Tibi, tibi soli peccavi et malum coram te feci – Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight.23 The Holy Spirit, who “will convince the world concerning sin,”24 helps us see that this nostalgia, this yearning, is not just an interior unrest. Rather, it stems from a wounded relationship. We have distanced ourselves from God and left him alone, and we have left ourselves alone. Saint Augustine writes, “in multa defluximus25: when we separate ourselves from God, our life is dispersed among many polluted streams and our house is forsaken and desolate.26 The Holy Spirit’s prompting urges us to return to God, who alone can forgive sins.27 As he moved over the waters at the beginning of creation,28 he now moves over souls. He moves the sinful woman to draw close to Jesus, without words; and God’s mercy welcomes her, while the guests at the meal fail to understand the reason for her tears, the perfume, the anointing of his feet.29 Jesus’ heart is moved, and he says she has been forgiven much because she has loved much.30

The longing for the Father’s house is a longing for God’s nearness, for divine mercy, for our heart to beat “in a way that is both human and divine, with a love that is strong, self–sacrificing and generous.”31 If we return, like the younger son, to the Father’s embrace, we will realize that the best medicine to cure our wounds is our Father God. And then a “third son” comes on the scene: Jesus, who washes the feet of sinners, Jesus, who has become a servant for us. “It is the one who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant (Phil 2:6-7). This Servant-Son is Jesus! He is the extension of the arms and heart of the Father: he welcomed the prodigal son and washed his dirty feet; he prepared the banquet for the feast of forgiveness.”32

Cor mundum crea in me, Deus – Create in me a clean heart, O God.33 Psalm 51 speaks again and again about cleansing our heart.34 It is not a question of obsessive self-regard or scruples, because “a Christian is not a neurotic collector of good behavior reports.”35 Rather, it is a question of love. The repentant sinner is ready to do whatever is needed to get his heart cured, to regain the joy of living with God. Redde mihi laetitiam salutaris tui – Restore to me the joy of your salvation.36 When we look at things in this light, confession is not something cold and routine, a merely bureaucratic process. “It would be good for us to ask ourselves: after going to confession, do I rejoice? Or do I move on immediately to the next thing, as we would after going to the doctor, when we hear that the test results are not so bad and put them back in their envelope?”37

A person who rejoices appreciates the gift received, and is thankful for being forgiven. And then penance is seen as something much more than just a dry process to reestablish justice. Penance is a demand of the heart that feels the need to back up its words “I have sinned, Lord, I have sinned,” with deeds. Therefore Saint Josemaría advised everyone to have a “spirit of penance.”38 A broken and contrite heart39 understands the need to undertake the path of returning to God, of being reconciled with him, which does not always happen in a single day. Since it is love that has to be restored in order to acquire new maturity, love itself is the remedy: “love is repaid with love.”40 Penance, then, is the love that leads us to accept suffering – joyfully, without giving ourselves too much importance, “without doing strange things”41 – in reparation for all that we have caused God and others to suffer.

This is the meaning behind the words the priest says in the Rite of Penance when dismissing the penitent: “May the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ … whatever good you do and suffering you endure, heal your sins, help you to grow in holiness, and reward you with eternal life.”42 Besides, “how little a life is for making atonement!”43 Our entire life then becomes joyful contrition, confident suffering, without anguish or scruples, because Cor contritum et humiliatum, Deus, non despicies – a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.44


23  Ps 51(50):4.
24  Cf. Jn 16:8. This is St John Paul II’s translation of these words from Jesus’ priestly prayer, which he meditated on deeply in his encyclical Dominum et vivificantem (May 18, 1986), 27-48.
25 St Augustine, Confessions, X, 29, 40.
26  Cf. Mt 23:38.
27 Cf. Lk 7:48.
28 Cf. Gen 1:2.
29 Cf. Lk 7:36-50.
30 Cf. Lk 7:47.
31 Friends of God, 232.
32 Pope Francis, Angelus, 6 March 2016.
33 Ps 51(50):10.
34 Cf. Ps 51 (50), 2, 7, 9, 10, 17.
35 St Josemaría, Christ is Passing By, 75.
36 Ps 51 (50):12.
37 Pope Francis, Homily, 24 March 2016.
38 Cf. St Josemaría, The Forge, 784. In Friends of God, nos. 138-140, our Father explains the true meaning of the spirit of penance and illustrates it with various examples.
39 Ps 51(50):17.
40 St Josemaría, The Forge, 442.
41 St Josemaría, The Forge, 60.
42 Rite of Penance, 104.
43 St Josemaría, The Way of the Cross, Eighth station.
44 Ps 51(50):17.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.