, 32, . . . , 136, 144), are Light, Family-Community, and Blessedness-Happiness. The Interwoven Menorahs are very human, and intentionally celebrate human community, as does the Sermon on the Mount.
Again, here is the draft of the introduction to the forthcoming book about the Mystical Psalm Structures, which discusses the Intertwined Menorahs:
The nine branches of each New Menorah is a positive growth, a development, from the old 7-branch menorah, especially the one that was housed in the temple. The Book of Maccabees discusses the cleansing of the temple after a desecration, and the miracle of the lasting lamp oil for the rededication ceremony—there was only enough sacred oil to last for one day, but it miraculously burned for all 8 days of the festival. This event became celebrated much later as Hanukkah, when the temple was re-dedicated (the word “hanukkat” appears in the superscription of Psalm 30). Much later, this feast was celebrated with the 9-branch menorahs of Hanukkah that we see today. The primary place of celebration of Hanukkah is the human home, the family house. That is why we often see 9-branch menorahs in house windows, gardens, and front lawns at Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.
A new candle is lit for each of the 8 days of Hanukkah; the 9th candle, which is movable, is called the shamash, and it is used to light the other candles, then placed at the center (usually) of the menorah when the other candles have been lit. A new candle is lit each new day, so that on the 8th and final day of Hanukkah, all 9 candles are lit. The incremental growth of the light, and of the menorah, is important.
The growth from 7 to 9 represents human development and growth, either healthy natural growth, or a more artfully crafted human grafting onto the original tree or vine. People around the world have joined Christianity. Every person’s story is a unique victory and a new prism, a new facet, of the Gospel of Jesus. Every person is a unique member of the Body of Christ, a new branch on the growing olive tree of Salvation History.
As mentioned above, Light, Family-Community, and Blessedness-Happiness are themes of the 18 Psalms that make up the pair of 9-branched menorahs hidden in the Psalms.
In these 18 Psalms, the word “light” appears with 350% more frequency than in the other 132 Psalms. Obviously, the theme of light goes well with candles or menorahs.
The Beatitude word ashre, “happy” or “blessed,” appears also with 300% greater frequency than in the other 132 Psalms. There are 9 (nine) appearances of ashre in the 18 Psalms of the menorahs, one for each branch of a 9-branched menorah. These 9 Hebrew ashre match the 9 Greek makarioi of the Beatitudes.
Additionally, discussions of family and community appear much more frequently in the 18 Psalms of the menorahs (while this fact is obvious upon reading the Psalms, it is difficult to put a specific percentage to it).
The Interwoven Menorahs represent how human individuals, human families, human communities, and the entire human race, is evolving to become the city on the hill, the light of the world/cosmos, that Jesus mentions right after the Beatitudes.
The New Testament re-presents the Interwoven Menorahs of the Mystical Psalm Structures in many ways. The most remarkable of these is in the first public words of Jesus in the Bible, the Beatitudes.
There are 9 Beatitudes that begin the Sermon on the Mount. Each Beatitude begins with the word makarioi, which is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew ashre. So there are 9 ashre in the Menorah Psalms, and 9 makarioi in the Beatitudes.
Beatitudes 1 and 8 have the same promise, “theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. (5:3; 5:10)” This intentionally forms the outermost pair of candles matching each other in the menorah. And this also establishes a pattern for the interior pairs of the menorah, in that they also match and balance each other.
The first 8 Beatitudes are 3rd Person: Blessed are they. The 9th Beatitude turns to us in direct 2nd Person address: Blessed are You. We are meant to be the shamash, the 9th candle that lights all the others. Each of us is meant to bring the Christian message of love to earth, igniting the great and glorious menorah that is the entire human family, present wherever there are people on the earth.
Right after the Beatitudes, Jesus speaks of light, and of human community: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden (5:14).” Then Jesus actually gets more specific, and mentions the menorah! “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand (luxnian), and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (5:15-16).” The Hebrew word menorah means “lampstand”; in the Greek, it is the word luxnian! Jesus says the word “menorah” right after speaking the Beatitudes!
The “bushel basket” is Jesus’ humorous commentary on the old stone temple, with the never-ending flow of blood from the constant sacrifices, and requisite blood sewers.
Jesus would replace that fixation on sacrificed victims and streaming blood with human growth in mercy. This is what humanity looks like when we are evolving: light and love.
