Have Mercy on me, O God

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion
wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt 
and of my sin cleanse me. 

- Ps 51:3-4

The Internet defines the verb to repent as to feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one's wrongdoing or sin. This is difficult for me because of my pride. I have a stubborn pride when it comes to admitting my mistakes (just ask my wife). I am a perfectionist, which means I can be pretty hard on myself when I fail to meet the high and often unrealistic standards I have for myself. So imagine what it takes for me to repent throughout Lent. Am I supposed to feel regret or to express remorse about my sins sincerely for forty days? No thank you.

It is in this manner that I enter every Lenten season kicking and screaming. If I am open and honest with my prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, my rough edges will begin to smooth away (or at least, become not as rough). If I can give myself the time and space to recognize, name, and let go of my sinfulness and self-centeredness, my pride becomes humbled, and I will find the courage to ask God for help in renewing and recommitting myself to the way of life that was claimed for me at my baptism and that will be renewed at Easter. This is why Lent can be so powerful and yet somewhat painful, purifying and yet quite messy, irritating and yet comforting. So yes, please and thank you.

We hear this call for repentance in today’s readings. In the Old Testament reading, we find God rewarding faithfulness and punishing infidelity. God sends Jonah to the Ninevites to proclaim punishment for their sins, but the Ninevites repent and God does not carry out the punishment. Although the Old Testament shows us that human suffering is a warning and a punishment for violating our Covenant with God, we find in the New Testament that our suffering is not a punishment that is ever apart from God. We are never alone in our sin and in our suffering. Through Jesus and the powerful sign of his resurrection, we are offered a new life and a new creation that conquers both sin and death.

Understanding and facing my struggles with repenting throughout Lent would be incomplete without acknowledging God’s mercy in all of this. The internet defines the noun mercy as compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm. Even if I am not repenting well, God’s mercy for me remains wide and deep and without condition. Yet, why is it easier for me to give and receive mercy so freely and unconditionally as a husband and as a father (and sometimes as a teacher) but it is so difficult for me to imagine a God who desires the same for me?

My relationship with God, just like my relationship with my family, is supposed to be a sacred covenant, not a legal contract. It is a commitment that is without terms and conditions. It is not rooted in rewards and punishments, but in self-gift and self-sacrifice. It is not transactional, but transformational. It does not require me to be perfect, but it asks me to be faithful. Yes, there will be suffering and death, but there will always be the joy of the resurrection and new life. Because I love God and love my family, and I wish to remain faithful to them, I will humbly ask for their mercy and forgiveness, again and again and again. I will be transformed and renewed, over and over, again and again, closer into the father and husband and beloved child of God that I am called and created to be. Thanks be to God!

A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me. 
- Ps 51:12-13

Author: Joe Nava, Mathematics Department


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