I have recently been getting back into meditation. In the wake of the Great Upending Of Life Known As Emily, I am struggling to maintain much sense of peace, mental calm, or sometimes even faith. Even my quiet moments are frequented by anxiety, fear, insecurity, endless to-do lists, regrets of things done or left undone, and other detritus. Yet enough mentions of meditation kept turning up in my life — in various things I’m reading and listening to, in conversations, and in other random urgings of the Spirit — that I finally got the message: Revisit meditating.
Emily is six weeks old — almost seven weeks! I keep trying to write about this experience of fatherhood in ways that express something other than the exhaustion and anxiety I feel and have felt since about half way through the pregnancy. Not that these are the only sensations of this new chapter by any stretch, but melancholic temperament such as I have, they stand easiest to recall.
I wonder if I am too close to this experience to put it into words. Hemingway once remarked that he had to be in Paris to write about Ketchum and in Ketchum to write about Paris. He could not write about Paris while he was in Paris — he was too close to it. I feel something like that.
The Name of God is Mercy is an extended interview with Pope Francis, turned into a book, exploring his reflections on and experiences of God’s heavenly mercy. In it he elaborates the reasons he called for this Jubilee Year of Mercy that we are now celebrating. The book came out earlier this year, and I’ve just finished reading it. I encourage anyone else to read it as well. At only 100 short pages in length, it is accessible, encouraging, and challenging all at the same time.
Throughout the questions and responses contained in this book, Pope Francis turns again and again to themes we have heard him emphasize since the beginning of his pontificate. He talks about how important it is for us to recognize and be conscious of our own sinfulness, because doing so helps draw us closer to God. He talks about the merciful nature of God, who seeks to heal and forgive over and over again. He explores the ways in which we can open ourselves to receive God’s forgiveness and the Lord’s insistent openness to be forgiving, to the point that he seeks out any tiny crack where he can enter in and reach us. Francis emphasizes that this message of mercy is at the core of the Gospel and the heart of the Church, and he speaks to the ways the Church does and can reach actively outward with mercy. He speaks extensively about the Sacrament of Confession. He brings up the experience of the family. And he offers guidance on living the Holy Year of Mercy.
A few weeks ago, I spoke at Theology on Tap for 270Catholic, a young adults ministry in Montgomery County / the I-270 region. I was invited to talk about “Encountering Mercy” and the Year of Mercy that Pope Francis has called us to celebrate. I shared my own conversion experience of encountering God’s transforming mercy in my own life. Finally, I talked about how we in the Archdiocese of Washington are inviting everyone to celebrate the Year of Mercy by intentionally reflecting on our need for healing and mercy, receiving mercy through the Sacraments and works of the Church, and sharing the mercy we have received with those around us in need of it.
Lent seems to have come out of nowhere this year. That probably has something to do with the mere six weeks between Christmas and Ash Wednesday, the increasing urgency of baby preparations, and my unexpectedly-packed schedule of meetings and events of late. Yet here we are.
As I reflect on how I am going to mark this Lenten season, three words keep surfacing. I hear them in my prayer. I hear them in presentations I’ve been at recently. I hear them from those around me. I see them in various books I’ve been reading — spiritual and not.
I think these three words are my intentions for this Lent: Trust. Listen. Respond.