Lent in the Jubilee Year of Mercy

Ash Wednesday

Each Ash Wednesday, I open the season of Lent by celebrating Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle. As the liturgy unfolds here and throughout the area, we see an inspiring witness of faith.

Ash Wednesday is always quite popular, with large numbers of people attending and sometimes an overflow crowd standing outside. It is a sign that people in these secular times still have a humble appreciation for the fact that, as great as life on earth can be, at some point it will end. So, throngs of people come forward to have ashes in the form of a cross traced on their foreheads to remind them both of their human limitations and that Jesus’ act of love and mercy on the Cross and rising from the dead offers them salvation. The ashes offer a reminder that God is with us, God loves us, and God redeems us.

This day begins a forty-day penitential journey of prayer, fasting and almsgiving as we walk with Jesus on a path that leads us to the Paschal Mystery and new life. Our Lenten pilgrimage is especially poignant in the Jubilee of Mercy, which includes the opportunity to pass through the Holy Door at the Cathedral, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, or other holy places in the area and throughout the world. The doors symbolize our call to seek the Lord’s mercy, which is always open to us, and then share it with others.

When he announced this holy year, Pope Francis said Lent will be a special time to experience divine mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The grace we find here is the story of God’s love that is never lost. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, God waits and watches for our return every time we walk away. Like the son who left home, all we need to do to return to our heavenly Father is to recognize our misery, caused by our own doing, and turn towards him.

Our Father waits for us with all of his love, with all of his mercy. In Confession, we find the glory of the Lord’s forgiveness and are renewed in grace and our relationship with Christ. All you need to receive this compassionate healing is contritely ask, then God’s love, mercy and forgiveness is yours.

Once again, the Archdiocese of Washington and the neighboring Diocese of Arlington are encouraging people to receive this wellspring of God’s mercy in the “Light is ON for You” campaign. Desiring to show God’s tenderness to all who seek it, in addition to the usual times for Confession, churches throughout the area will be open Wednesday evenings during Lent for people to receive this healing grace. Please visit our special website to learn more.

The grace given in Confession is a blessing for others as well as ourselves. In this year’s Message for Lent, Pope Francis explains that “God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbor and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.”

Jesus said he came to give sight to the blind (John 9:39). How often in our own lives do we fail to really see those around us who are in need of assistance? Lent prompts us to recognize this failing and overcome it through being merciful to others.

“In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness,” Pope Francis writes. “By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need.”

The archdiocese’s special #EncounterMercy website shares resources and reflections on our need for God’s mercy and how that mercy might be extended to others. There you will find information about parish activities, regional missions of mercy, and how to join in the ongoing Walk with Francis initiative.

Lent, like any journey, begins with making sure we are traveling in the right direction. Humbly recognizing our need for conversion, our hearts are opened to receiving the transformative love and mercy of God, which in turn is radiated to those around us. In this way, we can live out the theme of this Jubilee and be “Merciful like the Father,” whose door of mercy is always open us, and who in turn opens our hearts to forgiving and loving others.