Daily prayer is a must for the Christian. In fact, we are really called to live a life of prayer. Our words and deeds ought to be blessings and moments of sanctity whereby we proclaim God and great gift of salvation he bestows upon us through the merits of his son, Jesus Christ. But when we take time specifically for prayer, the Psalms should be in everyone’s prayer arsenal. Every kind of prayer – and everything you might need to pray about – can be found in the Psalms. Like most Catholics, however, I haven’t spent nearly enough time in Psalms.
But I am now.
While I am spending more time dwelling on the Pslams, I decided it would be a good idea to reflect upon one on the weekend. Today I would like to offer a brief introduction and a look at Psalm 1. These posts, however, will not follow them all in order but I thought best to start at the beginning for this first reflection.
In case you didn’t know there are 150 Psalms, each of which is a prayer offered to God in praise, thanksgiving, adoration, contrition, or supplication. Outside of the Lord’s Prayer, there is no better school of prayer found in the Bible. They are an important element in each and every Catholic Mass and they can also be found in daily Catholic prayers like the Liturgy of the Hours. During the first centuries of Christianity, many monks would recite all 150 Psalms daily and this would become the basis for the pattern of the Rosary (which traditionally included 150 Hail Mary’s). If you’re looking for Psalms in your Bible, you’ll need to turn to the Old Testament as they date from ancient Israel. After centuries of Jewish-Christian strife, the Psalms today provide a wonderful connection between Christians and Jews.
Since Psalm 1 is rather short – only six verses – so let us turn to it in its entirety:
Happy those who do not follow
the counsel of the wicked,
Nor go the way of sinners,
nor sit in company with scoffers.
Rather, the law of the LORD is their joy;
God's law they study day and night.
They are like a tree
planted near streams of water,
that yields its fruit in season;
Its leaves never wither;
whatever they do prospers.
But not the wicked!
They are like chaff driven by the wind.
Therefore the wicked will not survive judgment,
nor will sinners in the assembly of the just.
The LORD watches over the way of the just,
but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.
The title for Psalm 1 is True Happiness in God’s Law, and for a practicing Jew the Law of Moses was of the greatest importance. In Gospels, however, Jesus is asked about the Law and he summed it up in two commandments: (1) love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might, and (2) love your neighbor as yourself. If only we follow these two commandments, we shall fulfill what is found in the Law of Moses and find true happiness. The concepts of law and happiness, however, may easily remind us of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount during which he acts like a New Moses who goes up upon the mount and gives us a New Law. Indeed, the beginning of each of the eight beatitudes is often translated as: “Happy are they who…” It is here that we may find our beatitude – our blessing or objective happiness.
It should also be said that this new law of love is by nature active. Our lives in Christ must begin in faith but be expressed and shared with others through love so that we may be, as the Psalm says, “like a tree… that yields its fruit in season.” As Christians, we look forward to the Second Coming of Christ and the union of heaven and earth in the New Jerusalem. Indeed, the Book of Revelation speaks of the tree of life which is united to the river of life-giving water (see Revelation 22:1-2). While there are seasons of fruit in this life, in eternity the fruits of the tree of life are year round and bountiful!
Even in this life, however, St. Paul tells us it is important that our “faith works through love,” (Galatians 5:6), and in order for us to yield good fruit, we must be intimately bound to Christ who is the true vine (see John 15:4-5). When Jesus sent the Apostles out into the world to preach the Gospel, he reminded them that he would be with them – indeed we must remember that Christ is not only with us, he is working through us now precisely because we are members of his body! This is why Pope Leo the Great in the 5th century wrote:
"Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God's own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God."
Nevertheless, there are the wicked who “will not survive judgment.” Yes, Christians do believe in that placed called hell. But it should be noted that avoiding hell is an entirely simple process – I didn’t say it was easy, but it is simple. Whether or not you believe in Purgatory (as I do as a Catholic), we can both agree that following the two great commandments spoken on above will guide one past perdition and on to the gates of heaven. Love is the answer. It means placing God first and serving others. It means self-sacrifice.
Ultimately it means entering into the “assembly of the just” – the Communion of Saints.