Be Merciful - Fifth Sunday of Lent (C)

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You may recall the initiative of Pope Francis very early in his pontificate. He said, “I have decided to announce an Extraordinary Jubilee which has at its centre the mercy of God.” He added, “We want to live in the light of the word of the Lord, ‘Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful’” (Lk 6:36).

Thus in the year 2016 the universal Church turned its attention to the theme of the mercy of God. The Pope saw two key aspects to this Extraordinary Jubilee Year. One was to focus on the mercy of God towards us, and in particular he encouraged people to approach the Sacrament of Mercy, to make use of Confession. The second was that the Holy Father wanted us to be instruments of mercy in the world. In this regard he highlighted from our Catholic tradition the corporal and the spiritual works of mercy.

These themes are worth revisiting on this Fifth Sunday of Lent, especially in the light of the Gospel which we have just read.

That God is a God of mercy is not restricted just to the teaching of Jesus. It is grounded in the revelation of the nature of God, especially to Moses on Mount Sinai.

There God declared of Himself: “The Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” (Ex 34:6-7)

This surely is one of the most inspiring and encouraging texts in all of Scripture because it reveals something most profound about the nature of God to us.

The depth of the mercy of God is expressed in the first reading today where the Prophet Isaiah declares, “No need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before.” The mercy of God is such that we are freed from the failures of our past. They should not continue to weigh down our conscience and inhibit our hope for the future.

These are wonderfully consoling thoughts.
The mercy of God is such that we can indeed begin afresh. We can move forward not continuing to carry the burden of our past. We are truly set free.

For many this is a truth which is very difficult to receive. We can all look back on our past failures and sins and feel fresh shame or embarrassment. We can condemn ourselves and hold out little hope for a better future.

However, God wants to cleanse our minds of these memories. He wants to express his confidence in us. God desires that we go forward with new hope and expectation.

This is what the Lord offered to the woman caught in adultery. There was to be no punishment, no price was required to be paid for her sin. “Neither do I condemn you,” the Lord said. She was offered a completely fresh start. The Lord asked her to begin anew, “Go away and don’t sin anymore.”

Today in this Mass we can contemplate the mercy of God towards each of us. It is a gift beyond human imagining. It is a remarkable gift offered to us that can truly transform us. It reshapes how we see ourselves. Despite our consciousness of our frailties, God still believes in us. We are always considered beloved in His eyes.

Thus we approach the sacrament of Penance carrying our burden of sin and shame. We come to the Lord with humble and contrite hearts. But the moment of absolution wipes out not only our sins, but lifts us up to a new place. We can truly start anew.

When we contemplate the depths of mercy in the heart of God, we can have cause to reflect upon our own hearts. The admonition of the Lord quoted by Pope Francis invites us to consider our own capacity to show mercy: Be merciful as you Father is merciful.

As we taste mercy we are moved to show mercy. The more we experience the mercy of God, the more we are inspired to be radiate mercy towards others.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday, April 7, 2019