This Lent falls within the Year of Mercy which Pope Francis has proclaimed throughout the Catholic Church. He has reminded us that God’s mercy is the very foundation of the life of the Church, and that ‘nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.’ (1)
He has asked that we keep this Lent as a grace-filled opportunity to experience afresh God’s mercy for us, for we are all sinners. He encourages us to go to Confession, the wonderful sacrament of God’s forgiveness and healing mercy. For he makes the very valid point, that only by acknowledging and accepting our own need of God’s mercy can we in turn be authentic ambassadors and instruments of God’s mercy and forgiveness to others. Pope Francis reminds us: ‘when faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy. Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive.’ (2) He wants us therefore to live this Lent in the light of Jesus’ words: ‘Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful’ (Luke. 6:36). But he makes the further point that, in order to be capable of mercy that reflects the mercy of our Heavenly Father, we need to spend time with God’s word in the scriptures. Some silence in our busy and stressed lives is therefore essential so that we can listen carefully to God’s Word and allow it to shape the way we think and act.
This Lent it is important that our prayer, fasting and almsgiving, the three traditional spiritual weapons that the Church encourages us to use, are inspired and nourished by God’s word in the scriptures. In reflecting upon the scriptures, pray that the God of mercy will speak to your heart and help you to be an instrument of his merciful love. You might find Luke’s Gospel, often called the ‘gospel of God’s mercy’, especially helpful because it includes some of the best known parables of God’s merciful love, such as the Prodigal Son, the lost sheep, the Good Samaritan, the Pharisee and the Publican, to name but a few.
Pray each day of Lent out of these parables, with love and compassion for those who feel they can see no alternative to an abortion, ‘hold’ them in your love. When you fast, when you go without something you enjoy, offer it up spiritually for women who perhaps feel trapped into believing that aborting the baby in their womb is the only response they have. This is especially important if you decide to get involved in ‘March for Life’, or a local ’40 Days for Life’ campaign and are standing in peaceful vigil outside an abortion clinic. Pray always with compassion and gentleness to God for each person who enters and leaves the clinic, and for all those who work there, that their hearts and outlook towards the aborting of babies might change. Never respond to threats, anger or abuse, other than with silent prayer. You are not there to judge and condemn, but to witness prayerfully to your pro-life stance. Finally, you might decide to give the money you have saved through fasting, or make a personal Lenten donation, to a local pro-life organisation to help it with its promotional work and witness. May you have a prayerful and grace-filled Lent!
Bishop of Nottingham
1. Misericordiae Vultus, Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, 10
2. Misericordiae Vultus, 3