Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned. Psalm 51
Mercy. That’s what it’s all about. As we begin Lent, a great place to start is with a better understanding of mercy.
Often when we think about Lent, we think of it with a sort of dread. “I have to give something up,” we often think. But if that is our thought then we are missing the point. Do I “have to” give something up? Well, yes and no. It’s true that God wills this and has spoken this practice of self-denial and self-discipline to us through His Church. That is true. But it’s much more of an invitation to grace than the imposition of a burden.
Giving something up is really all about entering into God’s abundant mercy on a deeper level. It’s about being freed from all that binds us and it helps us experience the new life we so deeply seek. Giving something up could refer to something as simple as fasting from a food or drink. Or, it can be any intentional act that requires a certain self-denial. But this is good! Why? Because it strengthens us in our spirit and our will. It strengthens us to be more resolved to say yes to God on that complete level.
So often in life we are controlled by our emotions and desires. We have an impulse for this or that or to do this or that and we often let those impulses or desires control us. Entering into a practice of self-denial helps strengthen us to control our disordered tendencies rather than being controlled by them. And this applies to much more than just food and drink. It applies to many things in life including our life of virtue, especially our charity.
Mercy is all about charity. It’s about love in the way God wants us to love. It’s about being free to let love consume us and take us over so that, in the end, all we want to do is love. This can be a hard practice to establish in our lives but is the source of our joy and fulfillment.
Mercy, in particular, is an act of love that, in a sense, is not deserved by another. It’s a free gift that is given purely from the motivation of love. And this is exactly the love God gives us. God’s love is all mercy. And if we want to receive that mercy then we also have to give it. And if we want to give it we need to properly dispose ourselves to giving mercy. This is accomplished, in part, by our little acts of self-denial.
So make this a great Lent, but don’t get stuck thinking that the Lenten sacrifices are burdensome. They are one essential piece of the pathway to the life God wants to bestow upon us.
Lord, may this Lent be truly fruitful in my life. May it be a grace and a joy to embrace all that You wish to bestow upon me. Jesus, I do trust in You.
Orlande de Lassus, Penitential Psalm no. 1 (6:7) Performed by Schola Antiqua of Chicago Dir. Michael Alan Anderson “Music of the Hours”