Walking in the footsteps: "O God, be merciful to me a sinner."

Our Roman station church liturgies take us today to the church of St. Balbina. Little is known of this saint, though it is said she was a virgin who died a martyr’s death. Her remains are located under the main altar of this church, which has been in use since the late 4th century A.D. The church is located south of the Vatican on the Aventine Hill, very near the Circus Maximus. In a way this location is fitting because most if not all of the Christians who were martyred for their faith in Rome would have been murdered not in the Coliseum, but in Circus Maximus, under the shadow of the Emperor’s palace.

Today’s first reading from Isaiah calls us to recognize our sinfulness in the eyes of the Lord. But this recognition of our sin is not without hope, for the Lord also offers us the opportunity of returning to him. Speaking through Isaiah the Lord says, “Wash yourselves clean!…Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow”.  The homily this morning focused on this invitation, which is part of every celebration of the Eucharist. At the beginning of every Mass, we are called to remember our sins, adopting the attitude of the tax collector in the Temple who prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner”. And we then cry “Lord, have mercy!”, like the two blind men on the road to Jericho who called out to Jesus, “Lord, Son of David, have pity on us!” Like these two blind men, we thus dispose ourselves to encounter the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist.

During Lent, we are called to remember that it is only through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that we are able to follow the command of the Lord to “Wash ourselves clean!” Our Lord calls us today to recognize that we are still not perfect, that we still cling to some sins, large or small. But he also invites us to again repent, and to receive his forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. For it is only in this Sacrament, in this particular encounter with the Lord Jesus, that “though our sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow!”