20. TEACH US TO PRAY. In the spirit of Jesus

Created: Friday, 23 August 2013 Last Updated: Monday, 31 March 2014

In the spirit of Jesus

1.- To initiate in the prayer, is part of the evangelization process: “Teach us to pray”, Jesus´ disciples tell him (Lk 11, 1). To pray is to talk with God, with a God who speaks with us. Really, “the spirit comes to help our weakness, because we do not know how to pray as it is convenient” (Rm 8, 26). We can pray with the psalms, like the first communities, in the spirit of Jesus.

To pray with the psalms
2.- The palms are poems, songs and prayers (see Ps 104,33-34): “The psalms are Israel’s prayer, human experience expression looking towards God” (Schökel). In the psalms, everything (people and individual life) turns into prayer, alive and diverse, by the action of different authors who transform the experience into word.
3.- The book of the psalms is simple and familiar. Nevertheless, it presents difficulties. An anonymous chain of authors have composed the psalms. They reach us like a collection of five sets. Some are duplicated or ill divided, so the number of 150 is approximated. Besides, Hebrew text implies some problems and this partially explains translations´ diversity. We should place its origin first years of the monarchy (X century b. C.) and its flourishing in the period that goes to the middle of the VIII century b. C.. In many cases, prayer with the psalms is subject to routine and simple repetition.
4. - There is no psalms logic order: “It is true that, sometimes, we find some psalms that have been ordered according some kind of logic: there are, for instance, groups of individual lamentations (Ps 5-7; 54-57; 61-64; 69-71;140-143), psalms of thanksgiving (Ps 40s), hymns (Ps 65s; 95-100; 103-105; 134-136; 145-150), royal songs (Ps 20s), communitarian lamentations (Ps 89s), wisdom proverbs (Ps 127), alphabetic psalms (Ps 111s). The group of psalms 74-83  talks about Israel’s destiny; psalms 105-106 contain narrations, psalms 46-48 have scatological contains. But the absence of an internal relationship between consecutive psalms is much more frequent… even in the enclosure of the group of psalms 120-124, known as peregrination songs, exist very diverse styles” (Gunkel).
5. -  The book of the psalms does not appear like and isolated work, but it is part of the religious poetry in and out of Israel (Babylon, Asir, Egypt), from the third millennium before Christ until the time of Christianism diffusion. There are many poems that go into this context: Moses´ sea song (Ex 15); Deborah’s song (Jdg 5); Ann’s thanksgiving song (1S2); that of David (2S 22), that reappears in psalm 18; Jonah’s song (Jon 2) and that of Hezekiah (Is 38,9 folls); some verses of Chronicles (1Chr 16,8 folls); Tobias songs (Tob 13) and Judith’s (Jdt 16); Azariah and the three youngsters songs (Dan 3). And in the New Testament itself, Mary’s songs (Lk 1,46 folls), Zechariah (Lk 1,67folls) and those of the Revelation (Rev 4,11; 5,9 folls; 15,3 folls; 19,6 folls).
6. - The book of the psalms shows the track of the different epochs by which Israelite’s religiosity has been walking. The biggest influence came from the prophets. The authors of some psalms use styles created by the prophets and, following their example, they announce God’s will (Ps 50) and the feeling of the future (Ps 82). In all, the most meaningful effect of the prophetic influence was the little value given to the external cult: “The pious men learnt to tune their songs aside from any external action and independently of the official cult” (Gunkel).
7. -  In its origin, prophecy has nothing to do with the religious poetry, but, in a given moment, prophets use psalms poetry to better express his message. In this manner they sing lamentations to express people or individual suffering (Jer 14,1-6; 7-9;19-22: Is 63, 11 folls; Mic 7,7 folls; Jer 11,18-20; 12,1-6; 15,15-21; 17,12-18; Lm 3.5), they compose songs and hymns and they place them in the mouth of the future Israel that will sing them when, free of their evils, they celebrate with joy the feast dedicated to his God (Is 12; 25,1 folls; 26,1 folls; 42, 10-12; 49,13;52,9 folls).
