In these first six weeks since my installation, I have completed the regional Masses and meetings with our priests; visited and celebrated Mass during Catholic Schools Week with the administrators, faculty, staff and a number of our Catholic school students; and presided at some Sunday parish Masses. I even administered my first confirmation in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
Everywhere, I encountered priests, deacons, lay ministers and thousands upon thousands of faithful who are very much in love with the church. I received advice and support as the new religious leader, as well as suggestions from our school children on what fun things I should do as the new archbishop.
The students in one school put together their thoughts on fun things; oftentimes they were things that they liked to do. There was a pride in their communities and a desire to introduce a “newcomer” to the advantages of their areas. The older students concentrated on many of the cultural advantages while the younger students offered a favorite pizza parlor, a movie theater, the zoo – one young child even said I should visit her grandmother because she’s fun (I’ll bet she is! I’d probably get some milk and cookies).
Word got out that I like Cheetos, so I’ve received a number of big, family size bags (I think that I’m stocked through the summer). I was presented with gifts representing the various institutions and sections and towns of the archdiocese. There were blankets, shirts, cups and caps.
I was touched by the number of people who expressed their prayers for me in my new position. Again, the students gave cards, with spiritual bouquets (a number of various prayers said for a particular intention or a person). Many people told me that they pray for me every day; I can’t begin to tell you how much that means to me. I often joke that those prayers fill up a spiritual bank that I empty on behalf of the archdiocese every day and hope that I and others fill that spiritual bank with our prayers for the next day.
One thing that was common to all these meetings, services and encounters was the preparation that obviously was expended to make it successful. The great efforts made in preparation convey that the person, the event, the encounter is important, that it’s special and we want everything just right.
We enter into the liturgical season of Lent. Our archdiocesan theme for Lent is Season of Mercy. Every liturgy that we celebrate calls out for mercy: Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. The celebrant introduces the rite by saying that in order to prepare ourselves for these sacred mysteries we should call to mind our sins. We pray what we believe.
St Vincent de Paul, a saint noted for his charitable works, tells us: “The church teaches us that mercy belongs to God. Let us implore him to bestow on us the spirit of mercy and compassion, so that we are filled with it and never lose it. Only consider how much we ourselves are in need of mercy.”
We prepare to receive mercy by first recognizing that we are in need of mercy, that we need to be forgiven. The figure of John the Baptist prophetically announces, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his path!”
During Lent we are called to pray, fast and give alms in an effort to prepare ourselves, our lives, for the moment when the greatest sacrifice is made on our behalf. We cannot possibly expect to understand the great sacrifice if we allow everything to remain the same, if we fail to prepare ourselves.
Lent is a penitential season that offers to us an opportunity to cleanse ourselves from sin, to reach out to those who are in need and, in prayer, to be more aware of the presence of God in our daily lives.
Imagine looking upon the crucified Christ and saying, “You suffered for my sins and I don’t care” or “Jesus, you died for me so that I might have life and I don’t care.” “You, Jesus, offer me your friendship and love and I don’t care.”
Our ingratitude toward our Lord screams at us during the season of mercy. Despite our seeming indifference, God’s mercy is not extended to us out of power, but rather out of love. He loves us despite ourselves, like children who fail to realize all that has been given and sacrificed for us. Our God, the ever-faithful parent, still patiently and generously remains with and for us.
Likewise, we are called to extend mercy to our brothers and sisters out of humility because we recognize that the sacrifice accomplished for us by Jesus, God’s son, was beyond our human capacity, but his humble obedience fulfilled the Father’s will. Together we will be celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation in regional services throughout the archdiocese. It is an opportunity to examine our consciences, to name our sins and to receive God’s mercy. The late John Paul II declared that the spiritual renewal in the church, in the new millennium, would begin with two sacraments: reconciliation and the Eucharist. He fully understood that in order to grow in our relationship with God we must experience the intimacy he offers us through his mercy and love.
Make the commitment this Lenten season to seek his mercy and to offer mercy to others in his name. After our preparation, we will be ready to embrace the paschal mystery of Christ’s passion, death, resurrection and ascension, and deepen our love for him.
Lord have mercy on me a sinner.