Psalm 32: Andare a Canossa
The theme of Psalm 32, the second of the so-called penitential psalms, is something well known for everyone who has at least a simple vision of the Catholic faith. We could summarise the psalm as saying that God is good, we are bad, and God forgives us and frees us from our sins because He is good.
However, the psalmist is expressing much more than a simple fact (God forgives in accordance with his infinite goodness), he is telling us that the fact that God is able to forgive our sin is a motive for joy. “Blessed is the one whose fault is removed, whose sin is forgiven”; in other words, blessed is the one who repents before the all-merciful God.
Nevertheless it’s really difficult to make a motive of rejoicing at something that by definition entails pain and humiliation. To do that would involve a great act of revolting against the order of things, a true rebellion against the laws of the world. Humiliation is something bad and everyone must avoid any possibility of losing his honour, even though it were an occasion for justice. Repentance and humiliation is painful only because is a fault against our pride. Yet involving an act of rebellion against the order of pride, repentance is placing us in another mysterious dimension in full connection with trascendental spheres. That’s the reason why Grace is necessary to undertake that titanic task of self-humiliation, because only Grace can open to us the doors of our transcendental destiny.
In the famous episode in which the almighty emperor Henry went to Canossa to receive the absolution from the also almighty Pope Gregory, we can see a rather poetical image of what was to be the unendurable sacrifice of a repentant soul, more unbearable even in the case of such a proud Emperor. Crossing the Alps barefoot, waiting three days at the front door before been received under the strong winter weather… a terrible spectacle of humiliation! Sadly for the poor emperor he didn’t feel the joy that only a true repentance can achieve. Probably he should have read this psalm before going to Canossa…