Music to the Father’s ears


On many occasions at the start of his pontificate, Pope Francis has talked about how God’s mercy touched him at a very young age. Often understood merely as God’s compassion, mercy is more than that. Aside from its capacity to heal one’s brokenness, it has the power to transform a person, and to cultivate a spirit of zeal and mission that enables one to share this wonderful and concrete expression of God’s love.





Back in the last quarter of the past century, the Church in the United Kingdom was blessed with a very fine leader in the person of Cardinal Basil Hume, a Benedictine monk who had been abbot of his community before being appointed Archbishop of Westminster in 1976. Cardinal Hume passed away in June 1999, after having been diagnosed just two months earlier with abdominal cancer. Despite that, he used those two months well, including arranging for his funeral. He organized everything, from the people to be invited, the music he wanted, the place where he wished to be buried in his Cathedral, down to the prayers and readings for his Requiem Mass.

He also chose the homilist, his close friend Bishop John Crowley and, in particular, asked him to explain his choice of Gospel for the Mass, a rather unusual reading for a funeral: Jesus’ Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican in Luke 18:9-14. “When I became an abbot,” the Cardinal told his friend, “and even more when I became archbishop and cardinal, I used to ask the Lord: ‘Make me a good abbot, let me be a good bishop, allow me to become a good cardinal.’ Yet now that I know I will very soon be meeting the Father face to face, I realize that this prayer, however sincere and beautiful in its way, is not the prayer He longs to hear from me. No, the prayer that is truly music to the Father’s ears is another; it is this: ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “Those,” concluded the Cardinal, “are the words I want on my lips as I go to the Father.”



Cardinal Hume had made a great discovery. Right at the end of his life, a good and holy life, he had seen and experienced the Father’s mercy. When we come to know that mercy, we experience the pinnacle, the center, the heart, the masterpiece of His love. The Cardinal recognized that God’s forgiveness is not merely a “repair job,” a setting right of what has gone wrong or a return to the ways things were before we sinned. No. When the Father forgives us, He creates us anew; He makes the desert flower; He leads us to a new and deeper experience of how He loves us, of how much He loves, of how infinitely precious we are in His sight. The experience of the Father’s mercy is always the place where a grace of growth and transformation is offered us; the place where we come to know, just a little more, the Father’s tender, creative, patient faithfulness to each one of us.

In addition, experiencing the Father’s compassion and mercy allows us to come to know the power of the Resurrection here and now. It is no accident that the Exultet, the great hymn of joy and praise that the Church sings on Easter night, is one mighty trumpet blast of exultation in the wonderful mercy of God:

Our birth would have been no gain,

had we not been redeemed.

O wonder of Your humble care for us!

O love, O charity beyond all telling,

to ransom a slave You gave away 

Your Son!

O truly necessary sin of Adam,

destroyed completely by 

the Death of Christ!

O happy fault

that earned for us so great, 

so glorious a Redeemer!



“Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom 5, 20). God’s mercy is God’s mercy and is, therefore, filled with a power that has no equal. It is of this mercy that Paul sings in a famous New Testament passage: Love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Cor 13). 

There is a beautiful image that can perhaps help us visualize this. An American potter went to Japan for a visit. When he opened his luggage, he found that the ceramic vessels he had brought as gifts for his friends were broken during the journey. He threw them in the waste basket, thinking that it was the end of the story. Great was his surprise when, at the end of his trip, his host presented him with the same vessels – repaired with silver! Thus, he discovered the Japanese tradition of kintsugi. He recounts, “I was rather astonished, as I’d thought that putting them in the waste basket was the last I’d ever see of them. Mr. Kanzaki laughed, as he noticed my incredulity, and said: ‘Now, even better than when you brought them!’ Remarkable! Gifting back to me the cups I’d brought as gifts…only now more valuable than they originally were.”

In reality, kintsugi, in its finest form, uses gold to repair broken vessels. In this way, brokenness makes the vessel far more precious than when it was whole or “perfect.” This is the miracle of mercy: God’s love transforms our experience of sin and fragility into a new, deeper and more real encounter with Him. There is no need to hide our “cracks.” In fact, they are the most beautiful thing about us!



At this point, we can say this with great clarity and conviction: a deep experience of the Father’s mercy equips a person to engage in mission. Mercy is the furnace where the vessel of mission is refined; it is the engine room where the power of mission is generated; it is the score from which the song of mission is sung.

Think, for example, of the call of Peter in the Gospel of Luke. Amazed and awed by the miraculous catch of fish, poor Peter became frightened and fell to his knees before Jesus, crying out: “Lord, depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus’ response was surprising. He did not reply, “Yes, Peter, I know you are a sinner, but I forgive you.” Instead, He said: “Do not be afraid. Do not fear your sins (Jesus does not deny that Peter is indeed a sinner!). Do not fear your sinfulness, but rather focus on the potential that My merciful Father sees in you, on the plans my Father’s compassion has for you, on the people your own experience of mercy will allow you to touch, help, lead and heal.”

 The experience of the Father’s mercy is always a call; it is always a mission. Because of mercy, we can somehow comprehend and live out the beautiful words of Pope Francis in his letter on the Joy of the Gospel: “My mission of being in the heart of the people is not just a part of my life or a badge I can take off; it is not an “extra” or just another moment in life. Instead, it is something I cannot uproot from my being without destroying my very self. I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world. We have to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing” (273).



