Blanket of mercy

“I can feel it in my bones. The snow is coming.” A Canadian native, now three decades living in Italy, working in one of the tourist trap religious shops near the Vatican, was insistent — and got me hopeful. But my prophet didn’t share with me that I’d be a few days back in the United States when the rare Rome snowfall would actually happen.

No matter. The photos that flurried my social media feeds — of the white covering over St. Peter’s Square — seemed to take me right back there. (Later in the day, sisters and seminarians and snowballs would get around.)

What is it that is so dazzling about snow? Could it be the words of Isaiah seemingly enveloping us? “Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good”; and, “Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool” (Is 1:16-18).

Snow — if you can set aside the inconveniences — can bring these words to life. Sent like an invitation from heaven, a blanket of purity and quiet — things that can seem impossible.

St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican is seen after a rare snowfall in Rome Feb. 26. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The rare Rome snowfall also could be something of an exclamation point, too, on five years of Pope Francis on the world scene. If there is anything he is trying to teach us and show us above all other things, it is Christ and his desire for us to encounter his mercy.

In his Lenten message this year, Pope Francis talks about conversion.

“Lent summons us, and enables us, to come back to the Lord wholeheartedly and in every aspect of our life.”

How do we come back to the Lord when we might feel like we are too far away? So many people do — they feel divided, rejected, unworthy. Even those of us who talk about God’s mercy can fall into all kinds of delusions. The culture doesn’t encourage us to know God’s mercy, but to surround ourselves with all kinds of distractions — to bind ourselves to the passing more than the enduring, the eternal. Pope Francis, in his homilies, especially, seems to plead with us to see Christ alone, to live in his love.

And isn’t that the great gift of Lent, to focus on Christ’s love more than ever?

It was on St. Joseph’s feast day five years ago that Pope Francis emphasized the importance of this saint in our lives in his inaugural homily. He talked about St. Joseph’s role as “protector” guided by God’s will. “He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!”

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Looking around in the world today, do we ever need a man of purity and quiet to help protect us and God’s gifts — most especially the lives — in our care. Pope Francis in that same homily talked about the need for concrete signs of love. “We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness,” and about how St. Joseph is a model of these. He called tenderness “a sign of strength.”

Like the leaven of a snowfall, we need the presence of such a saint as our intercessor in our families and in our culture. A focus on tenderness and St. Joseph are just a beginning of the gifts of this papacy. Whatever weather you’ve experienced this Lent, see how God wants to quiet your heart and embrace you with his mercy.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review, and co-author of “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” (OSV, $17.95).