The first verse expresses the helplessness of the one praying: Begging the Lord to even listen to his requests, to, as translated in the NABRE, ‘understand [his] sighing.’ His needs and desires are beyond words, and struggling to even put words to his needs, he relies the on the Lord to know his needs before he even expresses them; for He ‘knows what you need before you ask him.’1
The second verse shows the relationship between the Lord and David: The Lord is his King and his God. He is his King because everything outside of David, all of his troubles, are in the dominion of the Lord; and as a true king the Lord provides for and protects His servant David. He is his God because David entrusts himself, his needs and desires and frailty, to the Lord. Thus the Book of Wisdom declares: ‘But you, our God, are kind and true, patient, and ruling all things in mercy. For even if we sin we are yours, knowing your power; but we will not sin, because we know that we are considered yours. For to know you is complete righteousness, and to know your power is the root of immortality.’2 The second verse also supplies the reason for why the Lord would listen: ‘For to you do I pray.’ We have nothing to offer God to make him listen to us; our mere need for His help, and our trust in His mercy, are enough for Him.
In the third verse, David shows that the Lord heard his voice, not after prolonged prayer, but ‘in the morning,’ at the moment he turned to Him. In the RSV, it translates as: ‘in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you, and watch.’ The sacrifice is a sacrifice of pride and will, and of praise and thanksgiving. He forsakes all self-reliance and puts his trust in God’s will, sacrificing his own; and He praises God for His mercy and faithfulness in hearing him. In the NABRE, it reads: ‘in the morning I will plead before you and wait.’ After pleading, he trusts in God, waiting for and expecting His mercy.3
After describing those who displease the Lord and cannot stand before Him, David writes that he will enter the Lord’s own dwelling place, only in virtue of God’s mercy. The word in Hebrew translated as ‘mercy’ is hesed, a term describing a relationship between persons manifested in concrete actions from one to another with a need or desire: One offers hesed, and the other answers. The Catechism of the Catholic Church therefore says: ‘Forgiveness is the fundamental condition of the reconciliation of the children of God with their Father and of men with one another.’4 It is, therefore, out of fear—that is, out of reverence and awe at the unearned mercy of God—that moves David to ‘worship toward [His] holy temple.’
In the next three verses David petitions the Lord to sanctify him, to set him apart and lead him in righteousness, and to condemn the wicked in justice. For if the Lord does not lead him, he will surely fall back into sin; and unless the Lord condemns the wicked, there will be no justice or peace. The KJV parallels verses seven and ten: The servant of God ‘will come into [His] house in the multitude of [His] mercy,’ while God will cast out the ungodly ‘in the multitude of their transgressions.’ There are two ways, and we have the choice: Unlimited mercy through humble repentance, or due justice for those who will not let go of their sins. So we pray in the additional prayer of the Rosary: O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell; lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy. The prayer parallels Hell and sin with Heaven and mercy.
Toward the end of the psalm, David exhorts all who trust in the Lord’s mercy as their only hope to rejoice; for joy belongs to hope, as St. Paul commands: ‘Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.’5 David writes to ‘ever sing for joy;’ for just as the mercy of God endures forever, so shall our joy if we desire His mercy, which is freely offered. And this is hope, to desire and trust in God. David then asks the Lord to defend those who love His Name so they may glorify His mercy through rejoicing. This Name has since been revealed as Jesus, which means ‘the Lord saves.’ And those whom He saves He protects with His graces as a shield against the world, the Enemy, and their temptations to doubt God’s goodness. Mary, who reveals Jesus to us and gives Him to us by the divine power of the Holy Spirit, shields us as Her children, especially through the Rosary. Through the Rosary we meditate on Jesus’ life, and so come to know, desire, possess, and rejoice in Him through His Mother made our Mother.
In this psalm David exhorts us in three particular virtues: Trust, patience, and hope. To trust in God is to believe in His promises of mercy and love, despite our feelings or whatever temptations assail us. St. John Paul II wrote: ‘To believe means “to abandon oneself” to the truth of the word of the living God, knowing and humbly recognizing “how unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways.”’6 The humility required to do this, as St. Faustina writes, is ‘nothing but the truth.’7 For the humble soul recognizes its own limitations, because of itself it can do nothing,8 as well as its divine potential, because whatever it prays for in faith will be done.9 St. Paul says to be ‘constant in prayer’ because prayer is a response of trust to God’s mercy, an intimate communication between friends, of one first loved and one who first loves.
Patience comes from the root word for to suffer, for it is to persevere amidst evil with the expectation that God will save His people. Patience is found in union with Jesus’ suffering, for through His Passion we expect and receive all graces and mercy in the Blood and Water that poured forth from His Merciful Heart as forgiveness and righteousness for sinners. And we rejoice, for suffering is the primary tool for making us like Christ, and for helping Jesus save souls by uniting our sufferings to His own.
Hope, as defined by the Catechism, ‘is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.’10 Hope produces our joy because in hope we desire intimate union with God as the source of all happiness, and we rely on Him to lead us to Himself. Hope cannot exist without trust, for hope is ‘a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf. . . .’11 Nor can one hope without patience, for hope sets the fulfillment of happiness in the Kingdom of God, not in this world. St. Terese of Avila thus declares:
‘Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.’12
- Matthew 6:8.
- Wisdom 15:1-3.
- Cf. Wisdom 12:22.
- CCC 2844.
- Romans 12:12.
- Redemptoris Mater, #14; cf. Romans 11:33.
- Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul, 1502.
- John 15:5.
- Matthew 21:22.
- CCC 1817.
- Hebrews 6:19-20.
- CCC 1821.