I was struck by Jeremy Lott’s year-end piece at Real Clear Religion: “The Year of the Sinner.” Apparently, Pope Francis (it is so much easier for non-Catholics to have a pope without Roman numerals after his regnal name) caused a stir in some quarters by telling America that Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s basic identity is that of a sinner: “I do not know what might be the most fitting description…. I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”
A few took issue with the statement, suggesting that defining oneself as a sinner is psychologically and spiritually unhealthy.
Reading Lott’s essay encouraged me to read the entire interview at America. I haven’t followed Pope Francis’s first year closely, although I did read John Fea’s coverage of “Evagelii Gaudium.”
Now that I have read the America interview, I realize that Lott both properly and somewhat inaccurately praised Francis. The pope certainly affirmed his identity as a sinner, but he did not stop there:
the best summary, the one that comes more from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon … I am one who is looked upon by the Lord. I always felt my motto, Miserando atque Eligendo [By Having Mercy and by Choosing Him], was very true for me.
The interviewer (Antonio Spadaro, S.J.) explains: The motto is taken from the Homilies of Bede the Venerable, who writes in his comments on the Gospel story of the calling of Matthew: “Jesus saw a publican, and since he looked at him with feelings of love and chose him, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’” The pope adds: “I think the Latin gerund miserando is impossible to translate in both Italian and Spanish. I like to translate it with another gerund that does not exist: misericordiando [“mercy-ing”].
A bit later on: Then the pope whispers in Latin: “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.”
So perhaps 2013 is, at least in terms of the new pope, a year of “mercy-ing.” A year of having mercy on disfigured outcasts. A year of choosing to spend time with the poor and lowly. Washing and kissing the feet of juvenile offenders. A year of being less combative and judgmental toward those who disagree with Catholic doctrine. A year of humility.
And I find it not unhealthy at all to remember that I am a sinner to whom Christ has chosen to show mercy.
Mercy-ing … a good theme for all Christians in 2014 as well.