“Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness. In your compassion blot out my offence. O wash me more and more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sins.”
The Psalmist’s prayer echoes the Lenten call to repentance. As the prayer develops, however, it reaches far beyond the usual plea for forgiveness: “A pure heart create for me, O God, put a steadfast spirit within me. Give me again the joy of your help; with a spirit of fervour sustain me.”
The prayer reflects our own experience of sin. We know that forgiveness received, without a fundamental change of attitude on our part, will do little to change our lives. We simply return to the old and familiar patterns of sin.
The Prophet Jeremiah promised a new beginning to a people who felt their lives could never break free from sin’s vicious circle. “See, the days are coming when I will make a new covenant with my people. Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. There will be no further need for neighbour to teach neighbour. No, they will all know me, the least no less than the greatest, since I will forgive their iniquity and never call their sin to mind.”
This New Covenant, which would refashion sinful hearts in the likeness of God, would be achieved on Calvary. It would be the New Covenant of Christ’s Body and Blood poured out for us on the Cross. As we approach the remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection, let us pray not simply for the forgiveness of sin, but that in him our hearts might be created anew. Let us pray that the Gospel of Christ might be written on our hearts.
Jesus himself described his approaching death as the hour of his glory. In his death he surrendered not only himself, but also our sinfulness to the Father. In the words of the Letter to the Hebrews: “He learnt to obey through suffering, and having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation.”
Jesus invited his disciples to share his glory with a new heart that is willing, day by day, to die to sin so as to live for Christ. We become like that single grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, but in so doing yields a rich harvest.
For most of us, this sharing in Christ’s glory is the work of a lifetime. Day by day we die to the selfishness that displaces Christ’s love, day by day our hearts are created afresh in the likeness of his love. “Wherever I am, my servant will be there too. If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him. Father, glorify your name!”
This article first appeared in the latest edition of the Catholic Herald magazine (20/3/15).
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