A future humanity can only be about love.
When we look again at Pope Francis’ earlier books, we see all these themes therein as well.
For example, in the introductory paragraphs of Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), he says that “. . . the Spirit guides us toward the entire truth (cf. Jn 16:13) . . .” The Spirit guides us as we become to temple of God, and as we become the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit (these are frequent themes of Paul’s Scriptures). This is taken up in the second essay of this current series on the more recent Gaudete et Exsultate.
There is also a lengthy discussion, just below the surface level of the text, in Amoris Laetitia on the material we have just discussed: It is about how the Intertwined Menorahs of the Mystical Psalm Structures take on a stunning new beauty in the Beatitudes, a pinnacle of Scripture, the statements of Beatitude that are Jesus Christ’s first words addressed to the us as a community.
In the Interwoven Menorahs, Psalm 128 is the most important of the 18 Menorah Psalms; and Psalm 128 is the central Psalm of the Bible. Many great spiritual themes come together in a great dense microcosm of Reality in this tiny Psalm. Some of the themes: Happy-Blessed (ashre); woman-and-man; marriage; the home; children; the family table; growth, fruit, garden, life; the operation of true and meaningful poetry; the first Creation and the ongoing New Creation; a happy society; many generations of learning and loving humanity; and Jerusalem as a symbol of a united mutually-loving humanity.
Psalm 128 may be even more important than Psalm 84, which is a centerpiece of both the Ladder and the Pillar of the Mystical Psalm Structures. Additionally, as mentioned above, Psalm 128 forms a densely-woven symphony with Psalms 126 & 127 at the center of the Psalms of Ascents (Psalms 120 – 134). A quick reading of these three Psalms, 126-128, shows how many themes they share; the connections are even thicker and more multi-faceted between Psalms 127 & 128.
The entire Chapter One of Amoris Laetitia is an inspired 12-page (23 paragraphs) exegesis on Psalm 128, crafted beautifully to speak with the good work and discoveries of the Synod. The beginning of Chapter One quotes Psalm 128 in its entirety. Even before we get to Psalm 128, however, Pope Francis presents a verse from the great Argentinean poet, Jorge Luis Borges: “every home is a lampstand” (que toda casa es un candelabro/ donde las vidas de los hombres arden). (from Calle Desconocida, or, The Undiscovered Way)
Borges also knows about the Mystical Psalm Structures, one of several empowered poets whom the Holy Spirit illuminated about these Mystical literary Realities. The “lampstand” of Borges’ poem, obviously, is the lampstand/menorah that Jesus mentions directly after the Beatitudes, powerfully relating the Beatitudes to the Mystical Menorahs of the Psalms.
Here is Psalm 128:
Happy everyone who fears the Lord,
Who walks in his ways.
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
You shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
Within your house;
Your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
Thus shall the person be blessed
Who fears the Lord.
The Lord bless you from Zion.
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
All the days of your life.
May you see your children’s children.
Peace upon Israel.
Note the organic and communal growth sweetly developing throughout the Psalm. The first strophe speaks of a single (good) person who fears the Lord. (“Fear of the Lord” could be described as “awe and amazement at life’s progressions, and at our ongoing development of our personal relationship with God.”)
The second strophe speaks of a loving marriage that attains great fruitfulness. Children are seated around the table, imaged as a grove of wonderful young olive trees. The Garden of Eden has been recreated in the home, in the family. This is one of the most beautiful images of the Bible.
The third strophe speaks of the extension of the family through time and space, and the merging with larger society, even global society. “Jerusalem” may well represent the major religions of the world, such as Christianity and Islam and Buddhism, getting along in peace with each other. And “Israel” for Christians has long represented the growing Kingdom of God on earth, and human society growing in joy, peace, knowledge, and goodness.
Additionally, later in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis speaks of how pastors and the faithful must exercise judicious discernment, now more than ever before.
This also goes with the previous essays on Gaudete et Exsultate, which discuss how the discerning development of our conscience is vital to our ability to directly know the Will of God in a personal way. The direct discerning of God’s Will, by some or eventually all of the Faithful, is crucial to our ongoing evolution and existence. It is part of Vatican II’s chief theologian’s, Karl Rahner’s, call for future Christians to be mystics. This is indeed happening in the world today, as the second essay discussed.
