I can think of no better month to serve as a summary of Christian life. Lent runs late this year, so it feels like God’s taking a little bit longer to work with me. The Prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah saw God as a patient potter, purposeful as he molds his creations.
Yet, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:8)
Lent is the time God works and re-works us, and we try our best to be docile and pliable. We go into Ash Wednesday with good intentions, and then we fall, and then we get up again; and we repeat the cycle many times. “And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do” (Jeremiah 18:4).
It is a mercy to live as you and I do. It is a mercy to have the traditions we have received from the Apostles through the saints. It is a mercy that we can go often to the sacrament of Confession. It is a mercy that we can live Lent together every year.
This is our first full Lent with the “Pope of Mercy.” The Holy Father’s emphasis on mercy seems to be the one thing that secular journalists usually get right when they talk about him. He repeats his message so often that it’s hard to miss. He tells us that God never tires of forgiving us; it’s we who get tired of asking for forgiveness.
So let’s not tire as we head into the home stretch of our Lent, and as we enter Holy Week and the Triduum. God will give us the grace to finish well, even if we’ve stumbled often.
Why? Because that’s his purpose throughout the story we’re remembering this month. He came to save us — save us from our sins! But that’s just a prelude. He forgives our sins and heals us so that we can live a life that’s divine, sharing his own nature with us even as he shares ours (see 2 Peter 1:4).
Lent is the time when the potter takes his clay and works it into another vessel — a vessel of honor and of divinity — a vessel of holiness and grace. God created us to be saints; and when we fell he called us again to be saints. Only saints will live in heaven; and you and I want to be in that number when the saints go marching in.
The mercies of the Catholic life are many, and not least of them is the canonization of saints. God gives us, through the infallible judgment of the Church, the ability to know that certain people are living with him now in heaven. They are interceding for us. Their lives of faith can serve as reliable roadmaps for our own in the years we have remaining.
This Mercy Sunday is especially auspicious because Pope Francis will then canonize two of his beloved predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII. It was my great joy to meet with Pope John Paul II on several occasions; and I can’t help but feel personally invested in that day.
But he touched so many lives. He set records by drawing some of the largest crowds in history — millions of people — and he reached many more through television. His funeral was “attended” by hundreds of millions who tuned in via television and the Web.
He never sought fame, but he sought glory — God’s glory — and he was willing to let it shine through him to the world.
That’s what we’re all called to do — not to assume the papacy, but to be that vessel, that lamp in which the light of Christ can shine.
Lent has been forming us for the task — molding clay into lamps — molding sinners into saints. As the month ends, we’ll have so many reasons to celebrate God’s mercy.