“God erases our sin at the very root, entirely!” That is the core of Pope Francis’ last catechesis on the topic of Mercy, held this morning in St. Peter’s Square. Meditating on the words of Psalm 51, called Miserere, Bergoglio recalls that this text is “a penitential prayer in which forgiveness is preceded by confession of guilt, in which the person praying allows the Lord to purify him/her, becomes a new creature, capable of obedience, firmness of spirit, and sincere praise.”
“The title given to this psalm in the ancient Jewish tradition refers to King David and his sin with Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite. We know the story. “The king was called by God to “nourish the people and guide them on the paths of obedience to the divine law. He betrays his mission and, after committing adultery with Bathsheba, has her husband killed. A bad sin – the Pope said -! Nathan the prophet reveals his guilt to him and helps him recognize it. “Here takes place the moment of reconciliation with the Father, “when he confesses his sin. David was humble in doing it, he was great!”
Whoever prays “with this Psalm is invited to have the same feelings of repentance and faith in God as David, when he repented, and, despite being a king, humbled himself without being afraid of confessing his guilt and showing his misery to the Lord”. He prostrates before God because he is “convinced of the certainty of His mercy, despite the fact that what he had done was not a sin nor a little lie; he had committed adultery and murder.”
The psalm begins with these words of supplication: “Have mercy on me, Oh God, in your goodness; in your great compassion erase my iniquity – he feels unfair -. Wash me from every evil stain, from my sins make me pure.” The invocation is addressed directly to God’s mercy so that, “pushed by a love that is great like that of a father or a mother, he can have mercy, that is, grant a grace, and show His support with kindness and understanding. It is a heartfelt appeal to the only one who can free us from sin.
In the text, the psalmist uses plastic images: “erase, wash me, and purify me. Authentic human needs manifest in this prayer: the only thing we really need in our lives is to be forgiven, delivered from evil and its deadly consequences. Unfortunately, life makes us often experience such situations; that is when we have to trust in the mercy the most. God is greater than our sin.”
Then he added, speaking of the cuff: “Do not forget this: God is greater than our sin! ‘Father, I don’t know to say, I’ve done so many bad things! Too many of them!’ God is greater than all the sins we can commit. God is greater than our sin. Can we say that all together? All of us: God – all together! – is greater than our sin! Once again, God is greater than our sin! Another time, God is greater than our sin.” The love of the Father is “ocean-like love in which we can immerse ourselves without fear of being overwhelmed: For God, to forgive means to ensure that He will never abandon us. Whatever we can reproach ourselves for, He is still and always greater than anything else, because God is greater than our sin.”
From this standpoint, “those who pray this Psalm, are looking for forgiveness, confess their guilt, but recognizing it, they celebrate the justice and holiness of God.” Moreover, “they ask grace and mercy. The psalmist relies on the goodness of God. He knows that God’s forgiveness is enormously effective because it creates what it says. He does not hide the sin, but destroys and erases it; it deletes it at the very root, not like the cleaners do when we give them a suit to remove a stain. No! God erases our sin at the very root, entirely! Therefore, the penitent becomes pure again, all stains are removed and he becomes whiter than pristine snow. We are all sinners. That is true! If any of you do not feel sinful, raise your hand. No one, eh! We are all sinners.”
Forgiveness allows us, sinners, to “become new creatures, full of Spirit and full of joy. A new existence begins for us: a new heart, a new spirit, a new life. We, forgiven sinners, who embraced God’s grace, can even teach others not to sin anymore.”
Then, speaking of the cuff again, he continues: “‘But Father, I am weak: I fall, I fall’, ‘If you fall, get up! Get up!’ What does a child do when (s)he fall? Children stretch their arm towards mom or dad so they can help them to get up. Let us do the same. If you fall into sin out of weakness, raise your arm: the Lord will take it and will help you to get up. This is the dignity of God’s forgiveness! The dignity that gives us God’s forgiveness consists in getting up and stand on our feet, because He created man and woman to stay on their feet”.
“God, create a pure heart in me and renew a firm spirit in me. I will teach your ways to rebels and sinners will return to you” -, says the Psalm. “Dear brothers and sisters, God’s forgiveness is what we all need, and it is the greatest sign of His mercy. A gift that every forgiven sinner is called to share with every brother and sister they meet.” “Like us, they are all in need of God’s mercy. It is great to be forgiven, but you too – he concludes – if you want to be forgiven, forgive! May the Lord grant us through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy, to be witnesses of His forgiveness, which purifies the heart and transforms lives”.