Final Comments on the Menorahs
In the second essay of this series, we discussed four pairs of couples in 1 & 2 Peter, couples that are on the Ark of Noah. And we discussed how Pope Francis mirrors this in the naming of four couples of saintly people in Gaudete et Exsultate.
Both of these literary maneuvers, by Saint Peter and Pope Francis, are references to the Mystical Psalms Menorahs. And Jesus is the shamash, the central lighting rod, of the menorahs in both cases.
The Book of Revelation opens with the Son of Man standing among 7 menorahs. The text does not state how many branches are on the menorahs. It could be 9 branches per menorah. It could be billions, or more.
(At Revelation 11:4, two more menorahs appear, making the total 9.)
How Does the Human Person Acquire Interiority,
And, How Does Our Conscience Develop?
Our Evolution and Our Spirituality
2 Samuel 11 is a mesmerizing chapter of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). It presents how David, who had recently consolidated the kingdom, sent his army off to fight the wars of springtime, “when kings go out to fight,” while he stayed back at the palace in Jerusalem and had drinking parties and afternoon naps on the rooftop. (The forthcoming Red Line of Hope will consider David at greater depth.)
One fateful afternoon that spring, David spotted Bathsheba taking a bath. He twice abused his power by first finding out her identity, then, by having her brought to him on his roof. He either seduced or raped her. She became pregnant. He abused his power again, and had her husband, the indigenous and faithful warrior Uriah, killed intentionally on the battlefront. “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” (2 Sam 11:27)
God then sends Nathan to verbally skewer David, who is shocked, and instantly admits his guilt to God and to Nathan. Nathan says that God has already forgiven David; however, he also says that there will be some fallout from David’s sin, including the destruction of the nation of Israel. (Recall that God never liked the idea of a monarchy; see 1 Sam 8:3-22.)
Whatever God’s long-term plans might be, David is stunned by Nathan’s verbal assault, on behalf of God. David then utters the majestic and beautiful Psalm 51, the great penitential Psalm. Psalm 51 is also very evolutionary. It explores how humanity grows and advances, even through our mistakes. For people who pray the Liturgy of the Hours (the Daily Office) of the Catholic Church, we know that this great Psalm 51 is recited every Friday morning during liturgical prayer. The Daily Office of the Anglican and Episcopal Churches pray Psalm 51 many Fridays of the year as well.
Most Biblical Psalms have superscriptions, which are part of the text of Scripture. The superscription to Psalm 51 references David’s sin: “To the leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”
The basic theme of the Psalm is that of imploring God for mercy and healing. Greater human awareness and strong commitments to engage in more Godly actions are present too.
However, there is a slightly more hidden theme going on here: There is the explosion of interior language that enters into human consciousness as a result of this sin.
Psalm 51 has more language describing the interior of the human person than any other Psalm in the Bible.
We normally think of Psalm 51 as a penitential Psalm (Church Tradition recognizes 7 special “Penitential Psalms” in the Psalter, including Psalm 51), which is a good way of considering this Psalm. However, Psalm 51 is also hugely about human growth; indeed, it is entirely correct to consider Psalm 51 as a Psalm of Evolution.
There is an explosion of language that discusses the interior of the human person. This also reveals a dawning awareness of newfound processes interior to the human person.
Having set the stage for the appearance of Psalm 51, let’s review the David Story with a more comprehensive lens:
Hot air balloons have interiority, because the warm air they hold is needed to give lift to the balloon. The interiority of the balloon is requisite for its functioning.
Imagine this: David is on the roof of his palace, which is a way to say, in Biblicalese, that David was positively bloated with pride. He had enough hot air in him to send a dirigible on a random mission. There is also a great deal of profound psychological insight in what is occurring with David here. David may have suffered many things in his difficult youth. He was the youngest of 7 or 8 brothers, according to either the Samuel or Chronicles account (1 Sam 17:12-14 says that David is the youngest of 8 sons; 1 Chron 2:15 says that David is the youngest of 7 sons). Being the youngest, he would have been the worst treated among them, especially with the spark of bright liveliness and the “beautiful eyes” that David had (1 Sam 16:12). That he was excluded and probably badly mistreated by his older brothers is shown from the fact that when the Prophet Samuel goes to Jesse’s house to anoint the next king, David isn’t even there. He’s far away. Specifically, he’s out tending the flocks. He liked being out in nature, in the wilderness. He didn’t want to be around his older brothers; when he brings supplies from his father to the army, his oldest brother criticizes him (see 1 Sam 17:26-30). These judgmental words from his brother may summarize David’s fraternal/familial relations. In this, he’s a bit like Joseph of the Old Testament (see the last 14 chapters of the Book of Genesis, chapters 37-50).
