No one likes to have their faults pointed out to them. Who wants to be told they are unkind, or arrogant or a gossip? Even a close friend is on treacherous ground if he mentions your pettiness or self-centredness. Our self image as a ‘good’ person must be preserved at all costs. But, when we take time to look honestly at ourselves, we know that there is work to be done; we are not sinless creatures.
Lent is a blessed time for a spring cleaning of our soul, a time to look into the dark, hidden corners of our heart, a time for conversion. But, unlike many self-help programmes so popular today, we do not go it alone. “Think of the love the Father has lavished on us” (1Jn 1:3). How much easier it is to look at those hidden recesses, those unacknowledged faults, those sins, when we believe that we are held in the arms of a loving Father. This is far removed from an image of a God who snoops around, watching our every move, pouncing on us when we fall.
The story of Zacchaeus (Lk Ch 19) shows what can happen when we meet Jesus. This tax collector, a well known sinner, climbed up a tree hoping to see Jesus as he passed by. The Lord looked up and, far from rebuking him, he said, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; I must stay in your house today.” The effect on the small man was instantaneous: he knew he was forgiven and his joy had no bounds. Peter too, experienced the overwhelming mercy of Christ when after a long night of fruitless fishing, they caught a great shoal at his word. Overcome at this astonishing event, Peter confessed, “I am a sinful man”. And Jesus, who knew this, did not accuse him, but said, “Do not be afraid.” (Lk Ch 5).
And this is what he says to us. Don’t be afraid. Trust Me. Our God, the Father of Jesus, is “full of tenderness and compassion.” It is important to spend time getting to know this God. It is important to know in the marrow of your bones that you are fully accepted, that you are loved. It is important to know that you are the apple of God’s eye, that you are ‘carved in the palm of his hand’ (Is 49:16 ). No sin of ours, however grave, is beyond the mercy and the forgiveness of God when we repent. The sacrament of reconciliation is a celebration of God’s joy, the joy of a Father embracing his once lost son (Lk Ch 15).
The Lord, the prophet says, ‘is waiting to be gracious to you’ (Is 30:18). Let us not keep him waiting. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, let us give time, even five minutes each day, to look at Jesus, to search for him in the gospels and to thank him for his great mercy, his forgiveness, his love.