A sermon on mercy from Pope Francis

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | March 7, 2014

Coming up on the first anniversary of the his election, we have learned that Pope Francis has a way of teaching by use of simple language and colorful anecdotes. When he addresses groups of religious leaders (usually in Italian, sometimes in Spanish), we most often read news reports with scattered quotes from Pope Francis. It’s a treat when texts are made available from those meetings.

The latest treat came March 6 when Pope Francis met with priests from the Diocese of Rome in Paul VI Hall. His address to the priests was translated into English and posted online at Zenit. The pope’s reflection focused on mercy and the need for priests to possess this grace.

Pope Francis, as cardinal of Buenos Aires, Argentina, washes and kisses the feet of residents of a shelter for drug users during Holy Thursday Mass in 2008 at a church in a poor neighborhood of the city. Many Latin American church leaders have expressed appreciation for the perspective Pope Francis has taken to the Vatican. (CNS photo | Enrique Garcia Medina, Reuters)
Pope Francis, as cardinal of Buenos Aires, Argentina, washes and kisses the feet of residents of a shelter for drug users during Holy Thursday Mass in 2008 at a church in a poor neighborhood of the city. Many Latin American church leaders have expressed appreciation for the perspective Pope Francis has taken to the Vatican. (CNS photo | Enrique Garcia Medina, Reuters)

The talk was broken into three parts:

  • It is the time of mercy in the whole church;
  • What does mercy mean for priests;
  • Mercy means neither indulgence nor rigidity.

Buried near the end of the third part was one of the pope’s anecdotal gems. Not having read it elsewhere, I decided to share it here.

The story Pope Francis shares is about an elderly priest he knew in Buenos Aires who was known as a great confessor. “Almost all the clergy went to confession to him,” said Pope Francis. The priest passed away and Pope Francis, then vicar general of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, went to his funeral. Pope Francis describes what happened:

“It was a large church, very large, with a most beautiful crypt. I went down to the crypt and there was the coffin, only two elderly women were there praying, but no flowers. I thought: ‘But this man, who has forgiven the sins of the entire clergy of Buenos Aires, also mine, does not have even one flower.’

“I went out and went to a florist shop – because there are flower shops at intersections, on the streets, in places where there are people – and I bought flowers, roses. And I went back and began to arrange the coffin well, with flowers …. And I saw the rosary he had in hand … and immediately there came to my mind  — that thief that we all have inside, no?  — and while I fixed the flowers I took hold of the cross of the rosary, and with some force I detached it.

“And in that moment I looked at him and I said: ‘Give me half of your mercy.’ I felt something strong which gave me the courage to do this and to make this prayer! And then, I put that cross here, in my pocket. The pope’s shirts don’t have pockets, but I always carry here a small cloth case and since that day, up to today, that cross is with me.

“And when I have an evil thought against someone, my hand always comes here, always. And I feel the grace! I feel that it does me good. How much good does the example of a merciful priest, of a priest who comes close to the wounds.  …

“Mercy. Think of the many priests who are in heaven and ask them for this grace! May they give you the mercy that they had with their faithful. And this does one good. Thank you so much for listening and for having come here.”

Yes, just another day at the office for Pope Francis and another lesson learned for the rest of us.

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