Psalm 127 and Pride

Recently, I met with a new spiritual director. We talked about many parts of my life, and as my director asked about certain habits (my prayer, reading, hobbies, etc.), I started to find myself repeating almost exclusively a single answer: “…well I do *blank* but not quite as much as I’d like to.” I like to read, I just don’t do it as much as I’d like to.  I practice my guitar, just not as often as I’d like to. I do pray, I often just fall out of a habit of doing so daily. Does anyone else find this relatable?

Though our conversation did lead me to realize there were many constructive uses for my time to create more fulfilling habits, the most important one, and the main focus of my director, was prayer. He suggested I read the Divine Office. I should try to do so daily, intentionally, and with consistency, either in the morning or the evening, but preferably both if I can find the time. He told me this type of prayer circumscribes the day. It makes your day a type of prayer in itself. The psalms were the prayers that Jesus prayed Himself and were a part of his own religious custom. There is certainly something special about the Divine Office for this reason. It’s a form of prayer not only prayed to Jesus but with Jesus.

When I returned to the JSC, I downloaded the iBreviary app. Since then I’ve had a pretty neat reflection over the first part of Psalm 127: 

Unless the LORD build the house,
they labor in vain who build.
Unless the LORD guard the city,
in vain does the guard keep watch.

For me it’s humbling. Often I become vainglorious in my work. I seek praise for the smallest of my own achievements or from achievements not truly my own. Related to the sins of pride and vainglory, envy comes into play when I feel I’ve achieved less than my colleagues. Envy, put simply, is a sadness in another’s victory. But why should I feel sad when others succeed? Should I not instead share in their victory?

Are there times in your life where you desire an exorbitant amount of praise for your work?  Do you ever take credit for another’s work, even in little ways? Are you ever saddened by the success of a friend or colleague, because you wished that you could have the praise they received? How can you better share in their victories?

Going deeper into the meat of the passage, are you ever vainglorious towards God? Do you give God credit for His role in your work? It’s been something I’ve been reflecting on lately. Why do we even experience pride?

I remember once in my teenage years, my youth minister posed a question: Do people ever praise guitars made by a skilled craftsman because they are played with great talent? Certainly they would not. What is a guitar without its creator? And certainly, an instrument would never be able to produce such remarkable melodies without a person to play it. If God created us, as well as every other person or thing in this world, can we ever truly experience a just pride in ourselves? For those who find this hard to chew, can we at least experience such a pride without giving God a large portion of credit in our accomplishments?  

Of course, an instrument serves its purpose, but it is nothing without its creator. Upon returning home, curious about other interpretations of this verse, I found a blog post by a Michael Guinan, OFM I thought was pretty interesting. He says Psalm 127 helps us reflect on the work we do and our reasons for doing it, and if we are more concerned with what we can gain from our work than what we can give, then we are “building in vain.” 

Let us pray for the virtue of humility to help us combat our pride, for kindness to help combat our envy and that we may always find a way to act with right reason.  

Prayer for Generosity

St. Ignatius of Loyola

Eternal Word, only begotten Son of God,

Teach me true generosity.

Teach me to serve you as you deserve.

To give without counting the cost,

To fight heedless of wounds,

To labor without seeking rest,

To sacrifice myself without thought of any reward

Save the knowledge that I have done your will.