After these difficult early years, David joined Saul’s army. David quickly distinguished himself in various ways, including the famous battle with Goliath. Upon entering the leadership of the army, and the inner circle of King Saul’s court, David was first loved, then jealously feared, then hated, by crazy old King Saul. Near the end of their keeping company together, Saul twice tried to pin David to the wall with a spear. And at two different times David married two of Saul’s daughters, and Saul stole both of his brides back and gave them to other men. Additionally, there was a very strong bond between David and Saul’s son Jonathan. So David has a lot of conflict in the area of sexuality. David is a conflicted person who, despite his closeness to God, had suffered much and was not perfect.
After finally fleeing from deranged Saul, he was on the run as a guerilla leader, and began wielding greater power, but without being settled. He had women, but was very much unsettled and on the move. Did he know true love?
Skipping over a great deal of the David Story, we arrive to 2 Samuel 11, when David is waking up after an afternoon nap on the palace roof and strolling about as sunset approaches—while the army is fighting and dying for him. We are approaching some of the greatest literature of the Old Testament. But David is in a time of personal turmoil and conflict here. He is sick of fighting. He knows some things about God, and wants to lead humanity into deeper relationship with God. But he is also looking for love. Or contentment. Or something.
He is restless. David is also the golden boy, and he knows it. He is close to God, and he’s consolidated the kingdom for the first and only time in history. For a nanosecond there is peace and prosperity for all, with these little annual springtime skirmishes, which help to keep the borders defined against enemies who constantly probe for weaknesses.
So why not take a vacation from the hard work of being the king in battle? Why not take some time and enjoy the benefits of all his long efforts and toil? Why not have some parties and women on the roof? Why not? David’s life has been hard. He has known suffering, probably a great deal of suffering. God loves him. David also brought the ark to Jerusalem. He can do no wrong.
And after all the hurt David suffered, especially in the area of sexuality, why not have some fun? Or why not search for a more authentic, more satisfying love?
Then he spots her! A gorgeous woman, bathing! After inquiring about who she is, he has her brought to him, and seduces (or rapes) Bathsheba on his palace roof. If it was consensual, perhaps it was the most fulfilling sex of his life. Perhaps he could know a deeper love with Bathsheba than he ever imagined. Eventually, he simply had Uriah, her husband, assassinated during a battle.
During all of this Yahweh has said nothing.
And then we come to the end of Chapter 11:
“But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” (2 Sam 11:27b)
Nathan visits David, and delivers the dagger of a verbal ambush to David’s gut. God has just burst David’s hot air balloon.
Metaphorically, David, on the roof of the palace, collapses and falls through the roof. He plummets down. He passes through the lower floors, and lands hard in the subterranean basements. He looks up, and sees the utter beauty and structure of the human soul. He utters the majestic and glorious Psalm 51.
After his sin, David learns a lot more than he previously knew; this is noteworthy, because David already had a great depth and width of experience before his famous springtime. His yet greater understanding of the human soul, and of the human person, is evident in Psalm 51.
Turning to the language of Psalm 51, we see an immense amount of description of human interiority and depth, such as never happens in the first 50 Psalms.
Here are some of the pertinent statements in Psalm 51, verses that especially discuss the developing interior of the human person.
Have mercy on me God . . . (David knows much about God, including the depths of God’s great mercy)
For I know my transgressions . . . (he has self-knowledge, a real advance)
You desire truth in the inward being;
Therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me . . .
Wash me . . .
Let me hear joy and gladness;
Let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
And do not take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
And sustain in me a willing spirit.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
The sheer amount of interiority here is stunning and new; at the time that this Psalm arrived to the ancient Hebrews, the people of that part of the world were not yet fully aware of the depth and the interior dimensions that people were capable of. This is a powerful early step forward in learning new dimensions of the inner person. (In the New Testament, amazing new vocabulary words, such as “conscience,” will enter the human conversation, expanding the horizons of our self-understanding in yet more vast ways.)
