I have been greatly impressed by the way so many of our parishioners have entered into the graceful season of Lent. We are seeing an increase in numbers attending Holy Mass each day, as well as the Lenten Novena and the Stations of the Cross. This is a clear indication that we are recognising the time of Lent for what it truly is: an opportunity to journey with Our Redeemer as he prepares to lay down His life for us and for the salvation of all the world. In that sense it is a truly personal time for each of us to be drawn more fully into the love of God.
Lent however is also a time when we are asked to become more aware of the social dimension of our faith. In his Lenten message to the whole Church Pope Francis expresses the hope that all our parishes should become islands of mercy in the midst of a sea of global indifference to the suffering of others. What a marvellous blessing it would be if our parish were to be known not simply for the numbers of people who attend our services, but also for the quality of our mercy to one another and to those around us who are in need. The true value of our liturgical and spiritual life must always be measured by the way it leads to an increase in love and mercy for others.
In order to bring these elements of prayer and loving service to one another together, Pope Francis urges each of us to “Make your hearts firm” (James 5:8) We need a firmness of heart if we are to avoid slipping into our own private little spiritual world where we fail to recognise the struggles of others. We need a firmness of heart if we are not to lose hope and imagine that there is nothing we can do about the suffering of the world..
Many people are led to believe that continually having mercy on others is a sign of personal weakness. Society tends to reward those who are most ready to assert themselves. But we are asked to learn from the merciful heart of Jesus. A merciful heart does not mean having a weak heart. More truly, in order for us to have the capacity to live a life of mercy to others, we need the firmness of heart that Pope Francis asks of us. We also need hearts which are open to the presence of God in our daily lives. Finally, we can only be properly merciful to others when we recognise our own weaknesses and our poverty of heart. This leads to proper humility and to the gift of recognising that everyone we encounter is forever deserving of mercy. Let us continue to pray each day that our parish of Holy Redeemer does indeed become an island of mercy in the world today.