Lent 2016 is taking place during the Jubilee of Mercy, and our Holy Father Pope Francis has asked us to live this Lent more “intensely … as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy.” I invite you to consider what might be your response to Pope Francis’ request. In the letter announcing the Jubilee of Mercy, the Holy Father gives some suggestions for a more intense Lent.
One is the use of Scripture for reflection and to rediscover the merciful face of the Father. The Sunday and daily Mass readings during Lent are a treasure. Allow the power and beauty, and yes the challenge, of the Word of God to draw you into the mercy of God.
Spend some dedicated time with the Word of God. Try your best to do it daily. Even to focus on a word or a verse in the sacred text can be very helpful. Allow God to speak to you through the inspired Word. Listen. God speaks. Listen.
Another suggestion of the Holy Father is 24 HOURS FOR THE LORD which will take place in our diocese on Friday, March 4th through Saturday, March 5th. The Sacrament of Reconciliation will be available for an entire day at seven churches in the diocese. Avail yourself of the Sacrament of Penance. The confession of sin is a source of interior peace like none other. Humbly acknowledging our sins and seeking the forgiveness of God are paths to an encounter with God’s mercy.
In Confession you have to put words on your wrong doing; name your sin; recognize your failure to live as a Christian …which for some can be difficult, even painful. But, once you have spoken, you hear the priest speak and act in Christ’s name as he says by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, “I absolve you.…” The Lord takes away sin. God forgives.
The Sacrament of Penance can be an awakening to God’s love and mercy. In the Holy Father’s new book, “The Name Of God Is Mercy,” currently on the New York Times best seller list, he has much to say about the sacrament of Confession. He calls the Sacrament a “gift” and an “encounter with mercy.” The Holy Father has given us a witness to the importance of the Sacrament by himself going to Confession and by defining himself as a sinner. Aren’t we all? The wounds of our sins can be healed in the Sacrament of Penance.
The traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are encouraged. They turn us more toward the Lord. They reconcile us, make us more one with God. They move us away from ourselves to others. How can they be done with more intensity?
Prayer, time alone with God. Time aware of the presence of God whom you invite into your life. Set time aside. Undisturbed time. The same time daily. This requires some discipline and regularity. Allow yourself to speak as with a friend or a lover. And, allow yourself to listen.
Fasting, denial, an intentional decision. It involves a Sacrifice. To give up. Make an offering. An oblation. To move away from focus on yourself to others. To do a penance by extending yourself to another, especially someone in need; someone on the edge of life. By fasting I deny myself and that requires a certain amount of courage and steadfastness. My self-denial leads me to assist others in prayer and action.
Charity. To reach out. To love like Christ. To give willingly. To show practical concern, involvement with another who needs your charity. It might even be someone with whom you live.
Another way to observe this Lent during the Jubilee Year is to make a pilgrimage to a Holy Door. There are five Holy Doors in our diocese. To cross over the threshold of that door is to seek a fuller life in Christ. To leave behind and to enter into something new. It can be an experience of the newness of Christ’s grace. Spiritually prepare yourself for the walk through the Holy Door to cross the threshold that represents the mercy of God in our lives and what that grace can do for us.
Finally, it is recommended by Pope Francis that we focus on the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. By putting into practice these counsels we show that we are Christians. They help us to be Christians. Each one is very specific. Perhaps, this Lent you might just practice one from each side of the Works of Mercy. One corporal. Like, to visit the sick. One spiritual. Like, to forgive.
May the intensity of how we observe these days of Lent in the Jubilee of Mercy bring each of us renewed to an Easter of glory.