Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J

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When we think of the Lord’s Prayer we think of the Our Father. But the Lord’s prayer, that is, the prayer the Lord himself prayed, was really the Psalms. The Psalms were the first prayers that Jesus learned from Mary and Joseph at Nazareth. These were the prayers he knew by heart and cherished. These were the prayers he said in the synagogue and temple. The last prayer he said on the cross was Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.”

The Psalms are essentially songs. (Ps.92; 95) They are principally songs of praise and thanksgiving. (Ps. 66; 113) But they also explore the full range of human experience in a very earthy way. They served as a hymn book and prayer guide for the Jewish people, and also for the first Christians. St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in Psalms and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always and for everything, in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Eph. 5:19) The Breviary, the official prayer book of the Church, contains all 150 of the Psalms, and the Mass, the official worship of the Church contains many Psalms. Today, the Psalms are the most widely read and best loved book in the Bible.

We have seen that prayer is the awareness and the expression of our personal relationship with God. The Israelites wholly accepted the intimacy of this relationship. They thought of themselves as the Chosen People, sometimes unfaithful, but always natural and human, open and trusting in their dialogue with God. (Ps.51) The uniqueness of their relationship with God enabled them to face God no matter what their emotions might be. And so the Psalms express all of the basic human emotions, fear, trust, anger, joy, doubt and thanks. So the Psalms illustrates one of the fundamental rules of prayer, come as you are with all of the physical warts, psychological quirks and spiritual infidelities. Don’t try to give God a snow job, he knows us better than we know ourselves. (Ps.139)

But throughout the whole gamut of feelings and emotions God always remains Supreme, the one and only God, the Creator and Ruler of all. (Ps.14) He is a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness.

The Psalms also express beautifully and powerfully the two most powerful forces in the world. One is the innate, insatiable desire in every human being for God. “As the deer longs for running water, so my soul longs for you, O God.” (Ps. 42) “For you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts, like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.” (Ps.63) The other is God’s relentless search for us. “Today if you hear God’s voice harden not your hearts.” (Ps 95)

The Psalms tell us also that man is God’s most wonderful creation. (Ps.8) He has been endowed with reason, and free will. He suffers when he breaks God’s law, but is restored to God’s favor when he repents. Nature, though under God’s control, has been given to man for his sustenance, protection and enjoyment. Man is the steward of creation and one day will have to render an account of his stewardship. Man’s true happiness lies in obedience and trust in God. (Ps.1; 3)

It is often said that the Old Testament is the testament of justice and the New Testament is the testament of love. The Psalms shatters this idea by expressing beautifully the unconditional love of God. (Ps.136; 118; 23)

The power of the Psalms lies in their simplicity and sincerity. They are spontaneous overflows of powerful feelings and emotions that are common to us all: the thirst for God, our sense of unworthiness, our yearning for forgiveness and cleansing, our struggle with doubt, our impatience with God, and the confidence and peace that comes from hiding in the shelter of the most high God. The Psalms give us a beautiful example of what is called “earthy mysticism.”

We all want to have an intimate personal relationship with God, in which we can be ourselves and express our most intimate feelings and emotions with great trust and confidence. Praying the Psalms will help us to attain that relationship.


© 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J. all rights reserved