‘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.’
– Psalm 51
The prayer of contrition which is the substance of Psalm 51 very much sums up the Lenten spirit.
In this holy season of Lent, we pause for a while and look at ourselves in our true state; we try to see ourselves as the Lord might see us – and that view can make us shudder. We see that there are so many times, so many ways and occasions, in which we have failed the Lord and fallen short of our Christian calling and identity, whether through commission or omission. What we are and what we might like to be, are two distinct things; the question is, how do we get from one to the other?
The Christian faith is one of salvation and redemption. Our starting point is our sinfulness and our human frailty – in other words, our need of redemption. But we have a Saviour, a Redeemer; He provides the way for us to move forward, towards Him. His grace is sufficient for us.
The Lord speaks His Word; our task is to listen, to understand and to respond in the way He desires.
That is the whole point of Lent. It is that time of interior quiet so that we are better able to listen to the Lord, who whispers in our hearts. The Lord calls gently to us when we are far from Him; and He invites us, gently again, to abandon all things so that we are better able to leave the busy places and to climb the mountain in order to follow Him. This is the moment of turning back to Him, following Him anew.
We begin our penitential season by reminding ourselves of our condition as sinners – but remembering, too, that God “loved us while we were still sinners” (cf Rom.5:8) and asking His mercy upon us. His mercy is like the sunlight, without which we freeze and die; His grace is like the air we breathe, giving us life in abundance.
In this season of Lent, we try harder to separate ourselves from all that is not the Lord, from everything that holds us back from Him. This is the sense with which the Psalmist speaks. We are minded of our sins; but we are minded, even more, that God’s grace and mercy are greater and far more powerful than our misery, both individual and collective. This is the message of the Psalmist.
Moving through this season of Lent, we are not alone even while we make our own personal journey. We walk with the entire Church – and with all the generations of good and holy men and women of the Church in ages past, who have made that same journey as we do now. In Heaven, their prayers will assist us and obtain grace for us. And above all, we have the Mother of God, who pleads constantly for us, Her poor children, with Her Divine Son. Her prayers obtain for us every grace and blessing that we need.
In the days and weeks ahead, as this Lent moves forward, let us move forward also, toward the Lord – filled with the spirit of repentance, certainly, but also filled with the spirit of great trust in the Lord who loves us and who grants us everything that is good.