Surrender to the tearful mercy of God

Photo: Dominus Flevit, Jerusalem Photo: Dominus Flevit, Jerusalem

This Lent, no matter how long it’s been, receive God’s peace in the sacrament of penance

The Mount of Olives offers a splendid view of Jerusalem, just across the Kidron Valley. The most imposing feature of Jerusalem today is the Islamic Dome of the Rock, with its royal blue tiles and brilliant roof. In Jesus’ day, however, the Temple stood on that spot, having recently been rebuilt by Herod; and from the Mount of Olives Jesus would have enjoyed a prime view of its monolithic columns, its towers of precious marble, its gleaming bronze doors and statues, its ornamentation of gems and gold leaf reflecting sunlight on every side.

As a child of 12, Jesus had visited the Temple with his parents, remaining behind to engage the teachers in discussion. Many years later, it was in the shadow of this magnificent sight, on the Mount of Olives, that he wept for Jerusalem.

“As he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If this day you only knew what makes for peace — but now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days are coming upon you when your enemies will raise a palisade against you; they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides … because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.’” (Luke 19:41-44)

Near the spot where Jesus spoke these words is the chapel called Dominus Flevit (“The Lord Wept”). Built in 1955, it rests on the excavations of a Byzantine monastery, surrounded by tombs bearing Hebrew and Christian symbols. The windows of the chapel face Jerusalem and offer a panoramic view of the city. Strikingly, at the center of the window frame is a large chalice.

Jesus wept because the people of Jerusalem did not recognize the One in their midst and the gift he had come to bring. I wonder if he also felt the burden of our rejection, if he anticipated the sadness we visit upon ourselves when we sin.

I mention this because we best understand sin in the context of grace. When we discover that God’s love is freely given and that he desires nothing but our happiness, we unmask the folly and ingratitude of sin. Jesus saw the tragedy of sin in the face of his heavenly Father’s gifts, so he wept for Jerusalem and for us.

We also best understand sin in the context of truth revealed to us in Jesus. In addition to being an offense against the love of God, sin is also a violation of the law of God. There are such things as right and wrong, and sin is a transgression against what is objectively right and good. In fact, sin is beneath our dignity as sons and daughters of God.

Sin has consequences. Not only do we offend God — we also offend ourselves, others and the Church. We injure the Body of Christ by our sin, because we go against the sacred baptismal bond that links us to Christ and every Christian. The consequences of our sin spill over to those we love.

St. Paul questioned the Romans, “What profit did you get then from the things of which you are now ashamed? … The wages of sin is death.” In other words, sin is a bad deal! Temptation cannot deliver what it promises, because the only wage paid by sin is death. On the other hand, “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:21-23)

God’s love has triumphed over sin, and through faith and baptism we were snatched up, forgiven, set in a right relationship with God and showered with his gifts. Sin is an offense against God’s love, a violation of God’s law and an injury to Christ’s body; but we can be restored to our baptismal state through the sacrament of penance, confession.

When we make use of the sacrament of penance, we confess both our sins and our faith in God’s mercy, humbly admitting that we have offended God and injured Christ’s body.

As with the other sacraments, God imparts a special, life-changing grace through confession. It is God who gives us a contrite heart in the first place, God who inspires us to confess our sins and God who forgives us through the sacrament of penance. We never reach the limit of his mercy.

We can conjure up many reasons for not going to confession: It’s been so long, I wouldn’t know where to begin. Father once yelled at me. Why ask forgiveness when I know I will sin again? Why confess to a priest? I don’t know what sin is any more. I’m embarrassed at what I’ve done. I’m afraid God won’t forgive me.

I offer a simple and sincere plea this Lent. Surrender yourself to the mercy of God in confession, no matter how long it’s been. Knowing that contrition and forgiveness are gifts of God, why not receive them with a humble heart? This I know for sure: You will be unburdened as never before, and God will give you his peace.

Among the Greek inscriptions found in the ancient ruins at Dominus Flevit was one from the donor of a mosaic: “Simeon, Friend of Christ, has fabricated and decorated this oratory for the expiation of his sins and for the repose of his brothers.…”

Jesus wept, but they were tears of mercy.

Read the Spanish version of this column.

Northwest Catholic - March 2017

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain

Send your prayer intentions to Archbishop Sartain’s Prayer List, Archdiocese of Seattle, 710 Ninth Ave., Seattle, WA 98104.