From the Cardinal: Encountering God’s Mercy |  March 1, 2024

Click a button to jump to the section:

Vol. 5. No. 12 

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,  

As we celebrate the liturgical season of Lent, and prepare for the great joy of Easter, we find ourselves in what Pope Francis calls “a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy.” 

In Misericordiae Vultus (“The Face of Mercy”), he singles out the season of Lent as perhaps the most appropriate time for us to “rediscover the merciful face of the Father,” which is a great mystery of our faith (#17). 

The word of God reveals the merciful face of the Father in virtually every passage of the Old and New Testaments. “How many pages of sacred Scripture are appropriate for meditation during the weeks of Lent,” the Holy Father exclaims. He urges us to make our own the words of the prophet Micah:  

You, O Lord, are a God who takes away iniquity and pardons sin, who does not hold your anger forever, but are pleased to show mercy. You, Lord will return to us and have pity on your people. You will trample down our sins and toss them into the depths of the sea (Mi 7:18-19). 

During Lent, by our acts of penitence and charity, we allow God to utterly crush our sins and cause them to be swept away by the ocean of divine mercy! But it is not our actions that “trample down our sins and toss them into the depths of the sea.” It is the grace of God, the merciful Father, that causes the effects of sin to be crushed and swept away so that we can live freely and share in the abundance of God’s love. 

Pope Francis is not content with a passive acceptance of divine mercy. He invites us to “celebrate and experience” God’s love and forgiveness, and he tells us that the season of Lent is an especially appropriate time to do this. 

How do we celebrate and experience the merciful face of the Father? Where do we find God’s mercy manifested in ways that will allow us to be overwhelmed by it? 

Pope Francis tells us that many people today, including the young, “are returning to the sacrament of reconciliation; through this experience, they are rediscovering a path back to the Lord, living a moment of intense prayer and finding meaning in their lives” (#17). All the sacraments provide us with tangible opportunities to experience the closeness of our God, but as Pope Francis so eloquently reminds us, the sacrament of reconciliation allows us “to touch the grandeur of God’s mercy” with our own hands! 

I am often struck by language people use to describe their approach to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist: I have to go to confession so that I can receive Holy Communion. One is an obligation and the other, a gift. While it is true that there are circumstances when I should receive Reconciliation before approaching the Eucharistic table, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is always a precious and undeserved gift! 

Word and sacrament unite to show us the merciful face of the Father. Through meditation on the images in sacred Scripture, and through our direct experience of the presence of the triune God in all the sacraments, but especially in reconciliation and the holy Eucharist, we can celebrate and experience God’s infinite love and mercy. 

Our experience of being loved and forgiven by God’s mercy can never be one-sided—all taking and no giving in return. As this penitential season reminds us, we must acknowledge both our sinfulness and God’s forgiveness by our prayer, fasting and charitable acts. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, Pope Francis admonishes us:  

Is this not the fast that I choose: to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. Then you shall call and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, here I am (Is 58:6-11).  

We celebrate and experience the merciful face of the Father in word and sacrament. We touch the grandeur of God’s mercy by our acts of penance and charity. And, as a result, when we call out to the Lord, we can hear the answer, “Here I am,” which is always given by God, but not always heard by us because we are distracted by our sins. 

This Lent let’s open our hearts to the Lord by meditating on God’s word, by encountering God’s love in the sacraments and by experiencing his presence through acts of penance and charity. 

Sincerely yours in Christ the Redeemer, 

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R. 
Archbishop of Newark  

A Message from Pope Francis: Words of Challenge and Hope  

(A selection from the Holy Father’s 2024 Lenten Message)

Dear brothers and sisters! 

When our God reveals himself, his message is always one of freedom… 

The call to freedom is a demanding one. It is not answered straightaway; it has to mature as part of a journey. Just as Israel in the desert still clung to Egypt – often longing for the past and grumbling against the Lord and Moses – today too, God’s people can cling to an oppressive bondage that it is called to leave behind. We realize how true this is at those moments when we feel hopeless, wandering through life like a desert and lacking a promised land as our destination. Lent is the season of grace in which the desert can become once more – in the words of the prophet Hosea – the place of our first love (cf. Hos 2:16-17). God shapes his people; he enables us to leave our slavery behind and experience a Passover from death to life. Like a bridegroom, the Lord draws us once more to himself, whispering words of love to our hearts. 

The exodus from slavery to freedom is no abstract journey. If our celebration of Lent is to be concrete, the first step is to desire to open our eyes to reality. When the Lord calls out to Moses from the burning bush, he immediately shows that he is a God who sees and, above all, hears: “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:7-8).  

Today too, the cry of so many of our oppressed brothers and sisters rises to heaven. Let us ask ourselves: Do we hear that cry? Does it trouble us? Does it move us? All too many things keep us apart from each other, denying the fraternity that, from the beginning, binds us to one another… 

The witness of many of my brother bishops and a great number of those who work for peace and justice has increasingly convinced me that we need to combat a deficit of hope that stifles dreams and the silent cry that reaches to heaven and moves the heart of God. This “deficit of hope” is not unlike the nostalgia for slavery that paralyzed Israel in the desert and prevented it from moving forward. An exodus can be interrupted: how else can we explain the fact that humanity has arrived at the threshold of universal fraternity and at levels of scientific, technical, cultural, and juridical development capable of guaranteeing dignity to all, yet gropes about in the darkness of inequality and conflict. 

