When I was a senior in high school our chemistry teacher, a priest, read the Sermon on the Mount every morning. He told us this was the only way he could ensure he’d at least try to do as Jesus asks. Don’t worry, I’m not going to read the entire Sermon on the Mount to you.
But among its opening words, in the beatitudes, Jesus makes a promise: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” [Mt 5:7]
I think this might be a good verse for us to focus on today, as we begin our Lenten journey. It’s certainly one that Pope Francis has preached frequently during these opening weeks of the Year of Mercy. Indeed, mercy and forgiveness have been at the core of his teaching since he was elected pope.
Mercy and forgiveness. Mercy, of course, is all about forgiveness, but true mercy is a divine attribute, one that we can share only through God’s grace. That’s right; we need God’s help to be merciful because we’re surrounded by the unmerciful. We live in a world that rejects acts of mercy, that rejects forgiveness, a world that opts instead for self-interest, for revenge.
To be merciful, to be forgiving, is to be like Jesus. Pope Francis reminds us of this in strong words when he says, “If you can’t forgive, you are not a Christian.” Strong words indeed: You cannot be Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, if you cannot forgive as Jesus forgives.
St. John tells us that “God is love” [1 Jn 4:8] and it’s through His mercy and forgiveness that we experience His love most deeply.
Look at how Our Lord forgives in the Gospel. He doesn’t condemn. He doesn’t denounce. He doesn’t beat the penitent down with recriminations. No, Jesus simply forgives.
He began His ministry with the words, “Repent and believe in the gospel” [Mk 1:15], and as He completed it on the Cross He said, “Father, forgive them…” [Lk 23:34]
Jesus extends divine mercy to all who come to Him in repentance. And when Jesus forgives, the sinner is filled with joy, for he’s tasted God’s love up close and personal.
Let’s all look into our hearts today, into the dark corners where we’ve hidden all those whom we just can’t forgive. Let’s carry them out, bring them out into the light of God’s love. Let Jesus forgive them, and He will give you the grace to do the same.
God forgives and calls us to extend mercy and forgiveness to others…all others. This is what the power of the Cross is all about.
As we follow Jesus along the way of the Cross this afternoon, let’s ask God to set us free from the habit of sin, to give us the grace to be merciful, to fill our hearts with his love and truth.