Proclaiming God’s boundless mercy


Pope Francis has titled his message for World Mission Sunday 2016 as "Missionary Church, Witness of Mercy." Francis centers his reflections on “Mission and Mercy” since, this year, the Church is celebrating the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. This presentation simply highlights seven pivotal themes emerging from the thought of Pope Francis.




Francis: Pope of Mercy

Pope Francis continually insists that mercy is the very essence of God; he expresses it this way: “Jesus said that He came not for those who were good, but for the sinners. He did not come for the healthy, who do not need a doctor, but for the sick. For this reason, we can say that mercy is God’s identity card, God of Mercy, Merciful God. For me, this really is the Lord’s identity.” This quote is taken from The Name of God is Mercy, released this year (January 12, 2016) in 86 countries and in about 20 languages; it is the first book of Pope Francis since his election to the papacy on March 13, 2013. Other earlier books are compilations of a wide variety of Francis’ “mercy quotes” drawn from his speeches and homilies: The Church of Mercy (April 25, 2014) and A Year of Mercy with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections (November 11, 2014).

Undoubtedly, Pope Francis is the “pope of mercy.” Filipinos experienced this directly and personally during his January 2015 visit to the country that centered on the theme: mercy and compassion. Archbishop Socrates Villegas, CBCP President, observed: “Our compassionate shepherd comes to show his deep concern for our people who have gone through devastating calamities, especially in the Visayas. He comes to confirm us in our faith as we face the challenges of witnessing the joy of the Gospel in the midst of our trials. This is an eloquent way of showing mercy and compassion.”


Teacher of Mercy

Although a vast amount of “mercy material” from Pope Francis is available, probably the best source (readily found on the internet) is Francis’ document, Misericordiae Vultus [MV] (The Face of Mercy) [April 11, 2015], wherein he proclaimed an entire year of mercy, extending from December 8, 2015 [50th anniversary of the close of Vatican II] to November 20, 2016 [Feast of Christ the King]. Francis 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).

Pope 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 addresses suffering/ “poverty” of various types in the world: physical, spiritual, personal, structural, psychological, etc. Mercy is demanding; it is not easy. Yes, its demands are often inconvenient and unpredictable; it impinges on our personal plans and schedules. We cannot calculate when mercy will be demanded of us. Mercy must spring from God’s love in our hearts (Rm 5:5); it is not only giving things, but giving ourselves. We strive to practice mercy in a manner that respects and restores the dignity of the recipient of our kindness.


God, Father of Mercy

In his Mission Sunday message, Francis notes that, when mercy is shown, “it brings deep joy to the Father’s heart.” One notes that Scripture clearly affirms that God is “the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation” (2 Cor 1:3). Our God is “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4), Dives in Misericordia. God reveals His very identity to Moses as “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6). One of Jesus’ best known parables is that of the “merciful father,” often known as the parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32). The magnanimous father shows his overflowing love, mercy and compassion to both of his sons. There is great rejoicing because the younger brother, presumably dead, has returned alive. A close reading of this narrative reveals the overflowing mercy and tenderness of the compassionate father.


Jesus, Face of the Father’s Mercy

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 “felt deep compassion” for the crowds (Mt 9:36). He is moved with mercy and compassion when He sees people in need. 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] (Mt 9:9). Jesus spoke many parables devoted to mercy: the lost sheep, the lost coin, in addition to the father with two sons (Lk 15:4-7, 8-10, 11-32).


Church, Community of Mercy

Again, in his Mission Sunday message, Francis notes that “the Church, in the midst of humanity, is first of all the community that lives by the mercy of Christ.” “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 … and when she brings people close to the sources of the Savior’s mercy, of which she is the trustee and dispenser” (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…. As the Church is charged with the task of the new evangelization, the theme of mercy needs to be proposed again and again with new enthusiasm and renewed pastoral action…. In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy” (MV 12).


Christians, Missionaries of God’s Mercy

Pope Francis frequently returns to the theme of mercy, noting that God’s merciful love “is witnessed to by many men and women of every age and condition.” He notes “the considerable and growing presence of women in the missionary world.” It is significant that, on September 4, the Church celebrated the canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was known all over the world for her genuine, loving, selfless care of the poorest of the poor, no matter what their race or religion. She remains a model of the missionary Church as a witness to the Father’s mercy. Saint Teresa of Calcutta manifests the sincere service of life that the Church asks of each of us – right in the ordinariness of our own daily situation. 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!”


Mary, Mother of Mercy

Pope Francis concludes his Mission Sunday message by invoking Mary, “sublime icon of redeemed humanity”; he asks her to “fill us all with joyful mercy.” Similarly, Francis had noted 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 [Lk 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…. Send Your Spirit, so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace, and Your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor.”

* James H. Kroeger, MM, is professor of systematic and mission theology at Loyola School of Theology, East Asian Pastoral Institute, and Mother of Life Catechetical Center in Manila. He may be contacted at:

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