Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Feeling mercy changes everything!

HOMILY FOR ASH WEDNESDAY, February 10, 2016:

I conducted a very informal poll on Facebook today asking my friends there what they were giving up for Lent. They responded well, more than 50 of them. Some of the answers were very tangible. For example, more than one are giving up Coke, Pepsi or other soft drinks; some are giving up chocolates or sweets in general; some are giving up meat or Dunkin’ Donuts; some said alcohol or eating out at restaurants; one plans to fast every Wednesday and Friday. Others named things that were more changes in habit or activity. For example, one said, they were giving up background music in the car, office or house to embrace more silence; another was going to give up swearing at rude drivers in the car; another said outward displays of anger and resentment; one was going to give up the need to be in control; one said they would bite their tongue so they would gossip less; another said he would turn off the computer at 8 p.m. to limit the amount of time staring at screens; one said they would give up over-commitment to have more quiet time. And, then there were those who were going to try and do more with their Lent. Among those were people who were pledging to pray a rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet every day; or to commit themselves more deeply to forgiveness, love, mercy and joy; those who will spend more time in service of others, doing good deeds; some were going to spend more time especially with people who need that extra attention another said they’d be giving up some morning sleep so they can get to Mass every day. And, last but not least, one said that they had given up giving anything up.

These are all great – well maybe not that last one – but most of these are the kind of practices that are hoping to be effective in our Lent and in our lives to help us become the kind of people that Jesus calls us to be. Our typical approach to Lent, I think, is to look at Lent as a 40 day spiritual boot camp. It is our time to get our spiritual act together, to engage in some rigorous practices that can once again reign in and drive out all of the laxity that has snuck into our lives since last year. It is perhaps best summed up by the statement as ashes are applied, “Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” And, there is certainly ample reason for us to think of Lent in this way.

But, I want to invite us to think about the next 40 days in a very different way this year – not as the boot camp, but how about as the luxury spa; not as the place where we punish our sinfulness into submission, but the place where we allow our gracious and loving God to pamper us with His mercy.

“Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.” We sang this together in our response tonight and these words will accompany us all through Lent as a common refrain in the hopes that they will truly settle deep in our hearts. “Be merciful, O Lord.” This is certainly appropriate as we enter into our 40 day journey of Lent. It is all the more appropriate as we are in this great Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis. From virtually the first day of his papacy, Pope Francis has been speaking to us about this great gift and grace of God’s mercy – about our need to accept it and our need to extend it; about how it is the cure to what ails our world today.

Just a year ago, for example, he said, “In the past few days I have been reading a book that said that ‘feeling mercy changes everything’. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient. This mercy is beautiful.” Be merciful, O Lord, because feeling mercy changes everything, and we want to be changed by Your mercy. This is what our Lent can be about – letting God treat us, spoil us, overwhelm us, cover us with His mercy. He doesn’t hold it back. He doesn’t try and keep it from us. He wants nothing more than for us to be awash in the healing waters of His mercy. Let God’s mercy spoil you. It is beautiful. It is the best thing you can feel. It will change you and the world.

Last month beginning a year-long exploration of what he termed “the mystery of divine mercy” the pope said, “God defines himself as the God of mercy. In words which echo throughout the Old Testament, he tells Moses that he is ‘the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’. The Hebrew word for mercy evokes the tender and visceral love of a mother for her child…God waits for us.” God waits for you and me with the tender love of a mother; whose love can heal us.

My friends, as we begin our Lenten journey tonight, know in the depths of your hearts that God waits for us; God waits for you. Now, this doesn’t mean we’re off the hook – bring on the cookies and ice cream!! But, it means that we should be conscious that these things that we “give up” are practices that should be tilling the soil of our hearts so that God can plant the loving gift of mercy there; so that he can spoil us with this mercy; so that we might in turn become that presence of mercy in our world. These practices should lead us to beg as we did in our psalm tonight, “Be merciful, O Lord.” Please, shower Your mercy upon us. Because feeling Your mercy changes everything. Our God waits for us so that we can feel His mercy. He waits for us to become His mercy. He hopes that we will extend that mercy to the world.

May the Lord give you His mercy!

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