Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
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Heart speaks to heart!
Pope Francis: apostle of mercy
by John Fencik, for the Inland Register
(From the November 19, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)
On Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the 50th anniversary of the closing of Vatican II, we will begin the extraordinary jubilee Year of Mercy. Pope Francis announced this jubilee last March – a time to celebrate the compassion and mercy of God – a mercy that indeed knows no bounds! The theme of this year is found in Luke 6.36: Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful!
Since his election, Pope Francis has consistently been an “Apostle of Mercy.” In his very first Sunday Angelus reflection he said: “Mercy is the Lord’s most powerful message. It is not easy to trust oneself to the mercy of God, because his mercy is an unfathomable abyss – but we must do it!” Why is mercy so central to his preaching and writings?
As a bishop in his native Argentina (1992), he chose as his motto Miserando atque eligendo (“Lowly, but chosen”). These words refer to a moment that changed his life. When he was 17, he emerged from a confessional and found his priestly vocation. He said: “A strange thing happened to me.... It was a surprise, the astonishment of an encounter.... This is the religious experience: the astonishment of encountering someone who was waiting for you.... God is the one who seeks us first.”
The motto comes from “Homily 22” of Venerable Bede (672-735) on the call of Matthew: Jesus saw the tax collector and by having mercy chose him as an apostle saying to him: “Follow me.” This is how Pope Francis perceives his own vocation.
This motto also reveals how important that Gospel encounter has been for him. The meeting of Jesus and Matthew is captured in a beautiful painting by the Italian painter Michelangelo Caravaggio (1571-1610). Pope Francis said: “When I had to come to Rome … I often visited the Church of St. Louis of France, and I went there to contemplate the painting of ‘The Calling of St. Matthew’ by Caravaggio.”
In the painting Jesus faces the tax collector who is seated at a table. Jesus’ finger is pointing at Matthew, summoning him to leave all and follow him. Pope Francis said: “That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew. It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff. ‘I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.’”
The finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew, seems to exactly replicate Michelangelo’s finger of God in the creation of Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Pope Francis has also described himself as “a radically converted Christian disciple who has felt the mercy of God in his own life … a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”
Jorge Bergoglio – Pope Francis – heard the call to radical conversion long ago and responded to the mercy of God. As Pope Francis, he wants everyone to hear that unceasing call to be touched by the compassionate mercy of God through Christ and his Church. Our response like his can indeed be life-changing!
(John Fencik is director of Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services of Spokane.)
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