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Sing of the mercies of the Lord

Sing of the mercies of the Lord
We will hear Psalm 31 at Mass this Sunday.  Let’s look at the beginning:
Happy the man whose offence is forgiven,
whose sin is remitted.
O happy the man to whom the Lord
imputes no guilt,
in whose spirit is no guile.
This reminds me of something Saint Thérèse of Lisieux wrote to her spiritual son, a seminarian named Maurice Bellière.  Maurice was troubled by the memory of his past sins, which prompted Thérèse to encourage him by writing of her own sins:
The memory of my faults humiliates me and prompts me never to rely on my own strength, which is nothing but weakness, but this memory speaks to me even more of mercy and love. . . . My brother, you can sing as I do of the mercies of the Lord.
Of this quotation, Bishop Patrick Ahern comments –
“‘As I do’. She never stood over him, never lectured him. It is characteristic of Therese that she counted herself a sinner, not from false humility but simply because she recognized the fact that she was one. If her sins were not serious, she understood that this was due to God’s mercy, not to her own virtue. It was His mercy that spared her from committing grave sins. For Therese, sins forgiven and sins avoided seemed virtually the same.“*
Virtually the same‘?  Surely ‘sins avoided’ are personal triumphs?  And ‘sins forgiven’ are personal disasters which have been redeemed through the merciful love of God?  But no: the same merciful, loving God who forgives our sins also gives us the grace to avoid sin.
Looking again at Psalm 31:
But now I have acknowledged my sins;
my guilt I did not hide.
I said: ‘I will confess
my offences to the Lord.’
And you, Lord, have forgiven
the guilt of my sin.
There is no pretence that the man did not sin, nor that his sin did not matter.  The Psalmist here seems similar to the Prodigal Son, who saw his life for what it was, ‘came to his senses’ and returned home to his forgiving, merciful father.  If we do not acknowledge our sin – and our own responsibility for it – we are not going to seek out God’s merciful forgiveness, are we?
The Psalmist concludes:
Rejoice, rejoice in the Lord,
exult, you just!
O come, ring out your joy,
all you upright of heart.
The Psalmist celebrates reconciliation with his community as well as with God.  The equivalent today would be skipping away from the Confessional, calling on the lovely ladies who water flowers and polish pews of a Saturday morning to sing and dance with you in celebration, for the Lord has forgiven your sins.  Skulking into Church to make our confession is one thing, but skulking out again?  The Psalmist demonstrates a very different reaction: I wonder what we can learn from it?



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