Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on Pope Francis’ March prayer intention on tasting the infinite mercy of God.
The holy and challenging season of Lent has now enfolded us. As we pray and walk with the invitation to return to the Lord, Pope Francis gives us this intention: Let us pray that we may experience the sacrament of reconciliation with renewed depth, to taste the infinite mercy of God.
The Church further enriches our challenge to consider reconciliation as she gives us the U.S. Bishops’ pastoral letter Open Wide Our Hearts. The whole of this document is built on the underpinnings of reconciliation. It is a mandate to see our sin, to name it, to repair our perceptions and to ask forgiveness in the name of reconciliation. The Bishops write: “Prayer and working toward conversion must be our first response in the face of evil actions. Therefore, we must never limit our understanding of God’s power to bring about the conversion of even those whose hearts appear completely frozen by the sin of racism. Our communities must never cease to invite and encourage them in love to abandon these sinful thoughts and destructive ways. Conversion is an essential aspect of evangelization, which is a question not only of preaching the Gospel in ever wider geographic areas or to ever greater numbers of people, but also of affecting and as it were upsetting, through the power of the Gospel, mankind’s criteria of judgment.”
There are some fearful challenges written in these lines. First, we read, “. . . Our communities must never cease to invite and encourage them in love to abandon these sinful thoughts and destructive ways.” If the reconciliation which the Bishops call for is to be born, we must act. We must have the courage to challenge our own racism in so far as it exists in our hearts and we must challenge those same tendencies in one another. When we hear terms or judgments spoken that come from a racist stance, we must call one another to convert that part of the heart to charity. The reality of reconciliation and the recognition of racism for what it is has to start at home. We each need to use these Lenten days to pray before the mirror and discover what part we have played in the sin of racism. Then perhaps we can consider helping one another to realize the face of racism within and among us. This is when we can begin to uproot that wrong. These ripples or reconciliation begin with ourselves, move outward, and then begin to seek an effect in the broader communities which we touch.
At some time this month you may want to view the movie White Water which is available for free viewing on YouTube. It is the story of a young Black boy in 1963. He is obsessed with the idea of tasting the water from the “Whites Only” drinking fountain. He is convinced that it must be amazing. The movie takes the viewer along on the racially fueled troubles he encounters in trying to satisfy his thirst for the “white water”, but also for a racial equality he didn’t totally know was missing from his life. This is a story of reconciliation which might give us a stepping off point for an exploration of how we can bring reconciliation and justice to those we encounter.