“Have mercy on me, O God, in Your kindness. In Your compassion, blot out my offence.
O wash me more and more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin.”
There is something very beautiful about these words from Psalm 50, something deeply consoling. These sentences say something about the mercy of God, and also about the contrite heart who seeks that mercy.
It is perhaps a reminder, first and foremost, that all of us are sinners; because of this, and recognising this, we are obliged to beg God for His mercy. None of us, save the Blessed Virgin, are exempt from this reality and from this need.
It is a reminder, too, that what is described here in these lines is nothing less than interior conversion – and on most occasions, this is a process, rather than an event, one which may be shorter or longer for each of us. And as a process, it requires perseverance on our part, a constant turning back to the Lord Who calls us to Himself. Of course, we can do none of this without the grace of God – the grace to see and acknowledge our sinfulness, and the grace to respond to that calling of the Lord, Who seeks us out.
Speaking to the United States Catechetical Congress in an address given in 1946, Pope Pius XII said ‘the sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin’. Giving a homily after morning Mass in early 2014, Pope Francis quoted these words of his predecessor. Before doing so, however, he said this –
“When you lose the sense of sin, you also lose the ‘sense of the Kingdom of God’ and in its place there emerges an ‘anthropological vision’ according to which ‘I can do anything’. The power of man instead of God’s glory! This is the daily bread. This is why we pray every day to God ‘Thy kingdom come’ .. because salvation .. comes from God’s grace and how we train every day of our Christian life for this grace.”
What the Holy Father describes here is pride – the exaltation of man, placing himself above God. And when we do that, those words of Pope Pius comes to fruition.
But the words of the Psalm provide the antidote to this self-exaltation; humility before the Holy One. The acknowledgement of our sin and the begging for mercy. And in asking for this mercy, we can be certain of receiving it if we ask with a contrite heart – this, after all, is precisely what happens every time we make a good Confession with true sorrow for our sins. The Lord, Who is mercy itself, ‘blots out our offence’ as the Psalmist attests – He forgets our faults and we start afresh.
Part of that process of on-going conversion is the realisation of the likelihood that, despite our best intentions, we may well fall again. This is tempered by the remembrance that the Lord forgives as often as we ask – “not seven times, but seventy times seven”.
Humility unlocks the mercy of God.