FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR ASH WEDNESDAY, March 6, 2019:
Every year, I like to informally ask people what they are giving up for Lent. The answers are what you would expect: some give up soda and soft drinks; some give up chocolates or sweets; some give up meat or Dunkin’ Donuts; some eating out at restaurants. Others name things that were changes in their habits, like giving up music in the car, embracing more silence, or trying to give up gossip. One said turning off electronic devices at 8 p.m. to limit the amount of time staring at screens. And, then there were those who were going to try and do more with their Lent like pledging to pray a rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet every day; or spending more time in service of others; and some said they’d so would get to Mass every day.
These are all great and are the kind of practices that we hope 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 rein in and drive out all of the laziness that has snuck into our spiritual lives since last year. It is 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 – instead of the boot camp, let’s imagine these 40 days 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 today. “Be merciful, O Lord.” This is a very appropriate theme for our 40 day journey towards Easter. It is also a theme that Pope Francis has been continually reminding us of these last few years. 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.
He said, for example, “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 feelingmercy 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.
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.” My friends, God waits for you and me with the tender love of a mother; whose love can heal us.
As we begin our Lenten journey today, know in the depths of your hearts that God waits for us; God waits for you. He wants to spoil you and shower you with the gift of His mercy. This doesn’t mean we’re off the hook – it doesn’t mean bring on the cookies and ice cream! But, it means that we should be conscious that the things we “give up” 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. Our Lenten practices should lead us to beg as we did in our psalm, “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!