On Sunday 17 March 2013, a few days after his election as Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in the small parish church of St. Anna in the Vatican.

The Name of God is MercyFortuitously, the gospel reading on that day was the story of the adulteress whom self-righteous coterie of potential rock throwers, intent on entrapment, brought to Jesus for judgement (Jn 8:1-11). After Jesus had exposed their hypocrisy, they slunk away leaving only (as St. Augustine stated) miseria et misericordia – misery and mercy.

In his homily on this occasion, the Pope observed: Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think – and I say it with humility – that this is the Lord’s most powerful message: mercy. It was himself who said: “”I did not come for the righteous … I came for sinners”‘ (Mk 2:17).

Since then the mercy of God has been a constant and dominant theme both in his preaching and in his pastoral ministry. Nowhere is this more strikingly exemplified than in his words, ‘Mercy is the first attribute of God. The name of God is mercy.’

Merciful like the Father

Consistent with this emphasis was his proclamation of an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy with the motto ‘Merciful like the Father’ (cf. Lk 6:36).

We acknowledge our need for God’s mercy several times whenever we celebrate the Eucharist. Our prayer is: ‘Lord have mercy’, ‘Christ have mercy’, ‘Lord, I am not worthy’, ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’.

Thus do we admit, as the Pope did when he was asked who Jorge Mario Bergolio was, ‘I am a sinner’. A photo of Him kneeling during a penitential liturgy in St Peter’s Basilica and confessing his sins to a fellow priest is, to say the least, highly evocative.

Priorities of the Jubilee celebration

In this connection, Pope Francis urges us to make sacramental confession one of the priorities of the Jubilee celebration. In the homily quoted above, he says: ‘Let us go back to the Lord. The Lord never tires of forgiving: never! It is we who tire of asking his forgiveness. Let us ask for the grace not to tire of asking forgiveness, because he never tires of forgiving. Let us ask for this grace.’

That said, our plea that a compassionate and loving God will have mercy on us will ring rather hollow if, like the unforgiving servant (cf. Mt 18:21-35), we are not prepared to extend the hand of mercy to those who have offended us. At the same time, we should be humble enough to seek the forgiveness of those whom we have offended.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will receive mercy
(Mt 5:7).

Br. Brian Grenier CFC

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