Feb. 17, 2016
Bishop Terry R. LaValley’s homily for the Rite of Election held Feb. 14 at St. Mary’s Cathedral
Pope Francis wrote that this Lent can be “a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy, so favorable a time for conversion.” He said that “mercy expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him or her a new chance to look at oneself, convert, and believe” (MV, 21). As we begin our Lenten journey, our readings today tells us that now is the time to do just that.
As I was reflecting on God’s Word, I kept returning to the Book of Deuteronomy. In it, we listen in on a recounting of past events of the Chosen People, of how God heard their anguish and saw their affliction. God freed the people and gave them a land flowing with milk and honey. In the Promised Land, the people enjoyed an abundance of gifts from God, including rich harvests.
As the author of Deuteronomy recounts again for the Chosen People how much they have been blessed, he recalls how the first fruits of their land were gathered and set before the Lord as the people were to “bow down in God’s presence.” Here we have a remembering of what’s happened and then the giving of homage to God for the blessings received.
Within these Scriptures, we have a Lenten plan laid out for us. Lent 2016 can be a graced time to recollect and to give homage—a time to review blessings received and a time to consider our response to God for having received such gifts. Permit me to suggest a few blessings that we might identify: my very life, Baptism, my marriage, spouse and children, family, faith, employment, good health, friends, the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist, our pastor & parish, freedom to practice my faith, etc.
Why not select a personal blessing of the day during Lent and decide daily how to give homage to God for the blessing bestowed? This could develop into a lifelong discipline, a grateful remembrance. This can change our dispositions, our outlooks on life, maybe even put a smile on our faces. So, this afternoon or sometime soon, reflect on and then list the blessings you’ve received and assign a blessing to focus on each day during Lent. As you begin each day, name the blessing, then choose a way to give homage to God for the blessing received. It may be a simple prayer of thanksgiving or a specific work of mercy for the day. As time goes on and we become more attentive to how much we have been given, we’ll find our list growing.
Pope Francis recommends doing Spiritual or Corporal Works of Mercy as an expression of gratitude, of homage, to God for blessings received. In his Lenten message, the Holy Father writes that “when we do corporal works of mercy—we touch the flesh of Christ in our sisters and brothers in need and in spiritual works—we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The two must never be separated.” (Lenten message, 2016)
You remember the Works of Mercy: corporal--feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead; and the spiritual--instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses willingly, comfort the afflicted, pray for the living and the dead.
Let us try to make a conscious effort to connect the blessing received with a personal act of homage. For instance, if we’re reflecting on the gift of our baptism, think about the promises made that day and our responsibilities as a child of God and as a member of the parish family. Fasting and abstinence can help you and me better focus on making a concrete change that can enrich our daily prayer. We might want to reflect on the Blessed Virgin Mary’s role in our spiritual life. Then, in the area of worship, consider participating at more daily Masses. Ask myself: “where am I with the Sacrament of Penance, Holy Hour for Vocations, and parish adult faith formation? When was the last time that I volunteered for a parish activity and did a concrete act to promote religious vocations in my parish? Every day how attentive am I to opportunities to perform acts of kindness?”
There is a whole host of possibilities for you and me to consider as we want to make this a very special Lent this Jubilee Year of Mercy. This Lenten Plan can become an effort for a lifetime, to say nothing of forty days! It calls for daily prayerful recollection of blessings received and an intention to say “thank you” to the Lord for being so graced. An ambitious initiative, to be sure.
Because the Chosen People tended to forget the blessings they received, they needed to recall, to recount them. Sometimes we have the same tendency to forget in the midst of the busyness of our lives. We must not forget! This is a concrete means whereby we can be beacons of hope in a world thirsting for light and joy.
Thank you for coming to St. Mary’s Cathedral this afternoon to be counted among the elect. Your presence this day brings such joy to all of us. I pray that, as you continue your pilgrimage of faith, that you develop the spiritual discipline of always being attentive to the blessings you’ve received in life and then giving praise and honor to God, the Source of all blessings, through your works of mercy, of compassion and love. May God be praised…forever may God be praised!