In his homily at the “24 hours for the Lord” Lenten initiative of prayer and reconciliation, Pope Francis encourages everyone to trust in the Lord with a repentant and trusting heart, acknowledging our sins and asking for the gift of God’s mercy, the divine embrace of consolation and joy.
Pope Francis presided over the “24 hours for the Lord” initiative on Friday 17 March at Rome’s parish of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Trionfale, where he also heard confessions in what has become an annual tradition during the Season of Lent. The celebration in a local Roman parish underscores the universal nature of the “24 hours for the Lord” Lenten initiative, which consists of prayer and reconciliation.
Instituted by Pope Francis and now in its tenth year, the celebration takes place in dioceses around the world on the eve of the Fourth Sunday of Lent as a preparation for the Easter Resurrection. A church in every diocese around the world is kept open for 24 consecutive hours. The faithful are encouraged to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to pray in spiritual union with Pope Francis.
“Be merciful to me a sinner”
The motto of this year’s initiative is: “Be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). “24 Hours for the Lord” is an initiative organized by the Dicastery for Evangelization’s Section for Fundamental Questions regarding Evangelization in the World.
Reflecting on the readings for the liturgy, Pope Francis in his homily underscored how our own ego and pride can get in the way of dialogue with the Lord, like the Pharisee recounted in the Gospel who was proud of his religious accomplishments, considering himself better than others, but with this attitude, closing himself off to God.
“Scripture tells us that only “the prayer of the humble pierces the clouds” (Sir 35:1), because only those who are poor in spirit, and conscious of their need of salvation and forgiveness, come into the presence of God; they come before him without vaunting their merits, without pretense or presumption Because they possess nothing, they find everything, because they find the Lord.”
Recalling the parable Jesus offers us in Luke’s Gospel about the Pharisee and the tax collector who both go to the Temple to pray, the Pope explained how only the tax collector’s prayer reaches the heart of God, as he stands far off at the back in recognition of his sins and desire for God’s mercy and love.
“He doesn’t push himself to the front; he stays at the back. Yet that distance, which expresses his sinfulness before the holiness of God, enables him to experience the loving and merciful embrace of the Father. God could come to him precisely because, by standing far off, he had made room for him.”
Dialogue creating bridges
The Pope explained how “true dialogue takes place when we are able to preserve a certain space between ourselves and others,” as we can be more aware of how things are and how “dialogue and encounter” can bridge the distance and create closeness. The tax collector recounted in the Gospel stands at the back of the Temple, the Pope observed, recognizing the truth of how he stands before God, thus “making it possible for God to draw near to him.”
With open hearts
“Brothers, sisters, let us remember this: the Lord comes to us when we step back from our presumptuous ego. He can bridge the distance whenever, with honesty and sincerity, we bring our weaknesses before him…God waits for us, and he waits for us especially in the sacrament of Penance.”
The Pope encouraged everyone to make an examination of conscience, as the attitude of the Pharisee and the tax collector can both “dwell deep within us.” We must avoid the “hypocrisy of appearances” and instead “entrust to the Lord’s mercy our darkness, our mistakes, our wretchedness.” By doing this, we can see the “distance between God’s dream for our lives and the reality of who we are each day,” so that the Lord can bridge the distance and put us back on our feet.
“The meaning of the sacrament of Reconciliation: a festal encounter that heals the heart and leaves us with inner peace. Not a human tribunal to approach with dread, but a divine embrace in which to find consolation.”
Addressing confessors, Pope Francis encouraged them always to forgive everything for which the penitent seeks forgiveness, to listen to them openly and with understanding, so that the Sacrament of Reonciliation may truly give them peace.
“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
In conclusion, the Pope suggested that, especially during the Season of Lent, we might with contrite hearts all quietly say like the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” May we repeat this often, remembering the times we have failed in our daily lives, and asking forgiveness.
“Let us repeat these words for a few moments, with a repentant and trusting heart: God, be merciful to me, a sinner! And in this act of repentance and trust, let us open our hearts to the joy of an even greater gift: the mercy of God.”
With thanks to Vatican News, where this article originally appeared.