Open your hearts to God’s mercy

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Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde encouraged more than 500 men gathered in Manassas March 5 to make an intentional plan for daily living that includes prayer, authentic friendships and reaching out to others in need.

The bishop said he was encouraged by the presence and witness of the men and he told them "to open your hearts and let the mercy of God overwhelm you."

Bishop Loverde was the celebrant and homilist at the Mass during the 2016 Men's Conference sponsored by the Office for Family Life and held at All Saints Church. This year's theme was "God, the Father of Extravagant Mercy."

The keynote speakers included Michael Horne, director of clinical services for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington; Father David Pignato, a priest of the Fall River Diocese and a professor at St. John's Seminary in Boston; and Damon Owens, executive director of the Theology of the Body Institute.

In his homily during the Mass, Bishop Loverde used three men from the daily readings to emphasize various degrees of mercy - the Old Testament Prophet Hosea, King David and the tax collector.

"They are an unlikely trio, but each with a challenge for us," the bishop said. "We are indeed weak. Original sin has made us so."

Like Hosea, the bishop said we must admit our weaknesses. Allow David to challenge us by bringing us to our knees in prayer, he said, while the tax collector challenges us to be men of mercy.

"It takes profound humility to admit that our successes have been through the grace of God," he said.

In his opening keynote talk, Horne examined the benefits of being merciful within two relationships: between husband and wife, and father and children.

A healthy marriage is centered in Christ, said Horne, who also discussed how positive and negative expectations can impact marriage.

"Assuming that your spouse will let you down will weaken your marriage over time," he said.

In his professional experience, Horne said it takes couples an average of seven years before they seek counseling for a troubled marriage. "It should never get to that point," he said. "Address things before they become cataclysmic."

Horne said it is a myth that happy couples never fight. "When they fight, happy couples are able to show mercy. They know how to repair and forgive," he said.

"Love is about being vulnerable," he added. "Those who love us know how to hurt us."

There must be an underlying respect within marriage with no malice, Horne said. "If you unintentionally hurt your spouse, ask for mercy. If we don't know what the concerns are, we can't heal.

"Showing mercy isn't easy," he said. "Sometimes it requires a super human effort."

Horne encouraged the men to show their children love, respect and forgiveness. He said successful parenting has two key components: love and expectation.

"Perfection is a myth," he said. "Love your children for who they are. We have to love our children even when we don't like what they are doing.

"We will be hurt," Horne said. "We will hurt others. It's the price of being in relationships. We must show love, patience and forgiveness."

Father Pignato's talk focused on "Christ as the Model of Mercy."

Mercy is a forgotten virtue in many parts of the world today, he said. "Why is modern man uneasy with the idea of mercy? Is it a sign of weakness?"

He said mercy is lacking in the political discourse of our time and even in parts of the church.

Tolerance and the acceptance of sin are not mercy, he said. "It's false mercy. It denies the very need for mercy because there is nothing to forgive.

"The Sacred Heart of Christ is overflowing with mercy," Father Pignato said. "God shows unlimited mercy. He never tires of offering it to us."

He said the world needs to rediscover the mystery of God's mercy. "Without mercy, the world becomes a dark place.

"There is a need for conversion and repentance," he said. "It unlocks God's mercy."

In addition to conversion, we also must show mercy to others, he said.

"Jesus Christ is the model through which we should measure our lives," Father Pignato said.

While dying on the cross, Jesus forgave those who crucified Him and promised the Good Thief that he would be with Him in paradise, he added.

"Mercy is a sign of God's power, not weakness," Father Pignato said.

The Office for Family Life is supported with funds from the Bishop's Lenten Appeal.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016