Cardinal Wuerl’s Homily at the Cathedral of the Holy Name
Feb. 27, 2016
Before beginning these reflections on our liturgy this evening and the Word of God we just listened to, I once again wish to thank Bishop Agnelo Gracias for his words of welcome. I would also like to say a word of appreciation to Fr. Michael, the Rector, for his gracious hospitality here at the Cathedral and also to Fr. Jervis who has been of particular assistance to me during this very brief visit and also to Fr. Sunder and Fr. Emmanuel. It truly is a joy to be here to celebrate this Lenten Mass with all of you and I am so grateful to His Eminence, Cardinal Gracias, for his invitation to celebrate this Eucharist.
This season of Lent, as we all know, is the time that the Church sets aside to remind us of the ongoing, continuous conversion that is part of our Baptism, and to give us these 40 days of personal spiritual purification so that we can make our way to the Easter mysteries with the sense that we have prepared by asking God for the wonderful gift of mercy and forgiveness. And each Sunday in Lent has a theme to particularly remind, to help us in our reflections and this particular Lent comes while the Church Universal celebrates the Jubilee of Mercy. Earlier today, I had the opportunity to go through the Holy Door here at this Cathedral and then to say the prayers connected with the Holy Year Jubilee indulgence. It’s a reminder; it’s an invitation to see that doorway as an invitation from God to continually welcome His mercy in our lives, and come through the door of our own repentance. Usually the Church says to us that through prayer, penance and self denial we prepare ourselves, but this year Pope Francis says to us that all these things are important but remember the season of Lent during this Jubilee Year should be lived more intensely focused on the privileged moment that each one of us has to experience God’s mercy. To experience the mercy that God’s love directs to each one of us inspite of our failings, inspite of all the things that keep us from God.
In the readings that we have just listened to today we learn something more about God – the whole idea that God’s revelations are about how we get to how Him better. In the first reading, we are told that God tells Moses His name, ‘I AM WHO AM’; in the second reading, we’re told that God led the chosen people out of bondage. This God cares for us so much that He sends His son – the Messiah, the Lord, to save us from our sins. In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells us that He is the one who has come to accomplish this. But you and I – we’re supposed to participate in that mystery of our redemption by bearing good fruit but we all know that it is not as easy as it sounds. We fail continuously from being everything Jesus asks us to be. And so we turn to God for God’s mercy, compassion, forgiveness. Lent is all about God’s love for us inspite of everything we do. Inspite of our failings and weakness. That Door of Mercy is a reminder that God’s heart, God’s love, God’s mercy is always open for us. We simply have to walk through – through whatever keeps us from saying, “Lord, Lord, have mercy on me.” And we know the answer will always be ‘Yes!’ Pope Francis said this, ‘God never ever gets tired of forgiving us; we sometime get tired of the asking.” And Lent, this Jubilee Year of Mercy and that Holy Door is a reminder that we must always, always ask.
And during this season of Lent, we can reflect on how best we can do that. How best we can ask for God’s mercy. The Church holds up for us the Sacrament of Confession – of Reconciliation – the Sacrament of forgiveness, and invites us to use that gift where we can actually hear the words of forgiveness – there is something wonderful about hearing, ‘You’re forgiven’. It’s one thing to say, ‘I am sorry’ in apology, it’s another thing to hear the words, ‘That’s ok. It’s alright’ – the modern way to say ‘you’re forgiven’. I remember once my sister-in-law telling me how her son, my nephew, was acting up all day long and she used the great threat that mothers often use with little children, ‘You wait till your Father comes home.’ And about five minutes before his father could arrive, this little 4-year-old goes to his Mummy and says, ‘Mummy, you know I love you, and you know how sorry I am’ and then he simply stood there waiting for her words, ‘It’s ok and I won’t tell your Daddy.’ Confession is all about going to the Father, going to the Lord Jesus and saying, ‘I am sorry’. And then hearing those words, ‘You’re forgiven. You’re forgiven’. And you can start all over afresh, just as you did on the day of your Baptism. But there’s one more piece that the liturgy of today holds out for us. It says not only are you forgiven, but that you are supposed to share that forgiveness with others. Just as you freely received God’s mercy - just as from that cross, God’s mercy flows into the heart of each one of us - we are supposed to share that compassion, that forgiveness, that mercy with everyone else.
All of us have reason from time to time to lapse and Lent is the time to say as we say it in the ‘Our Father’, which we will pray later in this Mass, ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”At the heart of that is simply seeing in every believer, every other disciple of the Lord, the face of Jesus. Isn’t that why we have the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy here on the walls of this Cathedral to remind us that these are the things we are supposed to do? Because we see in the face of every one of us the face of Jesus. Wasn’t that what Blessed Mother Teresa taught the whole world “the greatest fault today is to be unwanted, unloved, unforgiven’?
That’s part of the mystery of Lent, that is the Jubilee of Mercy: to recognise God’s mercy, to share God’s mercy and to be prepared to always rejoice in it.
I share a story about how we are always – always – supposed to see in others the face of Jesus. Several months ago, Pope Francis visited the United States and he visited the residents of the Home of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who do the work very much like the Missionaries of Charity. They care for the elderly. The Pope said to them, ‘I know the reason you do this ministry, it is because you see in every one of these elderly people, the face of Jesus’ (This is what everyone in the consecrated life is called to do). Then he said, ‘You know, we old people, we can be difficult, we can even be nuisances and so here’s what I want you to do. Every time one of the elderly faithful here is having a difficult day, I want you to say to yourself (not to them), ‘Jesus, you’re being a nuisance!’ When you say that you remind yourself why you’re here, what Jesus asks of us and also why we can be so confident of God’s mercy on us. Because when God looks at us, because we have eaten from His table Jesus His son, He is prepared to forgive us all the things we do.
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