Fr. Daniel Francis
The psalms teach us what people in other eras believed and help us enrich our own experience of God, says Father Daniel Francis.
"Psalms have stood the test of time because they are based on human experience," the Redemptorist priest said.
"Psalms are poetry. St. Augustine called the psalms the voice of Christ."
Francis was the mission leader at the annual Strathcona County ecumenical mission. He gave several talks focusing on the theme of The Unfinished Symphony during the mission which ran Sept. 30 to Oct. 3.
Francis, a scholar and mission preacher from Annapolis, Md., spoke about the psalms during an early breakfast session at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Sherwood Park Oct. 1.
The psalms, he said, are like peering into someone's personal journey in that they allow us to "almost see" the inner struggle and joys and difficulties of the faithful of the past – their prayers, their praises and their songs.
"They give us a peek into how these people lived God 24/7, how they responded in times of tragedy, praised God in times of victory, how they conversed in times of confusion and anger, how they cared for each other in times of need, how they repented and confessed in times of disobedience, how they found God in times of loneliness, how they felt about the law of God," Francis said.
"In other words, (they offer us a) snapshot into the worship life of a Jew; not only the worship services, assemblies and congregational events, but the whole history and background as seen in the emotion of poetry and praise."
Just like songs reflect the sadness or the happiness of a given country, the psalms reflect the relationship the faithful had with God in times past.
The psalms are honest expressions of either love for God, questioning of God or friendship with God.
"In the psalms we wrestle with this God who desires to win us over."
There are psalms of lament, joy, gratitude and praise, among others. In psalms of lament, especially Psalm 13, the author addresses God, complains to God, trusts God, has a request and vows to praise God.
In Psalm 6, for example, the author finally gets resolution and then expresses joy.
In his presentation, Francis gave several suggestions on how to pray the psalms, including saying them out loud.
"Read them slowly, thoughtfully, assenting to what they say with as much understanding as you have intellectually and emotionally. Don't just read them; pray them. Say them from the heart."
The Redemptorist also told his audience not to be afraid to change the words of the psalms.
"Paraphrase them; make them your own. Learn them by heart. Let them breathe in you."
The spirituality of the psalms becomes part of us because they are part of Jesus, stressed Francis.
"Jesus is Psalm 1; in his humanity Jesus relies on the psalm for comfort. He needed the psalm because he felt all the same basic struggles and temptations that we do.
"The most moving example of Jesus praying a psalm is when he hung on the cross and (voiced) Psalm 22: 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'"
The psalms have become prayers of Christ, he said.
"Clearly Jesus spent a lot of time praying the psalms; probably like other Jews of his day he learned (to pray) this way."
The Psalter is the prayer book of Jesus Christ.
"He prayed the Psalter and now that it has become his prayer book for all time, those who pray the psalms are joining in prayer with Jesus and their prayer reaches the ears of God," Francis said.
Nine Christian churches sponsor the ecumenical mission, including Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish.