Celebrating and experiencing seem to go hand in hand. Take a birthday and a special party. We can experience that annual passage from one year to the next in our minds and hearts, but there is no substitute for a good old-fashioned party with cake, candles, friends and good cheer! Celebrations, if done right, can express and even enhance what we experience internally.
Pope Francis had this in mind when he penned his 2016 Lenten message. How timely since, believe it or not, Ash Wednesday is just over one week away! Starting early this year on February 10, these days of Lent call us to the traditional practices of prayer, fasting and giving alms. This year – the Jubilee of Mercy – we are asked to be more intentional and experience Lenten conversion in a deeper way.
Our Holy Father’s message quotes Matthew 9:13 “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Properly, Pope Francis turns to the example of our Blessed Mother Mary who, having heard the good news from the angel Gabriel, “… prophetically sings of the mercy whereby God chose her.” We, too, are invited to take time to contemplate the Word of God and uncover our calling to do God’s will in our daily lives.
Pope Francis links that experience of mercy in our lives with Mary’s call – recalling that in the prophetic tradition, mercy is linked to the maternal womb (rahamim) and to a generous, faithful and compassionate goodness (hesed) shown within marriage and family relationships.
Mercy has no grandchildren. In other words, we can use secondhand clothes from past generations, but faith and mercy must be experienced directly, and they must be celebrated.
Here is our chance. I advise everyone to first slow down to experience God’s mercy in your hearts and then allow mercy to flow through you to others, especially through the seven corporal and seven spiritual works of mercy.
24 Hours for the Lord
God’s mercy transforms hearts, but the heart needs first to “hear.” What a blessing we have in “24 Hours for the Lord.” An initiative of Pope Francis, these 24 hours from
Friday, March 4 through Saturday, March 5 (4 p.m. to 4 p.m. in most parishes) will feature more than 25 churches in the Archdiocese with open doors. Other parishes will participate regionally. As for me, I’ll be at St. Michael Church on Saturday morning hearing confessions and then at the Cathedral that afternoon for a two hour block doing the same. (Check out the schedule for Churches near you online here and in The Record.)
These open churches are a chance to spend time before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament… to meditate on the Word of God …and to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation in those parishes that will be offering it. So bring your Bible and consider doing what I am planning to do: reading the Gospel according to St. Luke from cover to cover. Bring your heart. Open yourself to your sinful side. (Remember that there is no saint without a past and no sinner without a future!) Confess your sins.
Welcome, Mr. Curtis Martin
During this time, we also will welcome Mr. Curtis Martin to the Archdiocese. A personal friend of mine, Curtis addressed all the bishops of the United States at our St. Louis meeting this past June. The founder of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), Curtis was a participant at the 2012 Synod in Rome, where I got to know him well. He speaks convincingly and powerfully. He will be at the Friday, March 4 ALI (Archdiocesan Leadership Institute, a special training opportunity for pastoral leaders in the Archdiocese), and he will serve as the keynote speaker for the Louisville Catholic Men’s Conference the next day at St. Michael Church. (To register for Men’s Conference, go here. For information about the ALI, email here or call 502/585-3291.)
Corporal & Spiritual Works of Mercy
As you slow down, meditate on these corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which Pope Francis has made front and center again. Here they are:
- Corporal Works of Mercy: Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, give housing to the pilgrim, visit the sick, visit prisoners, bury the dead.
- Spiritual Works of Mercy: Advise doubters, teach the ignorant, admonish sinners, console the afflicted, forgive offenses, be patient with annoying people, pray for the living and dead.
Like the rich man who died wanting another chance to take notice of the poor Lazarus at his door in Luke 16, we want that chance now. We want to experience mercy in our lives and then let that mercy show itself in the way we treat others. As Pope Francis cautions, “The greater the power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow.” Lazarus in the parable is Christ; you and I, the rich man blinded.
Lent is here; let mercy flow! Let us experience and let us celebrate!