By Patrick Howell, SJ
“The Lord has remembered his mercy.” (Luke 1:46-47)
The psalm response for today (June 27) is emblematic of the ministry of Pope Francis. He has made mercy and compassion a hallmark of his service as pope. His motto for his coat of arms “miserando atque eligendo” is a passage taken from the Venerable Bede on the feast of St. Matthew. It translates roughly as “in his mercy, he has chosen me.” In the relevant Gospel passage, Jesus sees Matthew and he gazes on him “by having mercy and by choosing,” and then says to him, “follow me.” Pope Francis explained his own profound experience of forgiveness and vocation, following confession at the age of 17, when he felt the loving presence of God in a heartfelt, special way. Ever since then he has felt enveloped by the mercy of God, who with a gaze of tender love chose him.
In these past 28 months, Francis has manifested this mercy in almost every action and gesture.
On the anniversary of his election as pope (March 13), he proclaimed a Jubilee Year of Divine Mercy to begin on the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council (December 8, 1965—the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary). It will close on the feast of Christ the King (Nov. 20, 2016).
The Sunday readings during this Year of Divine Mercy will be taken from the Gospel of Luke, often referred to as "the evangelist of mercy." Luke presents the well-known parables of mercy—such as the lost sheep, the lost coin and the merciful father. Pope Francis is certainly seeking out the least, the lost, and the last.
Patrick Howell, S.J., is the Chair of Conversations magazine and professor of pastoral theology at Seattle University.