You may have seen the media frenzy surrounding Pope Francis’s recent answer to a reporter’s question about homosexuality, when the pope said, “Who am I to judge?” While the worldwide media focused on this one particular response, they ignored the overall theme of the pope’s answers to questions that were thrown at him by reporters for over an hour.
The exchange between Pope Francis and reporters took place on a plane a couple of weeks ago while he was flying back to Italy from Brazil. According to John Allen, a well-known and respected Vatican reporter who writes for the National Catholic Reporter, the 76-year-old pontiff stood in the press compartment of the plane “for an hour and 20 minutes, taking questions on every topic under the sun with no filters and no limits, speaking without notes and delivering straight answers.”
Allen pointed out that “each recent pope has had a catchphrase that represents his core emphasis. For John Paul II, it was ‘Be not afraid!’ — a call to revive the church’s missionary swagger after a period of introspection and self-doubt. For Benedict, it was ‘reason and faith,’ the argument that religion shorn of self-critical reflection becomes extremism, while human reason without the orientation of ultimate truths becomes skepticism and nihilism. For Francis, his signature idea is ‘mercy.’ Over and over again, he emphasizes God’s endless capacity to forgive, insisting what the world needs to hear from the church above all today is a message of compassion.”
According to Allen, mercy was the overall focus and theme of the pope’s answers to questions. In response to a question about divorced and remarried Catholics, here’s what Pope Francis said, word for word, translated from Italian:
Mercy is a larger theme than the question you raise [divorced and remarried Catholics]. I believe this is the time of mercy. This change of epoch, also because of many problems of the church — such as the example of some priests who aren’t good, also the problems of corruption in the church — and also the problem of clericalism, for example, has left many wounds, many wounds. The church is a mother, it must reach out to heal the wounds, yes? With mercy. If the Lord never tires of forgiving, we don’t have any other path than this one: before anything else, curing the wounds, yes? It’s a mother, the church, and it must go down this path of mercy. It must find mercy for everyone, no? I think about how when the Prodigal Son returned home, his father didn’t say, “But you, listen, sit down. What did you do with the money?” No, he held a party. Then, maybe, when the son wanted to talk, he talked. The church must do the same. When there’s someone … but it’s not enough to wait for them: we must go and seek them. This is mercy. And I believe that is a kairos, this time is a kairos of mercy. John Paul II had this intuition first, when he began with Faustina Kowalska [a nun and mystic who emphasized God’s mercy], the Divine Mercy [John Paul named the second Sunday after Easter “Divine Mercy Sunday”] … he had something, he intuited that it was a necessity of this time.
The Greek word “kairos” means an appointed moment of time within the framework of God’s plan. Allen interpreted the use of the word kairos as the pope’s way of saying that this is a “special moment in history when a particular aspect of God’s plan for salvation is unfolding.”
While a number of Catholics would love to see him start whipping his fellow Catholics into shape, the Vicar of Christ on Earth has chosen instead to imitate the merciful side of our Lord. He is a true shepherd who is modeling his thoughts, words, and actions on those of Jesus. You can easily imagine the pope telling the woman who committed adultery, “Neither do I condemn thee. Go thy way and sin no more.” John 8:11. That is an example of the mercy he is talking about.
I suppose we all need to start showing more mercy toward others. Yes?