“Mercy opens the door to understanding the mystery of God”. Pope Francis continues: “God’s mercy not only opens the door of the mind but also opens the door of the heart and paves the way for compassion. Mercy, in short, commits us all to be instruments of justice, of reconciliation and of peace”. No wonder Pope Francis is referred to as the “Pope of Mercy”.
Pope Francis gave a beautiful witness to that phrase in today’s Gospel: “Go first and be reconciled”. While leading a penitential liturgy at St Peter’s, Pope Francis broke with Vatican tradition yet again. There was a point in the service when the Pope would be led to an empty booth to hear the confessions of the faithful. This is not what he did, though. Instead Pope Francis went to a confessional and publicly knelt before a priest. There he made his own confession for all to see. Only then he proceeded to an empty booth and heard confessions of the people for almost an hour. Pope Francis first sought Mercy and then shared Mercy.
There is a lovely quote from Pope Francis that both comforts us and challenges us: “God has no memory of sin, but only of us, of each of us, we who are his beloved children”. It is a comfort to know that God focuses on the person whom he loves. It is a challenge though in so far as we are to do the same; to focus on the person. Some years ago there was to be an execution at a prison. The day before many people demonstrated outside the prison to make sure the execution would take place. A reporter was present to cover the story. He noticed one lady who certainly was not part of the demonstration. The reporter asked her why she was there. The woman revealed that she was the mother of the man to be executed. The reporter quoted the next thing she said: “He is my son, I still love him”. God says the same thing about us in our weakness: These are my children, I still love them.’
“This is the time for mercy”, said Pope Francis, “the time for the Church to show her maternal side, her motherly face, to a humanity that is wounded”. Our Holy Father recalled how, as a 17 year old, he was overwhelmed by God’s Mercy. That experience always stayed with him. It is not surprising that the first book that he published as pope was entitled: ‘God’s Name is Mercy’. Pope Francis said what was in his heart and mind: “The Lord’s most powerful message is Mercy”.
Fr. Theodore Walsh, C.P.