The Name of God is Mercy by Pope Francis
An important and significant book – A New Reformation?
Radio 4’s “Today” programme drew my attention to this book on the day it was published, and I am glad they did.
As a Workplace Chaplain, I immediately warmed to the Pope’s remarks that, “Mostly, people are looking for someone to listen to them. Someone willing to grant them time, to listen to their dramas and difficulties… it is important. Very important.” He goes on to say, “The Church does not exist to condemn people but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God's mercy. I often say that for this to happen, it is necessary to go out: to go out from the churches, and the parishes, to go outside and look for people where they live, where they suffer, and where they hope.”
This is exactly what we as chaplains do. My own team brings together a range of churches, including the Roman Catholics, in an effective example of ongoing ecumenical cooperation. I hope people from all churches will take note of what the Pope is saying.
The book itself is in the form of an interview with Andrea Tornielli, and has been published early the Holy Year of Mercy.
The Pope is very direct in his contrast between shepherds (the role the church should fulfil) and “scholars of the law”.Biblical examples of this latter group are the scribes and Pharisees who dragged the adulterous woman before Jesus in John 8, the older brother of the Prodigal Son or the Pharisee in Luke 18.I am a Methodist and an Anglican, so I am not qualified to judge how prevalent these “scholars of the law” are in the Catholic church. But it is clear that the Pope is calling some sections of his church to a reformation of thinking every bit as radical as the Reformation of the 16th Century. The results will be interesting.
Pope Francis reminds us that “The Lord of mercy always forgives me; he offers me the possibility of starting over” and that we need to “…respond to the immense and unexpected gift of grace, a gift that is so over abundant that it may even seem ‘unfair’ in our eyes.” These remarks could easily have come from such modern writers as Philip Yancey. Read his “What’s so Amazing about Grace?” and you will see what I mean.
The book is quality, but not quantity. Between each of its nine chapters are two or three blank pages. That makes it relatively quick to read, especially with its conversational style. If I had one slight criticism it is that “men” and “he” are used throughout to refer to both men and women. It reminded me of books I read back in the 1970’s!
I hope and pray that this highly significant book does lead, in God’s grace, to a reformation where it is needed in all the Christian churches, to a convergence of thinking and a cooperation of effort as we together go out to “bring about an encounter with the visceral love that is God's mercy.”