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This Lent, receive mercy and become merciful

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We should run from petty conflict and refuse to engage in any conversation designed to divide, accuse or draw up sides

My father used to joke about the response he would receive after finding a shattered glass in the garbage can. “What happened to the glass?” he would ask us kids. “It broke,” one of us would answer. No one claimed responsibility. It just broke.

Lent highlights what is at stake in our salvation. It is not pleasant to write about Satan, evil and sin; but if we do not confront those realities — and the brokenness of humanity — we will not understand the blessedness of salvation and the gift of God’s infinite mercy. Lent invites us to grasp the magnitude of Christ’s victory over sin, but it also invites us to come to terms with our personal battle with evil and the prime place of grace in that battle.

Every genuine intention to grow spiritually is a response to God’s grace. In other words, we don’t come up with such desires on our own. If we discover in ourselves a desire to be better persons, the source of that desire is God, already at work — and what God inspires in us, he will bring to completion. All we need do is cooperate with him.

That is why Lent is a time of hope: Our yearning to be better is a response to God’s mercy already at work in us. His merciful love, ever-present, attracts us. Our sorrow for sin is at the same time an attraction to the Lord Jesus, who desires that we share in his victory: “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)

Boast in weakness

Quoting an early Christian hymn, Paul reminded the Colossians that “all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. … He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.” (see Colossians 1:15-20) All humankind is included in Christ’s act of atonement, because he is the new Adam, the Head of humankind. What he has done “for the world,” he has done “for us.” And what he has done “for us,” he asks us to do “for one another.”

It is not unusual to have a sense of powerlessness when trying to combat sin. That is a good thing, for if we think we can do it on our own, we will never submit our weakness to God. Paul prayed three times for the Lord to remove his thorn in the flesh, and the Lord responded, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul wrote, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weakness, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9) We do not focus on our weakness for its own sake, but so that we may submit it to the loving power of God.

The recognition of our powerlessness does something extraordinary in us: It makes us humble. When we recognize that every good inspiration comes from God, when we admit that we are freed of sin not by our own effort but by him, we begin to realize that we have judged others harshly.

Sometimes things ‘just break’

“Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but fail to perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

Humility also involves letting go of the need to cast blame. When something goes wrong, it is important to guard against the tendency to presume the guilt of others without evidence, to obsessively search out “who done it,” while neglecting our responsibility to be instruments of healing. Sometimes it simply doesn’t matter who did it. Perhaps no one did it. Sometimes things “just break.” We are all among the guilty, but the Lord Jesus never sought to cast blame. Instead, he brought healing.

While original sin caused divisions in humankind, Christ came to make us one again. Thus, if we have recognized the power of God’s mercy, we are called to be reconciled with one another, to forgive.

Learning forgiveness is not optional for disciples of Jesus — it is a commandment. Jesus’ command of forgiveness often becomes another occasion to recognize our powerlessness, for true forgiveness is not easy. We must forgive, but we cannot forgive on our own; therefore we submit ourselves to God’s grace. “Lord, I cannot forgive him. I do not want to forgive her. May your mercy flow through me, so that I may forgive.”

We have frequent occasion to join in arguments, to be sarcastic in speech, to gossip, or to add mean comments to Internet blogs. We should never underestimate the harm done through divisive, contentious behavior, even on the smallest scale. Run from petty conflict! Refuse to engage in any conversation designed to divide, accuse or draw up sides.

Otherwise, we simply demonstrate that we have not yet recognized, or have forgotten, our personal need for mercy. We have forgotten that Satan tries to tear apart what Christ has brought together.

Jesus took upon himself our guilt and our blame, and in their place, he left love. This Lent, may we drop the stones we were about to cast at others and receive God’s mercy with open hands, that we might become merciful.

Read the Spanish translation of this column.

NORTHWEST CATHOLIC - March 2016

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain

Send your prayer intentions to Archbishop Sartain’s Prayer List, Archdiocese of Seattle, 710 Ninth Ave., Seattle, WA 98104.

Website: www.seattlearchdiocese.org
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