Monday, May 25, 2009

A Catholic's Understanding Of Psalm 51

Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in your abundant compassion blot out my offense.

Wash away all my guilt; from my sin cleanse me.

For I know my offense; my sin is always before me.

Against you alone have I sinned; I have done such evil in your sight That you are just in your sentence, blameless when you condemn.

True, I was born guilty, a sinner, even as my mother conceived me.

Still, you insist on sincerity of heart; in my inmost being teach me wisdom.

Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure; wash me, make me whiter than snow.

Let me hear sounds of joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

Turn away your face from my sins; blot out all my guilt.

A clean heart create for me, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit.

Do not drive me from your presence, nor take from me your holy spirit.

Restore my joy in your salvation; sustain in me a willing spirit.

I will teach the wicked your ways, that sinners may return to you.

Rescue me from death, God, my saving God, that my tongue may praise your healing power.

Lord, open my lips; my mouth will proclaim your praise.

For you do not desire sacrifice; a burnt offering you would not accept.

My sacrifice, God, is a broken spirit; God, do not spurn a broken, humbled heart.

Make Zion prosper in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

Then you will be pleased with proper sacrifice, burnt offerings and holocausts; then bullocks will be offered on your altar.


CONCUPISCENCE – Dictionary definitions suggest the word means the following: “an ardent, usually sensuous, longing; a strong sexual desire; lust.”

But for Catholics, the word concupiscence has two powerful, conflicting and important meanings: a yearning of the soul for good; the desire of a lower appetite contrary to holiness and reason.

Concupiscence is the pull between good and evil, heaven and hell, God and the devil. This pull between life and death of the soul coupled with the human need to seek God‘s forgiveness when we sin are the central themes in Psalm 51, considered one of the great laments (individual) in the Psalter and the most famous of the seven Psalms deemed Penitential Psalms in the seventh century A.D. Penitential Psalms are “especially suitable to express repentance” according to The Collegeville Bible Commentary.

As humans, we all have the capacity to sin and do so often. Our forgiveness can only come from “he who knew no sin,” the “lamb as white as snow.” In our Catholic faith, we are blessed with the Sacrament of Reconciliation allowing us to fulfill the request in Psalm 51 to “blot out my offense.” Reconciliation allows Catholics to achieve the desired plea of the Psalmist, “O purify me, then I shall be clean; O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.”

For King David, the believed author of Psalm 51, the Sacrament of Reconciliation would have eased the heavy burden of the sin that consumed him after his fall from grace. His sins were a lust of Bathsheba and the ruinous behavior that followed, namely the betrayal and death of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah.

David’s “fatal flaw” of lust compromised his relationship with Yahweh as His Anointed. The sacrifice of the child born of his illicit union is the model of submissive repentance.

In Stanley L. Jaki’s Praying the Psalms – A Commentary, “Actions triggered by lust almost invariably lead to worse sins.” Jaki further stated, “nothing deprives one so much of the use of one’s right mind as the mind’s yielding to the lure of lust.”

In Romans, Paul cautions followers of Christ of the pit of sinful behavior: let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh. - (Rom 13:13-14)

Christ proved himself the Messiah, the successor of David, but possessing a soul purified by His Creator. In Matthew’s depiction of the healing of the paralytic, Christ publicly declared his power to forgive: …people brought him a paralytic lying on a stretcher. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.” At that, some of the scribes said to themselves, ”This man is blaspheming.” Jesus knew what they were thinking, and said “Why do you harbor evil thoughts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he then said to the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” He rose and went home. – (Mat 9:2-9)

David’s lament is a desire to be nearer to God, a desire of all God fearing people. It is why Catholics practice the Sacrament of Reconciliation to seek God’s tender compassion, mercy, love and ultimately the forgiveness of Christ who, For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. – (2 Cor 5:21)

As a Catholic who struggled for years with a misunderstanding of the Church’s Sacrament of Reconciliation, I connect most closely to Psalm 51 as my eyes have opened to the sacrifice Christ made on my behalf and my need to confess my sins. None of us is perfect. But all of us have the ability to ask God for forgiveness when we stumble and fall. It’s the key that unlocks the door to eternal salvation.

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