Embracing the Mercy of God during Lent

(CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

(CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Yesterday we celebrated the fourth anniversary of the election of Pope Francis as Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ and Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church. The Gospel for the day, Monday of the Second Week of Lent, was from Saint Luke where it is recorded that, “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven…For the measure with which you measure will in turn be measured out to you’” (Luke 6: 36-38).

How appropriate or perhaps better said how providential that this is the anniversary of the Pope who gave us the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the apostolic exhortation on The Joy of the Gospel and another on The Joy of Love, and who has dedicated his pontificate to lifting up for all to recognize and embrace the mercy of God.

One of the reasons, I believe, that our Holy Father evokes such appreciation, respect and love from people all over the world, even those not of our household of the faith, is because when he speaks and in his actions we find reflections of Jesus.

Not that long ago at a gathering with young people at a Catholic center at one of the secular universities, I heard, in conversation with students over and over again, the comment that Pope Francis sounds like Jesus.

There are so many episodes in the life of Jesus recounted in the Gospels that make us mindful of the need to be merciful as the Gospel tells us today. We are to be perfect, we are to be merciful and, to the extent that we do we not judge and condemn, we will not be judged or condemned.

The image of Jesus encountering the woman caught in adultery so easily comes to mind. The Gospel account makes it very clear that there was no question about her guilt nor about the demands of the Mosaic Law. She was to be stoned to death.

Her sin, according to the law, was punishable in that manner and the only thing that remained was to execute the sentence. We are told that the scribes and the Pharisees, those responsible for passing on the tradition and the law, were all quite clear that there is only one application of the law that came to the Jewish people from God through Moses. This woman was to be stoned to death.

The Gospel goes on to tell us that they asked Jesus what was his opinion of the law. It also makes clear that they said this to try to find some way to trap him. It was a false question since according to their interpretation there was only one answer.

But Jesus is merciful. The Gospel does not say that he abolished the law, annulled the application of the law or even answered the questions put forward by the scribes and Pharisees. Instead, Jesus simply asked those who were without sin if they intended to be the first one to throw a stone.

Then the Gospel says he did not condemn the woman but told her to go and sin no more.

His mercy overrode everything else including the prescriptions of the law. One thinks of the paralytic lowered down through the roof to be placed in front of Jesus. Jesus forgives his sins as he heals him. This passage of the Gospel also reminds us of the importance of a community that believes in Jesus’ power to forgive. The four men who lowered the paralytic are an image of the Christian community, who is called to take a risk, even to remove the roof of the house, to make it possible for a sinner to encounter God’s mercy.

Today, we begin the fifth year of the Pontificate of Pope Francis and we do so walking with him in faith, in loyalty and in love.

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