Take it easy!

Friday, February 05, 2016 - Updated: 6:00 am

In what has become a tradition on the weekend just before Ash Wednesday, a special issue of the Pittsburgh Catholic is mailed directly to your home. This is a gift from your neighborhood parish.

Quick advertisement. Published since 1844, the Pittsburgh Catholic is the largest-circulated weekly Catholic newspaper in the United States. And the largest-circulated weekly newspaper of any kind in western Pennsylvania. Look through the issue and you will find great reading: news about the diocese; information and stories about our parishes; national and international reports about the church and the world. Much of our international spotlight is on Pope Francis, his travels, his teachings. The Pittsburgh Catholic is available weekly at your nearby parish. Or see the advertisement in this week’s issue on Page 13 to have it mailed to your home every week. It will be a welcome visitor!

There is a way out

A couple of weeks ago, I had the blessed opportunity to meet with my spiritual director. It’s always a great blessing, both during and after our get-together.

One of the issues that was on my mind this time was a carryover of guilt over some things I’ve done wrong in the past, sins that I have already confessed, but with guilt still hanging on in my memory bank.

“I know that I have been forgiven. I know that in my mind! But why do I not know that in my heart?” That’s the dilemma I poured out with my spiritual director.

In the face of God’s mercy already secure — this a cry for personal forgiveness!

From the sins of the past; guilt; a nagging conscience. Things I have done and things I have failed to do. They tend to arise bidden and unbidden, prompted and unprompted. There I am. Sitting reading something. There I am. Driving somewhere. And suddenly I catch myself wandering off to some past mistake in my life. It happens over and over again.

Does that ever happen to you? Do you ever feel that way? Do we really question God’s promise of mercy and forgiveness?

Pope Francis often speaks about the twin dangers of modern life — when we know things went wrong, but we don’t know how to shake them, how to make things right. Because he speaks about those dangers so frequently, it seems that he also is dealing with those issues, like so many of you and me. We can carry around a lot of stuff — wounds old and new that can tempt us to define ourselves to ourselves. We feel like we are in a rut at best; a trap at worst.

But in his wisdom as our spiritual father, Pope Francis is telling us to stop. “Take it easy!” the Holy Father says. There is a way out. There is a way to get the “knowing” of forgiveness from the mind into the heart! It’s approaching and embracing God’s mercy. We might find it hard to forgive ourselves. But God’s mercy is infinite. It shakes out the old and brings in the new. The grace of his mercy and forgiveness allows us to start over again, to rediscover the joy of life well-lived. We can bind up and put away the wounds of the past.

That action of “binding up and letting go” is what Pope Francis is hoping you and I can do during this Year of Mercy. The Holy Father is asking us to know God’s mercy in our head. But especially to embrace it in our hearts. And why is that so important? That has to happen before we can teach God’s mercy, practice God’s mercy and live God’s mercy. We need to show the world that God’s infinite mercy is central to our lives and to the life of the church. But that’s a task virtually impossible, unless we let ourselves receive and embrace God’s mercy.

In the church, we are blessed with God’s gift of the sacrament of confession. In confession, we receive God’s forgiveness, his absolution. Each and every time it is a life-changing event.

It’s so good when the mercy of God is encountered in your life and mine. Confession is like a “brand new shot at life,” the grace-filled sacramental means of renewing our friendship with Jesus, of binding up the wounds of our lives and letting go of those wounds. It’s exhilarating. It’s renewal. It’s healing.

“Islands of mercy”

Lent is a season filled with holy traditions. It is built on the practices of prayer, fasting and good works. We begin with the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday. We finish with the beauty and grace of Holy Week, the cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter Sunday.

Each Lent, there is the nearly universal “give-up” question we ask of each other: “What are you giving up for Lent?” Candy? A favorite television show? A beer, wine or a cocktail? For giving up something in Lent is a means of reparation and preparation. It is an act of reparation for sin in our lives and in the world. It is a preparation to welcome the resurrected Christ on Easter.

Pope Francis has stated that in this Year of Mercy: “â » how greatly I desire that all those places where the church is present, especially our parishes and our communities, may become islands of mercy in the midst of the sea of indifference!”

One of our newer Lenten traditions in the Diocese of Pittsburgh is the event we call “The Light is On for You!” It reflects Pope Francis’ hope. It is our way to invite you to center your Lent in God’s mercy.

On Wednesday, March 9, from 6 to 9 p.m., a church in your neighborhood will have its lights on, its doors open. Our priests will be there, waiting for you. The sacrament of confession will be offered and celebrated.

Make this a special moment in your life, as I know it will be in mine and all the priests in our diocese. Confession brings life. Penance and absolution repair what is broken in our lives.

We hope to see you on March 9, then regularly thereafter.

Have a merciful Lent!

And while you’re at it, take to heart the suggestion of Pope Francis: “Take it easy!” — on yourself especially, and others, too!

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