VATICAN CITY, MAY 19, 2004 ( Confessing one's sins, particularly in the sacrament of reconciliation, is a path to experience the joy of God's unfailing mercy, says John Paul II.

The Pope made that point at the today's general audience in St. Peter's Square, during which he reflected on Psalm 31(32), a canticle of thanksgiving of a forgiven sinner.

The Holy Father noted the inner unease experienced by people when realizing their relation with God has been severed.

The biblical passage speaks of "a terrible interior torment, described with striking images," the Pope said. "His bones were being consumed by a desiccating fever; the asphyxiating heat sapped his strength, dissolving it; his groaning was uninterrupted."

"The sinner felt the weight of God's hand on him, aware as he was that God is not indifferent to evil committed by his creature, because he is the guardian of justice and truth," he added.

"Not being able to resist any longer, the sinner decides to confess his guilt with a courageous declaration, which seems an anticipation of that of the Prodigal Son in Jesus' parable. He says with a sincere heart: 'I confess my faults to the Lord,'" the Pope said.

"They are few words, but they are born from the conscience; God responds immediately with generous forgiveness," the Holy Father continued.

"So a horizon of security, trust and peace opens before 'every' repentant and forgiven 'faithful one,' despite the trials of life," he said.

"He can again experience a time of anguish, but the advancing tide of fear will not prevail, because the Lord will lead his faithful one to a safe place," the Pontiff noted.

"It is not enough, in fact, to have been purified: One must then walk on the right path," he added. "The Lord promises: 'I will instruct you and show you the way you should walk.'"

God's call "becomes urgent, tinged with irony," as he compares the human being to a "horse" or a "mule" in reference to his "obstinacy."

"True wisdom, in fact, leads to conversion, leaving behind vice and its dark power of attraction," the Pope explained. "But above all it leads to the enjoyment of that peace that flows from being delivered and forgiven."

The Holy Father applied the experience of forgiveness to the sacrament of reconciliation.

"In it, one experiences the consciousness of sin, often obfuscated in our days, and at the same time the joy of forgiveness," he said.

"The binomial 'offense-punishment' is replaced by the binomial 'offense-forgiveness,' because the Lord is a God 'who forgives iniquity and transgression and sin,'" he concluded, quoting from Exodus 34:7.

Today's meditation continued a series the Pope has been offering on the Psalms and canticles of the Liturgy of Vespers, the Church's evening prayer. Other meditations appear in the Wednesday's Audience section of ZENIT's Web page.