Fourth week of Lent
Imagine the depth, breadth of God’s mercy
By Most Reverend Robert P.Maginnis
The Catholic Standard & Times presents the third of a six-part series authored by the auxiliary bishops of Philadelphia to aid readers in their Lenten preparation during this year of St. Paul.
Scripture scholars have suggested that St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was not written for a single church at Ephesus but was intended to be circulated to a number of communities already well acquainted with Paul’s preaching and eager to embrace his theology. This letter spans time and space and is now passed on to us.
Hopefully, our ears are equally well attuned to Paul’s message; and we are equally open to deepening our relationship with God.
We hear in this selection from the beginning of the letter to the Ephesians just how all-encompassing God’s mercy is – that we who have sinned are made whole again! During Lent, we lay the groundwork for imagining the breadth and depth of God’s mercy by considering the breadth and depth of our sinfulness both as inspaniduals and as communities.
It is only to the extent that we understand how deeply we have violated our covenant with God that we can begin to grasp the enormity of the love and mercy that is shown to us by God. Even for the sins of which we are unaware, the mercy of God flows out to us. As Ambrosiaster, a fourth-century commentator on the letters of St. Paul writes, “These are the true riches of God’s mercy – even when we did not seek it, mercy was made known to us.”
While we have a deep, inescapable need for God’s mercy, St. Paul reminds us that it is not something we deserve but, rather, it is “the gift of God.” Mercy may be ours, but it only comes to us by virtue of God’s love. This is, after all, the meaning of the Incarnation and, ultimately, of the paschal mystery. “For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life” (John 3:16).
“In Christ and through Christ, God becomes especially visible in His mercy … Not only does [Christ] speak of it and explain it by the use of comparisons and parables, but above all He Himself makes it incarnate and personifies it. He Himself … is mercy” (spanes in Misericordia, John Paul II, 1980).
Through His lifestyle and His actions, Christ reflected the love, the mercy, of God and “at the same time demanded from the people that they also should be guided in their lives by love and mercy. This requirement forms the very essence of the messianic message and constitutes the very heart of the Gospel…” (spanes in Misericodia).
St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians clearly points out that the Christian life depends on God’s magnanimous mercy and grace and that our response to God in love can be no less than the offering of oneself to God. We can do no less than to mirror God’s mercy and love to all those who we encounter in our daily lives.
In imitation of Christ, we are called to bring mercy to the outcast, the suffering, the poor and others whom society may consider “unworthy” of our love. In reaching out to the least of these, we reach out to Christ Himself and enter more deeply into the meaning of His passion, death and resurrection.
Particularly during Lent, let us remind ourselves and others that “we are [all God’s] handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance…” (Eph. 2:10).
Brothers and sisters,
God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ – by grace you have been saved – raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.
For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God had prepared in advance, that we should live in them. – Ephesians 2:4-10
Can God’s mercy be a model for us in our lives? Have you been the recipient of mercy from another? Have you shown mercy to another?
Do I really believe that I am loved by God?
What can I do to continue to grow in faith?