Today’s octave of verses of Psalm 118 starts by talking about the importance of starting out on the right path as a young person, and ends with a rejection of ‘forgetfulness’, or falling away from God. Taken together, they make this stanza, I think, a plea for the grace of perseverance.
9 In quo corrigit adolescentior viam suam? in custodiendo sermones tuos.
10 In toto corde meo exquisivi te; ne repellas me a mandatis tuis.
11 In corde meo abscondi eloquia tua, ut non peccem tibi.
12 Benedictus es, Domine; doce me justificationes tuas.
13 In labiis meis pronuntiavi omnia judicia oris tui.
14 In via testimoniorum tuorum delectatus sum, sicut in omnibus divitiis.
15 In mandatis tuis exercebor, et considerabo vias tuas.
16 In justificationibus tuis meditabor : non obliviscar sermones tuos.
9 Beth. By what does a young man correct his way? By observing your words.
10 With my whole heart have I sought after you: let me not stray from your commandments.
11 Your words have I hidden in my heart, that I may not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord: teach me your justifications.
13 With my lips I have pronounced all the judgments of your mouth.
14 I have been delighted in the way of your testimonies, as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on your commandments: and I will consider your ways.
16 I will think of your justifications: I will not forget your words.
The grace of perseverance
The key to this stanza of Psalm 118 is, I think, the second phrase of verse 10: ‘let me not stray from your commandments’.
A number of the Fathers and Theologians suggest that the emphasis on the ‘young man’ here is meant to suggest the importance of starting out right from the very beginning. St Augustine, though, gives the focus on the ‘young man’ a rather more inclusive flavour than a literal reading would suggest:
“Is then an old man to be despaired of? My son, gather instruction from your youth up: so shall you find wisdom till your gray hairs. Sirach 6:18”
Cassiodorus builds on this interpretation, telling us that ‘forgetting’ is a by-product of the human condition:
“Forgetfulness does not come upon us naturally, but is the outcome of the frailty caused by original sin. Meditation is set against it as a remedy, so that sacrilegious forgetfulness may not destroy the emi¬nence of memory. They say that they meditate on the Lord's justifica¬tions so that they cannot forget what they strive to remember. They realised the failing by which the human mind was oppressed, and devised this resource against it, by means of which the power of forgetfulness could be excluded.”
The remedy against this human weakness is the grace that causes us to seek out God, open our hearts and minds to his word, allows his Word to permeate our whole being. As St Robert Bellarmine says “He says he has the law of God in his mouth, his will, his understanding, and his memory, and thus, in every part of his soul.”
We must, as Psalm 1 enjoins us, meditate on the law and day and night, and constantly ask God for the grace to keep us on the right path. As St Robert emphasizes: “God teaches his justifications when he, through his grace, causes one to delight in his law, and fully persuades one to wish to keep it exactly."
As usual you can find an extended set of notes on these verses over at Psallam Domino.