God has not grown weary of us. Let us welcome Lent as the great season in which he reminds us: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Ex 20:2). Lent is a season of conversion, a time of freedom. Jesus himself, as we recall each year on the first Sunday of Lent, was driven into the desert by the Spirit in order to be tempted in freedom. For forty days, he will stand before us and with us: the incarnate Son. Unlike Pharaoh, God does not want subjects, but sons and daughters. The desert is the place where our freedom can mature in a personal decision not to fall back into slavery. In Lent, we find new criteria of justice and a community with which we can press forward on a road not yet taken. 

This, however, entails a struggle, as the book of Exodus and the temptations of Jesus in the desert make clear to us. The voice of God, who says, “You are my Son, the Beloved” (Mk 1:11), and “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:3) is opposed by the enemy and his lies.  Even more to be feared than Pharaoh are the idols that we set up for ourselves; we can consider them as his voice speaking within us. To be all-powerful, to be looked up to by all, to domineer over others: every human being is aware of how deeply seductive that lie can be. It is a road well-travelled. We can become attached to money, to certain projects, ideas or goals, to our position, to a tradition, even to certain individuals. Instead of making us move forward, they paralyze us. Instead of encounter, they create conflict. Yet there is also a new humanity, a people of the little ones and of the humble who have not yielded to the allure of the lie. Whereas those who serve idols become like them, mute, blind, deaf and immobile (cf. Ps 114:4), the poor of spirit are open and ready: a silent force of good that heals and sustains the world. 

It is time to act, and in Lent, to act also means to pause. To pause in prayer, in order to receive the word of God, to pause like the Samaritan in the presence of a wounded brother or sister. Love of God and love of neighbor are one love. Not to have other gods is to pause in the presence of God beside the flesh of our neighbor. For this reason, prayer, almsgiving and fasting are not three unrelated acts, but a single movement of openness and self-emptying, in which we cast out the idols that weigh us down, the attachments that imprison us. Then the atrophied and isolated heart will revive. Slow down, then, and pause! The contemplative dimension of life that Lent helps us to rediscover will release new energies. In the presence of God, we become brothers and sisters, more sensitive to one another: in place of threats and enemies, we discover companions and fellow travelers. This is God’s dream, the promised land to which we journey once we have left our slavery behind. 

The Church’s synodal form, which in these years we are rediscovering and cultivating, suggests that Lent is also a time of communitarian decisions, of decisions, small and large, that are countercurrent. Decisions capable of altering the daily lives of individuals and entire neighborhoods, such as the ways we acquire goods, care for creation, and strive to include those who go unseen or are looked down upon. I invite every Christian community to do just this: to offer its members moments set aside to rethink their lifestyles, times to examine their presence in society and the contribution they make to its betterment. Woe to us if our Christian penance were to resemble the kind of penance that so dismayed Jesus. To us too, he says: “Whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting” (Mt 6:16). Instead, let others see joyful faces, catch the scent of freedom and experience the love that makes all things new, beginning with the smallest and those nearest to us. This can happen in every one of our Christian communities. 

To the extent that this Lent becomes a time of conversion, an anxious humanity will notice a burst of creativity, a flash of new hope. Such is the courage of conversion, born of coming up from slavery. For faith and charity take hope, this small child, by the hand. They teach her to walk, and at the same time, she leads them forward.   

I bless all of you and your Lenten journey. 

Source: Vatican

My Prayer for You  

Please join me in this Prayer for Peace by Pope Francis:  

Lord God of peace, hear our prayer! 

We have tried so many times and over so many years to resolve our conflicts by our own powers and by the force of our arms. How many moments of hostility and darkness have we experienced; how much blood has been shed; how many lives have been shattered; how many hopes have been buried… But our efforts have been in vain.  

Now, Lord, come to our aid! Grant us peace, teach us peace; guide our steps in the way of peace. Open our eyes and our hearts and give us the courage to say: “Never again war!”; “With war everything is lost”. Instill in our hearts the courage to take concrete steps to achieve peace. 

Lord, God of Abraham, God of the Prophets, God of Love, you created us, and you call us to live as brothers and sisters. Give us the strength daily to be instruments of peace; enable us to see everyone who crosses our path as our brother or sister. Make us sensitive to the plea of our citizens who entreat us to turn our weapons of war into implements of peace, our trepidation into confident trust, and our quarreling into forgiveness.  

Keep alive within us the flame of hope, so that with patience and perseverance we may opt for dialogue and reconciliation. In this way may peace triumph at last, and may the words “division”, “hatred” and “war” be banished from the heart of every man and woman. Lord, defuse the violence of our tongues and our hands. Renew our hearts and minds, so that the word which always brings us together will be “brother”, and our way of life will always be that of: Shalom, Peace, Salaam! Amen.