We could all use a little more mercy in our lives, and it can start with us being more merciful to ourselves and others. Make mercy the theme of this year’s Lent. Here are five ways to do that.
1. Let Go of Comparisons (and Probably Social Media)
When we think of “giving something up” for Lent, we tend to gravitate towards the things that most bring us joy. And while giving up cocktails, chocolate and our favorite binge-worthy show is absolutely a good and right thing to do, might it be just as beneficial to fast from comparing ourselves to others? Though we may be unaware, we probably do this often, measuring our spiritual and personal worth against that of other people. When we focus on this perceived lack in ourselves, we miss out on fully experiencing the mercy and love of Jesus. We become discontent with who we are, and when we fail to recognize the incredible gifts and graces our Lord has given us, we are placing barriers between ourselves and the work the Lord has for us to do. This Lent we can resolve to recognize and banish these negative thoughts, spend time in prayer and thanksgiving for who God has made us to be, and take a step back from social media. A curated and filtered life is not real life, and the comparisons that social media breeds are not part of the abundant life that Jesus, in his mercy, wants for us.
2. Look for the Person of Jesus
It’s no coincidence that Dallas Jenkins’ The Chosen has been so successful among viewers. Just four episodes in, I’ve personally been most struck by how Christ is portrayed in his encounters with people. Catholic actor Jonathan Roumie’s on-screen portrayal of Jesus manages to capture the person of Christ in a tender and connected way that few modern depictions have. Is there something we can take away, about ourselves and people in general, from the show’s immense popularity? Perhaps, simply, that we are all desperately hungry for a relationship with Jesus. We want that connection and that encounter, as we long for the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. And the great thing is that, as Catholics, we can have this most intimate of relationships with Jesus! Why not, then, commit this Lent to, as simple as it sounds, seeking for Jesus? We can attend Mass one extra time per week. We can attend Adoration. We can go to Confession. Nothing we do during Lent will be more important than spending time with Christ, really and fully present in the Eucharist, and experiencing his mercy through the Sacraments. When we seek him, we will find him!
3. Pursue the Good, the Beautiful, and the True
While fasting and abstinence are crucial to a fruitful Lent, it is also worthwhile to consider what things we might add to our lives, in hopes of drawing closer to the very heart of Jesus. This does not have to be complicated, difficult or even particularly time-consuming! Choose a good book to read (think classic fiction), with the goal of finishing by Easter (but forgive yourself if you don’t.) Spend some time looking through, and contemplating, a few pieces of classic artwork. If you aren’t fasting from screen entertainment, watch a thought-provoking and visually stunning film such as Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life. Taking time out of the day to enjoy good art has the potential to not only make us happier, more well-rounded people, but to strengthen virtue, and reveal various attributes of God, not least of which is his mercy. The daily grind and noise of modern life often crowds out the very things that raise our thoughts Heavenward. Excellence in literature, beauty in art, and a thoughtful, compelling film each have the capacity to inspire and cultivate anew our love for Jesus — and perhaps best of all, remind us of his love for us.
4. Give the gift of Mercy Through Friendship
Sadly we live in a time and place where rates of loneliness and depression are higher than ever. Each of us longs for social connection and belonging, and yet all too often we don’t think about the impact of reaching out ourselves. We’re too busy, what if they say no, what if it’s awkward? The excuses and barriers to cultivating authentic, joy-filled, in-person community are legion, and so people remain lonely and miss out on walking with Christ with one another in friendship. What if we committed this Lent to hosting at least one friend, fellow parishioner, or family member for coffee, brunch, or dinner during each of the weeks of Lent? Sometimes the best way to experience God’s mercy is through the mercy of another person. Good conversation and in-person community is critical to human flourishing, and it’s a myth that your home has to be a certain size or in a particular state of cleanliness to open your door and sit down with a friend. Extending hospitality and accompanying someone in friendship, as Jesus did and does, might be the most merciful thing you do this Lent!
5. Offering and Receiving Mercy Through Forgiveness
We know intellectually that love necessitates being slow to anger, and we also know that it can be hard. Perceived slights, thoughtless words, and ungrateful attitudes can all too easily pierce our hearts and, over time, build resentment. Most likely we have relationships that have suffered on account of sin, regardless whose sin it was. Jesus calls us to forgiveness, but it can be challenging — not only challenging to forgive others, but also ourselves. Who of us doesn’t have regrets or past shame, that for whatever reason we struggle to leave behind in the confessional? So perhaps this Lent, we can make two simple but important resolutions: to let things go as best we can, at the time, and to forgive past offenses. No doubt our relationships would benefit immensely from this mercy-fueled effort! From spouses and roommates to our children and coworkers, we can, through the working of the Holy Spirit, extend this grace and be conduits of mercy, remembering that each is made in the likeness and image of God. And then we must also apply these resolutions to ourselves — not dwelling on past sins we’ve confessed, and instead taking our Lord at his word, believing that God is good and merciful, that he loves us, and wants us to spend forever with him in Heaven.