Receiving Mercy - 24 Hours for the Lord - Penitential Rite

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The Holy Father has given the Church – and indeed the world – a word to contemplate this year. The word is mercy. In declaring this year a Jubilee Year of Mercy, he has invited us to focus our thought and prayer on the quality of mercy.

Mercy is one of the key attributes of God. The Sacred Scriptures declare often that God is merciful. On Mount Sinai God revealed himself to Moses as a god of mercy and compassion. Psalm 145:8 describes God in these words, “The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy”. This is the testimony of Sacred Scripture and our abiding sense of the nature of God.

God wants to grant us his mercy. God wants to pour forth his mercy upon humanity, suffering as it is under all manner of evils. However, there is a particular way in which we can receive this mercy, and receive it in abundance. In fact, it is a way that we can overlook. It is fundamental to the teaching of Christ found in the Gospels and is expressed in the Gospel reading this evening.

In this passage we heard this evening we have just heard the Lord present a challenge to our way of thinking. Mercy is available to us, yes, but we need to be properly disposed to receive it. There is something required of us.
We heard the Lord say that in order not to be judged we must not judge others ourselves. In order not to be condemned we must not condemn others. In order to receive pardon we must learn how to pardon. And then he says that we must discover that we need to give in order to receive.

When we come to seek forgiveness we must first ensure that we are not carrying unforgiveness in our hearts.
The Lord has spoken of this on several occasions – for example, when he says that as we approach the altar if we remember that we have something against a brother, then we should first resolve this issue before presenting our gifts.

St Peter no doubt had heard the Lord speak of this subject on a number of occasions. That may be why he thought that he was being very generous in spirit when he said that he should forgive his brother who wrongs him seven times. Jesus immediately replied not seven times but seventy seven times. The Lord then proceeds to tell the parable of the unforgiving servant. Clearly this teaching is something of great importance to the Lord. Thus it is something we should not lightly gloss over. It is a vital message for us.

How can we ask for mercy for ourselves while we are not willing to show mercy to those who offend us? This principle is enshrined in the Lord’s Prayer when we say: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”.

Thus, in the Gospel this evening, the Lord calls on us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us and to pray for those who treat us badly. He expects us to display virtue in our relationships with others prior to seeking the mercy of God towards ourselves.

This can be a real challenge for us.
As the theme of the Jubilee Year says, we are to be “Merciful like the Father”. Or in the words of the Gospel tonight, we are to be compassionate as our Father is compassionate. Our lives must reflect the character of the heart of God – a heart of mercy and compassion.
It is all about the state of our heart: do we have a thick crust around our heart? That hard crust is there when we are carrying forgiveness towards someone who hurt us, or resentment because of what someone did to us, or bitterness towards someone who has injured us.

We all carry the memories of how we have been hurt. We cannot easily forget harsh words spoken to us. We feel deeply times when we were rejected. We cannot erase these memories and they can readily play upon our minds. 

We hear people say that they forgive but they can never forget. Keeping the memory alive in us means that forgiveness is not complete. 

Tonight as we approach the Lord for forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we can first examine the state of our heart. It can become the subject of our prayer before the Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament.

So let us examine ourselves firstly to see if we are carrying any lack of forgiveness, or any bitterness towards someone, or any resentments. Let us hand these to the Lord, even saying that we cannot completely forgive but we want to. We need help. We need a special grace to forgive, or be set free from a resentment, or a broken relationship.

This Year of Mercy is a time of special grace. It is a time when we explore the quality of mercy in the heart of God and in our own lives. We know that God longs to pour forth his mercy upon us. Tonight we are aware that we can be an obstacle to receiving this mercy if we are carrying our own inability to forgive. Let us hold up any relationship, any past event, any painful memory that still lingers in our hearts and ask for the grace to be healed.

Then set free of our own blockages we can approach the Lord in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the great Sacrament of Mercy.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Tuesday, 1 March 2016