“I am Poor and Needy”…and “I” would refer to…?
So it makes perfect sense to pray these words with ourselves in mind. We are poor and needy.
Turn your ear, O Lord, and give answer * for I am poor and needy. Preserve my life, for I am faithful: * save the servant who trusts in you… …The proud have risen against me; † ruthless men seek my life: * to you they pay no heed. (from psalm 86)
However, if we have taken up the privilege/burden of praying the psalter liturgically, we have to moderate that tendency. As Pope Benedict reminded us last week, it’s not just about you. Or at least, its about you only insofar as you are one tiny member of the body of Christ. Because that is really what the “I” here refers to when we pray the Liturgy of the Hours.
That can be counter intuitive. Most of us, loving the Church, have a mental archetype of her that it anything but “poor and needy”. When we think “the Church”, our imaginations might supply a grand parade of saints and heroes marching through history. We think of it as a grand edifice filled with beauty, like St. Peter’s basilica or Chartres cathedral. We think of our Pope who fearlessly articulates the truth in and out of season. And since we know, by faith, that the gates of hell won’t prevail, well, it’s a very natural thing to think “grand and glorious” rather than “poor and needy”.
But try. Because the other side of the coin is this. The Church consists largely of all us “poor and needy” individuals. It is under constant assault from the forces of evil on all sides, and although those forces won’t win the war, they in fact do win any number of battles. That is why the lands of the ancient fathers of the church are now mostly under Muslim rule. That’s why the lovely cathedrals of Europe are largely empty except for tourists and a tiny remnant of locals. The United States is headed down that same path, but at a slower rate. Persecution and martyrdom are very real in many places: China, India, the middle east. And, it goes without saying, millions of our fellow Catholics are poor and needy in the physical sense as well, even as many of them endure said persecution.
Lord, come to my aid!
Let there be shame and confusion *
on those who seek my life.
who delight in my harm,
let them retreat, covered with shame, *
who jeer at my lot.(from psalm 70)
So try to keep that in mind when you pray the hours. As Pope Benedict reminded us last week, it is “praying in the “we” of the Church, that directs its gaze not in on itself, but to God, and feeling part of the living Church of all places and of all time. “