Anyone who prays the Psalms over a period of time is bound to have some favorites. As a Franciscan and a Scripture scholar, I would like to share my personal favorites.
“The Lord is my shepherd.” —Psalm 23
As Christians, we especially think of Jesus. He is our good shepherd and pursues us even when we turn against him. The “still waters” he finds for us remind us of Baptism. The banquet he provides reminds us of the Eucharist. In praying the Psalms, I also like to indulge in some fantasy. The oil reminds me of the oil used in Baptism, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Holy Orders. I find a symbolism in the rod and the staff. The rod chases harm from the sheep. The Sacrament of Reconciliation chases evil from our lives. The staff gives support to the shepherd as he walks through the pasture and covers difficult terrain. Through the Sacrament of Matrimony, Jesus supports the spouses, and the grace of the sacrament enables the spouses to support one another.
“Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness.” —Psalm 51
This is the most famous of what the Church calls penitential psalms. The psalmist recognizes he has committed serious sin. He admits his guilt before God and confidently pleads for forgiveness. Note the beautiful words: “A clean heart create for me, God; renew within me a steadfast spirit. Do not drive me from before your face, nor take from me your holy spirit.” He recognizes that God is calling him to bring the message of forgiveness to others: “I will teach the wicked your ways, that sinners may return to you.”
As sinners, we can make this psalm our own. I find this psalm an encouragement whenI realize that I have neglected God’s grace. God will not give up on me. He even will allow me to bring his mercy to others.
After failing to help someone in need or fostering a grudge, I can go to God and pray, “Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness. . . . Wash away all my guilt. . . . A clean heart create for me, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit.” It may take a while for this to sink in, but this prayer may be a start in renewing my life with God. It may even prompt me to seek reconciliation with someone I have hurt (or who has hurt me).
Photo by iamfree007 / Shutterstock.com