I. Introduction: Season of Mercy
A. Years ago I was assigned with a priest who, like myself, loves coffee. Actually, it was more than loving coffee – that first cup and its successors seemed pretty essential to his well-being (and mine). One Lent he decided to give up coffee. It was rough going. He was hard to live with and even harder to work with. After a few days I said to him, “Your Lenten penance is killing me!”
B. Today we begin the season of Lent, dubbed by many, ‘the gloomy season.’ Some see it as a time of self-denial designed only to make us miserable. That’s really not fair. It is a season of grace. It is a season of mercy. Scripture tells us today not only to repent but also to buck up! So, we might think of Lent as spring training for our spiritual lives or to put it another way, Lent is like spring house cleaning for our souls. This is the time for you and me to renew our relationship with God, with Church, and with everyone in our lives, including our enemies.
C. Lent is also a time when we are reminded that life is short. When ashes are imposed, we hear the words, “Remember you are dust.” We are reminded in the short span of our lives to focus not on what is trivial but on what is important, namely, our journey toward eternal life. And as we see ashes on one another’s foreheads we are reminded that we are making this journey together; we are in good company; as members of the Church, we need to be helping one another along the way.
II. How To Observe Lent
A. So the question asked every Ash Wednesday is – “What should we be doing for Lent?” It’s a good question but not the first question we should ask. The first question we should ask, especially in this Year of Mercy, is this: “Will this be the Lent when we allow God’s mercy to overtake us?” “Will this be the Lent when we will fall deeply and irrevocably in love with God?” “During these next six weeks, will I become convinced that God loves me? … that his love is stronger than my sins? That he sent his Son to die for my salvation?”
B. Once we are convinced that God’s mercy is real and that it’s meant for us, then our works of repentance take on new meaning. Instead of being some added bit of drudgery in our overburdened lives, the penances and good works we do become a means of opening the doors of our hearts more widely to God’s mercy.
We fast from food, abstain from meat, give up alcoholic beverages, turn off the TV, lay aside the I-phone – to make room in our hearts for God.
We resolve to come to Mass each day in Lent, to spend more time in private prayer, to read the Scriptures, to adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament – because we want our relationship with God to be warm and life-giving, not cold and formal.
We make up our minds to go to confession in Lent early and often not to beat ourselves up for our sins but rather to take care of them – to have them forgiven by the mercy of God who rejoices when we repent.
And we also resolve to love the poor and needy during Lent, the poor who are always with us in every community of the Archdiocese. Pope Francis urges us during this Year of Mercy to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy – clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, consoling the sorrowful… for in giving of ourselves we rediscover God’s gift of self to us.
C. My prayer for you and for myself is that this Lent will be a joyful season, joyful because the mercy of God has found us. When these forty days are over, may we be prepared to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus with a faith and joy we never thought possible. God bless us and keep us in his love!