Miserere Me – Psalm 51

miserere psalm 51

A mutual friend texted me the news, begging for prayers for the stricken family. I could barely choke out the words to tell my husband. My friend’s son, just 22 years old and loving father to two sweet babies, had died by suicide two hours earlier. I did the only thing I could think to do – I drove to the Adoration chapel.

I threw myself onto my knees and began to sob. For the next 45 minutes, I stormed Heaven, crying out for the salvation of his troubled soul and for comfort of his grieving mother. The agony etched on the Blessed Mother’s face in the statue of the Pieta haunted me, reminding me of my friend’s agony taking place in real time over 100 miles away. I prayed through the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, my heart heavy with the sudden gravity of their meaning. I couldn’t see through my tears as I fumbled through my Missal, desperate to find the words of any prayer that expressed lament or sorrow or a plea for mercy.

Suddenly, there it was. I found something that encompassed all of the emotions that were coursing through me, electrifying me and sapping my energy all at once. Psalm 51. I began praying it silently as I continued to weep. When I finished, I felt a tiny glimmer of hope. So I prayed it again. And again. And then I prayed it out loud. And again, gasping for breath, as I imagined myself literally pleading on behalf of this young man’s soul in the courts of the Lord.

Over time, as the weeks passed and the intensity of my prayers for his soul lost some (though not all – never all!) of their urgency, I began to turn to Psalm 51 in times of my own troubles. I started to notice that it recurred in the liturgies of Lent – we see it in today’s Responsorial Psalm. I prayed it before and after Confession. I prayed it sometimes at the end of a challenging day. It has, over the past year, become like a comforting blanket to me.

I’ve since learned that King David composed the 51st Psalm after he committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his soldiers who “mysteriously” died in battle (on David’s orders) so that David could have his wife. God sent Nathan the prophet to confront David with the ugliness of his betrayal. David came to realize the gravity of his sins and the serious effects it had on those around him. And so, this Psalm is a prayer of lament and of asking God’s forgiveness and mercy. David turned away from his sin and begged God to wash him of his guilt. The Psalm ends on a joyous note of hope, as David looks for his redemption and peace.

Today, pray the entirety of Psalm 51. Cry out to the Lord and ask for his forgiveness as we journey through Lent. Humble yourself to pray, and remember that He will not reject a contrite heart. Then you, too, will have “a steadfast spirit renewed within” you.

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