8. -      Israel’s cult are in the origin of the psalms. Nevertheless, there are many (in fact, most of them) in which no allusion is made to the cultural context or the reference to it is very scarce.  These psalms have their origin in the private prayer and have a more personnel character.
9.-  Psalms prayer changes according to the individual or collective situation provoking it. Since their situations are typical, repeatable, the prayers that come out can be distinguished and grouped by their themes and motives, their style and language, the situation of their origin or destiny, showing the literary styles. They can be classified (in a flexible way, since there are also mixed styles), in several groups.The Hymn is a praising song to God because of His works in creation and in history. It usually consists in an introduction, a central part that proclaims God’s actions and a conclusion (Ps 8; 65; 136): According to the theme, the hymn can be: song to Lord’s royalty, in which – in one or other way – “the Lord reigns” is sung (Ps 47; 99), and Zion’s song, in which we sing to the holy city, the mountain of the temple, in the occasion of a peregrination or a feast in Jerusalem (Ps 48; 87; 84; 122). Sometimes it is identified with the thanksgiving action (Ps 18; 116).
10.- The prayer of request, like that of praising and the one of thanksgiving, can be individual or collective. After the invocation to God, the psalm’s central part can reflect a disgrace situation (Ps 79), the complain presented to the Lord (Ps 74,11), sins confession (Ps 51) or innocence confession (Ps 44,18). Frequently, the prayer includes a confidence act and, to the end, a thanksgiving promise. It can be the pursued prayer (Ps 35), that of an ill man (Ps 41), or of an innocent unjustly prosecuted who appeals to God’s tribunal (Ps 7; 17). Confidence psalm came out, perhaps, of the one of petition; it can express confidence in God, serene and sure, or the effort to fortify a confidence in crisis (Ps 16; 23; 27) warship psalms reflect a religious celebration (Ps 15, 24; 118) and the sapient  psalms exude wisdom in its reflexive tone and his didactic style (Ps 1; 37; 49) or its meditation on Israel’s history (Ps 78; 105; 106).
11.-  Once situated the psalm in its style, we can proceed to its comprehension, Every one of the psalms has a unity, giving sense to it, and capable of presenting very diverse resources. Besides, each psalm is unique and contains some distinctive feature. There are psalms that we do not forget. To that, each one adds his attitudes, worries, voice tone, spiritual and corporal resonance. Senses can symbolize spiritual experiences: not only to hear and to see, but also to taste and to touch (PS 34; 63). Message aside, the believer makes psalms feelings and language as of himself. It is what is called appropriation: “The psalm stays open and ready, for the transcendental jump too, when the psalms praying is, without loosing the Jewish precedent sense, Jesus Christ. In Augustine explanation, Jesus Christ pronounces some psalms like God, others like a singular man, others like the head of the Church’s body.  Being Jesus a psalms´ worshipper, he fills them with a new sense for the Christians. From this comes the Christian reading of the psalms that could be named Christian prayer. The reading begin seeking if the psalm is cited in the New Testament, for instance the psalm 22  in the passion. Afterwards, he will examine the presence of symbols and his transformation, looking, afterwards, for equivalent situations in Church’s life” (Schökel)
12. -    The psalms are, before all, a prayer repertory. To understand the psalms to the end, we must pray personally with them. Israel has the conviction of being a people who talks with God, with an alive God who talks with the man: “He reveals his word to Jacob, his precepts and judgements to Israel” (Ps 147,19).
Like the first communities

13. - Following the track of the psalms in the New Testament, we can see up to which point Israel’s songs and prayers were present in the ancient Christianism. In the first communities the most diverse psalms appear spontaneously and at ease. Sometimes only a few words are present, but its allusion is identifiable.

