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Psalm 51 and the Radical Need For Salvation


A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn” ~ Psalm 51

Three times during the first eight days of Lent, including Ash Wednesday, the Responsorial Psalm chosen for Daily Mass has been taken from Psalm 51. This Psalm, particularly when paired with today’s Readings from Jonah and today’s Gospel Passage from Luke (11:29-32) is particularly poignant in that it speaks of the urgency with which we must seek repentance and forgiveness, two core pillars of the Lenten Season.

“Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.”

We begin with what amounts to an act of contrition, a vital element of any reconciliatory plea, followed by a specific call to God compelling him to act, to forgive.

“A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me. Cast me not out from your presence, and your Holy Spirit take not from me.”

This passage evokes shades of Ezekiel 36:26, wherein God declares “I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Cultivating the gifts of the Holy Spirit, particularly in this instance those of wisdom, understanding and humility, is critical if we are to shed our hearts of stone and seek true forgiveness; the same can also be said if we are to grow in our ability to forgive others.

“For you are not pleased with sacrifices; should I offer a burnt offering, you would not accept it. My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.”

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And finally, we are asked to reflect upon and pursue the idea of true and meaningful change in our lives, the adored and glorified Sacred Heart of Jesus serving as our spiritual benchmark. To be of one heart just as Jesus is one in the Father and the Father is one in Him (John 17:21).

In today’s Gospel (Luke 11:29-32), Jesus rebukes the faithless, the “evil generation” in his midst, those who incessantly seek signs As he tells them, all they need to know can be gleaned from the story of Jonah in today’s 1st Reading (Jonah 3:1-10). So contrite were the Ninevites that the animals even fasted, the King donning sackcloth and sitting in the ashes. Could you even imagine an act of humility so profound in this day and age, wherein a prominent world leader would humble him or herself in such a way? God was so moved by the contrition and humility of the Ninevites that he spared them his wrath. He spared them their very souls. Contrition and reconciliation leads to transformation, which in turn leads to eternal life. That’s all we need to know. That’s the sign.

So as we continue on our Lenten journey, let us not forget the power of true contrition and a firm resolution to move past our sins into true communion with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. For as Saint Augustine once said, “The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.”

We adore you O Christ and we praise you, for by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

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