Blog/CYM Blog Lenten Mercy by Joe Chernowski There is a clear hierarchy in the cookie realm: chocolate chip cookies, and then everything else. You’re welcome to disagree if you like. It’s a free country, so go ahead: be wrong. My wife, speaking my love language when I’ve had a rough go of something, made me chocolate chip cookies one evening. I came home from a meeting, smelled them fresh out of the oven and cooling on the counter, and without thinking, grabbed one and downed it. Then I poured some milk, dunked another one, and savored in it. Until – oh no! It was Lent, and I had given up sweets this year! Clearly, I hadn’t told my wife of my sacrifice plans, or she would never have tempted me in such a way. That would just be cruel and unusual punishment. So now I had done it. I had messed up. I had broken my Lenten sacrifice. I had failed. My Lent was a failure, right? I pondered this with the milk glass in front of me, and the smell of delicious chocolate chip cookies surrounding me. I think back on this Lenten experience pretty much every year, when I inevitably forget Lent and break my commitment. Every time, I am faced with that same dilemma – now that I’ve already screwed up, do I bother? And I inevitably beat myself up over the failure. I have allowed myself to throw in the towel at times, figuring I have already broken it, so whatever. Other times, I have recommitted, trying to get back to it, but the voice in my head keeps nagging me, “You’ve already failed!” Pope Francis is proclaiming a different message this Lent. He implores us never to forget that “mercy is God’s identity card,” and that “mercy is the divine attitude which embraces.” From the sound of Pope Francis’ words, I am a lot harder on myself and my shortcomings than God is. I am disappointing myself a whole lot more than I am letting God down. If Lent is supposed to be a season of re-focusing and walking closer with God, then perhaps it should be a season of ever-greater awareness of God’s mercy. Instead of focusing on my Lenten sacrifice, and focusing on my failure to uphold that sacrifice, I should focus on God’s mercy. And when I inevitably fail, I should run to the embrace of God’s mercy, receive love, encouragement, and strength from God, and begin again. Keeping the focus on God’s mercy instead of myself allows me to rely more and more on God, and less and less on my willpower. Lent is meant to be a time to turn away from sin. Being reminded of God’s mercy throughout will do more to draw me close to Christ than being proud of my success would. Relying on God’s mercy means being embraced by God. And that’s a pretty excellent place to end up.