14.- In the passage of the wise men (Mt 2, 1 foll.) the accomplishment of  psalm 72 is celebrated: “ Tarsis and islands kings will bring tax” (Ps 72, 10 – 11). In the temptations (Mt  4, 1 foll.; Lk 4, 1 foll.) psalm 91 appears devilishly: If you are Son of God… In the beatitudes, where it is said “Fortunate are the gentle, they shall possess the land.” (Mt 5, 5) we can acknowledge the presence of psalm 37: “The humble will inherit the land” (Ps 37, 11); where it is said “Fortunate are those who mourn, they shall be comforted” (Mt 5, 4), we can recall: “They went forth weeping… they will come home with joyful shouts” (Ps 126, 6); where it is said: “Fortunate are those with a pure heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5, 8), psalms appear talking about the clean heart (Ps 24, 4; 51, 12; 73, 1); where the advise is not to swear in any way, neither for the land that is the footstool of his feet, nor for Jerusalem, which is the city of the great king (Mt 5, 8), psalms that acclaim the King and Lord, whose name should not be taken in vain, are referred to (Ps 99, 5; Ps 48, 2 – 3)

15. The rejection of villains and oppressors (Ps 6, 9) also reach those who say: Lord!, Lord!, but they do not accomplish God´s will: “Move away from me” (Mt 7, 23); in the parable of the mustard see (Mt 13, 32), the seed becomes a tree and there make their nest the birds (Ps 104, 17); as Jesus talks in parables (Mt 13, 35), psalm 78 is accomplished: “I will speak in parables” (Ps 78, 2); where Jesus says: “I have come that they may have life, life in all its fullness” (Jn 10, 11), he refers to psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I miss nothing”; where Jesus multiplies the loaves, the expected signal is sung: “There will be plenty of bread in the land” (Ps 72, 16; Ps 78, 29; Mt 14, 13 – 21); when the Jews accuse him of making himself as if he were God, Jesus answers with psalm 82; “Is this not written in your Law: I said: you are gods?”(Jn 10, 34); before Lazarus´ tomb, Jesus prays with Psalm 138: “I thank you, Lord, because you have listened the words of my mouth” (Jn 11, 41 – 42); when God´s judgement in mentioned, psalm 62 in on line: “You pay the man according with his works” (Mt 16, 27); Ps 62, 13); when entering Jerusalem, as the children acclaim him, Jesus refers to Psalm 8: “Even the mouths of children and infants exalt your glory” (Mt 21, 16; Ps 8, 3); In the parable of the tenants Psalm 118 is mentioned: “The stone rejected y the architects” (Mt 21, 42; Ps 118, 22 foll.); Psalms 2 and 110 are used to confess Jesus like Christ, like Lord, like son of God (Mt 3, 17; 17, 5; Mk 12, 35 -37; 16, 19)

16. In the passion, several facts and situations are lived in the light of the psalms: Judas´ betrayal, “The one who shared my table has risen against me” (Jn 13, 18; Ps 41, 10); the relatives and acquaintances withdrawal , “far away they stay” (Lk 23, 49; Ps 38, 12; 69, 9; 88,9); the prayer in the orchard, “My soul is filled with sorrow even to death” (Mt 26, 38; Ps 42, 6); in which happens around the cross Saint John sees the accomplishment of psalm 22: Jibes, thirst, dresses sharing; as dying, Jesus puts himself in the hands of God: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Lk 23, 46; Ps 31, 6).

17. In the Acts of the Apostles, Judas final destination and Mathew election are lived from psalm 109: “Let his house become deserted; may another take his office.” (Acts 1, 20; Ps 109, 8); in the light of the resurrection, psalm 16 acquires a new meaning: “You shall not abandon my soul in the death” (Acts 2, 25 foll.; Ps 16, 8 – 11); they are conscious that the God of the glory (Ps 29, 3) leads Israel history (Acts 7, 2) and that David’s election has prepared Jesus´ mission: “I have found David my servant, and with my holy oil I have anointed him”. (Ps 89, 21; Acts 13, 22 – 23); nations judgement and salvation, so frequent in the psalms (Ps 9, 9; 96, 13; 98, 9; Ps 67, 3; 98, 3), also appear in the Acts (17, 31; 28, 28); the “community you have formed of old” (Ps 74, 2) is now “God´s Church, acquired with the blood of your own son” (Acts 20, 28)

