What kind of thoughts fill our minds as we begin Lent period? Prayer, fasting, Christ’s suffering, compassion, charity, repentance and penance. This is exactly what the Jubilee Year of Mercy is about. Fortunately this beautiful liturgical period comes right at the beginning of the Year of Mercy. Using the gospel-based Works of Charity, both the corporal and spiritual works, the Holy Father invites us to live the Lent period intensely and fruitfully.
Once, when Pope Francis was asked in an interview two years ago, to describe himself, he responded, “I am a sinner.” Then he added, “who has been looked upon by the face of mercy.” He seems to be honest about his state of conscience and also has experienced the mercifulness extended to him in the Church, through the Church’s ministers and sacraments.
In another interview Holy Father explains his first hand experience of God’s mercy and how it eventually guided him in his ministry. “I think of Father Carlos Duarte Ibarra, the confessor I met in my parish church on September 21, 1953, the day the Church celebrated Saint Matthew the apostle and evangelist. I was seventeen years old. On confessing to him, I felt welcomed by the mercy of God. Ibarra was originally from Corrientes but was in Buenos Aires to receive treatment for leukaemia. He died the following year. I still remember how when I got home, after his funeral and burial, I felt as though I had been abandoned. And I cried a lot that night, really a lot, and hid in my room. Why? Because I had lost a person who helped me feel the mercy of God, and person who helped me understand the expression miserando atque eligeno, an expression I didn’t know at the time but which I would eventually chose as my Episcopal motto.”
It would not be an exaggeration to say that The Year of Mercy is one of the beautiful gift of Pope Francis’ Pontificate. From the time he assumed to the Chair of St. Peter he has given us practical example of mercy through his preaching in words and deeds. Through them he has opened the eyes of not only the Catholic faithful but the whole humanity. The Lenten Message for the Year 2016 was published way back on 4th October 2015, more than four months before Lent. Through it he want the Church to relive the passion of the Lord by being merciful and repentant. He writes,
“…The season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy. In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness.”
How can we use Holy Father’s catechesis on mercy for a fruitful Lent?
Pope says, ‘mercy is divine attitude’ and ‘God’s identity card.’ So we have a sure hope for finding mercy in Him because mercy is His business. He goes to the root meaning of mercy. “Etymologically “mercy” derives from misericordis, which means opening one’s heart to wretchedness. And immediately we go to the Lord: mercy is the divine attitude which embraces, it is God’s giving of himself to us, accepting us, and vowing to forgive. Jesus said he came not for those who are good but for the sinners, He did not come for the healthy, who do not need the doctor, but for the sick. For this reason, we can say that mercy is God’s identity card.”
This Lent ardently invites us to make good confession. Church offers confession, because Jesus Christ said to his apostles: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20: 19-23). Our sins not only offends God, but also others and our self. The priest who links us to God acts as God’s agent of mercy.
Why do we confess to a priest? Pope Francis says, “If you are not capable of talking to your brother about your mistakes, you can be sure that you can’t talk about them with God, either, and therefore you end up confessing into the mirror, to yourself. We are social beings, and forgiveness has a social implication; my sin wounds mankind, my brothers and sister, and society as a whole. Confessing to a priest is a way of putting my life into the hands and heart of someone else, someone who in that moment acts in the name of Jesus. It’s way to the real and authentic: we face the facts by looking at another person and not in the mirror.”
We are aware of the special privilege given for those living with the guilt of the sin of abortion to confess and be forgiven during this Year of Mercy. Perhaps this Lent period is the best moment to remove this guilt and celebrate Easter in a fitting manner. Church is also appointing chosen priests to be “Missionaries of Mercy” to take the Sacrament of Penance extensively.
The local church in Uganda is in the right track. It is inviting the unbaptised adults to baptise during the coming Easter, it is calling upon the cohabiting couples to receive the holy matrimony, widows and widowers living single are asked to approach the sacraments and families living in polygamous situation are asked to approach the relevant church authorities to get permission for the first wedded wife to receive Holy Communion. All the faithful are invited to participate in 24 hours adoration to be organised on Friday and Saturday of Fourth week of Lent. At the same time all the faithful are invited to participate in Novenas, pray the Litany of Divine Mercy, Rosary of Divine Mercy and of course make good confession.
Let us pray for the Church that it may live according to the wish of the Holy Father: “…be a place for urgent care, not a place to see a specialist. I hope that the Jubilee [The Holy Year of Mercy] will serve to reveal the Church’s deeply maternal and merciful side, a Church that goes forth toward those who are “wounded,” who are in need of an attentive ear, understanding, forgiveness, and love.”
(Article published in Munno Voice, newspaper in Uganda, 14 February 2016)
Themes: Year of Mercy, Works of Mercy, Pope Francis)