THE NAME OF GOD IS MERCY by Pope Francis (McMillan Publishers NZ Ltd, 2016); $37.99. Reviewed by PAT LYTHE.
15 The name of god is mercy
This book is the result of a conversation Pope Francis had with veteran Vatican reporter Andrea Tornielli.
Tornielli, struck by Pope Francis’s continual concentration on mercy, asked if he could interview him about
that. Pope Francis agreed and the book begins with an introduction by the author, explaining his interest
and method, and the following nine short chapters are Francis’s answers to Tornelli’s questions.
Pope Francis said the concept of mercy had gradually dawned on him during his years as a pastor (describing
those experiences in moving anecdotes). After a time of reflection and pondering on the Scriptures and previous
popes and other spiritual writings, he came to the certainty that mercy is God’s identity card. He quotes from chapter 16 in Ezekiel, saying that feeling shame open’s one to God’s mercy. The Latin word misericordia means opening one’s heart to wretchedness, acknowledging one’s faults and reaching out for God’s mercy.
Francis talks about Confession/ Reconciliation, saying that confession to another person is part of the healing process.
He has a series of vivid images — we don’t go to confession to get a stain “dry-cleaned” but to have a wound
healed. The sacrament should not be a “torture chamber” either, but an opportunity to experience God’s tender loving mercy.
The confessor needs to contemplate his own sins and act like the Prodigal Son’s father — being welcoming and
forgiving, not interrogating and judging.
There is never too much mercy, Francis says. But if you do not recognise yourself as a sinner or acknowledge your
smallness, you do not open yourself to mercy. Humility — the ability to recognise one’s own sinfulness — is prime.
The chapter headed the “Scholars of the Law” shows how often Jesus acted to a different kind of logic — he touched
the leper, the woman taken in adultery, the tax collector; again and again he reached out in mercy to these people
despite the laws — and so should the Church.
Mercy is real, Francis says; it is the first attribute, the name of God, not just a virtue but a doctrine of the Church. Mercy is true. Pastors are to be shepherds, not judges. Closed attitudes distance people from the Church.
Francis also addresses corruption — which he describes as sin elevated to a system where we no longer feel the need
for forgiveness but justify ourselves and our behaviours. The repentant sinner who sins again and again but acknowledges his need for mercy, differs from the corrupt person who sins and does not repent, or who sins and pretends to be Christian, going to Church on Sunday and leading a scandalous double life.
Corruption is a long slippery slope, a condition, a personal and social state in which people become accustomed
to living, not recognising that this is sinful.
Another chapter looks at the difference between mercy and compassion.
Compassion is the human virtue of suffering and sharing with another. Mercy is divine and limitless — all we need
to do is turn to God — there is nothing God cannot forgive. The last chapter is the Pope’s Bull of Indiction for the Year of Mercy.
This is a simple, powerful and moving book emphasising the tender loving mercy of God, just waiting for us to
recognise our smallness.
Pat Lythe works in the Pastoral Office and is the coordinator of the pastoral services team in Auckland diocese.