“I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt. 9:13)
Dear Brothers and sisters in Christ
This year the Lenten period forms an integral part of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, a special year set aside by His Holiness Pope Francis for all the Catholics to, first take into cognisance the abundance of the mercy of God to us his people and to enable us to show mercy to one another, “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
In this letter I will generously quote from the Popes message for Lent, 2016. In the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, the Pope asked that “the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 17). By calling for an attentive listening to the word of God and encouraging the initiative “24 Hours for the Lord”, he sought to stress the primacy of prayerful listening to God’s word, especially his prophetic word.
God’s covenant with humanity: a history of mercy.
The mystery of divine mercy is revealed in the history of the covenant between God and his people Israel. God shows himself ever rich in mercy, ever ready to treat his people with deep tenderness and compassion, especially at those tragic moments when infidelity ruptures the bond of the covenant, which then needs to be ratified more firmly in justice and truth.
This love story culminates in the incarnation of God’s Son. In Christ, the Father pours forth his boundless mercy even to making him “mercy incarnate” (Misericordiae Vultus, 8). Mercy “expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe” (Misericordiae Vultus, 21), thus restoring his relationship with him.
The works of mercy.
God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbour and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them. On such things will we be judged. For this reason, I expressed my hope that “the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; this will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty, and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy” (ibid., 15).
The Sacrament of reconciliation
The time of Lent is a time where we are called to do self-introspection and discernment in order to see where we need to make good with the Lord. This sacrament is received by someone who has repented from the wrongs he/she has done. On Ash Wednesday, as we received ashes on our foreheads the priest said: “Repent and believe in the Good News.” It is called Reconciliation because it imparts to the sinner the love of God who reconciles: “Be reconciled to God” (2Cor. 5:20) He who lives by God’s Merciful love is ready to respond to the Lord’s call: “Go, first be reconciled to your brother/sister” (Mt. 5:24) (The Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you are urged to frequent the Sacrament of reconciliation, especially during this period of Lent and right through this Jubilee Year of Mercy.
The Parables of mercy
The Gospels are full of readings on mercy; it is fitting, particularly during this year of mercy to read and understand those and let us be guided by them, in particular the parables of mercy. In these parables Jesus reveals the nature of God as that of a Father who never gives up until he has forgiven the wrong and overcome rejection with compassion and mercy – (see Lk. 15:1-32; Mt. 8:22; Mt. 18:33; Mt. 18:35; Mt.5:7) (Pope Francis – Misericordiae Vultus) These must be accompanied by the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
I ask you brothers and sisters to remember in your prayers all those who are to receive the sacraments of initiation on the Easter Vigil in our diocese of Kokstad. That marks a turning point in their lives and they will, henceforth, be full members of the body of Christ whose members we all are. Let us welcome them warmly in our communities and continue to pray for them as the whole Church is praying for them in a very special way.
Living in harmony – Result of forgiveness and mercy
It is very important and necessary that we live in harmony, one with another, wherever we are, at home, at work, in church and in society. As Christians we have a special duty to imitate Jesus Christ in our thoughts, words and actions. “Live in harmony with each other. Do not be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And do not think you know it all” (Rom. 12:16) “No foul words should ever cross your lips; let your words be for the improvement of others, as occasion offers, and do good to your listeners……… Any bitterness or bad temper or anger or shouting or abuse must be far removed from you – as must every kind of malice. Be generous to one another, sympathetic, forgiving each other as readily as God forgives you in Christ” (Eph. 4:29-32)
In the words of Pope Francis, let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable a time for conversion. We ask this through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who, encountering the greatness of God’s mercy freely bestowed upon her, was the first to acknowledge her lowliness,(Lk. 1:48) and to call herself the Lord’s humble servant (Lk.1:38)
May the Lord bless and keep you.
+Zolile Mpambani, SCJ
(Bishop of Kokstad)