The Holy Father recommends living Lent more intensely this year -- here's a plan to get you started.
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Have you been doing anything special for the Jubilee Year of Mercy? Or do you have lots of good intentions but haven’t done anything yet, (except maybe walk through the Holy Door in your diocese?)
Well, join the club.
I did read Pope Francis’ “Face of Mercy“ a few months ago though. And I noticed that he emphasized that we should put a special importance on the time of Lent in this Holy Year: “The season of Lent during this Jubilee Year should … be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy.”
So, recently I went back to read the “Face of Mercy” and also Pope Francis’ message for Lent. I did this in order to devise a “plan” of sorts for how I will celebrate this penitential season.
Here are five of the tips for Lent that I saw in Pope Francis’ writings:
1. Discover God’s Mercy in Scripture: The merciful face of the Father is revealed to us in Scripture, in the person of Jesus Christ. Integrating Scripture into our daily lives is not as difficult as it may seem. Take 10 minutes a day to read the Gospel of the day and reflect on it. If you have time, take an entire half hour to pray with the Gospel. If you have never prayed with Scripture before, try the method of lectio divina. The USCCB is posting monthly scriptural meditations on mercy that might be helpful too.
How many pages of Sacred Scripture are appropriate for meditation during the weeks of Lent to help us rediscover the merciful face of the Father! (Face of Mercy, 17)
2. Receive God’s Mercy in Confession: Pope Francis emphasizes and reemphasizes the Sacrament of Reconciliation when he speaks of mercy. In order to be merciful to others, we truly have to experience remorse and repentance for our own sinfulness. Then, when we walk out of the confessional, knowing on a deep level that God has been merciful to us, we can be more genuinely merciful to others.
Let us place the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the center once more in such a way that it will enable people to touch the grandeur of God’s mercy with their own hands. For every penitent, it will be a source of true interior peace. (Face of Mercy, 17)
3. Reflect on the Works of Mercy and Act: Why are the works of mercy so ignored? I could not have recited them from memory before this year. I believe this is particularly the case in the United States because we have been wounded by a political system that has falsely divided Catholics into elevating the corporal works of mercy over the spiritual works of mercy, or vice versa. As Catholics, we are called to both. According to Pope Francis, “The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated.”
Try choosing one corporal and one spiritual work of mercy this Lent and incorporate it into your life in a simple way. For example, put a plastic bag in your car with food and other supplies and maybe an inspiring book or pamphlet about the faith. Give it to the next homeless person you see. Sign up to help out at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Don’t just serve food, sit and talk.
It is my burning desire that, during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty. And let us enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy. (Face of Mercy, 15)
4. Rediscover Silence: In order to experience God’s mercy in our lives we first need to hear his merciful word. We can hear God by praying with Scripture and also by just incorporating more silent moments in order to have time to hear his voice.
My mother used to have a “prayer closet.” When we were kids we knew not to bother her when she would take a little bit of time at the beginning of the day to pray. No matter our state in life, we can carve out little moments of silence to be alone with the Lord.
In order to be capable of mercy, therefore, we must first of all dispose ourselves to listen to the Word of God. This means rediscovering the value of silence in order to meditate on the Word that comes to us. In this way, it will be possible to contemplate God’s mercy and adopt it as our lifestyle. (Face of Mercy, 13)
5. Reach Out to Fallen–Away Catholics: This may seem out of place, but if you have read Pope Francis’ Face of Mercy you may have noticed the emphasis that he puts on evangelization, especially the new evangelization. Mercy is intimately connected to evangelization because the Church must look on others with the tender eyes of the Father’s mercy in order to lead them back to God. Without mercy, evangelization loses its efficacy, its authenticity and its credibility.
You may consider making a special effort to reach out to those you love who have left the Church. You don’t have to do more than go out for coffee, invite the person to a Lenten activity, or just share an inspiring word. Reaching out is simpler than we think. (If you need ideas, check out my book: The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church, a good Lenten read any year, but especially appropriate during this Jubilee of Mercy.)
In the present day, as the Church is charged with the task of the new evangelization, the theme of mercy needs to be proposed again and again with new enthusiasm and renewed pastoral action. (Face of Mercy, 12)
If you have merciful plans for this Lent, please share them in the comments, (I just might steal your ideas and try them out myself!)
Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP, is the author of The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church. She recently pronounced her first vows with the Daughters of Saint Paul. She blogs at Pursued by Truth.