The Name of God is Mercy: A Review of Pope Francis’ Latest Book

01-31-2016This Week in Vidi DominumFr. Will Schmid

On the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, I scheduled an appointment to take my car into the auto shop on account of a recent recall. While waiting for the work to be done, I brought with me Pope Francis’ new book, The Name of God is Mercy. It is a combination of two documents: His Papal Bull declaring this year as a year of mercy, and a transcription of an interview between Pope Francis and Andrea Tornielli, where our Holy Father elaborates on his personal experiences with the mercy of God and his desire to call for a year of mercy for the entire Church.

As I began reading it, I found that I couldn’t put it down. I read for two and a half hours without interruption. When the service representative came to tell me that my car was ready, he asked me if I wanted to stick around for a while and continue reading my book. I almost said yes, because I realized I was only a few pages away from finishing the interview. Let me declare with confidence, Pope Francis’ new book is a wonderful read!

Pope Francis is clearly a man who has been touched by the mercy of God and his interview beautifully captures some of the moments of his life where he experienced a profound sense of mercy. He also shares with us how he sees the

mercy of God at work in the Church today and gives us many examples and images of how God’s mercy can continue to transform the world through the life of the Church. In addition, Pope Francis offers further clarifying remarks over some of his statements that have been taken out of context and have been misunderstood by our modern culture, including: “The confessional should not be a torture chamber,” and, “Who am I to judge?”

However, what I found most attractive about this particular book is how it gives us a clearer picture concerning the world that Pope Francis comes from and how it has formed his life and ministry in the Church. It is all too easy for us to forget that the majority of Pope Francis’ experiences come from an underdeveloped nation  that has struggled with social and economic instability, which needless to say, is very different than our own. His life experiences give us a much deeper perspective on his papacy.  

In particular, there are three quotes that I would like to share with you today, along with my own reflections about them.

“St. Francis de Sales said, ‘If you have a little donkey and along the road it falls onto the cobblestones, what should you do? You certainly don’t go there with a stick to beat it, poor little thing, it’s already unfortunate enough. You must take it by the halter and say: Up, let’s take to the road again.’” (13)

Pope Francis uses this quote from St. Francis de Sales to remind us of how God sees us in His mercy. God sees us as the little donkey tripping on the cobblestones of life. When we fall, He doesn’t come to beat us with a stick, but to take us by the halter and get us back on the road again. That’s the kind of love and mercy God has for us, and that is the kind of mercy we are called to show the world. We cannot let our anger and frustration over the sins of others cause us to beat sinners when they are down. Rather, in mercy we are called to help raise sinners up and get them back on the road to God.

“The corrupt man always has the gall to say: ‘It wasn’t me!’ - my grandmother would have said that ‘butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth’…The corrupt man often doesn’t realize his own condition, much as a person with bad breath does not know they have it.” (83-84)

Pope Francis has a section of his interview titled, “Sinners Yes, Corrupt No.” The idea behind this section is that we should never allow our sinfulness to turn into corruption. Meaning, we should regularly take time to reflect upon our actions and to offer ourselves to God so that we can always be aware of our sinfulness. Corruption occurs when we continually participate in sinful behavior without any guilt, remorse, or opportunity for conversion because we have either fooled ourselves or numbed ourselves to the wickedness of our ways. God can work with sinners, but God cannot work with the corrupt because the corrupt do not believe that they need the Lord. We must always be on guard so that we do not fall into corruption. Hence the expression: Sinners Yes, Corrupt No. During this year of mercy, we should recommit ourselves to a regular examination of conscience so that we do not fall prey to corruption.

“Jesus transforms water into wine, into fine wine, the best wine. He does it using water from the urns that were needed for ritual purification, for the washing away of one’s spiritual impurities. The Lord does not produce the wine out of nothing, he uses the water that ‘washed away’ sins, water that contains impurities. He performs this miracle with something that to us appears impure.” (86)

Pope Francis is convinced (and so should we) that mercy is always greater than sin, and that God demonstrates His power in a beautiful way by transforming our sins through His mercy. God can take the most difficult moments of defeat, brokenness, and suffering and transform them into the most beautiful signs of His glory. Hence the reason why the crucifix stands at the center of just about every Catholic Church in the world. It is a sign of defeat, brokenness, and suffering, but also the greatest sign of God’s glory. God loves to take the impurities of our life and transform them into the finest of wines!