Mission begins in mercy; mission proclaims mercy; and the method of mission is mercy. This could not have been better expounded by the following lines from Pope Benedict’s second book on Jesus of Nazareth: “It is part of the mystery of God that He acts so gently, that He only gradually builds up His history within the great history of humankind; that He becomes Man and so can be overlooked by His contemporaries and by the decisive forces within history; that He suffers and dies and that, having risen again, He chooses to come to humankind only through the faith of the disciples to whom He reveals Himself; that He continues to knock gently at the doors of our hearts and slowly opens our eyes if we open our doors to Him.” “And yet,” Pope Benedict continues, “is not this the truly divine way? Not to overwhelm with external power, but to give freedom, to offer and elicit love.” (Emphasis/italics are mine.)

Note the adverbs in the passage: God acts “gently,” “gradually,” “slowly.” These are the adverbs of a mission born of mercy. And this is the mission to which we are called. For the experience of being forgiven, when it is authentic, draws us to be forgiving, compassionate and patient. In our own little and always imperfect way, we begin to reflect, to enflesh the Father’s mercy in all its gentle yet irresistible power. And this is the only power which, in the end, will renew the face of the earth.  

Share Your Thoughts

All comments are moderated

From The Same Issue

The articles and content about this issue

From The Same Issue

The articles and content about this issue

From This Topic

The articles and content about this topic

From This Topic

The articles and content about this topic

Explore Other Topics

Browse other coverage

Explore Other Topics

Browse other coverage


Presents, discusses and draws readers to reflect on issues of outmost relevance to the world today.


Very often, mission is carried out in frontier situations around the world. Those who embrace these situations have much to share.


Writer Ilsa Reyes will be exploring the richness of Pope Francis’s latest encyclical Fratelli Tutti with a view of helping our readers to get a grasp of the this beautiful papal document.


Puts to the front committed and inspiring people around the world who embrace humanitarian and religious causes with altruism and passion.


Focus on a given theme of interest touching upon social, economic and religious issues.


As the Philippines prepares to celebrate 500 years of the arrival of Christianity. Fr. James Kroeger leads us in this series into a discovery journey of the landmark events in the history of faith in the Philippine archipelago.


Aims to nurture and inspire our hearts and minds while pondering upon timely themes.


The large archipelago of the Philippines, in its richness of peoples and cultures, offers varied and challenging situations for mission.


Reflections and vocation stories that shape up the lives of young people.


As humor and goodness of heart are qualities of Christian and missionary life, the new column “Mission is fun” will be publishing some anecdotes and stories that have happened in a missionary context to lighten up the spirits and trigger a smile in our faces.


To help readers of World Mission live this year dedicated to Ecumenism, Interreligious Dialogue and Indigenous Peoples, Tita Puangco, writer and lecturer, shares in this section insights on the spirituality of communion.


A historic view of the Catholic movements that emerged from the grassroots as an inspiration by the Holy Spirit.


On the Year of Ecumenism, Interreligious Dialogue and Indigenous Peoples, radio host and communicator Ilsa Reyes, in her monthly column, encourages Christians and people of good will to be one with their fellow people of other sects, religions and tribes.


Questions to a personality of the Church or secular world on matters of interest that touch upon the lives of people.


News from the Church, the missionary world and environment that inform and form the consciences.


A feature on environmental issues that are affecting the whole world with the view of raising awareness and prompting action.


The editor gives his personal take on a given topic related to the life of the Church, the society or the world.


A monthly column on themes touching the lives of young people in the Year of the Youth in the Philippines by radio host and communicator I lsa Reyes.


A missionary living in the Chinese world shares his life-experiences made up of challenges and joyous encounters with common people.


Life stories of people who deserve to be known for who they were, what they did and what they stood for in their journey on earth.


Stories of people whom a missionary met in his life and who were touched by Jesus in mysterious ways.


Critical reflection from a Christian perspective on current issues.


Comboni missionary Fr. Lorenzo Carraro makes a journey through history pinpointing landmark events that changed the course of humanity.


A biographical sketch of a public person, known for his/her influence in the society and in the Church, showing an exemplary commitment to the service of others.


Gives fresh, truthful, and comprehensive information on issues that are of concern to all.


A column aimed at helping the readers live their Christian mission by focusing on what is essential in life and what it entails.


Peoples, events, religion, culture and the society of Asia in focus.


The human heart always searches for greatness in God’s eyes, treading the path to the fullness of life - no matter what it takes.


The subcontinent of India with its richness and variety of cultures and religions is given center stage.


The African continent in focus where Christianity is growing the fastest in the world.


Well-known writer and public speaker, Fr. Jerry Orbos, accompanies our journey of life and faith with moments of wit and inspiration based on the biblical and human wisdom.


On the year dedicated to St. Ignatius of Loyala, Fr. Lorenzo Carraro walks us through the main themes of the Ignatian spirituality.


Fr. John Taneburgo helps us to meditate every month on each of the Seven Last Words that Jesus uttered from the cross.


In this section, Fr. Lorenzo delves into the secrets and depths of the Sacred Scriptures opening for us the treasures of the Sacred Book so that the reader may delight in the knowledge of the Word of God.


Reflections about the synodal journey on a conversational and informal style to trigger reflection and sharing about the synodal path the Church has embarked upon.

Shopping Cart