One of the many benefits of praying the Liturgy of the Hours is that we become very familiar with the Psalms, which comprise the core of the Liturgy. These ancient hymns of the Jewish Temple address many different aspects of our relationship with God: some are songs of praise, others speak of our fears, or of God’s mercy, or thank him for his protection from our enemies.
One Psalm that has always resonated with me is Psalm 127 (I also discuss it more briefly in my post on Daytime Prayer, here, and it provides the title for a recent post on poverty, here). It is fairly short (four stanzas), but beautifully reminds us of our dependence on God and his providential care. The psalm opens with the image of house construction: “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor”. The psalmist then presents a series of images illustrating how useless our efforts are without God’s help:
If the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil.
In vain is your earlier rising, your going later to rest, you who toil for the bread you eat, when he pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber.
What an eloquent reminder that it is only through Grace that our efforts bear fruit!
The focus shifts in the last half of Psalm 127:instead of building a house, here we are building our “house”, that is, our family, again only through the Grace of God: “Truly sons are a gift from the Lord, a blessing, the fruit of the womb”. Here, too, God is the real author; and our children are Providence in tangible form: both gift and blessing, which is to say their source is God, and that’s a good thing. And not just good in some spiritual sense:
Indeed the sons of youth are like arrows in the hand of a warrior.
O the happiness of the man who has filled his quiver with these arrows! He will have no cause for shame when he disputes with his foes in the gateways.
You can’t ask for images more down-to-earth than these: are sons a like weapons, they’ll back us up when we face our enemies, and all through the generosity of the Lord.
It will come as no surprise that the idea of our progeny as gift and blessing is not as common as it once was. Thirty-five years ago, in his introduction to Pope John Paul I’s Illustrissimi, John Cardinal Wright wrote:
The present almost pathological lack of joy shows up in every vocation and in every area of life. There already exist among us people who rejoice as little in the coming of children as once used to do only some of our neo-pagan neighbors. Among descendents of people who, only yesterday, of the coming of a baby as a “blessed event,” maternity is no longer thought joyful.
That train has gone much further down the track since 1979, so that now even the President of the United States can speak of a young women being “punished with a baby”.
We need to speak out, of course, against this anti-child attitude, the anti-family ethos and what Pope John Paul II called the Culture of Death. I regularly do so in this space. But we also need to remember, as Cardinal Wright points out, that our message is at root a message of Joy. Our children, and children in general (sadly, not all who wish it have their quivers filled in this way) are “a gift from the Lord, a blessing, the fruit of the womb”. We need to say it often, and live it publicly, and always gives thanks to God for building up our house.