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Proclaiming God’s Boundless Mercy

A vast amount of “mercy material” from Pope Francis is available. However, probably the best source is Francis’ 2015 document, Misericordiae Vultus [MV] (The Face of Mercy), wherein he proclaimed an entire year of mercy (2015-2016) to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the close of Vatican Council II (1965).

Francis, the “Pope of Mercy,” says: “We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace…. Mercy [is] the bridge that connects God and man” (MV, 2). Francis calls Christians to a renewed practice of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy (cf. MV, 15). “Let us enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy” (MV, 15).

Our daily “living-in-mercy” is a duty for every Christian. It is not optional.  Mercy is challenging. The demands of mercy are often inconvenient and unpredictable. It impinges on our personal plans and schedules. We cannot calculate when mercy will be demanded of us.



Francis notes that when mercy is shown, “it brings deep joy to the Father’s heart.” Scripture clearly affirms that God is “the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation” (2 Corinthians, 1:3). Our God is “rich in mercy”, dives in misericordia (Ephesians, 2:4). One of Jesus’ well-known parables is that of the “merciful father” (though it is often known as the parable of the prodigal son): Luke, 15:11-32. The magnanimous father shows his overflowing love, mercy, and compassion to both of his sons. The parable reveals the overflowing mercy and tenderness of the compassionate father.



Francis writes: “Mercy finds its most noble and complete expression in the Incarnate Word. Jesus reveals the face of the Father who is rich in mercy.” In Jesus of Nazareth, mercy has become living and visible.  Jesus’ entire life and “his person is nothing but love, a love given gratuitously…. The signs he works, especially in the face of sinners, the poor, the marginalized, the sick, and the suffering, are all meant to teach mercy.  Everything in him speaks of mercy. Nothing in him is devoid of compassion” (MV, 8).

Jesus often “felt deep compassion” for the crowds (Matthew, 9:36). He is moved with merciful compassion when he sees needy people. His mercy overflows when he invites Matthew the tax collector to follow him. He looked at Matthew with merciful love and chose him: miserando atque eligendo [Francis’ episcopal motto] (Matthew, 9:9). Jesus spoke many parables devoted to mercy: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the father with two sons (Luke, 15:4-7, 8-10, 11-32).



“Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers. Nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love…. The Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy” (MV, 11). “The Church is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel, which in its own way must penetrate the heart and mind of every person” (MV, 12).



Pope Francis frequently emphasizes the theme of mercy, noting that God’s merciful love “is witnessed to by many men and women of every age and condition.”  Francis asserts that God’s mercy “is all the more necessary when we consider how many injustices, wars, and humanitarian crises still need resolution.” Francis frequently reminds priests (and all of us): “For the love of Jesus Christ, never tire of being merciful! … Have mercy, great mercy!”



Pope Francis notes in Misericordiae Vultus: “My thoughts now turn to the Mother of Mercy…. No one has penetrated the profound mystery of the incarnation like Mary. Her entire life was patterned after the presence of mercy made flesh….  She treasured divine mercy in her heart….  Her hymn of praise [Luke, 1:46-55] was dedicated to the mercy of God. At the foot of the cross, Mary, together with John, the disciple of love, witnessed the words of forgiveness spoken by Jesus.  This supreme expression of mercy towards those who crucified him shows us the point to which the mercy of God can reach” (MV, 24).

Pope Francis’ Prayer for the Jubilee of Mercy sums up his vision: “Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father…. You are the face of the invisible Father, the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy. Let your Church be your visible face in the world.”

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