It’s no secret that society is in a downward moral spiral. Family, self-control, self-sacrifice, the defence of the defenseless–none of these are a given anymore. It isn’t the first time that this has been the case in human history, but it obligates it no less concerning.
Moved with a desire to console the heart of Jesus, I’ve seen a lot of fellow Catholics speaking out on social media about their plans to take on additional penalties, as fixing for the lack of love that so many testify God. I trust their discernment to the spiritual fathers in their lives, and I am glad that there are beings in the Church that are focused on taking on added atonement for the purposes of the the passion of Christ.
Many of us may find ourselves unable to take on the penances that we would like to this Lent. We adoration God, but our life and vocational events make it imprudent to do so. A father of a newborn isn’t undoubtedly called to begin going to early morning daily Mass. Someone with special needs( like autism or an feeling condition or ADHD) might not be able to manage a full holy hour. Someone deep in the throes of a brand-new heartbreak probably won’t be able to lead a Lenten Bible Study. Even when our spirit is very eager, our flesh is often weak.
Actually, let’s look more closely at the storey in Scripture where that quotation comes from.
Mercy in the Garden of Gethsemane
When Jesus went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, he brought along his apostles. I always find it interesting that he didn’t bring his mother or any female followers with him. I am sure that those women would have been wide awake, ready to offer him comfort as he wept.
Of course, Jesus knew that. But still, he returned his apostles. Bless their centres, but the apostles merely struggled to get it right in the Gospels, didn’t they? They had one project that night–stay awake and pray. They knew Jesus was acting strangely that night, and that something was seriously wrong. But what did they do? They fell asleep.
I didn’t grow up with friends, but as I’ve gotten to know other humen over the years–friends, spiritual fathers and spiritual lads, my husband–I can attest to how predictable this behavior was from a group of men. Men have a deep, deep desire to “fix” things when a person they desire is suffering. When they can’t fix it, “youre seeing” the incredible weariness on their faces. Their exhaustion comes not from apathy, but from a sort of system overload.
Now, if I had been Jesus, I would have climbed down that mountain, learnt all my best friends sound asleep and felt a movement of late sadness, loneliness, and maybe some frustration and antagonism. I would wonder if their siestum necessitate a lack of love, if it means that they didn’t care.
But Jesus arrived at a very different conclusion. His heart was moved with a kindnes sort of pity for them. He knew that they had fallen asleep from the exhaustion of grief.
Perhaps it would have been merely of him to lecture them for not impeding vigil. But the justice of God doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It is too tempered by boon.
How does this relate to our own Lenten practice?
Penance Received by Mercy
I have three living children, aged 10, 7, and 3. My hopes for them are wildly different. I know what each child clashes with, and I can tell when they are trying as hard as there is an opportunity( and when they’re trying to get away with mischief ). Right now, my three-year-old is in a theatre of classic three-year-old behavior–yelling, meltdowns, insubordination, etc. She spent the whole day recently, get into one clean after another and refusing to obey my requests. I tried time out. I tried elevating my spokesperson and speaking firmly. But, in the end, I remembered–she’s three years old. She’s grumpy because that’s developmentally appropriate. Disciplining her is important( and she is working towards breaking the family record for time-outs, apparently) but so is loving her in more lax modes. On the day in question, I knew that she had woken up too early, hadn’t been napping, and was tired. So, in the end, I finally stopped trying to articulated her in time out alone, and I laid next to her and dedicated her a huddle. It use. She needed compassion.
God is a far better parent than I am, and so he knows this even more. His children are different, and they each have unique helplessness and clashes. He knows the perfect balance of discipline and tendernes for each child, and he knows when a child of his is giving him the most appropriate. He doesn’t point thumbs and say, “Child of mine…why can’t you be more holy like such person or persons ?? ” He is common knowledge that for some of us, this Lent will begin with our attempt to break the world record for time-outs…errr, I want, penances…and will likely end with him wrapping our petulant souls in his love weapons.
He knows us. He adoration us. He sees great efforts. And, like my petulant three-year-old–he wants us to know that we are safe to struggle with improving our petition, fasting, and almsgiving. He is consoled by our poor( but sincere) acts.
This Lent, as we stumble together with our penitential rehearsals, let us remember he receives them with not just justice, but with the most tender Fatherly mercy we can imagine.
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