18. In Paul’s letters, the justification message is supported by the psalms: God´s justice is revealed by the Gospel (Rm 1, 16 foll.; Ps 98, 2), for the salvation of those who believe, of the Jew and the Greek too (Rm 1, 16; Ps 98, 9); God´s anger denounces the impiety injustice and idolatry of the men: “They changed his glory for the image of a bull calf” (Rm 1, 23; Ps 106, 20); the sin is universal: God is truthful and every man is a liar (Rm 3, 4; Ps 116, 11); it is also said: “So that your justice appears whenever you speak” (Ps 51, 6; in Rm 3, 10 foll. Ps 5, 10; 14, 1 foll.; 140, 4 is cited; and Ps 36, 2 in Rm 3, 18), “before you no living creature is just” (Rm 3, 20; Ps 143, 2); nevertheless, the acknowledgment of sin obtains its forgiveness (Rm 4, 7 foll; Ps 32, 1 foll.); Christ´s word is disseminated everywhere: “His voice is spread around all the land” (Rm 10, 18; Ps 19, 5); The answer is the praise of the gentiles” (Rm 15, 9. 11; Ps 18, 50 and 11, 1); as far as the Jews, “God has not rejected his people” (Rm 11, 1 foll.; Ps 94, 14), but now the Christians are God´s Israel (Ga 6, 16; Ps 125, 5), they load the cross, “like sheep of slaughterhouse” (Rm 8, 36; Ps 44, 23).

19. When Paul says that wisdom of this world is foolishness before God, says psalm 94: “The Lord knows how vain are man thoughts” (1 Co 3, 20; Ps 94, 11); denouncing the gentiles sacred banquets, psalm 106 says: “ they mixed with people”, “they learnt their practices” (1 Co 10, 20; Ps 106, 35 – 39); freedom that comes to us from God, to whom the land and everything in it belongs (1 Co 10, 26; Ps 24, 1), is limited by the fraternal responsibility (1 Co 10, 28); alluding to the spirit of faith received, Paul cites psalm 116: “I believed, that is why I spoke” (2 Co 4, 13; Ps 116, 10); referring to the goods communication, psalm 112 appears: “He shared  with generosity, he gave to the poor” (2 Co 9, 9; Ps 112, 9); when he talks about the shared grace  according to the Christ´s gift measure and his cosmic dimension, he cites psalm 68: “When he ascended to the heights, he brought captives and gave his gifts to people” (Eph 4, 8 foll.; Ps 68 19)

20. In the letter to the Hebrews, psalms proclaim the son’s dignity: “You are my son” (Hb 1, 5; Ps 2, 7), “above the angels” (Hb 1, 7; Ps 104, 4), “Your throne, oh God, for the centuries of the centuries” (Hb 1, 5; Ps 2, 7), “your years have no end” (Hb 1, 12; Ps 102, 28); Jesus is seen accomplished in psalm 110: “The Lord told to my Lord. Sit down at my right” (Hb 1, 13; Ps 110, 1); It is also accomplished in psalm 8: “You submitted everything under his feet” (Hb 2, 8; Ps 8, 7); what is really important is to hear his voice (Hb 3, 7; Ps 95, 7), to achieve God´s will “Sacrifice, offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire” (Hb 10, 5 – 9; Ps 40, 7 – 9), to offer to God a “praising sacrifice” (Hb 13, 15; Ps 59, 14. 23)

21. In the first Letter of Peter psalms are recurred to, when God is advocated like father (1 P 1, 17; Ps 89, 27), when it is recalled that we are “strangers and foreigners” (1 P 2, 11; Ps 39, 13), when we are invited to confide in God (1 P 5, 7; Ps 55, 23); in the second Letter of Peter time relativity serves to explain “God´s delay” (2 P 3, 8; Ps 90, 4)

