Meet the Moment with Mercy

By Chris Sparks

Ever since coming to work for the Marian Fathers, Lent has always felt like it began with a bang. It’s like tripping over a raised threshold — there’s a definite difference between “before” and “after,” between Ordinary Time and the season of penance.

There’s something annoying and difficult about that, but there’s also something comforting, reassuring. After all, it’s one more piece of evidence for the truth of the Catholic faith.

You see, we really are engaged in a spiritual dance with God, and consequently, fighting the devil and his fellows. We really are both matter and spirit, both physical and non-material realities. We really are mysteries, each and every one of us.

We are called to love, and so end up at odds with the devil, the one who chooses self over love every single time. We are called to love, and so we are called to do penance on behalf of ourselves and everyone else. We are called to love God, and so try to make up for our sins against Him; and we are called to love our neighbor, and so we are called to try to make up for their sins against Him.

We really are meant for eternal life, for loving God always and being loved always. We really are invited by Jesus to become members of His family, both the eternal Trinity and the earthly family, with Joseph and Mary as our spiritual parents.

We really are intended for eternal happiness. That’s not just a slogan or an empty promise. That’s a stone-cold sober description of human destiny.

Lent is our training ground, because that eternal happiness to which we are called depends on us embracing living and loving like God — generously, absurdly, extremely, without limit. And you can’t just love like that without having a fire lit within you by God or by practicing regularly, cooperating with God’s grace.

Lent is an indispensable part of that practice. All of us have the little generous acts that are easy, that somehow suit us, our gifts, our personalities. And then there are the ways in which we are called to be generous that somehow rub us the wrong way. It may be that we aren’t self-disciplined enough to be generous. In order to be able to give yourself to God, you need to have self-control, self-mastery. You can’t give what you haven’t got, and lacking control over yourself is a good recipe to be unable to give yourself away.

Consider a member of a sports team. If the athlete hasn’t practiced, hasn’t exercised, hasn’t disciplined themselves and honed their skills, then their intentions don’t matter at all. If they can’t actually make themselves perform at the standard the team needs, they may as well not be on the field.

Lent is about the practice time, about running the drills, about the works of mercy, the acts of mortification so that the old, sinful self dies, allowing room for the Christian self to live. Lent is a time for spiritual exercise and spiritual exercises, for forming habits of devotion and love, for gaining self-mastery so that all may be given to God, and shared with neighbor.

We get a glimpse of what that sort of spiritual exercise looks like in the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 934, where St. Faustina records some of her practices for Lent: sleeping without a pillow, remaining a little hungry after meals, praying the Chaplet with arms outstretched for the intention of making reparation for sinners and priests. That last is one of the works of mercy — and our Lord said clearly that those works are not optional:

I demand from you deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it. I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: the first — by deed, the second — by word, the third — by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy, and it is an unquestionable proof of love for Me. By this means a soul glorifies and pays reverence to My mercy. (Diary, 742)

[M]any souls … are often worried because they do not have the material means with which to carry out an act of mercy. Yet spiritual mercy, which requires neither permissions nor storehouses, is much more meritorious and is within the grasp of every soul. If a soul does not exercise mercy somehow or other, it will not obtain My mercy on the day of judgment. Oh, if only souls knew how to gather eternal treasure for themselves, they would not be judged, for they would forestall My judgment with their mercy. (1317)

This Lent comes at the end of a year of lockdowns, of a year of COVID-19 as a pandemic affecting the entire world.

Personally, I can’t believe it’s been a year since lockdown began.

I mean, 2020 felt like a decade all on its own. So in some ways, it’s hard to believe so little time has passed.

In other ways, it’s amazing we’ve been living with these strange routines and new habits for so long.

It’s also amazing that the United States has lost 500,000 people and counting to COVID-19 since the pandemic first hit our shores. Among that number is our very own Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, one of the great promoters of Divine Mercy.

These tremendous losses and difficulties present all of us with challenges, but also with incredible opportunities to live Lent like rarely before in our lives. So many of our family members, friends, and neighbors are in need that we have more opportunities for works of mercy than almost ever before.

So let’s commit ourselves to live Lent with a bang. Let’s open our hearts, our pantries, our homes, and our wallets, acting as prudent stewards of the gifts God has given us in order to ease the suffering of those around us. Let us live love of God and neighbor with generosity and wisdom, doing the best we can with what we have, practicing sacrificial love and training our hearts for Heaven.

Pray for me, that I may practice what I preach. I’ll pray for you.

Chris Sparks serves as senior book editor for the Marian Fathers. He is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.

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