Every year, as the season of Lent approaches, I get excited because this time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving provides an opportunity for me to remember – as if for the first time – the truth that God really loves me, that no matter what I may have done, he will always forgive and – what’s even more – he rejoices when I recognize my shortcomings and turn back to him. We all need to be reminded of these truths from time to time so that we won’t forget them: God loves me, he will always forgive me, and he rejoices when I turn back to him.
Today’s first reading reminds us that there have been other moments throughout our history when God’s beloved people turned their backs on him: All the leading priests and the people were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations; and they polluted the house of the Lord that he had consecrated in Jerusalem
(2 Chronicles 36:14), but despite their unfaithfulness, God has never stopped loving us. Even today, looking at the world around us, it isn’t that difficult to see how people are so easily tempted to fall into unfaithfulness. In fact, we even try to blame other people for our own shortcomings, and if there isn’t anyone around to blame, then we turn our attention to society itself. How different our world would be if we could be courageous enough to look honestly at our own lives and admit our own unwillingness to love, but then again to do so would expose weakness.
The world around us leaves no room for weakness and vulnerability, but only when we are willing to admit our own weakness, our own vulnerability, are we able to truly appreciate the power of God’s love. Lent is a perfect time for us to admit our weaknesses and to re-discover the power of God’s love for each one of us.
Not only does God love each one of us unconditionally, he will always forgive us. This is the great gift that Jesus explored with Nicodemus in the gospel passage we heard today. God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life
(Jn 3:16). This is a truth that we may have heard again and again, but until we are willing to encounter the risen Jesus in prayer, until we are willing to allow him to instruct our hearts and to speak to us in the depth of prayer, we may never come to understand or believe that it is possible for God to love us so deeply that he is always willing to forgive us of our sins.
How wonderful it is to come to this realization! How freeing it is to know that even though I may have every good intention to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, there will come a time when I will choose not to do so, and Jesus will always be there, waiting to forgive me and to help me get back on my feet!
Lent is a time when we are reminded of the fact that Jesus rejoices whenever we turn back to him. We see evidence of this in the words Saint Paul spoke to the Ephesians: God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us ... made us alive together with Christ
(Eph 2:4-5). When was the last time that we experienced the heartfelt joy of God’s mercy? Let us dare to be honest with ourselves in the coming weeks. If there is a need to be reconciled, let us not wait; let us take advantage of this great season of mercy to be at peace with ourselves and with God so that we can truly celebrate the joy of Easter.