Has the discussion of the character of David and Psalm 51 revealed surprising depths within humanity? Well, the New Testament’s first writer, Paul, is going to chart far more deeply the ongoing human interior development, especially in Romans 7 & 8. Paul and Romans 7 & 8 could be considered as an icon of human evolution, in a far more mature way than David and Psalm 51. What happens here?
Paul begins Chapter 7 by dealing with the conditions under which it is right for a once-married woman to marry another man. And the condition, stipulated by the Law, is for the first husband to die. David had met this condition, but had done so wrongly, by ordering the murder of Uriah. As Psalm 51 says, in David’s acknowledgment of God’s desires, “You (God) desire truth in the inward self . . .” (51:6) Indeed, God desires consistency, transparency, and unity within the human person. But this long march towards integration, both in an individual life, and in the human race, is not an easy march.
Paul concludes the initial section of Chapter 7 by speaking of “new life in the Spirit.” (Romans 7:6) This is reminiscent of Psalm 51, even as it goes beyond Psalm 51.
[What has not been known before now is that Chapters 7 and 8 of Romans are in deep conversation with David’s big sin, and the fallout of that sin, in 2 Samuel. Especially Chapter 7 is taking this up; Chapter 8 is more about the arrival of the son of David, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and Love. Solomon built the first temple. Through Jesus Christ, who is a far better son of David than Solomon, the human person becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit, of Love.]
For the rest of Chapter 7, Paul, and humanity, are going to be involved in a deep wrestling match within ourself. When Paul speaks for the rest of the chapter in the first-person-singular, when he says “I,” he could be speaking of:
1) himself, or,
2) Adam, or,
3) the struggles of the Hebrews to live according to the 613 laws of the Torah, or,
4) all individual human beings who struggle to live moral lives and make good decisions as they grow into maturity, or,
5) collective humanity evolving.
Most likely he’s alluding to all these situations.
There is a battle. Paul/humanity knows the Law. But he cannot do it. He fails. This battle is generating a lot of interior struggle within Paul/humanity, and so, because of all this internal activity and toil, there is a real increase of internal language that describes the interior life and developments of human persons.
However, all is loss. The human inscape is a battlefield of continual losing. Nothing goes well, at first glance. Paul/humanity cannot do anything right. The slowly emerging “human will” seems initially aligned with sin, not with Godly realities.
Paul/humanity just continues losing miserably (see Romans 7:7-25).
But in the middle of these near-endless defeats and humiliations, something absolutely breathtaking happens . . .
While he’s describing this seemingly endless battle and frustration, Paul slips in the statement, “For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self….” (Romans 7:22)
What!? But this is amazing! This verse announces something entirely new: that human persons had an “inmost self,” or, literally, an “inner person!” This is a revelation! This revelation reveals a development that has hiddenly happened! Paul has slipped this major anthropological revelation into the chaotic constant losing of the earlier human situation. We develop interiority precisely because of this constant losing battle! This is similar to David’s struggles, which achieved an earlier, simpler, culmination in Psalm 51. (Remember, Paul begins Chapter 7 discussing when a woman can take a new husband, reminiscent of David’s sin that led to his uttering of Psalm 51 . . . The deftness, lightness, and sleight of hand that Paul utilizes in referring to David is admirable.)
It almost seems that some failure in the battles of our life are a prerequisite for growth in human development and self-understanding. And Gaudete et Exsultate mentions that humiliations are the way in which we attain humility (see Paragraphs 118-120).
This is true both on a personal level, and on an evolutionary-anthropological level.
God is bold.
Then, in Chapter 8, Paul is going to reveal God’s plan for what will happen after humanity has arrived at the point of developing this “inner person.” When humanity arrives at this point, God will do something good: God will place the Holy Spirit within our developed interior person, or, in the original Greek, within the eso anthropon! (Romans 7:22) God will make the interior of the human person the new, living “temple of the Holy Spirit,” and a being of Love, and an important electrical power plant/ transformer station of the Holy Spirit on earth!
All of our losing battles lead to this development! The losses have been slowly expanding the inner person, until, in the fullness of time, God decides that the moment is right to incarnate and enter humanity and the human person!
