June 23, 2011

Praying the Psalms

God has revealed to us how we are to praise Him -- and the right way to praise God is found in the psalms.  The Holy Father, Pope Benedict, explains that the Psalms teach us how to pray to God.  His catechesis has ancient roots.  St. Athanasius passes on this same teaching he learned from St. Antony of the Desert at the end of the 3rd Century.  The psalms teach us how to raise our hearts in prayer just as Jesus raised his heart in prayer.

The praying of the psalms, especially in the Liturgy of the Hours, is a school for the heart, providing words for interior movements so delicate and beautiful, the heart itself is scarcely aware of what they are and without divine help powerless to articulate them.  It is a matter of learning how to "feel" about God and all things in relation to God in a manner that truly renders fitting praise.  This perfection, the heart feeling what it ought to feel before God, lived in the heart of Christ informing every word and thought He offered the Father.  Conforming our hearts to the Heart of Christ is a work of the Holy Spirit to which the psalms dispose the soul.  In fact, the Word himself prayed the psalms -- and based on his own teaching on prayer, he must of prayed the psalms with complete attentiveness to every thought and emotion they disclose, complete confidence in how our heavenly Father would receive such prayer, and complete attention to who He was to be offering such prayer.

Earlier this year, Father Benedict Groeschel offered the annual retreat to our seminarians.  It was an honor to have an opportunity for a short conversation with him after the retreat while taking him to the airport.  Just before we left, one of the seminarians asked me to find out how Father Groeschel prays the psalms.  So I asked him.  He answered with one word, "Slowly."

This would seem to be the best way for us to allow the psalms to teach us the movements of the heart of Christ.  When we pray them slowly and consider what the psalms contain - that "range of human experience" the psalms convey, as Pope Benedict reminds us - it gives ours hearts the time they need to catch up and to appropriate the psalms to our lives. Even better, taking time to thoughtfully consider what we are offering the Lord in these revealed prayers affords the Holy Spirit the opportunity to appropriate our lives to the psalms.  In this kind of prayer, our lives become the praise we offer.