Memory of the Poor

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Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

This is the Gospel of the poor,
liberation for the imprisoned,
sight for the blind,
freedom for the oppressed.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Psalm 32, 1-2.5-8

1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
  whose sin is covered.

2 Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,
  and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
  and I did not hide my iniquity;
  I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’,
  and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

6 Therefore let all who are faithful
  offer prayer to you;
  at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters
  shall not reach them.

7 You are a hiding-place for me;
  you preserve me from trouble;
  you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.

8 “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
  I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”

 

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

The Son of Man came to serve,
whoever wants to be great
should become servant of all.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

After just a few days, the liturgy again proposes to us a few verses from psalm 32. And it connects them to the reading from the book of Sirach, which invites the sinner to return to God: “Turn back to the Lord and forsake your sins; pray in his presence and lessen your offence. Return to the Most High and turn away from iniquity, and hate intensely what he abhors” (17:25-26). The psalmist sings the joy and the beatitude of the sinner who has found forgiveness. The text defines forgiveness with three verbs. Sin is “forgiven,” literally, “taken away. Sin was like a weight that we carried on our shoulders, and God has taken it away. And there is more. Sin is “covered,” that is, God hides it from his eyes and ours, which in fact means it is erased. Saint Ambrose writes: “the expression cover a sin applies to those who are forgiven, because God erases it completely and treats it as if it had never existed.” And, finally, sin is no longer “imputed,” that is, included in the list of the sinner’s deeds. The prophet Isaiah writes, “Though your sins…are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (1:18). The psalmist opposes the joy of those who open their hearts to God and receive his forgiveness to the anguish of those who instead remain turned in on themselves and do not trust in the Lord. “While I kept silence,” the psalmist writes, “my body wasted away through my groaning all day long” (v. 3-4). Underlining his silence (“While I kept silence”), the psalmist reminds us of the instinct that dwells in all of us to keep our sin hidden from God, from others, and even from ourselves, thinking that in doing so we can sugarcoat or contain it. But in truth, sin cannot be contained; it can only be forgiven and erased. Pretending not to see it, or worse, trying to justify it means remaining in a lie. And lies make us live badly. They weigh us down, they imprison our souls, and dry us out, as the psalmist rightly says, “My strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” In this context we can understand the connection emphasized by the psalmist between sin and illness, between sin and the bad things that happen to us. The psalm helps us understand that sin is not abstract and empty; on the contrary, it has an impact on life, it influences our behaviour, and imprisons our heart. Consequently, we cannot put it aside without a true change of heart. The psalmist, who has understood all of this, decides to confess his sin to God: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity” (v. 5). If lies dry us out, sincerity before God makes us live again: you no longer have to pretend with yourself, or with God, or with anyone else, and you feel free. Recognizing our sin and confessing it to God is not a humiliating gesture, but an act of truth. It does not diminish our dignity, but exalts it. Asking for forgiveness is not a cold humiliation or an assault on our dignity, on the contrary, it is recognizing the Lord as a Father who understands the fragility of his children and forgives widely: “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’, and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (v. 5). A wise, ancient Christian thinker, Cassiodorus, wrote, “Let us read this psalm with attention, and we will feel remorse in our heart. Indeed, on which psalm is it right to reflect with more attention than the one in which sins are forgiven by the words of such a Judge? The psalm has this particular and unique characteristic: while the conclusions of the other psalms by penitents exult because of an impulse to repent that has come from heaven, in this one alone the Lord promises mercy and joy.” The psalmist, who has lived the experience of sin and the false and sad life that it leads to, finds liberty in forgiveness. That is why at the very beginning he exclaims, “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy are those in whose spirit there is no deceit” (v. 2).