Tuesday 23 February 2016
Lent in the Year of Mercy
As you know well, last year the Pope opened a Year of Mercy in the Catholic Church – this began in December and will run through this year until November. It seems to me that the Pope has touched on something that is badly needed in our world. There is so much violence in the world: people are assaulted and killed so easily; physical violence – whether in the home or on the street, whether criminal or amongst battling groups – is all around us; again how violent we can be with our words, witness the recent offensive racist language for one example. We do not need to be told to work for mercy – how desperately we need it.
In the Catholic Church we have made a lot of the Door of Mercy! The Door is an important symbol: as a young schoolboy I remember a tea-room in Kimberley: it was called the Open Door – we knew we were welcome there! In the book of Revelations we read the words of the Lord where in Chapter 3 He says “Behold I have set before you an open door which no one is able to shut.” (Rev 3: 20) Better known are the words (and the picture) of the Lord where He says “Behold I stand at the door knocking…” (Rev 3: 20)
It is helpful for us to recall the words of Pope Francis where he reminded us that a door is a way IN and a way OUT; it is a door of welcome and door of mission. Even as you are invited in to receive the mercy of the Father; so too are you sent out to bring the Mercy of the Father to others.
We are always “journeying” – a pilgrim people we call ourselves. Early in Lent we were reminded of the need for almsgiving, for prayer and for fasting. These great spiritual disciplines are not only for this season but are meant to be a part of our lives throughout the year and indeed throughout our lives. As the Scriptures tell us when one day we are with the Bridegroom, then will we not need to fast….
I would like to leave you with a few thoughts on how in this Year of Mercy we might understand the Christian path…these are simply early thoughts for a start…let the Holy Spirit and Life teach us further.
Remembering the Door that both welcomes and that ‘missions’ us we could consider the following:
- This reminds us of the great saying of our Lord when He declared that we “cannot serve God and Mammon”. How easily we turn back to false gods: one of the early Teachers of the Church warned that having become free in Christ we can so easily become slaves of money.
- As we look around us we see so many people in poverty our almsgiving can help our brothers and sisters – remember Jesus words in Matthew 25 – when we care for the least of our brothers and sisters, we care for Christ himself.
- In our prayer we acknowledge that we are in need the mercy of the Father. Our prayer has always to be humble – “blessed are the poor in spirit”, Jesus first beatitude is often understood “blessed are those who know their need of God.’
- When we think of prayer and mercy let us not forget the great privilege that we have: God calls us to share His prayer for others; we are called to pray for others, that they might come to the mercy of the Father.
- Fasting reminds us that we need to bring not only our hearts to the Lord but also our bodies. Putting it simply it is not helpful to pray on a full stomach, certainly less so after a few drinks… The Desert Fathers and all the Saints teach us that fasting deepens our prayer. As Catholics we had a strong custom of fasting every Friday to remember and to honour the day the Lord died. I encourage you to recover and to strengthen this custom.
- And fasting gives us the opportunity to stand next to our brothers and sisters who have so much less than us. In these days of drought and of soaring food prices, the practice of eating less at our table that others might get the chance to join us at table is something Christians should do with great generosity.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, let us pray that we will forever be shaped by this Year of Mercy: may we know the loving mercy of the Father and may we bear witness to it. And may our almsgiving, our prayer and our fasting make our witness both powerful and joyful!
+Bishop Graham Rose
Diocese of Dundee