And after Jesus’ time on earth, we are sent the Holy Spirit to better develop and guide the inner person.
Chapter 8 is chock full of discussion of the Holy Spirit. It’s some of the best and most descriptive language of the Holy Spirit in the entire New Testament and Bible. At the end of the chapter, another addition arrives: 4 times we hear the word “Love.” As a result of this evolutionary progress that Paul is charting for us, “Love” can actually take up permanent residence in the human person. And in the human community, and in the human family.
There are more astonishing developments: Immediately after this, the first verse of Chapter 9 has the word “conscience.” This is a development far beyond anything in the Old Testament. The human person is becoming more wonderfully complex, and therefore able to attain new Spiritual heights and developments.
The anthropological development that Paul has quickly sketched before us is breathtaking.
Let us summarize what Paul does in Chapters 7 & 8, culminating in 9:1 and the appearance of the human conscience:
A Review of Romans 7:1-9:1 and the Development of Human Interiority and Conscience:
7:1-6 Discussion of how new life (in the Spirit) delivers us from literal slavery to the Law. Speaking of deceased husbands and remarriage, Paul quietly alludes to Uriah, Bathsheba, and David, i.e., to David’s big sin.
7:7-21 Paul/Adam/Judaism/Humanity/individuals getting constantly beaten by sin. This chronicles the challenges of ‘earlier’ life, when one is trying to live according to the Law, and constantly failing. One notices a distinction between interior hopes and aspirations, and exterior actions, habits, and strong desires that are not easy for us to overcome.
7:22 & 25 At some point, as an unexpected fruit of this losing struggle, the inner person becomes sighted! When the inner person becomes realized, we also realize that we have a total need for Jesus Christ and for his Spirit.
Paul pleads/gives thanks for Jesus’ saving action in his life/our human evolution.
-Chapter 8 begins taking up this new life in the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit, additionally, is moving within the human person. We might call this “mutual indwelling.”
8:1-11 The human person who is in Christ is no longer under the Law, but is in the Holy Spirit.
The newly-developed interior life of the person, the inner person (eso anthropon), becomes more vibrant in the Spirit, and not only are we in the Spirit, but the Spirit is now within us. There is mutual indwelling between God and us, between Jesus and us, and between us and the Holy Spirit.
8:12-17 Paul invites us to live according to the Spirit, as children of God.
8:18-25 How God, Creation, we children of God, and the Holy Spirit work together in our Spiritual evolution.
8:26-30 How God’s will, and the Holy Spirit, and we can work together.
8:28 First appearance of ‘Love’ in Romans 7 & 8: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
8:31-33 God’s Love for us, in Jesus Christ, revealed to us.
8:35 Second appearance of ‘Love’ in Romans 7 & 8: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?”
8:37 Third appearance of ‘Love’ in Romans 7 & 8, at which Humanity finally achieves victory: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
8:39 Fourth appearance of ‘Love’ in Romans 7 & 8: “ . . . [Nothing] can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is the final verse of Chapter 8.
9:1 Humanity realizes the development of our conscience. This shows the continuing development of the human soul, mind, and heart.
Now, to recall the second essay in this series of three essays: The entire discussion of how our conscience and the will of God/guidance of the Holy Spirit can cooperate and work together could be seamlessly placed into this discussion here. This is, indeed, one of the major evolutionary advances that the New Testament gives to us. Of course, this message is not merely in the Scriptures alone—it’s also the message of the developing 2000 years of our Tradition, which has been guiding us in preparation for the New Pentecost that we are entering now.
The New Testament has other places that discuss the amazing emergence of the new inner person:
2 Corinthians 4:16
“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer person [exo…anthropos] is wasting away, our inner (person) [esothen (anthropos)] is being renewed day by day.” The next verse continues: “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.”
This immense “weight of glory” is a nice counterbalance (sic) to the constant losing of Romans 7. However, it not accurate to call it a “counterbalance.” It is a flood of grace that completely overwhelms and overcomes all earlier losses and suffering. Remember, “we are more than conquerors,” because of Jesus’ victory.
Note the themes of love, and glory, echoing Romans 7 & 8, and 2 Cor 4:16:
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner person (eso anthropon) with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.”