22. Finally, in the Revelation Christ is presented with psalms like the “first born” and the “prince of the kings of the land” (Rev 1, 5; Ps 89, 8), it is announced that he “who probes the heart and mind” (Rev 2, 23; Ps 7, 10), it is expected that all nations will prostrate before him (Rev 15, 4; Ps 86, 9), he shall graze those elected by God (Rev 7, 17; Ps 23, 2), the enemy powers will drink the coup of the rage (Rev 14, 10; Ps 75, 9; Rev 16, 4; Ps 78, 44 and 79, 3), “great and wonderful are God´s works, just his judgements” (Rev 15, 3; 16, 5; Ps 145, 17), the just “shall contemplate his face” (Rev 22,4; Ps 17, 15; 42, 3).

In the spirit of Jesus
23. Jesus´ prayer begins with the Word: “Father” (Lk 11, 2). Jesus always call Father to God, in aramean “abba”, the familiar term with which a child addresses his father. The evangels place up to one hundred times the word “father” in Jesus´ mouth.   The confidence in the Father and the dialogue with him are the true heart of the Gospel. Jesus teaches his disciples to address his Father with the confidence of a child: “Unless you change and become like children, you cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 18, 3).
24.   Prayer is the dialogue of the man with God. If there is any sense in the dialogue of the man with God is due to that it has been discovered that God talks with the man. To listen and to praise to God that speaks in many ways in the middle of history are the obverse and reverse of the same coin. Really, Jesus of Nazareth first seeds the Word; afterwards he initiates in the prayer to those who have began to listen the Word: “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place and when he have finished, one of his disciples said to him: Lord, teach us to pray, just us John taught to his disciples” (Lk 11,1)
25.  Prayer is communication with God, Saint Therese says: “We can maintain a conversation with not less than God” (1 Moradas 1,6). Like in any communication, we must talk and also listen. Recipes and fixed schemes are of no use. More useful is the conscience of not knowing to ask what is convenient (Rom 8,26). Once and again we need to acknowledge that to pray is something farther away of any method. It is carried out in God’s spirit, although may be “alone” (Mt 14,23), “in secret” (6,6) in community (Acts 1,14).
26. Prayer is part of the experience, of what we are living: “God is among pots” (Saint Therese, Foundations 5,8). Prayer takes us to the deepest part of our life; so, it requires a climate of silence: a fruitful silence, that is neither is a symptom of blockade nor generates anguish, but drives to the heart of our own history; a silence from which both man’s and God’s word may blossom simultaneously; a silence that is the true contemplation of God’s action in history: “Come and see the works of the Lord”. (Ps 46,9).
27.  If we connect with the bottom of our experience, the least important are the words. Not many are needed (Mt 6,7).  If we do not have our own words, we can find them in the psalms, in the Bible. We can, in every meeting, follow  Paul’s advise: “Each of you can take part with a song, a teaching or a revelation, by speaking in tongues or interpreting what has been said in tongues” (1 Co 14,26). Vatican Council II has recalled it: “In the sacred books, the Father, who is in heaven, tenderly comes out to the encounter with his sons to converse with them” (DV 21). In a special way, the book of the psalms (Lk 20,42; Acts 1,20; Lk 24,44) takes their language, songs and prayers from the first Christian community. Where hymns and inspired songs are composed and sung (Eph 5,19; Col 3,16).
28. When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray, they are asking him something essentially original of the Gospel. Each group, then like now, differs in its way of praying. Prayer gives unity and identity to the group, creating community. Jesus prayer manifests his the essentiality of his mission, gospel’s heart. In the catechumenal tradition of the first centuries, Lord’s prayer is a secret that was only revealed at the end of the process, in the context of a intensive catechesis about it.
