“Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13) This quote from Jesus is a perfect theme for Lent this year. In this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis calls us to a very special Lent. We are called not to give up chocolate or sweets, but rather to give others mercy.
Lent is the season of repentance; a time to look at our life and make an extra effort to purge ourselves of obstacles in our relationship with God. If we are asking God be merciful to us, showing mercy to others seems like a natural extension. But our human nature can turn this into a difficult task. In some sense, showing mercy is a kind of sacrifice. It’s giving up the anger we have towards another. It’s abstaining from talking negatively about a person or situation. And one of the spiritual works of mercy is to bear wrongs patiently which means sacrificing pride.
We often associate mercy with forgiveness, but they are not necessarily the same thing. One definition for the word ‘forgive’ is to ‘cease to feel resentment against.’ However for mercy, it is to ‘pardon someone or to mitigate punishment’ as well ‘an act of kindness, compassion or favor.’ I think it takes a lot of prayer and divine assistance to truly forgive another, but we can take a step towards forgiveness by showing mercy. It might mean trying to look at the situation from their point of view and treating others the way we want to be treated.
Today is the first of 40 days this Lent when we can focus on how we practice the gift of mercy towards others. We may not get it right each day, but if we keep trying, perhaps come Easter, we will have a better understanding of Jesus’ command for mercy rather than sacrifice.