One of the things I am most grateful for in my life of prayer has been the praying of the psalms during the liturgy of the hours. Before I began to pray the liturgy of the hours, I had never had close contact with the psalms. There were a couple that I had read or heard that I loved, but outside of that, there were at least 145 psalms to which I had never truly paid attention. However, after three years of praying the liturgy of the hours, though I am still a child in the practice, I have found much more depth in them than I ever thought I would.
One of the earliest ways the psalms were described to me was as the prayers that Christ prayed as a faithful Jew. Even now, when I pray them, I like to imagine a situation or a way in which Jesus would have prayed each one. For any given psalm, it has been helpful for me to picture him praying it from the cross. I know at least one psalm was on his mind when he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I also picture him humming some melody unknown to me and thinking the words of the psalm in his mind after a time of prayer. I see him praying with his disciples, for his people, to his Father in secret, etc. Jesus knew the experiences of the psalms because he created the psalmist, but also because he lived them. In praying the psalms, I know I am getting to know Jesus.
I find that because of praying them as often as I do, I tend to have the words floating around in my head, much like song lyrics do when I’ve been listening to the radio. I remember one time, last year (my second year at Bruté), I was walking and talking to God. As I was telling God something, a line from one of the psalms we pray at night prayer became the next thing I said, and then the rest of the psalm followed. I knew I could sing it by heart because I had practiced it so many times in order to play the organ for our community to chant it. I was not, however, aware of how easily it could have become my own prayer to God. The psalm became personal because the words had become a part of me. That is one of the beauties, I think, of all scripture. With repetition, and over time, it sticks, and as the word of God, it leads me closer to Christ.
Nurturing this relationship with Jesus is the center of my life in seminary. As written in the Bishop Bruté Rule of Life, “The purpose of spiritual formation is to assist the seminarian in coming to know Jesus Christ in a personal and meaningful relationship.” Our daily schedule of prayer, I think, is one of the things for which I am most grateful to formation. The liturgy of the hours is naturally spread out into designated times throughout the day, and our community prayer times along with encouragement to pray the other hours on my own give my prayer life a comfortable consistency. It is really like walking with God. We aren’t running here. Jesus is with me in the prayer, and steadily walking with Him strengthens our relationship.
A very gospel-based image for me at the seminary that I like to picture is that of a plant. Jesus has planted me here in the garden of the seminary. I grow and am nurtured through the food of prayer and formation – a slow process. The psalms are a spiritual fertilizer – I take them in over and over again, and through the slow process of growth, I am transformed into the person God is calling me to be, and I become more like Christ.
I cannot force this transformation because I am not its cause. It is a great gift from God that I can pray or even understand the scripture at all. God has blessed me with the formation at Bruté, and with the liturgy of the hours that metes out scripture with constancy. With the psalms, I walk with God. With the psalms, I am spiritually fed and grow in prayer. With the psalms, I am more united to Christ, but I have a long way to go. I am still at the tip of an eternal iceberg, at the mouth of an endless, beautiful mine. I look forward to the rest of the journey and to seeing where Jesus will take me.
Daniel McGrath is a seminarian studying for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and is a member of the Class of 2019.