Psalms as Personal Prayer

On our journey to heaven, the three primary means of knowing God are reading/studying the Bible, prayer, and receiving the sacraments. There is something that combines two of these three! The Book of Psalms (right in the very middle of the Bible) are prayers that God has given us to pray to Him. Just as Jesus models prayer with the Lord’s Prayer, so too does YHWH use David and others to model prayer via the psalms. 

Psalms as Personal Prayer front coverHe gave them to us in the Hebrew language through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; in order to pray them we have translations— a number of them. There are numerous translations due to preferences of different sects within Christendom, translations to conform to the English language in different time periods and dialects, and to address different purposes for the translation. Yes, translations have different purposes or goals: one might be intended for liturgical use (NAB, NABRE), others for musical usage (Grailville). Still others for formatting (Jesus’ words in red) or for ecumenical audiences (RSV, NRSV). 

The newest translation— Psalms as Personal Prayer, an Intimate Translation— has just been released with the purpose of personal prayer engendering an intimacy with my Creator and Redeemer; coincidentally it also has the goal of being the most true to the original— inspired— Hebrew language. To do so it scrupulously holds to the Bible’s overall message, and to the poetry within the Psalms. 

Spoiler alert: I am the translator of these psalms! My study of the Hebrew language at Mount St. Mary’s School of Theology (aka The Athenaeum of Ohio) and two decades of teaching the Psalms and Scripture as a whole have prepared me for this, my life’s work. It is available strictly as an eBook (Apple or Kindle). See the web page where you can get details and subscribe to your own copy that you can download to your multiple devices connected with your online account.

This can be used in conjunction with your Liturgy of the Hours (Morning and Evening Christian Prayer), your own devotional or prayer regimen, or while waiting in line throughout the day! Please let me know your experience with these. When you go online to the purchase page at your preferred vendor, you’ll be able to see an excerpt. I hope you will find this translation a blessing and helpful boost to your prayer life. And, oh yes I have written commentaries after a number of these psalms. 

Crucifixion Insight from Chrysostom

Good Friday. We see Jesus, divine Son of God who has consented to take human form, crucified ignominiously on the cross. An innocent man suffering the death of a criminal. The Gospel passage relates that in order to confirm death, one soldier thrusts his lance into Jesus’ side: blood and water flow out, he is indeed deceased (Jn 19:34). We realize that everything in Biblical accounts, especially as related to Jesus, has symbolic importance and we understand that the water is life-giving and relates to baptism, and blood is life-sustaining and refers to the Holy Eucharist. 

This is the Passover time, and the innocent yet executed Jesus is indeed the sacrificial lamb of the Passover: the angel of death passed over the houses of those Hebrews who sprinkled the blood of the sacrificed lamb on their door posts and lintels. The Hebrews were saved at the time of the Passover and we (all humanity) are saved through Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection. 

St. John Chrysostom (meaning “Golden-mouth”) has even more for us to consider in this mystery. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ body is the preeminent temple. The soldier’s lance breaches that temple and opens it up for all of us. What pours forth are the initiation sacraments of the Church. This is the birth of the Church. 

In the verses immediately preceding this scene, Jesus spoke to the disciple whom he loved and instituted him (who represents us) as the son of Mary, and then gave the disciple (again, us) to his new Mother (Jn 19:26f). Thereupon we have our Mother Church. Then in the scene of Jesus’ side (temple) being opened for us, the initiation sacraments of the Church are given to us. So these two actions together are the founding of the Church. 

Chrysostom further elaborates how fitting it is that Jesus (the new Adam) created the Church from his own side just as Eve (the mother of all mankind) had been fashioned from the side of Adam (Gen 2:21f). Adam had been in a deep sleep and Jesus too was in death, which also was temporary. Note too that Adam describes Eve as “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23a). 

The “golden-mouth” then ends his catechesis: “Do you understand, then, how Christ has united his bride to himself and what food he gives us all to eat? By one and the same food we are both brought into being and nourished. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life.” (See St. John Chrysostom, Catecheses 3:13-19)

Have a Blessed Easter!

Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee

The Ode to Joy is a reflection of our Christian attitude. Joy is prominent in Francis’ 2013 Evangelii Gaudium. If the “good news” of our salvation does not bring us to joy, then what will? Does our Creator not intend for us to be happy, to be full of joy? Did not Jesus’ life begin with great joy? “The angel said to [the shepherds], ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people’” (Luke 2:10).

Indeed, our Blessed Mother revealed her most blessed Rosary, and the first decades focus on Joy! In our pilgrimage to the Holy Land this May, we will focus on the locations where Jesus lived, walked, and spoke with us. The five Joyful Mysteries are revealed in the Gospel According to Luke; they rejoice in Jesus’ earthly beginnings… the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of Emmanuel—God made man. The first two joyful mysteries are proclaimed in the first half of the “Hail Mary,” which we pray so many times in the rosary.


We’ll visit Biblical Nazareth

The Annunciation occurred in Nazareth in Galilee. Nazareth still exists, and we will explore this town where Mary grew up and where, from the archangel Gabriel, she received her revelation of the divine birth of Jesus (see Luke 1:26-38).

The Visitation of Mary with her relative Elizabeth occurred in the hill country of Judea. This is south of the city of Jerusalem, and we will visit this area where Zechariah and Elizabeth raised John the Baptist. “Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb’” (Luke 1:39-56, and at 41-42).

The Nativity of Jesus occurred in the town of Bethlehem, a few short miles south of Jerusalem. We will stay three nights in Bethlehem, and explore the sites of the Nativity, where the angel appears to shepherds, where the shepherds and Magi worshipped, and of course where our Savior Jesus Christ became ‘God made man’ (see Luke 2:1-20).

The Presentation of the baby Jesus—today’s Feast—is a lengthy narrative in the Gospel account of Luke (see Luke 2:22-38). Mary and Joseph present Jesus to the Lord in the temple in Jerusalem. We will visit the one remaining wall of the temple (destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.) during our four-day visit to Jerusalem.

The Finding of Jesus in the Temple memorializes a mother’s joy of finding a lost child; reuniting the family; and the realization that Jesus is no longer a boy but a budding man, preparing for his Father’s work (Luke 2:41-52). This is another great reason that we will visit the Temple in Jerusalem; to contemplate and pray about Jesus’ ministry and the reason for which he was born to woman.

Notice that the entire ‘Infancy Narrative,’ Luke’s introductory two chapters, are summarized as the Five Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. We will contemplate these as we explore the places of Jesus’ birth and childhood. Join us on the Catholic pilgrimage of a lifetime, when we will pray, contemplate, meditate on, and make come alive as never before, the mysteries of the most holy Rosary during May 15-27. Download the flyer »

Come, Follow Me!

The Year of Our Lord, Two Thousand Nineteen. Yes, two millennia ago, Jesus, Emmanuel, God-made-man, walked the earth among us. He was not a hermit; neither was he an intellectual removed from the common man. Jesus lived among us; he engaged us—he challenged us to follow him (Mk 1:17; Mt 4:19; Lk 5:11). As Jesus’ disciples by virtue of Baptism, we are called by Jesus to follow Him just as he called his first disciples in the afore-mentioned Scripture passages.

Jesus also tells us what is involved in discipleship: to love God and to love each other; to be holy as the Father is holy, to treat others as He treats us (Jn 15:8-10, 12, 17); to witness to Him as He witnesses to the Father; to proclaim the kingdom/reign of God (Lk 9:60, Mt 8:22); and to be committed even to the point of the cross (Mt 10:37-38, 16:24-25; Lk 9:23-24, 14:26-27; Mk 8:34-35). Being Jesus’ disciple—following him—is preparation for entering eternal life with Jesus (Mk 10:21-23).

