As we begin the Lenten season and I begin my exploration of Pope Francis' wonderful book The Name of God is Mercy I wanted to just briefly introduce the text and offer an initial taste of what can be expected.
Each day through Lent I will be reflecting on an excerpt from this wonderful conversation between Pope Francis and Andrea Tornielli, a veteran Vatican journalist. This book is the transcript of a long conversation between Tornielli and Francis. It is filled with pastoral and theological reflection as well as moving stories that were formative for the man who has since become one of the most beloved and recognized religious figures in the world. It details his own experiences as a priest, and the formative moments which have led him to call the church to a deep and meaningful season of reflecting on and seeking to embody, what for Francis is the fundamental attribute of God, mercy.
The following is a brief excerpt from the preface to the reader that will give you a taste of what is still to come...
The Holy Year is a consequence of this message and the centrality it has always had in Francis' preaching. On March 13, 2015, while I was listening to the homily of the penitential liturgy at the end of which the Pope would announce the proclamation of the exceptional Holy Year, I thought how wonderful it would be to ask him a few questions that focused on the theme of mercy and forgiveness, to analyze what those words mean to him, as a man and a priest. I was unconcerned with getting a few punchy phrases that might become part of the media debate around the Synod of the Family, which often felt like a king of match between fans of opposing teams. Without getting caught up in the casuistry, I liked the idea of an interview that would reveal the heart of Francis and his vision. I wanted a text that would open doors, especially during this Holy Year, when the Church wants to show, in a very special and even more significant way, its face of mercy.
The Pope accepted my suggestion. This book is the fruit of the conversations that began in his lodgings in Saint Martha's House in the Vatican on a muggy afternoon last July, a few days after his return from a journey to Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay. With very little advance notice, I had sent ahead a list of topics and questions I wanted to cover. I arrived with three recording devices. Francis was waiting for me sitting at a table with a Bible concordance on it and some quotations from the Church Fathers. You can read the contents of our conversations in the pages that follow.
I hope that the interviewee will not be offended if I reveal a backstage episode that I find particularly telling. We discussed the difficulties of acknowledging ourselves as sinners, and in the first draft I wrote that Francis asserted, "The medicine is there, the healing is there -- if only we take a small step toward God." After reading the text, he called me and asked me to add "or even just the desire to take that step." It was a phrase that I had clumsily left out of my summary. This addition, or rather, the proper restoration of the complete text, reveals the vast heart of the shepherd who seeks to align himself with the merciful heart of God and leaves nothing untried in reaching out to sinners. He overlooks no possibility, no matter how small, in attempting to give the gift of forgiveness. God awaits us with open arms; we need only take a step toward him like the Prodigal Son. But if, weak as we are, we don't have the strength to take that step, just the desire to take it is enough. It's already enough of a start for grace to work and mercy to be granted in accordance with the experience of a Church that does not see itself as a customs office but as an agent that seeks out every single possible way to forgive. (xviii-xix)