Pope Francis © Contrasto

The Name of God Is Mercy

The Pope is a man who needs the mercy of God.

I said it sincerely to the prisoners of Palmasola, in Bolivia, to those men and women who welcomed me so warmly. I reminded them that even Saint Peter and Saint Paul had been prisoners.

I have a special relationship with people in prisons, deprived of their freedom. I have always been very attached to them, precisely because of my awareness of being a sinner. Every time I go through the gates into a prison to celebrate Mass or for a visit, I always think: Why them and not me? I should be here. I deserve to be here. Their fall could have been mine. I do not feel superior to the people who stand before me. And so I repeat and pray: Why him and not me? It might seem shocking, but I derive consolation from Peter: he betrayed Jesus, and even so he was chosen.

In the documents related to the process of the beatification of Paul VI, I read that one of his secretaries confided that the Pope said:

“For me it has always been a great mystery of God to be in wretchedness and to be in the presence of the mercy of God. I am nothing, I am wretched. God the Father loves me, he wants to save me, he wants to remove me from the wretchedness in which I find myself, but I am incapable of doing it myself. And so he sends his Son, a Son who brings the mercy of God translated into an act of love toward me. . . . But you need a special grace for this, the grace of a conversion. Once I recognize this, God works in me through his Son.”

It is a beautiful synthesis of the Christian message.

And then there is the homily with which Albino Luciani began his bishopric at Vittorio Veneto, when he said he had been chosen because the Lord preferred that certain things not be engraved in bronze or marble but in the dust, so that if the writing had remained it would have been clear that the merit was all and only God’s. He, now bishop and future Pope John Paul I, called himself “dust.”

I have to say that when I speak of this, I always think of what Simon Peter told Jesus on the Sunday of his resurrection, when he met him on his own, a meeting hinted at in the Gospel of Luke (24:34). What might Peter have said to the Messiah upon his resurrection from the tomb? Might he have said that he felt like a sinner? He must have thought of his betrayal, of what had happened a few days earlier when he pretended for three times not to recognize Jesus in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house. He must have thought of his bitter and public tears.

If Peter did all of that, if the Gospels describe his sin and denials to us, and if despite all this, Jesus said, “Tend my sheep” (John 21:16), I don’t think we should be surprised if his successors describe themselves as sinners.

It is nothing new.

From the book THE NAME OF GOD IS MERCY by Pope Francis. Copyright © 2016 by Edizione Piemme Spa, Milano. Reprinted by arrangement with Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. To learn more about THE NAME OF GOD IS MERCY, visit RandomHouseBooks.com.

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