Even now… return to me with your whole heart… (Joel 2:12)
Recently, a young friend, moved by a heavy heart, shared with me a number of things that were weighing him down. It was quite an accumulation of losses, hurts, disappointments, things for which he felt a great deal of shame, and regret for harm that he had caused to folks he loved. When he finally came up for air, I asked him where he thought God was in all of this. His simple reply was “Are you kidding me? I haven’t thought about God when things were going well. I’d be a hypocrite to turn to him now”. My simple response was, “You’re a knucklehead! This is exactly when God is closest to you and wants you to turn to him – God couldn’t love you more at any other moment in your life than in this very moment.”
The words above from the prophet Joel are the first words proclaimed as we begin our Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday. These beautiful words, God’s own exhortation to us, are the words of our deepest longing. These words are the essence of the Gospel, the message that Pope Francis wants to convey to our heart-of-hearts in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, and the words that my young friend so desperately needed to hear.
Even now is about each-and-every-moment throughout our lives. God never tires of our turning to him. He never tires of being there for us with open and welcoming arms. Jesus, “the face of the Father’s mercy” makes this clear in the parable of the Prodigal Son and in the witness of his life!
God knows what a tangle our hearts are of conflicting needs, passions, and motives. And, still, God calls us to “return… with your whole heart”. God loves us in our entirety, not in some pure, disembodied way but as real women and men who live in the world and who are, each and every one of us, complex, complicated, and “a work in progress”. When Pope Francis met with prisoners in Philadelphia, he told them “God doesn’t ask us where we have been. He doesn’t question us about what we have done.” For God it’s about homecoming – return and reconciliation.
As people who have experienced God’s mercy and who have been reconciled, we are able to reflect the mercy we have been shown, extending outward to others. The power of this extravagant and merciful love compels us to be agents of God’s love for our sisters and brothers in need, and as Lasallians, for the young people of our world, especially “those who are poor and far from salvation”.
God’s logic is certainly not our own. This is a challenge for each one of us to get beyond, just as it was for my young friend. Pope Francis, in a homily two years ago, tells us “It is not easy to entrust oneself to God’s mercy, because it is an abyss beyond our comprehension. But we must!”
Good luck to us in these journey days ahead. The Good News is that they don’t end with Lent but with Easter! So, if at first we don’t succeed…
Please, Jesus, live in our hearts!
Brother Dennis Malloy, FSC
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