In a move that is so characteristic of Pope Francis, the Pope of God’s Divine Mercy, several years ago to mark the second anniversary of his election as Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, presided over a communal penance service in St. Peter’s Basilica. Often in his pontificate, Pope Francis has spoken of the beauty and power of the sacrament of penance. It is the sacrament that realizes so movingly the Jesus who came to save sinners. It is the sacrament that epitomizes the God who, as eloquently stated in our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is rich in mercy. When asked in an interview early in his pontificate how he would describe himself, to the surprise of many, he stated, “First, I am sinner!” Indeed, my friends, we are all sinners who are in need of the unfailing mercy of our God. At the end of the penance service, after hearing confessions himself, Pope Francis walked humbly to one of the priests hearing confessions and knelt before him to make his own confession, seeking God’s mercy and pardon.
We have all heard the expression, “miss the forest for the trees.” In other words, so often in life we can become obsessively concerned about the minutiae of ‘little things in life’ that we can miss the bigger picture of life itself. As Catholics, we can at times become so preoccupied with this or that peripheral aspect of our Catholic faith that we can lose sight of the bigger picture of the sublime calling we have received to bask in God’s great mercy and forgiveness.
Our Lenten season is precisely the time for all of us to correct such short-sighted spiritual myopia and to step back and to realize what is it that stands at the heart and center of our faith. That touchstone belief, is summarized in the simple yet powerful verse we have heard into today’s Gospel, John 3:16, For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
At the end of his homily at the special communal penance service, the ‘Pope of surprises’ once again dramatically captured the attention of many by an unexpected announcement. He announced an Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy that began on December 8th, 2015, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception that year, and concluded on the Feast of Christ the King in 2016. No other Pope in the history of our Church has so underscored the preeminent theme of God’s mercy that it would be the focus of an extraordinary Holy Year!
He stated: I am convinced that the whole Church will find in this Jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time. From this moment, we entrust this Holy Year to the Mother of Mercy, that she might turn her gaze upon us and watch over our journey.
My friends, the wonderful good news about God’s unfailing mercy and love is the astounding fact that, as important as the Holy Year of Mercy was for our Church, that reality of amazing grace can never be circumscribed by one year alone. Rather, God’s renewing mercy is there for each one of us, every day, for those who are willing to drink deeply of so great a gift of immense love.
In these final weeks of our Lenten journey and as we prepare to renew our baptismal commitment to the Lord at the Feast of Easter, may we all drink deeply of God’s mercy and forgiveness that has no end. If it has been some time since we ourselves have been renewed and made whole by the grace of God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance, let us take the opportunity to seek out a time in these final weeks of Lent to make a good confession.
We began this season of spiritual renewal with the words, Repent and Believe in the Gospel. May we rejoice in knowing that by God’s love and grace, sinners though we are, we are made new by His unfailing mercy.