Each of the biblical verses in the Book of Psalms was written by a different person, in a different situation, with a different set of needs, and they all turn to the Lord and speak those needs, said Rev. Patrick J. Griffin, C.M., Executive Director, Vincentian Center for Church and Society at St. John’s University, during his virtual presentation on February 27, “The Psalms: 150 Conversations with God.”
“The Psalms are prayers, and we are invited to use them as prayers for ourselves and for our communities. Each Psalm represents a person who turns to their God with a prayer that arises from the human heart.”
The “Three Things Talks” series addresses issues of Catholic belief and teaching. The talks are intended for Catholics who want to know more about their faith, as well as for those who are interested in various beliefs that Catholics hold.
During the 2020–21 academic year, the “Three Things Talks” have reflected the University’s current 150th anniversary celebration. Fr. Griffin said his decision to talk about the Psalms was an obvious one because there are 150 Psalms, and “the Psalms are among my favorite books of the scriptures.”
When people hold a Psalter, a copy of the biblical Psalms, in their hands, they are holding a prayer book and are invited to pray, Fr. Griffin explained. They are also holding a hymnal and are invited to sing. In addition, they are holding a catechism, and they are invited to study and come to know better what it is that they believe and what the psalms convey for them.
“The Psalter captures experiences of every kind and echoes voices of need, contrition, and thanksgiving. When you read the Psalms, see if you recognize yourself in it and the way in which it says something about who you are,” he said. “But also recognize that, sometimes, the Psalm reveals something about yourself that you didn’t know—something that you had not thought about or something that you would not have expressed in that way.”
“The bottom line,” Fr. Griffin stressed, “is make the Psalm your own.”
He offered other hints on how to reflect on the Psalms, encouraging his audience to try to capture the “flavor” of the Psalm they are praying. “Each of the Psalms has a different orientation and uses different words and depends upon images that are very helpful for us,” he said. “They give color and meaning to what the psalmist, the author, is trying to say.”
Fr. Griffin also advised embracing the imagery of a Psalm. “We don’t have to pray a Psalm exactly the way that the author wrote it. The purpose of the Psalm is not to pray his prayer or her prayer, but to pray our prayer. If the Psalm captures your imagination and brings it in other directions, go with it.”