God's mercy is bigger than any of your mistakesLast week, on Monday 24th October, Pope Francis – the first Jesuit Pope – addressed the 36th Jesuit General Congregation meeting in Rome. In this, the previous and the next blog posts we will reflect on the three ways he suggested the Jesuits can choose to carry out their mission nowadays.

The original speech, in Spanish can be found on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqrK938BBPg with the English version at http://gc36.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/20161024_Discourse_ Pope_ GC36_EN.pdf

Let ourselves be moved by our Lord placed on the cross

‘Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?’, Fr Spadaro asked Pope Francis point blank in his first interview a few months after his election. After a moment of hesitation, the Pope replied, ‘ I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon’. This deep conviction of the Lord’s mercy in looking at him and calling him to his service, is one of the strongest influences on the Pope’s life.

It was only natural that he should insist on this point in his address to his fellow Jesuits. Only when we are ready to acknowledge the Lord’s mercy to us can we take it to others who, like us, are in need of mercy. Mercy, the Pope reminds the Jesuits, ‘is not an abstract word but a lifestyle where before words come concrete gestures which touch the flesh of our neighbour and become institutionalized in works of mercy’.

The motivation for these gestures of mercy comes from the experience of the Spiritual Exercises. In the first part of the Exercises, Ignatius places me before Jesus crucified for me, and I find myself asking Jesus in wonder to help me understand what led him to show me such great mercy.

The Pope recalled that for Ignatius this experience of being at the receiving end of God’s mercy was very concrete, part of his everyday experience. He ‘lived from the pure mercy of God even in the smallest details of his life and of his person, describing his experience of mercy in these comparative terms—the more he failed the Lord, the more the Lord reached out in giving him his grace’.

Knowing we are the recipients of mercy leads us to reach out to our suffering brethren: ‘the Lord who looks at us with mercy and chooses us, sends us out to bring with all its effectiveness, that same mercy to the poorest, to sinners, to those discarded people, and those crucified in the present world, who suffer injustice and violence’.

The challenge the Pope lays down to the Jesuits – and to all those who follow Ignatius’ way to God – is clear: our suffering world cries out for mercy, and our response has to assume concrete forms in our lives. Yet, we can be effective only if we let ourselves be moved by Our Lord placed on the Cross. Our mercy is true when it comes not from a paternalistic attitude of moral superiority but from a humbled heart that knows it is itself receiving mercy.

“Only if we experience this healing power first-hand in our own wounds, as people and as a body, will we lose the fear of allowing ourselves be moved by the immense suffering of our brothers and sisters, and will we hasten to walk patiently with our people, learning from them the best way of helping and serving them.”

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