The second element [of conversion is] abiding in love. The love of Jesus Christ lasts forever, it has no end because it is the very life of God. This love conquers sin and gives the strength to rise and begin again, for through forgiveness the heart is renewed and rejuvenated.
We all know it: our Father never tires of loving and his eyes never grow weary of watching the road to his home to see if the son who left and was lost is returning. We can speak of God’s hope: our Father expects us always, he doesn’t just leave the door open to us, but he awaits us. He is engaged in the waiting for his children.
And this Father also does not tire of loving the other son who, though staying at home with him the whole time, does not share in his mercy, in his compassion. God is not only at the origin of love, but in Jesus Christ he calls us to imitate his own way of loving: “as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (Jn 13:34).
To the extent to which Christians live this love, they become credible disciples of Christ to the world. Love cannot bear being locked up in itself. By its nature it is open, it spreads and bears fruit, it always kindles new love.
Dear brothers and sisters, after this celebration, many of you will be made missionaries to offer to others the experience of reconciliation with God. “24 hours for the Lord” is an initiative to which many dioceses have adhered in every part of the world.
To the many you will meet, you can communicate the joy of receiving the forgiveness of the Father and of rediscovering full friendship with him. And you will tell them that our Father expects us, our Father forgives us, and furthermore that he rejoices. If you go to him with your whole life, even with the many sins, instead of reproaching you, he will rejoice: this is our Father. This you must say, say it to many people, today.
Whoever experiences divine mercy, is impelled to be an architect of mercy among the least and the poor. In these “littlest brothers” Jesus awaits us (cf. Mt 25:40); let us receive mercy and let us give mercy! Let us go to the encounter and let us celebrate Easter in the joy of God!
Pope Francis, Penance Service, March 28, 2014
Reflection – This is lovely, vintage Pope Francis in style and content—that is, simple, clear, missionary, merciful. I was talking with friends recently about various matters in church and society, and we touched upon the fact that the word ‘sin’ is four-letter word, so to speak, to many people today. Even in the Church (where according to the stereotype of Catholicism that’s all we ever talk about), you really don’t hear it mentioned too much at all, not in most places.
While there may be many reasons for that fact, I think the primary one, the one that lies underneath it all, is that it is still and largely very difficult for us to really believe in the mercy of God. Just how tender and compassionate and merciful and kind our God is to us—this eludes us.
And because it eludes us, I believe, to frankly and freely say “I’m a sinner! We’re all sinners! You’re a sinner too!” is unacceptable. If God is not merciful, then my being a sinner, your being a sinner, will destroy us. When we really behold our sins, our frank refusals to love, our deliberate disobeying or ignoring of the moral law in this or that particular—well, if there isn’t mercy waiting for us in the Father, then we’d best be despairing.
And so we just don’t use that word. We dress it up in a thousand disguises and equivocations and euphemisms. We make excuses, we rationalize, and desperately cling to whatever latest edited version of the moral law we chance upon, that let’s us off the sin hook. We dance around, contort ourselves and reality—anything other than say, simply, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your child.”
But He is merciful, you know. And so we don’t have to do all that nonsense. And it is so beautiful, so unutterably, gloriously beautiful, to simply know oneself as a sinner held in the bountiful mercy of God. So much better than the tiresome and frankly tiring effort to self-justify, to constantly wriggle off the hook, and of course to put someone else on that hook in our place (I’m not a sinner, but YOU ARE!).
So I want to go on record: I, Fr. Denis Raymond Lemieux, am a sinner. I have sinned. May God have mercy on me, as I pray He has mercy on us all. And may we all come to know the joy and freedom that comes only from living in the mercy of God.