If we want to be merciful, like the Father, we must offer mercy.
If we want to make a good confession this Lent, we must face up to where we’ve failed.
Over these few weeks, we are considering the spiritual works of mercy. Today, I invite you to ask: have I prayed for the living and the dead?
This sounds quite straightforward. But who are the living and the dead? The Bible shows us that God doesn’t always see things the way we see them.
Our first reading takes us back to ancient days, to Abraham himself. In those days, God had not spoken to human beings about heaven, and Abraham believed that when he died, he would “live on” only in his descendants.
Jesus saw things differently. The God he called Father was the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – and all people are alive to him!” Not only that, but on the mountain of transfiguration, the apostles saw Moses and Elijah, men who had lived centuries earlier, alive and speaking with Jesus!
Jesus wanted those apostles to see that in death, life is changed, not ended. We do not get reincarnated as a new person with no memory of the old. We are not dissolved into some spiritual essence which is remixed and remade. No, because each one of us is loved by God as a unique individual, we continue as persons – and we profess in our Creed that we believe in the resurrection of the body. This means that one day, in God’s future, we will be restored to a life which never ends, in bodies free from sickness, and reflecting the glory of God.
The Bible also speaks of a connection between death and sin. “Death came into the world through sin!” said St Paul. That makes no sense if we think of the material world – plants and animals were dying for millions of years before the first human beings lived, and only humans are capable of sinning. But perhaps a different kind of death is meant. Jesus once said “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” The Bible also says “there is a sin that leads to death” – which is why in the Church we sometimes speak about “mortal sin”. By committing certain sins and not asking God’s forgiveness, we risk being raised to a new body only to be sent, with all the goats at the last judgement, to eternal separation from God, which is Hell.
Priests in an earlier generation would have readily taught you a list of mortal sins. Now the Church takes more care in the way we explain things. I could give you the same list, but I would call them “SERIOUS sins” or “grave matter“. If you commit one of these, it could be mortal, but only if you commit the sin KNOWING how serious it is, and acting in full FREEDOM – that is, without being in the grip of addiction or mental illness, or forced by other circumstances beyond your control.
The trouble with defining some sins as mortal is that we can be drawn into the trap of asking: “Was my sin really mortal or only venial? Do I really need to go to confession?” The better question is simply: “Have I committed a serious sin?” If the answer is yes, celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation and you can be utterly sure that it has been forgiven!
Today is the day in Lent when we pray in a special way for those adults who are already baptised, but will make their First Communion and be confirmed at Easter. Soon they will make their First Confession. As a community we will be praying for those who may be dead through sin to receive life through the great sacrament of mercy. We must also remember to pray all the more fervently for those who have not heard, or are resisting, the nagging voice of God who is continually inviting his children to be come to great sacraments of mercy – baptism and reconciliation.
We are all called to pray for the living and the dead. We are called to pray for those who are spiritually alive, followers of Jesus who come faithfully to Mass and dedicate some of their time and energy to raising their families, to the work of the church, and to their employment. We are called also to pray for those who are spiritually dead, who need to find new life through the sacraments. When Our Lady appeared at Fatima, she taught us that a powerful way to do this was to pray a decade of the rosary and add the following prayer: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fire of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need of your mercy.”
There are other ways of praying too – but what is important is that we pray for others and not just ourselves.
Do you show mercy in your daily life?
Today, I invite you to ask: have I prayed for the living and the dead?
If not, make a good confession – and then begin your new life of prayer!