The annual Lenten season that began last Wednesday is a fitting time to climb the “holy mountain” to Easter. This season has a double character, namely, to prepare both the catechumens and the faithful to celebrate the Paschal mystery. The catechumens, both by catechesis and the Scrutinies with the Rite of Election, are prepared for the celebration of the sacraments of Christian initiation. The faithful, ever more attentive to the Word of God by prayer and penance, prepare themselves for renewal of their baptismal promises.
So, how can these forty days of prayer, fasting, and works of mercy help us live our faith at a deeper level? The Church prays in a different way liturgically during Lent, and, in a personal way, so should we. For example, Pope Francis has urged us to include the Profession of Faith from Sunday Mass (the Creed) in our daily prayer throughout the season of Lent. The same goes for the Holy Father’s encouragement of praying the Rosary. Families might take a few minutes each day to pray together as one family, putting aside the distractions of the TV, the I-phone or the computer.
In the Gospel, a man says to Jesus, “I believe, Lord; help my unbelief.” If we want to live out a deeper faith, we must pray for it. Consider adding a daily reading of the Bible to your Lenten schedule. Each Sunday, we profess our faith in “the forgiveness of sins,” and we enact that belief in the confessional. Penance is a sacrament of faith from start to finish. Going to confession is saying we believe that God is merciful, that He wants to forgive us our sins. It’s saying we believe that Jesus is God, because “who can forgive sins but God alone?” It’s saying we believe in the Church as the vehicle of God’s mercy, and in the priest as Christ’s chosen vessel to bring His mercy home to us. Finally, we must believe (how else could we know?) that we really are forgiven, that this brief conversation has changed our life. It is no surprise, then, that the pope calls us to approach this great sacrament frequently – and especially in this season of penance.
On Ash Wednesday 2016, Pope Francis commissioned more than 1,000 priests who were sent out around the world as ambassadors of mercy, and now has renewed their commission. Their role involves two primary aspects: preaching about mercy, and making it concrete through the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. He called them Missionaries of Mercy. They’re to be “signs of this mercy of the Lord, and the first aspect of this call “is to make themselves very available in bringing about that reconciliation of God through the sacred ministry of Confession.” He asked them to preach about mercy (much like we heard St. Paul say to all Catholics in the world on Ash Wednesday), and to continue Christ’s mission of reconciling the entire world to God the Father in Him. The second main thrust for the Missionaries of Mercy was to preach about mercy” as Jesus did in parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Prodigal Son.
In addition to the emphasis on their role as preachers and confessors, these priests have also been given two special faculties that are usually unavailable to the average priest. First, they will not be limited by geographic location in terms of hearing confessions. Usually a priest has to ask permission from the local bishop before hearing confessions in a diocese other than their own. However, for the Missionaries of Mercy, that is not the case. Also, they are able to absolve sins in cases otherwise reserved to the Holy See, namely: Profaning the Eucharistic species by taking them away or keeping them for a sacrilegious purpose; the use of physical force against the Pope; the absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the Sixth Commandment (“thou shalt not commit adultery”), and a direct violation against the sacramental seal by a confessor. Pope Francis is clearly trying to send a message: don’t let any sin keep you away, no matter what you’ve done. We are privileged to have one of these Missionaries of Mercy, Msgr. George Majoros, come to our parish and give us a Lenten retreat from the 5th thru the 7th of March. He will be available for Confessions after his morning and evening conferences.
So, make a good Lenten confession. Your faith will be the better for it, as it will if you consciously set out to perform one act of mercy each week of Lent. Follow the advice of the founder of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Blessed Frederick Ozanam, and “put your faith under the protection of charity.” For faith tells us that Jesus hides Himself in the “distressing disguise of the poor,” as St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta put it. Our Lord assures us, “The poor you have always with you.” We have only to open our eyes and look around. Lent is a hallowed time to find our way to the poor and put ourselves at their service as best we can. There is no better or quicker way to grow in faith!