“Conversation with God from the depths of the heart”—this is how the newest doctor of the Church, St. Gregory of Narek, began every one of the 96 prayers in his most famous work, “Lamentations.”
On Feb. 23, Pope Francis declared St. Gregory of Narek, an Armenian monk and poet, a doctor of the Church. This distinction means that his writings are recognized as having doctrinal insight and being beneficial for the faithful.
One of the hallmarks of this new doctor’s writings is his focus on man’s separation from God and his journey to reunite with him. The very first prayer in “Lamentations” captures this spiritual pilgrimage well. St. Gregory writes, “The voice of a sighing heart, its sobs and mournful cries, I offer up to you, O Seer of Secrets, placing the fruits of my wavering mind as a savory sacrifice on the fire of my grieving soul to be delivered to you in the censer of my will.”
That we all need God’s mercy is a fundamental truth of our existence. It is equally true that he wants to hear your deepest desires and struggles, and he wants to forgive you of your sins.
When he celebrated the Ash Wednesday liturgy, Pope Francis spoke to this reality, declaring, “Dear brothers and sisters, the Lord never tires of having mercy on us, and wants to offer us his forgiveness once again—we all need it—inviting us to return to him with a new heart, purified of evil, purified by tears, to take part in his joy.”
This Lent, I encourage you to receive God’s mercy in the sacrament of confession.
Whenever I have the chance, I encourage people to go to confession at least once a month, and I usually go once a week. Every time I seek reconciliation with God there are three things that I experience and that every Catholic can experience.
The first is that by examining my life I become aware of my sins and how they distance me from the Father’s mercy and love. I experience a new freedom and strength because I am relieved of the spiritual weight of my sins that makes it harder to do the good and avoid evil.
The second is that I am restored to my true identity as an adopted son of the Father. There is nothing like hearing the words of a fellow priest, “through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In those words I relive the story of the Prodigal Son and experience the love of the Father for me as his son.
Finally, it is a time for me to die to myself, to honestly acknowledge that I had strayed from God’s will and sought my own will. With Jesus I am able to pray, “Not my will, but your will be done.”
As a priest and bishop, it is a blessing to participate in the sacrament of reconciliation. Whenever I hear a thorough, honest confession, I am moved by the humility of the penitent and the beauty of God’s mercy working to restore what has been broken.
Some of you may have taken part in the March 5 “Light is on for You” campaign, when priests in many parishes around the archdiocese heard confessions for three hours. If you missed that opportunity, I encourage you to look in your local parish bulletin or on their website for the next chance to experience God’s mercy.
God cannot be outdone in generosity, so let us trust in his abundant mercy, no matter what our sins are. Once we do, we will be able to say, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. For his mercy endures forever!”