Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Psalm 84 and Being Stuck on the Ladder of Ascent

For those of us who have watched the TV series, Monk, during the intro we see a clip of Mr. Monk stuck upon a ladder due to his acrophobia. Although we are not “stuck” due to fear, oftentimes I feel as if I am “stuck” upon the “ladder of ascent” to heaven. It very well could be that, instead of being “stuck,” I am in all actuality descending the “ladder of ascent.” I sincerely hope not for I keep, by the grace of God, my mind upon the heavenly. Be it what it may, the fact of the matter is: I perceive that I am not ascending, that I am “stuck.” For what reason? I am thinking of two. There are, perhaps, many more; but I am thinking of two: 1) desires of the flesh, and 2) contentment. If I am desiring things that are not of God, I am seeking to pacify the flesh, the five senses; therefore, I am unable to ascend. If I have all the corporeal and temporal things that I perceive I need and/or want, it very well may be that I am content, satisfied with the status quo; hence, I do not aggressively seek to ascend, my going to Mass, prayers, and deeds amounting to “fulfilling obligations.” Now, what does this have to do with Psalm 84?

For Tuesday, Fifth Week of Ordinary Time, Year C, in the responsorial Psalm, Psalm 84, the Church has us focusing upon Verses 1-4 and 9-10. However, in order to receive a clearer understanding, it might help to read the title, “For the leader; ‘upon the gittith;’ a psalm of the Korahites.” “Gittith” means winepresses. St. Augustine, in his Exposition on the Book of Psalms, interprets what the NAB has as “upon the gittith” as “for the winepresses. He correctly ascertains that there is nothing in the text of the Psalm which refers to “any press, or wine-basket, or vat, or of any of the instruments or the building of a winepress.” Therefore, the Saint asserts, “Therefore, let us recall to mind what takes place in these visible winepresses, and see how this takes place spiritually in the Church.” The description St. Augustine gives paints a pretty vivid picture:

“The grape hangs on the vines, and the olive on its trees. For it is for these two fruits that presses are usually made ready; and, as long as they hang on their boughs, they seem to enjoy free air; and neither is the grape wine nor the olive oil before they are pressed. Thus it is with men whom God predestined before the world to be conformed to the image of His only-begotten Son, who has been first and especially pressed in His Passion as the great Cluster. Men of this kind, therefore, before they draw near to the service of God, enjoy in the world a kind of delicious liberty, like hanging grapes or olives: But, as it is said, ‘My son, when thou drawest near to the service of God, stand in judgment and fear, and make thy soul ready for temptation:’ So each, as he draweth near to the service of God, findeth that he is come to the winepress, he shall undergo tribulation, shall be crushed, shall be pressed, not that he may perish in this world but that he may flow down into the storehouses of God. He hath the coverings of carnal desires stripped off from him, like grape skins: for this hath taken place in him in carnal desires, of which the Apostle speaks, ‘Put ye off the old man, and put on the new man.’ All this is not done but by pressure; therefore, the Churches of God [all the parishes of the Catholic Church] of this time are called winepresses.”

Oftentimes, we focus more upon the “pressure” itself more than we do on the purpose of the pressure. It is true that often we do not know the purpose of the trial; however, we must always force ourselves to recall that nothing happens to us without God desiring it to occur or allowing it to occur. All of this is for the purpose of our salvation and sanctification. When we forget to bring this to mind, we very well might be tempted to relieve ourselves of pressures that are needful. Of course, I am not referring to those instances that we have done something wrong and need to correct in order to relieve hardships, nor of not relying upon the advice of professionals, e.g. doctors. Mostly, I am referring to temporal and corporeal things, status, etc. When we fight to hold onto these things, it may impede our progress up the “ladder of ascension.” Just as a rock climber must relieve himself of all nonessentials, likewise must we relieve ourselves of all nonessentials in order to make our ascent. Sometimes this must be a literal relief, for there are many things we rely on subconsciously. This is why it is important for us to be in the “winepress.” Many people get out of the winepress (the Catholic Church) because they find a “church” which tolerates their “beliefs,” which really may be a “pet” sin.

What the NAB interprets as “a psalm of the Korahites,” St. Augustine interprets as “to the sons of [Korah],” which I believe is more meaningful to us. If we understand it only as a “psalm of the Korahites,” who were the gatekeepers of the Tabernacle and the Temple, then it very well be our thought that this is only a song they sang, of how we should feel. However, if as our Saint thinks, the “sons of Korah” are Catholics:

“Being placed under pressure, we are crushed for this purpose, that for our love by which we were borne towards those worldly, secular, temporal, unstable, and perishable things, having suffered in them, in this life, torments, and tribulations of pressures, and abundance of temptations, we may begin to seek that rest which is not of this life, nor of this earth; and the Lord becomes, as is written, ‘a refuge for the poor man.’ What is ‘for the poor man’? For him who is, as it were, destitute, without aid, without help, without anything on which he may rest, in earth. For to such poor men, God is present. For though men abound in money on earth, they are filled more with fear than with enjoyment. For what is so uncertain as a rolling thing? It is not unfitly that money itself is stamped round”—circular—“because it remains not still. Such men, therefore, though they have something, are yet poor. But those who have none of this wealth, but only desire it, are counted also among rich men who will be rejected, for God takes account not of power, but of will. The poor then are destitute of all this world’s substance, for even though it abounds around them, they know how fleeting it is; and crying unto God, having nothing in this world with which they may delight themselves, and be held down, placed in abundant pressures and temptations, as if in winepresses, they flow down, having become oil or wine. What are these latter but good desires? For God remains their only object of desire; now they love not earth. For they love Him who made heaven and earth; they love Him, and are not yet with Him. Their desire is delayed in order that it may increase; it increases in order that it may receive. For it is not any little thing that God will give to him who desires, nor does he need to be little exercised to be made fit to receive so great a good: not anything which He hath made will God give, but Himself who made all things. Exercise thyself to receive God: that which thou shalt have forever, desire thou a long time.”

Very often, God “drives” us into the wilderness, into the desert, in order that we “miss” Him, in order that we yearn for Him. This is one of the purposes of Lent: that we give up something we like in order to recall to mind that we need to yearn Him, Who is All. Our Saint advises us: “Let no one look back, no one delight himself with his former interests, no one turn away from that which is before to that which is behind; let him run until he arrives, for we run not with the feet but with the desire; but let no one in this life say that he hath arrived…’for as long as we are in the body, we are absent from the Lord’.”

How lovely your dwelling,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul yearns and pines
for the courts of the Lord.
My heart and flesh cry out
for the living God.

As the sparrow finds a home
and the swallow a nest to settle her young,
My home is by your altars,
Lord of hosts, my king and my God!

Blessed are those who dwell in your house!
They never cease to praise you. Selah.
Better one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere.
Better the threshold of the house of my God
than a home in the tents of the wicked.


It is the winepresses (the Catholic Church) and being in the winepresses that create this desire, this yearning. It is the winepresses that aid us in relieving ourselves of the nonessentials that release our being “stuck” on the “ladder of ascent,” allowing ourselves to desire God more and more, enabling us to continue our ascent up the ladder. In essence, God is freeing us from all desires that are not of Him. One might insist that one does not have to be in the Catholic Church in order to be in the winepresses. This is true; however, there would be no "churches" if it was not for the Catholic Church, for the root of all "churches" lead back to the Catholic Church. Hence, the Catholic Church is the winepresses.
--Tommy Turner