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Slogging Toward Mercy: Midway Through Lent, How Am I Doing?

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A consultation with my conscience, where the ultimate physician dwells in infinite patience

It’s a strong possibility that a good number of us, if found to be suffering amnesia and asked by a doctor what year it is, would quite confidently announce, “It’s the Year of Mercy!”

Mercy, that eternal gift, has become quite a hot topic these days. We like it. We want it. And it might just be the only thing we like, and want and actually need, too.

Which is good for someone — okay, me — who could use a little shot of mercy as we hit the middle of Lent.

While “Merciful like the Father” is the verse that flanks the official logo of the Year of Mercy, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13) is another familiar mercy-verse that I find worthy of tagline status. In fact, if I were to don a cape for my personal adventures in mercy this liturgical year, let alone these six weeks of Lent, I would want it embroidered big and bold and fluttering behind me.

It’s just one of those verses for me, because it gets under my skin. This was especially true in the weeks leading up to this past Ash Wednesday, when I found myself comfortably leaning toward giving up and taking on the same old things for Lent. That verse from Matthew had a way of sending me straight back to the drawing board to ask myself annoying questions, like: “What’s wrong with my same old things?,” and “Isn’t it good to give up food I like, pray better, write a check?,” and “Is this the best I can offer Jesus?”

While I indeed asked myself those annoying questions well in advance of Lent this year, I didn’t thoughtfully answer them at any point before my forehead got ashed at St. Theresa’s 5:30 Mass. I figured I could start practicing my same old things, then spend some time mulling over the “goodies” I’d penciled in as alternatives.

Here’s how it’s going:

Week One: I practiced my same old things and added a few goodies to the family calendar.

Week Two: I continued practicing my same old things, knowing deep down that I hang onto them because they’re tried and true; I choose them because I do them naturally, painlessly. Nothing about my journey felt like sludging through desert sand. Or like carrying a cross.

Week Three: I think about God desiring mercy and not sacrifice, and I get the feeling that he wants me to understand mercy and how it will nurture my spirit of sacrifice.

New questions rise to mind:

What areas of my life are in need of mercy — whether God’s mercy upon me, or mine upon another person?

What areas are making me sick, even if I don’t recognize the symptoms?

What areas are keeping me from hearing the call of Jesus?

I cannot ignore these questions; they come from the greatest resource: my own conscience. It’s that inner room I enter and exit a thousand times a day, whether by choice or necessity, as I interact with others, tend to my work and errands or indulge in leisure. It’s where the ultimate physician dwells in infinite patience, while out in the world I flounder — in a seeming fever of faithfulness that spikes and breaks — between longing to please him and fearing what he might ask of me today, for Lent, and for every tomorrow beyond.

 

Lani McDonald is a wife and mom who writes news articles and literary nonfiction from a new-feminist, wholistic Catholic perspective. Her work has appeared in newspapers, poetry journals and various business and diocesan publications. Follow Lani on Twitter @catholicchick13 and on Facebook, or e-mail  catholicchick13@gmail.com.