29. Lord’s prayer is not only a common way of prayer, but also an evangelisation scheme, according which we dare to pray like Jesus, in the Gospel’s spirit (Our Father): we address the father with confidence; we want his name not profaned but sanctified; we look above all for God´s kingdom and his justice, the accomplishment of his will; we ask what is necessary to live, the bread, hoping in his providence; we ask what is necessary to live together, the pardon, as sons who need to be forgiven, like brothers who need to forgive; we watch and pray before temptation, before the evil that lurks humanity from the beginning.
30. God continues speaking, That who listens his word, is made God’s son (Jn 1,12), who can say: “You, my Father, my God, and rock of my salvation (Ps 89,27). And also: “Hold secure my lot” (Ps 16,5). That who rejects his word, is made “son of the prostitution” (Jn 8,41?). Baptism’s water is of little use, if we do not present a conversion fruit. It is not enough to say: “We are sons of Abraham” (Lk 3,8), or even “we are all life Catholics”. The acknowledgement of God like Father is the experience we need to be able to overcome the falling of our securities and to live in confidence, as sons who claim in the spirit: ¡ Abba, Father! (Rom 8,15; Ga 4,6). It is the deepest foundation of the universal fraternity: all of us are brothers; God is our Father.
31. Confidence is prayer foundation. It is affirmed many times with simplicity, without going into details: “But I put my trust in you” (Ps 13,6), “you are my God” (Ps 140,7; 31,13). We often call to the Lord, “My God” (Ps 104,1). It is “the confidence” (Ps 22,10), “the hope” (Ps 71,5) of the believer, “the living God” (Ps 42,3), of is salvation (Ps 25,5), his light (Ps 27,1), his redeemer (Ps 19,15). The innocent addresses to Him like a “just God” (Ps 17,1), the calumniated names him “my glory” (Ps 3,4), the indigent names him “my help” (Ps 22,20). The Lord is “a refuge” (Ps 61,4), “a stronghold” (Ps 31,4), “a rock” (Ps 19,5), “fortress” (Ps 31,3), a “strong tower” (Ps 61,4), “my shield” (Ps 3,4), “shepherd” (Ps 23,1). The love of a mother (Is 49,15;Ps 131,2) and the compassion of a father (Ps 103,13) are his love reflection: “God is love” (1Jn 4,8).
32. Let us see this Jesus´ prayer: “Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, I praise you, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to simple people” (Mt 11,25). Forward on he says: “Come to me, all of you who work hard and who carry heavy burdens… and I will refresh your souls” (11,28-29). Jesus prays with words that we can find in Psalm 34: “I will bless the Lord all my days; his praise will be ever on my lips; my soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice”. He also says: “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; from all my fears he delivered me”. And finally: “He saves the poor from the distress.”
33. Before Lazarus´ tomb Jesus prays as follows:  “Father, I thank you for you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me; but my prayer was for the sake of these people, so that they can believe that you sent me” (Jn 11,24). The situation is this: his friend has died, he has received a reproach for not having been there, he has announced that life overcomes death, a signal is produced., Lazarus is alive. Jesus thanks with words we can acknowledge in the psalm 138: “I thank you, O Lord, with all my heart, for you have heard the word of my lips”.
34. In the last supper, Jesus prays for the disciples: “Holy Father, keep in your name those that you have given me” (Jn 17,11). Judas´ treason waits: “The one who shares my table has risen against me” (Jn 13,17; Ps 41,10). In the orchard loneliness, Jesus feels sadness and anguish. Psalm 42 is accomplished: “So downcast is my soul, to the point of dying” (Ps 42,7). Then he prays like this: “Father, if it possible, take this cup away for me. Yet not what I want, but what you want” (Mt 26,39). It is said in psalm 40: “Here I come to do your will”. On the cross he proclaims the accomplishment of psalm 22 in all that is happening: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27,46; Jn 19,24. 28). Finally, in the moment of dying, he prays with words from psalm 31: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23,46).
* Dialogue: How do we pray? What do the psalms mean for us? How are the psalms used in the first communities? Do we pray with Jesus´ spirit?