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Father Muench Says...

Lent: a time to discover the mercy of God

March 11, 2015

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

Our Church sends us an invitation for Lent to discover the mercy of God.  God’s mercy is great – Jesus teaches this to us in many ways throughout the Gospels.

Soon, on a Lenten Sunday, the Gospel reading will be Jesus’ wonderful and familiar parable that we call the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  I am certain that you remember the story.  A man has two sons and the younger son asks for his share of his inheritance now.  He then goes off, squanders the money and faces poverty.  He then decides to return to his father’s place and work as one of the servants. The surprise of the story – and there are usually surprises in Jesus’ parable – is that the father sees him coming and, rather than becoming angry, races out to meet him and welcome him back with a celebration.

The father becomes an image of God the Father, demonstrating the wonderful mercy towards his son.  Jesus seems to indicate that God’s mercy is so great that he will always welcome us even if we stray.

There is a second part to the story. The older son hears the celebration and becomes annoyed and angry and refuses to take part.  The Father – again an image of God the Father – goes out to calm him. This is another powerful demonstration of God’s great mercy in this wonderful parable.

During Lent, our Church wants to lead us to a deeper recognition of the great mercy of our God.  I would like to share another image of this mercy through the writings of Catherine Doherty.  “It came to me that Lent is a sort of a sea of God’s mercy.  In my imagination, it was warm and quiet and inviting for us to swim in.  If we did, we would be not only refreshed but cleansed, for God mercy cleanses as nothing else does.  (“Seasons of Mercy” by Catherine Doherty)

Lent is an invitation to a time of conversion.  We can be better than we are.  There are some changes we must make and Lent is the perfect time for that task.

Lent, that special time of prayer and acts of mortification, is about doing something so that we come to Easter as a new person.

Using Catherine’s image, I must dive into the sea of God’s mercy becoming immersed in God’s love and forgiveness.  When I recognize God’s mercy, I will truly become that new person and become a merciful person myself.

Catherine Doherty adds this: “There by that sea I stand and think.  If I seek mercy, I have to dish out mercy.  I have to be merciful to others.  What does it mean to be merciful to others?  It means to open my own heart, like a little sea, for people to swim in.”  (“Seasons of Mercy” by Catherine Doherty)

In the Gospel reading from Luke on a recent Lenten day, Jesus challenges us all: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  Then Jesus in this same reading goes on to show us the way. “Stop judging and you will not be judged,” Jesus said. “Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.  Forgive and you will be forgiven.”

Can you imagine if Lent could do that for you and me?  By sending time in Lenten prayer and doing something to draw closer to the Lord I could be truly changed so that I would stop being such a judgmental person. What a different person I would be, free from being such a narrow, nasty judgmental person.

Can you imagine if Lent could change me from being so condemning?  Can you imagine if Lent could form me into a forgiving and caring person? Now that would be a very successful Lent. I would truly become that merciful person like my God.

In his recent book, entitled “Mercy” – Cardinal Walter Kasper writes about Pope John XXIII – “His spiritual diary contains many profound reflection concerning God’s mercy.  For him, mercy is the beautiful name and the most beautiful way to address God.”

Cardinal Kasper quotes Pope John’s opening talk for the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962.  He said this to the gathered Bishops from all over the world: “the point of this Council is not only to repeat the traditional teaching of the Church.  The Church’s teaching is well-known and stands firm.  The Church has opposed the errors of every age. Frequently she has condemned them with the greatest severity.  Nowadays, however, the spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than of severity.”

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