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Father Muench Says...

Is anything more important than mercy?

Feb. 3, 2016

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

I would like to share with you some ideas that I discovered from a recent book by Pope Francis, “The Name of God is Mercy.” 

This book is the result of an interview that Pope Francis gave to the Vatican Reporter, Andrea Tornelli.  As the title indicates the interview concerns Pope Francis’ message of God’s mercy.  He also explains his reasons for proclaiming the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

I found the reporter’s questions to be very personal – and Pope Francis answers them honestly.  They certainly reflect his deep spirituality and profound faith in God’s loving mercy.  The book became a spiritual journey for me.  I often paused to meditate on how I would answer these questions myself.
Pope Francis speaks of how many people think he is speaking and writing too much about mercy.   His response was simply to give a definition of mercy to demonstrate how important the whole notion of mercy is. For him nothing can be more important for our Church.

His definition is this: “Mercy is the divine attitude which embraces, it is God’s giving himself to us, accepting us, and bowing to forgive.  Mercy is God’s identity card – the Name of God is Mercy.” Can anything be more important?

He adds this: “The Church does not wait for the wounded to knock on her doors, she looks for them in the streets, she gathers them in, she embraces them, she takes care of them, she makes them feel loved.”

I was thrilled and inspired by the Pope’s words.  They are so powerful, so challenging for me as a priest.  I stopped to question myself of how I matched up to his image of a merciful and compassionate priest and confessor.  Pope Francis lays down a challenge for all of us priests.

One of the questions that Pope Francis was asked truly caused me to take some time for meditation and consideration.  He was asked, “When you think of merciful priests whom you have met or who have inspired you, who comes to mind?”  Pope Francis answers very precisely – he takes the trouble to name some priests who have inspired him.

Pope Francis tells a story about one of these priests, a certain Father Leopold.  He says: “A priest, a friend of mine, who went to confess to him, said, ‘Father, you are too generous.  I am glad to have gone to confession to you, but it seems to me that you are too generous.’ And Father Leopold said to him: ‘But who has been generous, my son?  It was the Lord who was generous, I wasn’t the one who died for our sins, it was the Lord who died for our sins.  How could he have been more generous with the thief, with others than this!”

So, I took some time to think back over my life, remembering those priests, many of them my friends, who demonstrated so well being a merciful and caring priest.  I thought of many who impressed me so much and became examples for me. I thought of many who touched my life and truly changed me because of their compassion as a confessor.

I pray that all us, priests, continue to develop our understanding of the mercy and love of God for all people – for saints and sinners – through our homilies and as confessors.

I pray especially for our young priests that they will recognize this call from Pope Francis to show and guide others with the merciful spirit of Our Savior. I pray that they will discover examples to show them the way – so that they may develop a merciful spirit in their ministry.I would hope that there will be an increase in priests, especially loving and compassionate priests. 

I believe that the spirit and the leadership of Pope Francis will help to demonstrate the heart and soul of the priestly vocation to those who hear God’s all.

I like to believe that it will be a thrilling moment for those who realize that the can bring God’s love and mercy to God’s people in our parishes.

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