Opening Our Hearts to God's Merciful Love

04-10-2022From the Pastor's DeskMsgr. Ellsworth R. Walden

Today we celebrate Palm Sunday, where many people gathered to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem by making a walkway of palm branches. This is the beginning of our Holy Week where we celebrate and focus on all God has done for us in Jesus. As much as Jesus was welcomed as a Savior on Palm Sunday, five days later He walked the streets of Jerusalem carrying the cross on which He died. Looking back from the vantage point of knowing about the Resurrection, Ascension, and Descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, there are two powerful questions to ponder. First of all how could we ever do such a thing to our God? Secondly, how could God ever be so loving and forgiving? Today’s Gospel at Mass is the Passion of Jesus from the Gospel of St. Luke (Luke 22:14-23:56). In the first part we see Jesus speaking to His disciples at the Last Supper. At this point they are totally clueless about what will happen in just a matter of a few hours. In these words Jesus makes it known who and what He is about as He says, “For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table? I am among you as the one who serves.”

Pure love, God’s love, is never a reward for good conduct or consistent obedience. It is a pure gift. The foundation of pure love is humility. Pure humility is the virtue that inspires and impels us to love with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength no matter what. That is exactly what Jesus did all during His three-year earthly ministry that the Gospels proclaim to us and it is that same Jesus and His love that we encounter in our reception of the Sacraments, our time at prayer, and in our efforts to love one another as He has loved us. Over and over again there are two lines from the Scriptures that come to mind and open my mind and heart in awesome wonder: “Father forgive them, they know not what they do,” (Luke 23:24) and “While we were still sinners Christ died for us,” (Romans 5:8). It is a lot easier to give with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength when there is grateful acceptance and acknowledgment of our love than when there seems to be no acknowledgement, gratitude, or difference. Jesus in His humility makes it clear that as much as love can be rejected, in Him love never gives up hope. It is almost too hard to comprehend and trust such love. But this is where that old maxim comes to light: “To err is human to forgive is divine.”

What does God’s unconditional love and inexhaustible desire to forgive do for us? That depends on how seriously we take Him. On a human level we get to the point where enough is enough. Never mind forgiving “Seventy times seven times” (Matthew 18:22). In our human cleverness we say, “Once bitten twice wise” or “The first time you hurt me it is your fault, the second time it is my fault.” The Sacred Heart of Jesus never stops looking to forgive. I am always heartened and uplifted by the words of Jesus to the “Good Thief:” “This day you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) He did not say it was too late to repent or that there would be a few thousand years in purgatory first. Jesus said, “This day you will be with me in paradise.” His humble, powerful love only seeks to make us fully alive in this world and eternally happy with Him when we die.

Our world is permeated with constant reports of war, anger, dissension, disagreement, condemnation, and disappointment. Jesus lived in the same world with the same difficulties. Jesus experienced disappointment as Peter said to him, “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” The other disciples pledged their loyalty as well. (Matthew 26:35) That was soon followed by these fateful words as Peter denies even knowing Jesus: A little later the bystanders came over and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; even your speech gives you away.” At that he began to curse and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately a cock crowed. Then Peter remembered the word that Jesus had spoken: “Before the cock crows you will deny me three times.” He went out and began to weep bitterly. (Matthew 26:73-75)

We don’t have to weep bitterly. Yes we need to be sorry for our sins. But even more we have the Good News of Jesus’ love and mercy. All we have to do is to open our minds and hearts to Him. I invite you this coming Holy Week to take part in our celebrations on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Come and open your heart to God’s merciful love for you and all of us.

I offer Psalm 51 for your prayerful reflection.

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness. In your compassion blot out my offense.

O wash me more and more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin.My offenses truly I know them;
my sin is always before me
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done.
That you may be justified when you give sentence and be without reproach when you judge,
O see, in guilt I was born,
a sinner was I conceived.
Indeed you love truth in the heart;
then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom. O purify me, then I shall be clean;

O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me hear rejoicing and gladness,
that the bones you have crushed may revive. From my sins turn away your face and blot out all my guilt.
A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
nor deprive me of your holy spirit.
Give me again the joy of your help;
with a spirit of fervor sustain me,
that I may teach transgressors your ways
and sinners may return to you.
O rescue me, God, my helper,
and my tongue shall ring out your goodness.

O Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise.
For in sacrifice you take no delight,
burnt offering from me you would refuse,
my sacrifice, a contrite spirit,
a humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn. In your goodness, show favor to Zion: rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will be pleased with lawful sacrifice, holocausts offered on your altar.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be. Amen.

Psalm Prayer: Father, he who knew no sin was made sin for us, to save us and restore us to your friendship. Look upon our contrite heart and afflicted spirit and heal our troubled conscience, so that in the joy and strength of the Holy Spirit we may proclaim your praise and glory before all the nations.