Welcome to sackcloth, ashes and hairshirts! However, if this is your chosen Lenten garb, remember that you need the permission of your regular confessor! Personally I would never allow it – even for the saintliest of penitents! I am of the opinion that these excesses are, for us ordinary mortals, signs of egotism.

There so many more valuable growth possibilities and endeavours which will build the discipleship we already enjoy and strengthen the conviction of keeping the Lord and his teaching firmly cemented together.

Some of you may recall that in the Lenten Season last year I followed a ‘green’ theme which centred on our acceptance and appreciation of God’s gift of creation and life.

Pope Francis has declared 2016 as a special Year of MERCY. So I thought it a good idea to focus on that word. However, we must remember that mercy is a virtue, and a virtue means STRENGTH. The practice of this virtue becomes an enabling power that frees us to reach out to our living and loving God. However, as we are freed to receive so we are liberated to GIVE! We are hardly in a position to seek the Lord’s mercy if we withhold it from others. The pot should never call the kettle black.

In the official declaration of this Holy Year Pope Francis writes that the Holy Door “is a door of mercy which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons and instils hope.” If I really enter the door to receive God’s mercy, I must then become a door of mercy through which others may enter and experience my forgiveness and pardon. An English bishop, commenting on the 2016 Holy Door, wrote that “it is a potent symbol of the all-embracing and unconditional forgiveness of God, for which we all yearn.

{CRISPIAN HOLLIS: Portsmouth Emeritus} As I yearn and reach out to the Lord for this type of mercy I need the reminder that there are well-disposed people in our lives who yearn and hope for a similar experience from us as I invite them to come through my open door.

It is against these observations that we need to reflect on words from

THIS SUNDAY’S OLD TESTAMENT READING [DEUTERONOMY 26: 4 – 10]: “then we cried to the Lord our God … and the Lord heard our voice, and saw our afflictions … and brought us out … with mighty hand and outstretched arm.” TODAY’S PSALM [91 or 90] challenges us by saying that “since he clings to me in love, I will free him.” God’s mercy is really available to us and sets us free if we truly cling to him in love.It is only as the result of this freedom that we become capable of extending mercy and forgiveness to others. As our Psalm teaches, we are delivered from our distress and wehave all learnt that so often a living element of our distress is to be found in the hardness of a heart that withholds merciful forgiveness from our brothers and sisters.

Our

HEARTS have to be involved if we yearn and reach out to God-in-Christ and to others. Saint Paul tells us in TODAY’S NEW TESTAMENT READING [ROMANS 10: 8 – 13] that “the word is near you, on your lips and in your hearts … believe in your heart … for man believes with his heart …. and he confesses with his lips.” Our faith should always have a firm, well-informed, intelligent and questioning foundation but should never become purely cerebral.

If we take a good look at

TODAY’S GOSPEL [LUKE 4: 1 – 13] we will notice that while Jesus was able to challenge the devil with clear knowledge of the scriptures, his heart was not in any way influenced by the alluring offers made to him. However, how often are our hearts not influenced by the possibilities of power, status and material benefits? Too often we allow ourselves to be tempted!

In all of this, our real strength comes from the Holy Spirit of whom Jesus was full. The Spirit of God must touch our hearts as well as our minds. It is our heart that calls upon the Lord.

 

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