* * *

To make following in the footsteps of Jesus more real, I am organizing a 13-day Catholic pilgrimage to the Holy Land in May 2019. We will visit, with a priest who lives in Jerusalem and is a very experienced Catholic guide, the main locations where Jesus lived and ministered, and the sites where his Passion occurred. The dates are May 15-27, 2019; for more information contact Eric Wolf (772-932-7969).

Acts 16: The Jailer’s Faith

Perhaps you, like me, have been so enamored with the astounding miracle in today’s reading (Acts 16:22-34) that we (I certainly) had overlooked the wonderful witness teaching that we find there.

Historically a number of people have seen—or created—division with the argument of whether our good works lead to our salvation. Some proclaim that, “Since I am already saved, anything I do is OK,” i.e., “it doesn’t matter what I do.” Conversely, some argue that if what I do leads to my salvation, or the alternative, then I’m not saved by Jesus. How can one argue against that—it’s true! Yet one argument or position does not lead irrefutably for or against the other.

The Gospels and Paul’s writings, indeed the whole of the New Testament, makes extremely clear to us that we are saved by faith… faith in Jesus, or by the faith that Jesus exhibits. Yet we still question, How is one saved? What does “being saved” look like here on this side of the chasm of death?

Onward then to Luke’s account of Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in the Roman colony of Philippi, a seaport situated in what is modern-day Greece. Today’s reading recounts the marvelous miracle of the prison doors being thrown wide open by a severe earthquake, which we recognize of course as the Hand of God. Paul and Silas, mindful of the price that the guard would pay should they escape, remain in their cells—a demonstration of Christian agapé (selfless love). Would you or I have stayed, or rather fled for our safety?

Perhaps less astounding or interesting, yet equally as important is the account of what happens next. When the jailer realizes that Paul and Silas had put the jailer’s well-being above their own, he was evangelized or at least realized that they had something greater than his own code of ethics or morality. His response was natural, “What must I do to be saved?” (He had overheard Paul and Silas’ praying and hymn-singing the previous evening.)

The response of course is not unexpected: “Believe in the Lord Jesus!” The jailer being sincere of heart proceeded to the next step (what we term “RCIA”) “So they spoke the word of the Lord to him…”

The jailer’s reaction to hearing the word? “He took them in… and bathed their wounds.” Now, what is the importance of this phrase? It is exactly the point—and result—of true evangelization. When one hears the word, one becomes a disciple and follows Jesus. In this case, the jailer is doing exactly what Jesus would do… minister to the needy (Paul and Silas had been badly beaten with rods). The jailer, upon hearing the word of the Lord, without prompting and of his own volition, follows Jesus and ministers to the sick/needy, sets free the prisoners.

It was only then that he (and his whole family) were baptized. To have allowed himself to be baptized without ministering to those in need would have missed the whole point of discipleship and salvation. But then what happens? The story is not over.

Lastly the jailer brings them (Paul and Silas, his family, others?) into his house and provides a meal. Jesus’ best times were at meals with disciples and others, e.g., feeding of the thousands, Martha and Mary, Last Supper, etc. Just what do they do at this meal? He/they rejoice (express thankful joy, i.e. they pray) at having come to faith in God. What we see here is an early liturgy or Mass along with the sacrament. At our current-day liturgy, we likewise give thanks, we read/pray/study the Scriptures (readings and sermon and prayers and singing).

So this little vignette is a verbal painting portraying evangelization, faith, acceptance of discipleship, worship and liturgy, all in one scene. We see both Baptism and Holy Eucharist and the Mass, which is our meal of faith. A fine model for us, and a demonstration of how our Catholic practices are biblically-sourced from the first generation, and following Jesus’ tradition as articulated by the first generation of Christians.

Yes, the jailer was saved by his faith, itself a grace from God, and his response was what we call “good works.” His good works did not save him, but rather were a manifestation, or natural demonstration, of his realization of his salvation effected by Jesus Christ.

One last question, “Who was set free in this narrative, Paul and Silas, or the jailer?”

—Eric Wolf