Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Theme Word for Lent: Mercy

(Ash Wednesday 2016: This homily was given on February 10, 2016 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 2 Corinthians 5: 20-6: 2; Matthew 6: 1-18.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Ash Wednesday 2016]

Every year since 2010 I’ve asked the Lord to give me a “theme word” for Lent to share with you on Ash Wednesday—a word that can help to focus us and guide us in our Lenten disciplines. 

The theme words from previous years have been: cross, consistency, foundation, detach, perseverance and priorities.

Hopefully you remember at least a few of them.

This year, of course, there can be only one theme word for Lent (and I think Pope Francis would agree with me on this): MERCY!

Given the fact that the Holy Father has declared this to be an extraordinary Jubilee Year of mercy, it seems to me that God’s mercy should be our primary focus all year long—but especially during these 40 days.  Mercy is, after all, “the reason for the season”.  It was out of mercy that the second Person of the Blessed Trinity took on flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and then 33 years later gave his life on the cross for us and for our eternal salvation.  As St. Paul puts it in today’s second reading from second Corinthians: “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”

To make this a true Lent of mercy, however, I think we need to do 3 things: reflect, receive and recycle.

First of all, we need to reflect on God’s great love for us—on the merciful and gracious love that motivated him to do what I just mentioned: the love that motivated him to send his divine Son into the world to suffer and die for the forgiveness of our sins.  How many people out there in the world right now are on the verge of despair because they don’t know that the Creator of the universe loves them?  Lots of them are!  Lent is a time to deepen our awareness of and our bond with this God who loves us with an eternal and unchangeable—and merciful love.

We can do that in any number of ways.  For example, by reading the New Testament every day for the next 40 days, or by coming to daily Mass, or by attending our parish mission.

But somehow, in some way, if we want to have a Lent full of mercy we need to take the time—and make the time—to reflect.

And then we need to receive!  It’s one thing to talk about or to read about mercy, it’s another thing to actually receive it.

But receive it we must—because we’re all sinners.  The best place for us to receive mercy, of course, is in the confessional.  And if we’ve committed a serious sin, it’s not only the best place to receive mercy; the confessional is also the NECESSARY PLACE to receive that gift!

So—make plans to go to confession this Lent!  What have you got to lose—except your misery and sin?

And then recycle it—mercy, that is.

Mercy is a gift that must be recycled (in other words, it must be shared) after it’s been received.  And the gospel today gives us 3 ways to do that.  We can do it through prayer: by praying that God will have mercy on others (especially our enemies and those who offend us); we can do it through fasting: by denying ourself food or some other legitimate pleasure, and offering that sacrifice up to God so that he will shower his mercy down upon us and upon the world; or we can do it by giving alms: by giving our time or talent or treasure to help those in need, and by giving forgiveness to those who have offended us.

Reflect; receive; recycle—that’s the formula for what you might call a “mercy-full” Lent.  Mercy-full is spelled there m-e-r-c-y—f-u-l-l.  May the ashes we receive on our foreheads this morning be a sign of our intention to make this a Lent that’s full of mercy, in the hope of then living a life that’s full of mercy.