For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise (Psalm 51:16-17, NASB).
The king had it right, even when most had it wrong. David knew it was easy to offer an entire flock of lambs on the altar in Jerusalem, but what did it accomplish if he didn’t offer that blood with humility? Or, as Thomas a Kempis would write many centuries later: What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God?
And so King David realized, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart . . . .”
As I pondered David’s words, I wondered what a contrite heart looks like.
Maybe it looks something like what Pope Clement IX prayed for: Lord, I want to do what you ask of me, in the way You asks, for as long as You ask, because You ask it. Maybe it means going on when I want so much to stop; keeping His commandments when I want to deviate “just a little”; being swift to confess even my venial sins – and being just as swift to repent. Maybe contrition means I am grateful to have the opportunity to make myself God’s slave; to know that life is not at all about me, but about Him; and that I must often force myself to do His will when His will is not the same as mine.
It’s easy for me to approach the Eucharistic altar at which the priest re-presents Christ’s sacrifice of body and blood. But I find it not so easy to do so with a consistently humble and contrite heart. That takes a special grace from God.
For which I pray daily.