Year of Mercy-ing

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.

  • FW Ken

    Well-said. Most of the debates raging about the pope stem from his insistence that moral pronouncements belong in the context of the whole gospel message: God has sent His Son into the world to save the world. It’s a lot simpler to say that abortion is evil and same-sex marriage too. That gives the world something easy to understand and reject. Mercy, however, calls out to the part of us that all healthy people recognize, which is an abiding sense of incompleteness, sinfulness if you will. Our hearts are restless until they rest in God, per St. Augustine.

  • AMBurgess

    Thanks for this post, John. You’ve provided me with a lot to meditate on as the new year begins.


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