The term “inner person” here is spelled precisely as it is in Romans 7:22, eso anthropon.
Additionally, we normally think of space in three dimensions. Paul does not. He gives us four dimensions: “breadth and length and height and depth.” Perhaps Paul is pointing to great dimensions that open within the human person, and the inner person, or that become opened when we live lives of love in the Spirit. It speaks of our greater participation in mystical knowledge, shared with us by God.
The gifted author(s) of Ephesians, who clearly loved Paul and deeply understood his message, have made a beautiful synthesis of his earlier writings here.
1 Peter 3:4
Additionally, St. Peter will clearly connect this inner person with the human heart: “the hidden person of the heart . . .”
This chapter of Peter is very dense and mystical. One of the things happening here is that the woman/wife may assist her husband/man in achieving interior depth. There is a dialogue and movement towards integration. When this integration of the human person happens, Spiritual gifts will abound, because the human soul will be capable of receiving them and working with them.
Returning to Gaudete et Exsultate:
We shall now see that Pope Francis has fully comprehended, and is deeply commenting upon, the depth and profundity of this powerful anthropological development within humanity.
Let us turn now to Paragraph 51 of Gaudete et Exsultate.
This paragraph, by virtue of being number “51,” has in the background Psalm 51 and the story of David’s big sin/ human evolution/Romans 7, 8, and 9:1.
At the very beginning of the paragraph is a direct reference back to Paragraph 1, and the beginning of the Exhortation. Paragraph 51 begins, “When God speaks to Abraham, he tells him, ‘Walk before me, and be blameless’ (Gen 17:1).”
And at the beginning of the document, in Paragraph 1, we read, “The call to holiness is present in various ways from the very first pages of the Bible. We see it expressed in the Lord’s words to Abraham: ‘Walk before me, and be blameless’ (Gen 17:1).”
Why does Pope Francis make a reference back to the beginning of the document? Perhaps because, as with Psalm 51, there is a radical and glorious new beginning for humanity here. Pope Francis is here celebrating the stunning anthropological and theological leap forward that occurs in the light of the Christ Event.
Additionally, like St. Paul in Romans 7 & 8, Pope Francis is describing what is placed in the human person, once we have become capable of this anthropological depth:
The Holy Spirit now resides in us.
One of the remarkable features of Psalms 60 and 108 is the fact that they are deeply connected to each other: The second halves of each Psalm are practically identical with each other. And in both Psalms, God enters the human situation, quite strongly and rudely. God enters humanity, to make corrections and suggest new things.
Additionally, both Psalms 60 and 108 are stationed precisely 24 units from Psalm 84. (Psalm 24 is an important temple Psalm.) Psalms 60 and 108 are both in equidistant orbit around Psalm 84. Psalm 84 is the most important of the Ladder Psalms, and, except for Psalm 128, could be the most important of all the Psalms.
In Psalm 84, the human person is at home within God. This is the opposite of God rudely moving into the human realm in Psalms 60 & 108. Here, centered perfectly between Psalms 60 and 108, God invites humanity to live within God in Psalm 84. In fact, Psalms 60 & 108 form a nest around this vital center, Psalm 84. The nest and baby birds are meant to be both literal and figurative. In Psalm 84, a mother bird (God) builds a nest inside the temple for baby birds (us).
Actually, like amazing post-modern art, the Mystical Psalm Structures do radical new things. One example: the 25 Psalms that make the Ladder are capable of reconfiguring themselves to form a new Mystical Structure: the Growing Pregnant Womb, according to the 10-month (lunar calendar) period of gestation. And Psalm 84 is at the center of this Mystical Structure, the Growing Womb. Here is a link to an article that discusses this:
(By the way, the numbered sonnet collections of Philip Sidney and William Shakespeare recreate this bird nest/temple in stunning ways. God mystically awakened both poets. The living human link that helped lead these two English poets to make this realization probably came from Sidney’s connections to Italy, as he recounts in his Defense of Poetry. Philip Sidney ends his collection with his Sonnet 108, which is paired with Psalm 108. Sidney’s Sonnet 108 has the word “nest,” as does Psalm 84. And his Sonnets 60 and 108 form a nest around Sonnet 84, just as Psalms 60 and 108 form a ring around Psalm 84.
