Long ago and far away, I heard Bo Sanchez sing:
My heart like garments I rend
Oh I cry to Thee, save me from my guilt
My heart now broken I send
For Thou my only hope, life and breath…
For many of us, Lent is particularly associated with repentance and sacrifice. We pray, fast and give alms because, sorry for our sins, we would like the Lord to forgive us. I’m not sure, though, whether in the Father’s eyes, He has the same associations as far as our commemoration of Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection are concerned. I’ve always believed that God is constantly blessing us, so if I were to daresay, perhaps in the Season of Lent, to bless us is likewise what He wants to do.
The Lord is gracious and merciful, abounding in love and slow to anger; he will not remain resentful nor will he be angry forever. He does not treat us according to our sins, nor does he punish us as we deserve. (Ps103:8-10)
Since he constantly and endlessly blesses us with His mercy and compassion, it is just fitting that our Lenten acts ought to be more about thanking Him for these blessings and less about making Him give these to us. The difference is not just semantic. In Austen Ivereigh’s book, The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope (2014. NY: Henry Holt And Company LLC), the author writes: Bergoglio liked the way Latin had ‘mercy’ as a verb, miserando, and so created the Spanish misericordiando – an activity of the divine, something God does to you. ‘Dejátemisericordiar,’ he would tell the guilt-ridden and scrupulous, ‘let yourself be mercy’d’. It was typical of the way he idiosyncratically appropriated a word, creating a bergoglismo. (p.12)
Back in 2013, when he delivered an Angelus message to the congregation in Rome, the Holy Father himself said: Jesus’ attitude is striking: we do not hear words of scorn, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an invitation to conversation. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” Ah! Brothers and Sisters, God’s face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God’s patience, the patience He has with each one of us? That is His mercy. He always has patience, patience with us, He understands us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us if we are able to return to Him with a contrite heart. “Great is God’s mercy,” says the Psalm.
And so, as Lolo Kiko suggests, let us allow ourselves to be mercy’d by our Loving Father. It isn’t just the Psalmist, nor the Pope, who provides us with material for reflection on the Lord’s mercy, love and goodness. Jesus himself, in his parables, introduces us to characters who are powerful symbols of the Father’s predilection for blessing.
In Matthew, we read about the farmer, who, having sowed good seed on his farm, was sabotaged by a mean neighbor who sowed weeds while the farmer slept. Realizing that his crop had been corrupted, the farmer nonetheless refused to have the weeds pulled up, saying instead “Let them just grow together until the harvest” because “when you pull the weeds, you might take the wheat along with them.” (The parable of the weeds, Mat13:24-30) Prudent and patient, this farmer reminds us of how God the Father yielded to Abraham’s persistent bargaining and, in the end, spared the entire city of Sodom from destruction for the sake of a mere ten good men (Gen18:20-33).
What a giving, generous God we have! In a story that Matthew himself said “throws light on the kingdom of Heaven,” we read about a character who very strongly mirrors these qualities (the parable of the workers in the vineyard, Mat20:1-16). Hiring workers for his harvest in the morning, at noon, in the afternoon and at the last hour, a big-hearted landowner nonetheless paid them all a day’s full wage, despite the protests of those who thought they have been unjustly treated. With a single statement that reflects the heart of God, he quieted their grumbling, “Why are you envious when I am kind?”
And of course, there is the parable of the prodigal son, best told by Luke (15:11-32). The word prodigal actually has a two-fold meaning. On one hand, it means “tending to spend or use something without thinking of the future” (Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary) – which the son definitely was – and on the other hand it can also mean “extravagant; yielding abundantly” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary) – and this time it describes the son’s father quite well. So we, being prodigal children, are constantly being hounded and pursued by our prodigal Father, who waits patiently for our change of heart and consequent return to Him. so that he can bathe us with blessing.
In his Divine Mercy Sunday homily on 7Apr2013, Pope Francis said: “I am always struck when I reread the parable of the merciful Father. … The Father, with patience, love, hope and mercy, had never for a second stopped thinking about [his wayward son], and as soon as he sees him still far off, he runs out to meet him and embraces him with tenderness, the tenderness of God, without a word of reproach. … God is always waiting for us, He never grows tired. Jesus shows us this merciful patience of God so that we can regain confidence and hope — always!”
This is the image of the Father that I choose to reflect upon at Lent: one of broadmindedness, benevolence, bounty and blessing. He is all that, and so much, much more. This Lenten Season of Grace, my prayer for you, Reader, is that you joyfully discover some more of all that our good Lord is!
Bless the Lord, my soul, and do not forget all his kindness; he forgives all my sins and heals all my sickness; he redeems my life from destruction and crowns me with love and compassion; he gives fulfillment to my years, and renews my life like the eagle’s. (Ps103:2-5)