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Lent. A time to experience the Mercy of God

Lent. A time to experience the Mercy of God

February 18, 2016

Pope Francis has asked that in this Jubilee Year “the season of Lent…be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy” (Lenten Message of Pope Francis, 2016).  This statement of the Pope caused me to ask:  What is the context for experiencing God’s mercy?  What demeanor or interior attitude do we need, which enables the mercy of God to work its salvation in our lives?
Ash Wednesday opened Lent with the passage from the prophet Joel: “Rend your hearts, not your garments” (Joel).  And then the psalm verse: “Today if you hear God’s word, harden not your hearts” (Psalm 94).  This to me gives us the key: the breaking open of our hearts, the breaking open of those hardened places, then mercy will flow where it was not before.  Is the rending or breaking open of our hearts something we truly desire or long for?  If we do then we are to choose it: ‘Choose life’…choosing life is to have those hardened spaces broken open so that more of the life of God can prevail.  The outcome: we will be more Christ-like in love and forgiveness.
Lent is a time of preparation for Easter.  This great feast of the Church is to live on in each one of us as we follow the One who goes before us and walks along our side manifesting the resurrected life that has burst forth from the bonds of death.  Pope Francis in speaking of God’s covenant with humanity refers to it as a “history of mercy” where God is “ever ready to treat his people with deep tenderness and compassion”.  And this history of mercy, this ‘love story’, as he calls it, “culminates in the incarnation of God’s Son”, who became, in the words of Pope Francis, “mercy incarnate”. 
To repeat the invitation of Pope Francis: we are to live this Lent more intensely as a privileged moment to experience the mercy of God.  Mercy incarnate: Jesus is extending, offering mercy to each one of us.  St. Benedict in his chapter on the observance of Lent (#49) invites us to do ‘something extra’ beyond the usual that is asked during this Lenten season.  What extra will we each do that will help us experience and receive the mercy of God?  I looked at my past chapter talks for this first Sunday of Lent in 2015 and 2014.  It was not surprising to see that I referred in both these years to the theme of ‘conversion’ and to the breaking open of our hearts.  It seems to me that we can not speak of ‘conversion’ unless we speak about the heart…The temptations of Jesus tell us that evil looms, never far away from the hovering Spirit of Love and Mercy.  And we know that all the stuff we see in others or in our world: jealousy, self-righteousness, envy, greed, misuse of power, oppression, racism, potentially can rule us at any moment. 
To get a little more concrete about what it means to break open the heart: When I notice that I feel hurt by someone or something, what do I do with the hurt?  Does it fester into reactivity or some kind of lashing out at another person?  What if I suffer the hurt, letting it pierce my heart into an understanding of what is happening, a feeling-knowledge, then, suffering until I experience the merciful Presence, the Presence that opens a way to return to my sister or brother and reconcile with him or her.  Let us, then, pay special attention to the heart so that those realities that pull us away from God and from life may be converted by mercy and the humility that is a strong medicine against any evil inclination.
Sr. Maria Boulding writes: “In that brokenness he (Jesus) became the place where the glory of God is revealed…where the meaning of love is disclosed, the love that holds nothing back” (Gateway To Resurrection, p.14).  This is whom we are following and, as his disciples, our lives must do as he did: as our hearts are broken open a little more during this Lent indeed the glory of God will be revealed and we will rise with Jesus into new life, into new, more expansive horizons where God’s mercy and forgiveness, peace and justice reign.

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