On Wednesday Pope Francis launched a new series of catechesis on mercy for his general audiences, telling pilgrims that the love and forgiveness of God can’t be overcome by anything, including our sin.
“In the Book of Exodus, God defines himself as the God of mercy. This is his name, through which he reveals to us his face and his heart,” the Pope said in his Jan 13 general audience.
The description of God as being “steadfast in love and faithfulness” is beautiful, he said, adding that this description “says everything. Because God is great and powerful, but this greatness and power unfold in loving us, so little, so incapable.”
Used in this way, the word love indicates an attitude of affection, grace and goodness, he said, distinguishing this from the type of superficial love we see in soap operas.
It’s always love that “makes the first step, that doesn't depend on human merits but gives an immense gratuity,” he said, adding that “nothing can stop divine solicitude, not even sin, because it knows how to go beyond sin, overcoming evil and forgiving it.”
Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall for his weekly general audience. This week he began a new series of catechesis dedicated to mercy according to the bible, a decision he said he made so that we can “learn mercy by listening to what God himself teaches us with his word.”
After listening to the day’s reading from Exodus, the Pope pointed to how God tells Moses that he is “the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
These words are echoed throughout the Old Testament, he said, noting that the same formula is found in other texts. Although the variations are different, “always the emphasis is put on mercy and on the love of God who never tires of forgiving.”
Francis said that when referring to God, the word “mercy” evokes an attitude of tenderness, much like the kind a mother shows toward her children.
“The image is that of a God who is moved and softens for us like a mother when she takes her child in her arms, desiring only to love, protect, help and is ready to give everything, even herself. A love, then, that can be defined in a good way as 'visceral,'” he said.
He noted how God is also referred to as “compassionate,” and that it is out of this compassion that the Lord in his greatness “bends down to whoever is weak and poor, always ready to welcome, to understand and to forgive.”
Pope Francis then referred to the parable of the Prodigal Son. After the younger son took his inheritance and squandered it, the father never abandoned him or closed himself in resentment, but continued to wait for his return.
Once the younger son came back, the father ran to meet him and embraced him, Francis said, explaining that “so great was the love and joy for having found him again, (the father) didn't even allow him to finish his confession — it's like he covered his mouth.”
Then the father called the older son and invited him in to the celebration. Even though the older son is bitter, the father “tries to open his heart to love, because no one is excluded from the feast of mercy,” the Pope observed.
Francis noted how this same merciful God is described as being “slow to anger,” and is willing to wait patiently, like a wise farmer who waits for his crop, for the seeds of repentance to grow in our hearts.
“God is totally and always reliable. He is a solid and stable presence. This is the certainty of our faith.”
Pope Francis closed his address by praying that during the Jubilee of Mercy, all would entrust themselves entirely to the Lord, “and experience the joy of being loved by this God who is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and great in love and faithfulness.”
After greeting pilgrims present from various countries around the world, the Pope offered special prayers for the victims and families of yesterday’s suicide bombing near the famous Blue Mosque in Istanbul.
At least 10 people were killed and several injured when a suicide bomber, identified as a Syrian, blew himself up in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district, which is near the Blue Mosque. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack.
In his comments, Pope Francis invited faithful to pray for the victims, and asked that the merciful God “give eternal peace to the deceased, comfort to the families, firm solidarity to society as a whole,” and that he “convert the hearts of the violent.”