by Clemens Pater
It is great to read the New Testament. Try reading one chapter a day – from the beginning of St Matthew’s Gospel, through the last of the Book of Revelation. It will take you about 7-8 months, and will give you a new appreciation of the Word of God in its continuity. Then, begin over. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you, and each time you read it, you will find something new.
Reading the Old Testament in the same way is a worthy goal and a little more challenging. But I recommend reading the Book of Psalms, over and over! I love the Psalms. They are a ready-made prayer book for any and every day – in all our ‘moods.’ They are full of emotion.
Those who are ordained, or professed as Religious, take upon themselves a serious obligation to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, or Divine office, or ‘Breviary’ each day. Some priests refer to their breviary as their ‘spouse.’ The professed and ordained who pray The “Office” at certain times every day, do so specifically for the Church; for her sanctification. A large portion of the Breviary is made up of the Psalms.
As part of the Sacred Scripture, the author of the Psalms is God the Holy Spirit. The human authorship of the Book of Psalms is attributed to King David, whom St Paul, in the Acts of the Apostles, describes as “a man after God’s own heart.” (Acts 13:22; I Sam 13:14) The young David was said to have played his harp and sung to King Saul, (I Sam 16:23) to soothe the King. I can imagine him in so many of the Psalms, weeping, (2 Sam 18:33); or jumping in dance and praise to God. (I Chron 15:29)
I once had a paperback copy of the Psalms that I used to take to prayer. This edition titled the Psalms, for example, “A Psalm in times of difficulty;” “A Psalm of thanksgiving;” “A Prayer for one falsely accused,” etc. This little paperback became my prayer book, and eventually it was so worn that the pages were soiled, dog-eared and torn, and the book had to be held together with rubber bands.
We can laugh, cry, yell and shout, in our prayer to God, and the Psalms is well suited to these deeply felt expressions. I think maybe that is one of the reasons that Jesus said, “When you pray, go to your room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret.” (Mt 6:6)
Better sometimes to pray in private - otherwise when we exclaim our praise, or cry in sorrow, others might think we have gone over the edge!
The Psalms were written as songs, and many of us are deeply moved by music. A particular song can remind us of some event or person in our life. These same experiences can be reflected in the texts of the Psalms.
Some people may object to the tone of certain Psalms which are very strongly worded against ‘enemies.’ They may wonder how Our Lord can tell us clearly, in the Gospel, to “Love our enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you.” (Lk 6:27-28) But the Psalms are often cries for help that ask God to destroy those who are attacking us.
Psalm 59 – (verse 2) “Rescue me , O God, from my enemies; defend me against those who rise up against me.” (v. 6) “Rise up to help me. Show no mercy to these wicked deceivers.”
When I pray the Psalms, often their pleas for help become prayers for deliverance against the enemies which are my sins, my vices. “O God, get rid of my pride. Destroy, in me, my selfishness!”
Do I want God to wipe out all inclinations against impurity? You bet I do!
Psalm 59: 7 “They return each evening, snarling like dogs.” (v.11) “May God go before us – and allow me to have my way with my enemies!” (v.12) Scatter them in your power, O Lord, our shield, and bring them to their knees. (v. 17) And then, O God my strength, I will sing your praises!”
I love the Psalms. They are still my prayer book.