While it seems like we just put away the Christmas decorations, the season of Lent is upon us. Because Easter Sunday is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, Easter is a little early this year. As someone who prefers to get the harder things out of the way as soon as possible (like eating my salads and vegetables first so I can enjoy the meat and potatoes), it seems like an early Lent is a Merciful Lent.
However, I am not hoping to be Merciful just to myself this Lent, but also to others. It seems fitting to seek this out during the Lenten season in the Year of Mercy. My desire to be more merciful this Lent is also inspired by the teachings of St. John Paul II on Mercy, particularly found in his encyclical, Dives in Misericordia (DM).
In his second encyclical as Pope, St. John Paul II writes, “mercy is manifested in its true and proper aspect when it restores to value, promotes and draws good from all the forms of evil existing in the world and in man” (DM, 6). This means that we are merciful when we respond to evil with good. We see this lesson first taught by Jesus as He tells us to turn the other cheek and shows us the application of this by bringing humanity eternal life from His Death. At the end of each Lent we celebrate this gift in particular by meditating on the evil brought upon the Son of God during Holy Week, and then the good He brings out of this evil through His resurrection on Easter Sunday.
God has shown us His Mercy. He has brought the greatest good from the greatest evil. In our Christian life, we must strive to imitate God and love like He loves and “be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). It’s good to note that we cannot do evil to bring about good, but in the face of the evil that we experience we must only respond with good.
Ideas for the Lent of Mercy
My first thought is really already covered by the tradition of Lent, and so is more of a continuation of what has always been done, and that is offering sacrifices and sufferings up as penance for the forgiveness of sins. This truth of Redemptive Suffering allows us to make up for the wrongs we have done as we rejoice in our sufferings, and in our flesh “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24). We are able to do penance for our sins and the sins of others and, in a way, participate in the Mercy of God. This could include offering up every suffering as a sacrifice throughout your day. Some ideas could be:
- Getting up at the first alarm and offering it for someone you know who is struggling
- Saying yes to anything (reasonable) others ask of you and offering it up for them
- Letting people in front of you in traffic and praying for them at the same time
- Take cold showers and offer it up for friends and family
- Put a pebble in your shoe and offer it up for priests and religious
- When you have the choice, pick foods you want the least and offer this up for those who are spiritually poor
- Go on a spending freeze. Practice the spirit of poverty by not buying anything that is not absolutely essential
- Maintain silence. This can include not turning on the radio and not always speaking freely your thoughts and opinions. Practice the virtue of silence and grow in your ability to really listen to others
- Fast on bread and water on certain days to master your will
The Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy taught by the Church show us many ways to bring good from the bad. We could make it a goal to intentionally seek ways to practice these works this Lent. This will include:
Corporal Works of Mercy-
1) Feed the hungry
2) Give drink to the thirsty
3) Clothe the naked
4) Shelter the homeless
5) Visit the sick
6) Visit the imprisoned
7) Bury the dead
Spiritual Works of Mercy-
1) Counsel the doubtful
2) Instruct the ignorant
3) Admonish sinners
4) Comfort the afflicted
5) Forgive offenses
6) Bear wrongs patiently
7) Pray for the living and the dead
Be Merciful to Jesus
Finally, we can be merciful to Jesus this Lent. St. John Paul II explains, “Christ, precisely as the crucified one, is the Word that does not pass away, and He is the one who stands at the door and knocks at the heart of every man, without restricting his freedom, but instead seeking to draw from this very freedom love, which is not only an act of solidarity with the suffering Son of man, but also a kind of ‘mercy’ shown by each one of us to the Son of the eternal Father” (DM, 8). We show Christ mercy by loving Him. We can love him through seeking to nourish our relationship with Him and by avoiding sins that hurt our relationship with Him.
I imagine we can come up with a plethora of ideas, but here are a few to help:
-Time in Adoration (either exposed on the altar or reposed in the tabernacle)
-Daily reading of Scripture
-The Stations of the Cross
-Frequenting the Sacraments
-Consecration to Jesus through Mary by the St. Louis de Montfort method.
Mary can lead us to Mercy
In this last idea for Lent we see a special link to the school of Mercy conducted by Mary, the Mother of Mercy, who watched her Son carry out His Great Act of Mercy. “ Mary, then, is the one who has the deepest knowledge of the mystery of God’s mercy. She knows its price, she knows how great it is” (DM, 9). St. John Paul II teaches that Mary’s own sacrifice of her heart is deeply linked to this act of her Son and that she is the “one who, through her hidden and at the same time incomparable sharing in the messianic mission of her Son, was called in a special way to bring close to people that love which He had come to reveal” (DM, 9). Therefore, growing closer to Mary this Lent means to grow closer to Mercy and a great way to start this growth is to speak to Mary as you would anyone else.
I hope these ideas can help you in your own Spiritual Journey toward Mercy this year. It would be nice to hear of any more ideas others have to share to help us all be rich in Mercy. Please comment below if you can think of anything.