Mercy and Love

Two weeks ago, my husband and I visited the mall in search of Valentine’s Day gifts for sons, our daughters-in-law and grandchildren. This tradition began two lifetimes ago when we created valentines for our own parents. It continued in school where we offered valentines to our teachers and classmates. My mom consistently encouraged me to give a valentine to each of my classmates. “No one likes to be left out,” she urged. Later, I purchased valentines for a boyfriend or two and for good friends at work and school. Throughout my teaching career, I added my students to my list of valentine recipients. Edible treats and practical gifts such as pencils or crayons always accompanied these greetings. In spite of recent or chronic misbehavior, every child in my class received this small reminder that he or she was loved. At home, Mike and I offered tokens of our affection to one another and, later, to our sons. We shared special family meals followed by homemade cookies or a heart-shaped cake. Even when they grew into teens and college men, we remembered Mike and Tim every February 14. Our trip to the mall confirms that this habit of expressing our love on Valentine’s Day remains well-ingrained.

Perhaps you wonder why it is that I reference Valentine’s Day on this First Sunday of Lent. After all, this holy and solemn season requires our serious and heartfelt attention. In addition, February 14 is no longer designated as St. Valentine’s Day on our Catholic calendar. Apparently, more legend than fact supported Valentine’s rise to sainthood. Still, I allow Valentine’s universal celebration of love to monopolize my thoughts with very good reason. What better day is there to commit myself to expressing my love to God? What better day is there to commit myself to expressing that love through mercy? All of my life, I have found joy in reminding others that they are loved. This year, we are asked to remind those who feel least loved that the same is true for them. When we reach out beyond our own families and friends to those who need us most, our mercy rekindles the love which lies smoldering deep within them. My mother’s words echo loudly and clearly, especially when it comes to being loved: “No one likes to be left out.”

Pope Francis has certainly enjoyed and suffered a global view of humanity. His eyes sparkle as he embraces God’s people, especially the children who are so taken with his kindness. His eyes fill with tears as he observes the ravaged bodies, broken hearts and aching spirits of those whose hope diminishes with every breath. It is no wonder that Francis has forsaken papal luxuries to more fully embrace the circumstances of God’s neediest people. Even more so than my mom, Francis is acutely aware that no one should be left out of the mainstream of human life. So it is that Francis asks each one of us to draw in the outsiders whom we encounter along the way. In his message for Lent 2016, Francis observed, “God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbor and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.”

You know, it is difficult to walk away from an expression of love with a heavy heart. What Francis asks is that we transform others, this world and ourselves through expressions of God’s merciful love as best we can and as often as we can. Every time we remind someone that he or she is loved, we affirm that person’s worth and we rekindle his or her capacity to love. Every time we remind someone that he or she is loved, we increase our own capacity to love exponentially. Every time, we remind this world that no one is left out when it comes to God’s love. If you are wondering how to accomplish such lofty goals, remember that Francis has given us direction. He has referred us to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

This First Sunday of Lent and Valentine’s Day, please join me in seeing that no one is left out. Please join me in finding ways to help our neighbors with their material and physical needs. Please join me in finding ways to help those who have emotional and spiritual concerns. Please join me in sharing the mercy and love which God so generously extends to us all. Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Lent!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved