March 28, 2015
Father Steve Wolf of St. Andrew Church in Sparta has long made writing a part of his ministry, in his efforts to help the faithful draw closer to God.
His latest release, “A Jesus Breviary,” is a gathering of his 31-day mediation prayer book series into one volume.
“Breviary is a short-hand nickname for the prayer book that priests and religious and a growing number of (lay) people use in praying the Liturgy of the Hours,” said Father Wolf. “It’s a four-week repeating cycle of the psalms and the canticles.”
Father Wolf has a rendering of this four-week cycle that he has put together for his own use. The format allows for two daily prayer sessions for the Hinge Hours of the day, which includes the first hour of the day and the evening hour near sundown or at night.
A typical Sunday liturgy includes an Old Testament reading, a responsorial psalm, an excerpt from one of the Letters, and then a Gospel reading. When the Church organized this, the Gospel reading came first, and then the Church chose an Old Testament passage that has some connection to the Gospel selection. The corresponding responsorial psalm is a response to that Old Testament reading, and so it automatically has relevance to the Gospel selection. The antiphon that’s used for the psalm on Sunday is basically a summary of what all the readings are about explained Father Wolf.
For each of the psalms, Father Wolf would look for the Gospel that had that relationship to it, and then chose a saying of Jesus for that psalm. That’s what he used as the antiphon for that psalm in his own four-week repeating cycle, which became an inspiration for a multiple book project.
“When I did that collection of the sayings of Jesus, I realized that this would be an interesting thing to put together into a little 31-day prayer book,” Father Wolf said. “And then I knew right away before I even finished it, that I wanted to do a series of 31-day prayer books.”
Over the course of two years of intensive writing, Father Wolf completed eight books. The series begins with “31 Days of God’s Love Call.”
“These are readings that are used on a lot of retreats in the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” said Father Wolf. “Basically, you sit with intention with letting God speak to you. The way that I short-hand that message is that it’s a love letter from God, saying, ‘My beloved, I made you, I know you and I love you.’ Which is what I see the whole Bible saying.”
The rest of the series is comprised of “31 Days of Jesus Incarnate”; “Jesus’ Miracles”; “Jesus’ Parables”; “Jesus’ Sayings”; “The Paschal Mystery of Jesus”; “The Holy Spirit”; and the final “31 Days on the Christian Life.”
Father Wolf wants to stress that these are not translations. He prefers to call them “meditation renderings.”
“I put the story, as directly as I can, in the present tense,” said Father Wolf. “So as you’re reading the story of one of the miracles of Jesus, for example, you’re reading it as if it’s happening right now. It’s helpful for me in my own prayer if I place myself in the story.”
He also offers different ways of utilizing this collection. The readings can easily accompany a standard, month-long directed retreat, with four or five exercises a day. Another possibility is to apply the same intensity of a short retreat over the course of several months, or a year.
“There are no rules about how to use these materials,” Father Wolf said. “The way I use it is to take the day of the month, say the 19th, and just go through the eight books and read the 19th reading out of each one. That’s my mid-day prayer these days.”
According to the author, these would also work well with an “at-home” retreat with a group of people, or even just one other person. Participants would pray one Scripture passage each day, for 20 minutes to an hour, and then do the practice of Lectio Divina, Latin for “sacred” or “divine reading.”
“It’s a Benedictine way of praying with Scripture: reading the passage, and listening for a word, or a phrase or an image that hits you, and then simply breathe, think about, or say that word out loud if in you’re in a place where you can do that,” said Father Wolf. “And when you find your mind wandering off to worries and cares about the world, just offer up a prayer for that and use that word, phrase or image to bring you back to this time with God.”
Spending time with God is really the point of all of Father Wolf’s writings. “Scripture is God’s revealed word,” Father Wolf said. “To sit and use Scripture as a way to listen to God is what it’s about. Because what God is always saying to us – I think – is ‘I made you, I know you and I love you.’”
“A Jesus Breviary” is available at St. Mary’s Bookstore and on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. It is also available as an e-book. Additionally, Father Wolf offers a discount for parishes on his website at idjc.org, along with information about his other publications.