It seems Pope Francis likes to have his thoughts and feelings known via the interview format with a journalist (Q and A, in journalese) instead of writing these by his lonesome in the privacy of his study. Most, if not all, writers suddenly become solitary figures when they write and behold the sunrise unfolding in their souls or confront the storms raging in their minds.
But the Pope seems not the kind to closet himself in a dank cellar, like the monks of old, and bleed it out. The former cardinal from Argentina is a man of the streets, so it is not surprising that he would like someone—a journalist—to pick his brains and poke his heart.
Pope Francis’ latest book was out two days ago, Jan 12. Released in 86 countries, “The Name of God is Mercy” was meant for 2016, a year that he declared last March to be the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. The book is the result of a series of interviews with Vatican reporter Andrea Tornielli.
Even before he stepped into the so-called shoes of the fisherman, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis, had chosen mercy as the theme of his ministry. “Miserando atque eligendo” also became the motto of his papacy and is written on the papal coat of arms. He took the words from a sermon of St. Bede (San Beda to Filipinos), an English monk, which had allusions to the calling of St. Matthew who was a tax collector and presumed a sinner. Some Latin semantic experts think that the motto is best translated as “pitiable but chosen.” That is, wretched and undeserving but chosen nonetheless.
Last year after the papal visit, I did write (“The Caravaggio effect,” 1/22/15) about Pope Francis’ special liking for the painting of famous Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), “The Calling of St. Matthew.” The Pope said during his encounter with young people at the University of Santo Tomas: “If you have time, go see the picture that Caravaggio painted of this scene.”
The huge baroque-era painting (322 x 340 centimeters) shows Jesus bursting into what looks like a dimly lit backroom where several men are seated. Jesus stretches out his hand toward someone who looks befuddled as if asking, “Who, me?” Peter, ever the protestor (it must be him), stands in the way and, like the Pharisees, might be asking, “Jeez, why him, of all people?”
Pope Francis’ comment: “This one? He’s no good. And he keeps money to himself. But the surprise of being loved overcomes Matthew and he follows Jesus.”
The masterpiece, along with Caravaggio’s other St. Matthew paintings, hangs in a church in Rome. It is, for Pope Francis, a great display of mercy for someone unworthy of being among the chosen. Miserando atque eligendo. Atque or “and” could also be translated as “and yet.” Pitiable and yet chosen. How many among us have once been the object of mercy, wretched and miserable, and yet eventually chosen to do wondrous deeds?
The Pope’s book on mercy couldn’t be more timely. Parts of the world are spiraling down into pitiless pits where mercy is a nonword. Girls kidnapped and used as sex slaves, individuals on mercy missions taken hostage, crowds mowed down by gunfire, families leaving their homes and running for their lives and begging for mercy, while a rogue nation builds a lethal bomb that can blow up planet Earth.
While copies of “The Name of God is Mercy” are still not easy to come by, excerpts from the book had been released by the publisher, Piemme, ahead of time.
In the book, Pope Francis admits: “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… 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.
“The Church does not exist to condemn people, but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God’s mercy… I often say that in order for this to happen, it is necessary to go out: to go out from the churches and the parishes, to go outside and look for people where they live, where they suffer, and where they hope. I like to use the image of a field hospital to describe this ‘Church that goes forth.’ It exists where there is combat. It is not a solid structure with all the equipment where people go to receive treatment for both small and large infirmities. It is a mobile structure that offers first aid and immediate care, so that its soldiers do not die.”
And on corruption: “Corruption is the sin which, rather than being recognised as such and rendering us humble, is elevated to a system; it becomes a mental habit, a way of living. We no longer feel the need for forgiveness and mercy, but we justify ourselves and our behaviours…
“The corrupt man does not know humility, he does not consider himself in need of help, he leads a double life. We must not accept the state of corruption as if it were just another sin…
“The corrupt man tires of asking for forgiveness and ends up believing that he doesn’t need to ask for it any more. We don’t become corrupt people overnight. It is a long, slippery slope that cannot be identified simply as a series of sins. One may be a great sinner and never fall into corruption if hearts feel their own weakness. That small opening allows the strength of God to enter.”
I say, no mercy for the corrupt until…
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