Psalm 51 (Psalm 50)

St. John Fisher’s commentaries on the seven penitential psalms build upon one another. In the commentary on Psalm 6, he asks “Which of us now being sick in any part of the body and in jeopardy of death would not diligently search for a medicine by which to be healed? Would we not first inquire of one who had the same sickness before us?” Of course, we are free to “speak from the heart” and ask God’s forgiveness, but the Holy Spirit has Himself inspired his prophets to give us words that are both a prayer to the Father and medicine for our own sick souls. These are certainly most clearly given in the psalms.

God will save the sinner who weeps for his sins. “Weeping heartily for our sins is of so great a virtue and strength before God that for one weeping coming from the heart of a sinner, our Lord forgives his trespass…for whenever a sinner weeps and wails heartily for his sins, he shall be saved.”

“…since penance has three parts, that is to say, contrition, confession, and satisfaction, the more diligently anyone exercises himself in each of them, the nearer he is to eternal bliss.” This comment was made in the commentary to Psalm 31, but is just as fitting for Psalm 50. From the commentary on Psalm 37, but again just as applicable to Psalm 50, is his statement that “…truly, an unclean conscience is so great an abomination to the person encumbered with it that he finds the remembrance of it to be as great a pain as if he were vexed and troubled in the torments in hell.”

I find, however, that the trouble, the vexation, and the fear of God’s justice is brought out most powerfully in the opening words of the commentary on Psalm 50 itself: “A man would be in great peril and jeopardy if he were hanging only by a weak, slender cord or line over a very deep pit in which the most furious and cruel beasts of every kind waited eagerly for his fall to devour him instantly, and the line or cord hung on was held up and secured only by the hands of someone he had treated like an enemy by many discourtesies.” Isn’t this exactly the situation we all find ourselves in when we reflect on our lives and on the justice of God? Is not this the purpose of the first week of the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola?

And the psalm says there is nothing we can call up to the one holding the cord that would require him to save us.  We can only offer him out of his own mercy:

“Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins, and those of the whole world. For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us, and on the whole world.”

Only this sacrifice is pleasing to God; a broken and contrite heart. And only Christ, on the Cross, offered that perfectly. And so we offer God Himself. It is all we have, but it is perfect, and all we need.

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