I remember my sister saying once long ago during a visit to our motherhouse that you could tell you were in a convent because there were no mirrors anywhere! I suppose that, if often true, that had two purposes: 1. to keep the Sisters from the vanity of wasting time gazing at themselves, and 2. since there was no hair or make-up to be concerned about because our habits covered almost every inch of the body and getting dressed was a quick, rote exercise. Now, because we do not have the “luxury” of such a simple and universal couture, mirrors are a part of household furnishing in most religious houses.
I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking on the value of this change but I do think there is a benefit, again for two reasons. 1. I have a friend who used to begin her workshops on self-esteem by asking how many people in the audience looked in the mirror while they’re brushing their teeth or their hair and say, “What a woman!” (or “Hello, handsome!”) People used to laugh at that, but her point was made because rarely did anyone admit to a positive response to her question. We need to see ourselves as God sees us: marvels of creation – and be grateful. 2. On the other hand, while we’re looking in that mirror we ought to try each day to be totally honest with ourselves and God about our imperfections. What we try to hide from other people should be frankly looked at in that mirror, again with the realization that God is looking back at us with love. Tender mercy and forgiveness are always there if we are willing to look honestly at ourselves.
The readings in today’s lectionary are all about God’s mercy and forgiveness. The Book of Sirach says this: Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven and Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself…? The Letter to the Romans speaks of how we live and die for the Lord. In so doing, therefore, it stands to reason that we ought to act like the Lord. In the gospel we have Peter trying to figure out how many times we are asked to forgive those who have wronged us and Jesus disappointing him perhaps with the answer: 70 X 7 times – which we know means “every time.”
All those words we know, but do we allow them to live within us so that we don’t become frustrated when we fail in the love we know we owe to others? The most comforting of all the quotes today (perhaps because I hear it put to music sung often in my church) is the psalm response. It sings in me, The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in kindness (or rich in compassion, depending on your translation). Try looking in the mirror, even in your darkest days, and say that line aloud. Can you possibly resist a promise of forgiveness like that?