By Bishop Edward J. Burns
The season of Lent offers us a wonderful spiritual journey with our Lord which continually challenges us and calls us to conversion. This penitential season is an opportunity for us to celebrate the sacrament of penance, to look at alms giving, and to reevaluate our charitable works. We look at our lives and “what we have done, and what we have failed to do.” In doing so, we hope to become better Christians—to become more like Christ.
In particular, in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis offers a clarion call that we show to others what we long for in this season—the mercy of God. Last year at this time, our Holy Father Pope Francis announced the Year at Mercy by saying that “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.” This Lenten season is the opportunity to grow in our relationship with the Lord, to pray through the “way of the cross” and to see demonstrated in Christ the love and mercy of the Father. For we rejoice in knowing that the Father is “rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:4).
This Lenten season is an opportunity to reflect on the gift of mercy given to us, as Pope Francis calls it, “the wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace.” Through our Lenten practices of fasting and almsgiving, let’s contemplate the gifts given to us by God’s love and mercy, and in doing so, we can then embrace our Lenten practices with joy, serenity, and peace. The Holy Father had said that Lent is “a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy.”
Pope Francis reminds us, “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love. The Church ‘has an endless desire to show mercy’. Perhaps we have long since forgotten how to show and live the way of mercy.”
We have always known that Lent is the opportunity to help those in need, to participate in the CRS rice bowl, to embrace a sacrifice in our lives in order to help others, etc. All of this is done so that we may bind ourselves closer to Jesus Christ and with one another – in particular, with the poor and those in need.
Allow me to offer the very beautiful way that Pope Francis shares this message with the Universal Church: “The season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favorable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practicing the works of mercy. In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated. By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need. By taking this path, the “proud”, the “powerful” and the “wealthy” spoken of in the Magnificat can also be embraced and undeservedly loved by the crucified Lord who died and rose for them.”
Our Holy Father has successfully challenged us to look at Lent as the opportunity of expressing the essence of God’s mercy. Let us not waste this season of Lent. Our Lord has always expressed the urgency of living out the gospel message. How many times have we read in Scriptures that Jesus tells his disciples, “the kingdom of God is at hand” and “now is the acceptable time” – this points to the urgency of living out our faith now and without delay. Through it, we effectively enter into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.
It is my prayer that all of us in the Diocese of Juneau will be able to embark on the season of Lent with all its richness (the prayers, readings, traditions, practices, devotions, and self sacrificing) in order to grow closer to Jesus Christ, his mercy (which is freely given to us) and embrace the challenge and conversion to which we are called.