Thursday, 24 January 2013


What a happy coincidence!  There I was quietly saying the Breviary –or Prayer of the Church –when I raised my head and looked through the window.  Low and behold what I saw was beautifully described by the passage I was reading, taken
from the Book of Ecclesiasticus.
And what did I see?  Snow falling. But the author, Ben Sirach, put it much better than that. He delighted in the wonderful artistry of God’s creative genius.   He –the Lord - sprinkles snow like birds alighting, it comes down like locusts settling. The eye marvels at the beauty of its whiteness, and the mind is amazed at its falling,” (Ecclesiasticus 43. 17-18). The snow was indeed beautiful and it was fascinating to watch the flakes dance and pirouette in the breeze.  But this same extract from Ecclesiasticus went on to describe what someone using the Prayer of the Church in Australia or the Judean Desert would have experienced, “He –the Lord -swallows up the mountains and scorches the desert, like a fire he consumes the vegetation.  But the mist heals everything in good time, after the heat falls the reviving dew,” (43. 21-22). In wonder the author concludes, “We could say much more and still fall short; to put it concisely, ‘He is all.’ Where shall we find sufficient power to glorify him, since he is the Great One, above all his works,” (43. 27-28).
This passage from the Book of Eccesiasticus powerfully showed me how the Sacred Scriptures reflect not only the different kinds of weather we may experience –always fascinating for an Englishman -but also the diversity of situations we may face, and the different ways we relate to God.  All this is especially true of the psalms, which form a large part of the Prayer of the Church.
I can identify with them in praising and thanking God; in asking for what I need; in seeking His forgiveness.  In pain and distress I cry to Him for assistance.  As I seek His assistance I draw upon the infinite power of God’s love and mercy.  When I’ve identified with the Psalms of Lamentation –what someone graphically describes as ‘howling before the Lord’ –they’ve given me hope amidst my distress and despair. That was a very real healing!  The lamentations in the Bible have taught me not to be afraid to be absolutely honest with God, not to be afraid to speak my mind, even when my thoughts are ugly about life, about certain people who 'stress me out,' and even about God Himself.  His love for me has the resilience of a loyal friend; God’s most certainly is not brittle or fickle!
After using the Prayer of the Church for over sixty years I’ve been struck that its very title. This suggests unselfishness. Certainly I try to make these prayers my own, but as Prayers of the Church they reach beyond me, beyond the Church itself to embrace the whole world. Though separated, we pray with each other and for each other. While my brother, Peter, is praying in the tropical heat, I’m saying the breviary in frozen winter.  Together we bring before the Lord the differing moods, needs and aspirations of members of the community.

Certainly there will be times when my feelings may be very different from that of the particular psalm I’m praying.  No matter. Someone in the community will be feeling the desperation or joy expressed by a particular psalm. For my brother or sister’s sake I put my own feelings aside and am content to bring theirs before God. It’s very good for me to be taken outside my own world! If the psalms express someone’s anger and vengeance they expose these unworthy sentiments to the healing balm of God’s love and compassion.  On such occasions the Prayer of the Church calls me to put aside my own personal needs and feelings and to pray those of other people.
My way of meeting God is through the Prayer of the Church, which expresses the life of God’s People and its relationship to the Lord. I’m reminded that I’m not ‘alone with God, journeying on my way,’ but a member of the Pilgrim Church, in which we support each other with our prayers. The Prayer of the Church reinforces our solidarity with God and with each other.
Even if you don’t use the Breviary you will certainly find that praying the psalms will help you to draw closer to God in the joys and sorrows of life. These prayers will take you outside yourself and lead you to bring others before God.  And that’s not surprising since God, who is the author of the Scriptures speaks to our minds and hearts, through the psalms, and we make these prayers our own as we listen to Him and speak to Him.

Isidore O.P 
The next post will be on 8th  February

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