The opening lines of today's psalm, Psalm 35 (36), are words those in the Church whose past misdeeds are still to come fully to light, should especially ponder:
"Deep in his heart the sinner hears the whispering of evil, and loses sight of the fear of God; flatters himself with the thought that his misdoings go undiscovered, earn no reproof." (Knox translation)
Yet though those guilty of the most vile crimes should especially heed this lesson of this psalm, St Paul points out that we are all, to some degree, evil men at times, standing in need of grace through Christ's redeeming action to save us and help us persevere in the Christian life.
Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom
The context of the psalm's discussion on the nature of evil in this setting is obviously the arrest and coming Passion of Our Lord, but it obviously has a broad applicability.
Too often today, modern 'theology' confuses God's love for us with his approval of our actions, regardless of their actual merit. By contrast this psalm reminds us that true evil occurs when man acts with malice aforethought: when we actively reject the truth, and refuse to turn away from the horror of what we are doing. Self-deception, the psalmist suggests, is all too easy.
Yet for such men, for all those Judas' in the Church, great and small, a time of reckoning will come:
"See what a fall awaits the wrong-doers, how they are cast down to earth, and can keep their feet no more!
The psalm goes on to point out that even in the face of man’s tendency to evil, God offers truth, justice and mercy to all, reaching down from the heavens. Through Christ's sacrifice on the Cross we are offered the fountain of life, and access to the light. The psalm ends with a plea to keep us humble, and to protect us from being led astray, knowing that evil doers come to nothing in the end.
Dixit injustus ut delinquat in semetipso: non est timor Dei ante oculos ejus. Quoniam dolose egit in conspectu ejus, ut inveniatur iniquitas ejus ad odium. Verba oris ejus iniquitas, et dolus; noluit intelligere ut bene ageret.
Iniquitatem meditatus est in cubili suo; astitit omni viæ non bonæ : malitiam autem non odivit.
Domine, in cælo misericordia tua, et veritas tua usque ad nubes.
Justitia tua sicut montes Dei; judicia tua abyssus multa.
Homines et jumenta salvabis, Domine, quemadmodum multiplicasti misericordiam tuam, Deus.
Filii autem hominum in tegmine alarum tuarum sperabunt.
Inebriabuntur ab ubertate domus tuæ, et torrente voluptatis tuæ potabis eos: quoniam apud te est fons vitæ, et in lumine tuo videbimus lumen.
Prætende misericordiam tuam scientibus te, et justitiam tuam his qui recto sunt corde.
Non veniat mihi pes superbiæ, et manus peccatoris non moveat me.
Ibi ceciderunt qui operantur iniquitatem; expulsi sunt, nec potuerunt stare.
The unjust has said within himself, that he would sin: there is no fear of God before his eyes.
For in his sight he has done deceitfully, that his iniquity may be found unto hatred.
The words of his mouth are iniquity and guile: he would not understand that he might do well.
He has devised iniquity on his bed, he has set himself on every way that is not good: but evil he has not hated.
O Lord, your mercy is in heaven, and your truth reaches even to the clouds. Your justice is as the mountains of God, your judgments are a great deep.
Men and beasts you will preserve, O Lord: O how have you multiplied your mercy, O God!
But the children of men shall put their trust under the covert of your wings.
They shall be inebriated with the plenty of your house; and you shall make them drink of the torrent of your pleasure.
For with you is the fountain of life; and in your light we shall see light.
Extend your mercy to them that know you, and your justice to them that are right in heart.
Let not the foot of pride come to me, and let not the hand of the sinner move me. There the workers of iniquity are fallen, they are cast out, and could not stand.
Tenebrae of Holy Thursday
Nocturn I: Psalms 68, 69, 70
Nocturn II: Psalms 71, 72, 73
Nocturn III: Psalms 74, 75, 76
Lauds: 50, 89, 35, [Ex 15], 146