Turning to Shakespeare: the “Rival Poet” of Shakespeare’s Sonnets can be considered to be David/the Psalmist, so incredibly deeply are the Sonnets in dialogue with the Psalms.)
Now, we are clearly dealing with mystical realities at this point.
This is precisely what Pope Francis discusses in Paragraph 51. He quotes Psalm 84! The human failures of David (Psalm 51) and of Paul/the Hebrews/the Human Race (Romans 7) lead to great things, when we have learned from them and worked through them.
Here is Pope Francis’ Paragraph 51 from Gaudete et Exsultate:
When God speaks to Abraham, he tells him, “I am God Almighty, walk before me, and be blameless” (Gen 17:1). In order to be blameless, as he would have us, we need to live humbly in his presence, cloaked in his glory; we need to walk in union with him, recognizing his constant love in our lives. We need to lose our fear before that presence which can only be for our good. God is the Father who gave us life and loves us greatly. Once we accept him, and stop trying to live our lives without him, the anguish of loneliness will disappear (cf. Ps 139:23-24). In this way we will know the pleasing and perfect will of the Lord (cf. Rom 12:1-2) and allow him to mold us like a potter (cf. Is 29:16). So often we say that God dwells in us, but it is better to say that we dwell in him, that he enables us to dwell in his light and love. He is our temple; we ask to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our life (cf. Ps 27:4). “For one day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (Ps 84:10). In him is our holiness.
The highlighted areas especially show connections to the preceding discussion. However, one totally unfamiliar with the David story, or with the Mystical Psalm Structures, or with Peter’s discussion of how our conscience can work far more precisely with the Holy Spirit and therefore do God’s will—indeed, one could read this paragraph and simply be unaware of these marvelous mystical connections that Pope Francis has placed here for us.
With the three references to the Psalms, we see David in the background of the paragraph. However, rather than focusing on the sinfulness that is being overcome in Psalm 51, Pope Francis focuses on the Spiritual dynamism and the new interiority of the human person that is discovered in Psalm 51. Indeed, the paragraph looks forward, and has a verse from Psalm 84 at its close.
Now let us turn to Paragraph 84. As we have seen, Pope Francis has already made powerful and subtle references to both Psalms 51 & 84.
In Paragraph 84, he discusses how we must guard the new temple, the human heart!
Here is Paragraph 84:
“Guard your heart with all vigilance” (Prov 4:23). Nothing stained by falsehood has any real worth in the Lord’s eyes. He “flees from deceit, and rises and departs from foolish thoughts” (Wis 1:5). The Father, “who sees in secret” (Mt 6:6), recognizes what is impure and insincere, mere display or appearance, as does the Son, who knows “what is in man” (cf. Jn 2:25).
As the old stone temple of Psalm 84 was protected by the city walls, so too does God tell us to guard the new temple, the human heart. The human person is now the temple of God and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16). Paul also calls us the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). Both of these verses are in the form of challenging questions, as if Paul is surprised that we do not know about this development that has already occurred within us. See also 2 Timothy 1:14, Ephesians 2:22, Galatians 4:6, and more.
But the enemies of our new temple are more insidious than previously. They come from within. They are vain thoughts, and pride, for example. They cannot be easily seen, unlike an enemy army that approaches to attack.
To protect our heart, Pope Francis has a great suggestion. Again, as mentioned in the second of these essays, Pope Francis recommends the Examen of Conscience to all people. This is a very powerful way to get to know the terrain of our souls, quickly.
Right now, we humans are still in the early stages of aligning our interior person, of becoming an integrated humanity, and of making our selves the living temple of the Holy Spirit. The last two millennia have shown great progress in these efforts, along with difficult errors and unhelpful developments, which we can correct.
Now, more than ever, in this vast and dizzying array of choices before us, humanity needs the Spiritual gift of discernment. And we stand in total need of the Holy Spirit to guide us, and to help us in our many large and small tasks of discernment. We are utterly dependent upon the Holy Spirit, who wants to teach us to become inter-dependent.
Each of us needs to become a friend and co-worker of the Holy Spirit.
For us to engage God’s plan for us, and to continue the existence of humanity on our beautiful planet Earth, we must cultivate this relationship with the Holy Spirit.
Pope Francis shows us how to grow in relationship with the Holy Spirit, and to enter the true Humanity that we are called to be now.