Third Sunday of Lent, reading excerpts from John L Allen’s new book The Francis Miracle: Inside the Transformation of the Pope and the Church:
Mercy is a traditional virtue, not just in Christianity but most human cultures. It has always been on the books in official Christian teaching and is understood to be the natural complement to judgment. As a minister of the Christian gospel, Francis understands that he has to pronounce both God’s judgment and God’s mercy on a fallen world, because one without the other would be a falsification. His calculation, however, appears to be that the world has heard the Church’s judgment with crystal clarity, so now it’s time to witness its mercy.
Francis’s commitment to mercy is found in his papal motto, translated loosely as “choosing through the eyes of mercy.” In his first Sunday homily as pope, delivered at the Vatican’s parish church of St. Anne, he said that “in my opinion, the strongest message of the Lord is mercy.”
In all the ways that matter, mercy is the spiritual bedrock of this papacy. It lies underneath Francis’s moderation and his insistence that laws are made for people, not the other way around. It’s the basis for his missionary drive, especially the conviction that people at the periphery should be special objects of the Church’s concern. Mercy is even the core of his reform campaign — the idea that good government is about making an institution serve its people.
It’s not empirically obvious that Pope Francis has created a more merciful Catholic Church, or that mercy has taken hold to any greater degree in the wider world because of his example. There’s legitimate ground for skepticism that mercy can serve as the basis of a complex multinational religious organization. The drama of the Francis era, however, is surely contained in the effort to make mercy the key — and whether Francis will prove tough enough to make that message stick.