On “The Name of God is Mercy”


The Name of God is Mercy is an extended interview with Pope Francis, turned into a book, exploring his reflections on and experiences of God’s heavenly mercy. In it, he elaborates on the reasons he called for this Jubilee Year of Mercy that we are now celebrating. The book came out earlier this year, and I’ve just finished reading it. I encourage everyone else to read it as well. At only 100 short pages in length, it is accessible, encouraging, and challenging all at the same time.

Throughout the questions and responses contained in this book, Pope Francis turns again and again to themes we have heard him emphasize since the beginning of his pontificate. He talks about how important it is for us to recognize and be conscious of our own sinfulness, because doing so helps draw us closer to God. He talks about the merciful nature of God, who seeks to heal and forgive over and over again. He explores the ways in which we can open ourselves to receive God’s forgiveness and the Lord’s insistent openness to be forgiving, to the point that he seeks out any tiny crack where he can enter in and reach us. Francis emphasizes that this message of mercy is at the core of the Gospel and the heart of the Church, and he speaks to the ways the Church can (and does) reach actively outward with mercy. He speaks extensively about the Sacrament of Confession. He brings up the experience of the family. And he offers guidance on living the Holy Year of Mercy.

A Few Quotes from The Name of God Is Mercy

Answering the question, “What is mercy for you?”

Etymologically, “mercy derives from misericordis, which means opening one’s heart to wretchedness. And immediately we go to the Lord: mercy is the divine attitude which embraces, it is God’s giving himself to us, accepting us, and bowing to forgive. (pp. 8-9)

On Confession:

We are social beings, and forgiveness has a social implication; my sin wounds mankind, my brothers and sisters, and society as a whole. Confessing to a priest is a way of putting my life into the hands and heart of someone else, someone who in that moment acts in the name of Jesus. (pp. 21-22)

On recognizing our need:

The Church Fathers teach us that a shattered heart is the most pleasing gift to God. It is the sign that we are conscious of our sins, of the evil we have done, of our wretchedness, and of our need for forgiveness and mercy. (p. 32)

On God’s desire to encounter us:

God waits; he waits for us to concede him only the smaller glimmer of space so that he can enact his forgiveness and his charity within us. Only he who has been touched and caressed by the tenderness of his mercy really knows the Lord. For this reason I have often said that the place where my encounter with the mercy of Jesus takes place is my sin. (p. 34)

At one point, Francis offers a beautiful testimony from Blessed Pope Paul VI:

“For me it has always been a great mystery of God to be in wretchedness and to be in the presence of the mercy of God. I am nothing. I am wretched. God the Father loves me, he wants to save me, he wants to remove me from the wretchedness in which I find myself, but I am incapable of doing it myself. And so he sends his Son, a Son who brings the mercy of God translated into an act of love toward me…. But you need a special grace for this, the grace of a conversion. Once I recognize this, God works in me through his Son.” (Bl. Paul VI, quoted pp. 39-40)

On the Church during the Jubilee Year of Mercy:

I hope that the Jubilee will serve to reveal the Church’s deeply maternal and merciful side, a Church that goes forth toward those who are “wounded,” who are in need of an attentive ear, understanding, forgiveness, and love. (p. 53)

On the possibility of starting over:

The most important thing in the life of every man and every woman is not that they should never fall along the way. The important thing is to get back up, not to stay on the ground licking your wounds. The Lord of mercy always forgives me; he always offers me the possibility of starting over. He loves me for what I am, he wants to raise me up, and he extends his hand to me. This is one of the tasks of the Church: to help people perceive that there are no situations that they cannot get out of. For as long as we are alive it is always possible to start over, all we have to do is let Jesus embrace us and forgive us. (p. 60)

On being a disciple:

Jesus sends forth his disciples not as holders of power or as masters of a law. He sends them forth into the world asking them to live in the logic of love and selflessness. (p. 93)

On the most important things a believer should do during the Holy Year of Mercy:

He should open up to the Mercy of God, open up his heart and himself, and allow Jesus to come toward him by approaching the confessional with faith. And he should try and be merciful with others. (p. 97)

On giving what we have received:

We have received freely, we give freely. We are called to serve Christ the Crucified through every marginalized person. We touch the flesh of Christ in he who is outcast, hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, ill, unemployed, persecuted, in search of refuge. That is where we find our God, that is where we touch the Lord. (p. 98)

Index of Themes

I compiled this index while reading through the book. The page numbers point back to quotes or passages exploring each theme.

  • Consciousness of our sinfulness – x, 8, 32, 35, 39, 51, 58, 59, 67, 70, 81, 84
  • Opening to receive forgiveness/God’s openness to forgive – x, 10, 25, 31-35, 32, 33-34, 51, 70, 86
  • The merciful nature of God – xi, xv, 5, 8, 10, 25, 51, 52, 59, 65, 70
  • Church reaching outward – xi, 6, 17, 33, 52, 53, 67, 80
  • Healing wounds/woundedness – xi, 6, 15, 53, 59, 67
  • Guidance for disciples – 5, 67, 87, 93, 97, 98, 99
  • Mercy as core of Gospel, Church – 7, 51, 52, 59
  • The love of God is for sinners – 7, 8, 10, 17, 51, 59
  • Receiving mercy to give it – 13, 67, 98
  • Sacrament of Confession – 13, 17, 21-28, 22, 23, 33, 59
  • “Apostolate of the ear” (merciful listening) – 17, 99
  • Social implication of sin – 21, 80
  • Quote – Testimony from Bl. Paul VI – 39
  • Holy Year – 53, 97, 97-99
  • Mercy in the Family – 87

Michael Owens is the Coordinator of Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Washington.

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