Archive for Psalm 51

The Sun Rises Over the Sinner

Posted in Prayer, Scripture, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on August 23, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM


Every Friday morning the church together prays the penitential Psalm 51 as the first psalm in the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the “Divine Office.”

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offense.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.

It can be easy to read this Friday morning confession of one’s guilt and sinfulness, a truth professed by all human beings whether they pray this ancient Hebrew prayer each week or not, as a negative and self-deprecating exercise in humiliation, loathing, and penance.

My offenses truly I know them;
my sin is always before me.
Against you,  you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done.

It might also be seen as a cathartic practice of confession and acceptance, humbling one’s self before the Creator and acknowledging what we carry in our hearts that needs to be expunged.

That you may be justified when you give sentence
and be without reproach when you judge.
O see, in guilt was I born,
a sinner was I conceived.

But there is something else that strikes me about this powerful psalm. It is, indeed, partly reflective of both those ways of looking at its being prayed, yet there is something more — something hopeful.

Indeed you love truth in the heart;
then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.
O purify me, then I shall be clean;
O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.

It is perhaps no coincidence that my brother friars and I prayed this psalm this morning as the sun rose over the Atlantic coast. Sitting in the chapel of the friary the beams of light shot through the window, the ocean breeze flowed through the window, joggers and bikers stirred in the distance, and the sound of coastal birds announced the day had begun.

Make me hear rejoicing and gladness,
that the bones you have crushed may revive.
From my sins turn away your face
and blot out all my guilt.

Like the sun that rises in the East, bringing all within our horizon into light, so this psalm shines light on the darker parts of our lives. It doesn’t do so with the self-flaggelating masochism that could wrongly be associated with confessing one’s sinfulness. It brings to light the good and the bad, the sadness of sins committed and the hope of redemption.

A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
no deprive me of your holy spirit.

There is for me a sense of hope and of honesty and of love present within this psalm. It flows from the outright expression of guilt, ownership of sinfulness, and confession of transgressions committed toward a prayer of petition that God might renew in us the heart created to and for love, so often turned off by the desire for fulfilled self-satisfaction.

Give me again the joy of your help;
with a spirit of fervor sustain me,
that I may teach transgressors your ways
and sinners may return to you.

Like the sun that rises each morning, this psalm appears on the lips of the members of the Body of Christ each Friday. And like the sun that rises each morning, we are reminded of God’s constant love, forgiveness, and desire for us to be more and more authentically human, which is to be more and more like Christ.

O rescue me, God, my helper,
and my tongue shall ring out your goodness.
O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall declare your praise.

This is a prayer of renewal and hope. It provides the opportunity for us to stand in the liminal space between our selfish world of isolation and the conversio of Christian discipleship — the turning toward Christ.

For in sacrifice you take no delight,
burnt offering from me you would refuse,
my sacrifice, a contrite spirit.
A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn.

God wants nothing more from us than to be our true selves, those women and men acting in accord with our authentic identity as created in the image and likeness of God. Our honest confession, petition, and praise is the desire of God, not other acts of sacrifice.

In your goodness, show favor to Zion:
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will be pleased with lawful sacrifice,
holocausts offered on your altar.

Photo: File

Good Friday Reflection: Psalm 51

Posted in Homilies, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on April 6, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Sometimes nothing speaks more to the heart of the experience of faith than the prayers of the Psalms. Every Friday morning throughout the year the Church prayers Psalm 51 during Morning Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours. It is one of my favorite Psalms because it speaks to the heart of the human experience of sin, suffering and God’s mercy. It serves as something of an examination and act of contrition all at once. This morning, Good Friday, the Church continues with the tradition of praying this penitential psalm and instead of rambling on and on here with my own thoughts and words, I simply present this Psalm for your prayer and reflection. May the Lord give you peace.

Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

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

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.

Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

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