As you receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, the minister asks you to turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel. Those words are an invitation to God’s mercy.
In his Lenten message to the Church, Our Holy Father Pope Francis asks that the Season of Lent in 2016 “be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy.” With the Pope’s words in mind, I will devote my blogs for each week of Lent and the Holy Week Triduum to the many aspects of God’s mercy.
When he opened the Holy Door at the Vatican on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis reminded us of “How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of them being forgiven by his mercy — we have to put mercy before judgment.”
Our Holy Father reminds us in his message that, “The mystery of divine mercy is revealed in the history of the covenant between God and his people Israel. God shows himself ever rich in mercy, every ready to treat his people with deep tenderness and compassion, especially at those moments when infidelity ruptures the bond of the covenant, which then needs to be ratified more firmly in justice and truth. Here is a true love story, in which God plays the role of the betrayed father and husband, while Israel plays the unfaithful child and bride. These domestic images– as in the case of Hosea (Cf Hos 1-2) – shows to what extent God wishes to bind himself to his people … in Christ the Father pours forth his boundless mercy even to making him “mercy incarnate” (Misericordiae Vultus 8).
Forgiveness then is not only something to be received but something to be offered. It should be part of our nature. Mercy should be proactive, not only given reluctantly when it is asked for but offered freely to those who have offended us and never withheld as punishment or retaliation. Reconciliation is sharing God’s mercy.
For some of us it is easier to forgive others than to forgive ourselves. Somehow we feel that our offenses are beyond forgiveness. Pope Francis points out that such is not the case, reminding us that “in Jesus crucified, God shows his desire to draw near to sinners, however far they may have strayed from him.”
The sacrament of reconciliation is a personal and intimate experience of God’s mercy. Our priests, as missionaries of mercy, have been given the privilege to forgive the most serious of sins, even those reserved to the Holy See. They will be, in the words of Pope Francis, “living signs of the Father’s readiness to welcome those in search of his pardon.”
“We implore you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor 5:20)