If Blessed John Paul II was known as the “Pope of Divine Mercy,” that title now seems particularly apt for Pope Francis. Here are some beautiful observation that Jorge Mario Bergoglio made in a talk he gave in 2001, shortly after John Paul elevated him to the cardinalate:
When Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love Me?”, “his ‘Yes’ was not the result of an effort of will, it was not the fruit of a ‘decision’ made by the young man Simon: it was the emergence, the coming to the surface of an entire vein of tenderness and adherence that made sense because of the esteem he had for Him–therefore an act of reason;” it was a reasonable act, “which is why he couldn’t not say ‘Yes.’”
We cannot understand this dynamic of encounter which brings forth wonder and adherence if it has not been triggered–forgive me the use of this word–by mercy. Only someone who has encountered mercy, who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, is happy and comfortable with the Lord. I beg the theologians who are present not to turn me in to the Sant’Uffizio or to the Inquisition; however, forcing things a bit, I dare to say that the privileged locus of the encounter is the caress of the mercy of Jesus Christ on my sin. …
Jesus is encountered, just as 2,000 years ago, in a human presence, the Church, the company of those whom He assimilates to Himself, His Body, the sign and sacrament of His Presence. …
It is a question of starting to say [“Yes”] to Christ, and saying it often. It is impossible to desire it without asking for it. And if someone starts to ask for it, then he begins to change. Besides, if someone asks for it, it is because in the depths of his being he feels attracted, called, looked at, awaited. This is the experience of Augustine: there from the depths of my being, something attracts me toward Someone who looked for me first, is waiting for me first, is the almond flower of the prophets, the first to bloom in spring. It is the quality which God possesses and which I take the liberty of defining by using a Buenos Aires word: God, in this case Jesus Christ, always primerea, goes ahead of us. When we arrive, He is already there waiting.
He who encounters Jesus Christ feels the impulse to witness Him or to give witness of what he has encountered, and this is the Christian calling. To go and give witness. You can’t convince anybody. The encounter occurs. You can prove that God exists, but you will never be able, using the force of persuasion, to make anyone encounter God. This is pure grace. Pure grace. In history, from its very beginning until today, grace always primerea, grace always comes first, then comes all the rest.
* * *
For more on Divine Mercy, see Kathryn Jean Lopez’s interview with me, in which I discuss the message of my book My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.