CNS photo/Katie Peterson, Tennessee Register

Fr. Yaw Acheampong: Forty days to respond to God’s mercy

By  Fr. Yaw Acheampong
  • March 6, 2022

It may seem to us that just a few weeks ago we were celebrating the Christmas season — the season of joy. Yet, in the midst of an unusually cold winter and with snow still on our parishes’ parking lots, our journey of faith brings us to the season of Lent — a season of reflection.

“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge: in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by.”

(Psalm 57: 1)

It may seem to us that just a few weeks ago we were celebrating the Christmas season — the season of joy. Yet, in the midst of an unusually cold winter and with snow still on our parishes’ parking lots, our journey of faith brings us to the season of Lent — a season of reflection.

The celebration of Ash Wednesday on March 2 with the distribution of ashes ushered us into Lent, reminding us of our call “to repent and believe in the Gospel.” We usually see Lent as a time to spiritually prepare for the glorious feast of Easter. We are also accustomed to associating Lent with the traditional Lenten discipline of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We might therefore tend to see these spiritual exercises as hallmarks for successful Lenten observances. The penitential nature of Lent also calls us “to rend our hearts not our garments” (Joel 2:13), indicating that whatever Lenten observance we might undertake should come from a contrite heart.

So, what can we do in order to have a spiritually meaningful Lent? What should our Lenten journey be like? Perhaps, this year, we can focus on searching for the presence of God in our lives. In his apostolic exhortation on the call to holiness in today’s world, Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis writes, “When, in God’s presence, we examine our life’s journey, no areas can be off limits. In all aspects of life we can continue to grow and offer something greater to God, even in those areas we find most difficult” (175).

One area in our lives where Lent can help us grow is to learn to be open to God’s mercy. On Ash Wednesday, before the Blessing and Dismissal, the priest may pray over the people using the following words: “Pour out a spirit of compunction O God, on those who bow before Your majesty, and by Your mercy, may they merit the rewards You promise to those who do penance” (Roman Missal). We are then sent to begin our Lenten journey as we are reminded of God’s mercy.

As we embark on our journey of Lent, we need to ask these two questions. How are we going to live so that we are open to God’s mercy? How do we live to reflect the mercy of God in our lives? 

Being open to God’s mercy may help us to recognize the importance of any of our Lenten observances. During this season of penance, the Church has given us the opportunity to examine the way we live. Lent offers us a time to learn to recognize the areas in which we have turned away from being open to God’s mercy.

When we strive to embrace God’s mercy in our lives, we may have a deeper understanding of the season of Lent. Lent becomes truly what it is: a time to remember God’s mercy, His mercy revealed in His love for us; that through His Son Jesus Christ, we have been brought back to God (Eph. 2).  Our participation in any Lenten discipline can therefore be our response to God’s mercy. Acknowledging God’s mercy in our lives can inspire us to be “kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).

During this pandemic, we have heard stories about frontline workers who have shown compassion to others. Their acts of compassion reflect not only God’s compassion but also their understanding of God’s mercy in our lives.  Being open to God’s mercy in our lives means being open to the Spirit of mercy to empower us to celebrate the sacrament of confession.  Our actions based on our faith, and our faith in the mercy of God, may guide us to an improved spiritual relationship with God and with our neighbour. 

(Fr. Yaw Acheampong is pastor of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Toronto.)

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