Encountering the Lord’s Tender Mercies and Forgiveness

On Ash Wednesday, for the Responsorial Psalm at Mass, the Church sang the Miserere, which is also said on Fridays throughout the year for Morning Prayer.  So named for the opening words in Latin, this 51st Psalm sets the motif for the entirety of Lent – Have mercy on me, God . . . for I have sinned.

The sobering and sad fact of life is that all of us at times carry heavy “baggage” that we would like to unload. While we are capable of marvelously good actions, we do not always live as we should.  We sin and we suffer the inevitable hardship of alienation and guilt.  Jesus knows this and, in his mercy, he came to give us rest from our burdens and free us from the baggage of sin.

In the Sacrament of Penance, we meet Christ in his Church ready and eager to absolve and restore us to new life.  To let people know of this great marvel of God’s love and make his forgiveness readily available, once again “The Light is ON for You.”  In addition to the usual times for Confession, every Wednesday evening during Lent the light is on in every Catholic church throughout the Archdiocese of Washington and the Diocese of Arlington so that people know that God’s mercy is inside, waiting to heal those who avail themselves of this gift of forgiveness.

The New Testament is filled with references to Jesus’ abundant compassion and his challenge to his followers – to us – not to judge others, but to forgive and love one another.  For one thing, we should be merciful and forgiving with others, rather than cast stones, because we know that the Lord has been merciful and forgiving with us.  For another thing, life is usually more complex than it might seem.  Instead of jumping to conclusions, we must “enter into the mystery of the human being,” says Pope Francis. “In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy.”

In the Gospel for this third Sunday of Lent, we hear of the Samaritan woman who came to the well and encountered Jesus there.  In their ensuing conversation, Jesus notes that she has had five husbands and is now living with yet another man outside of marriage.  He does not condemn her, but neither does he justify.  His judgment is merely to state the truth.  He understands human frailties and knows that there is always more to the story.  Whatever personal faults this woman may have had, when she comes to the well, she is blessed by an encounter with Jesus.  In the conversation it is clear that she is aware of her failings.  In the midst of this experience, rather than condemnation, Jesus offers her living water, a spring within her that would satisfy her yearning and well up to eternal life (John 4:4-26).  She does not keep this exchange to herself, but immediately goes to tell others of the Lord.

The Good News of Jesus Christ is precisely that we do not endure the struggles of the human condition alone, but rather we are accompanied by a Redeemer who pours his love into our hearts, giving us comfort when we suffer and forgiveness when we sin.  When we face hardships brought on by circumstance, the frustrations and disappointments of life, the pain of being mistreated by others and our own struggle to do good and avoid evil, we should recall the woman at the well who found the Lord in his mercy waiting for her there to satisfy the real thirst that we all have – the need for genuine love, a love that does not disappoint, a saving, nurturing love that heals our wounds.  Saved by Christ’s grace, we are made a new creation and given the fullness of life.