During today’s general audience, which took place in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, the Pope began a new cycle of catechesis dedicated to mercy from a Biblical perspective, to foster an understanding of what mercy is through listening to what God Himself teaches us with His Word.
Francis referred to a passage from the Book of Exodus in which the Lord describes Himself as “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”. “In other texts too we encounter this formula, with some variation, but stress is always placed on the mercy and love of God Who never tires of forgiving”, he said, before going on to analyze each of these terms used in the sacred Scripture to describe God.
The word “merciful” evokes an attitude of tenderness, “like that of a mother towards her child. Indeed, the Hebrew word used in the Bible makes us think of the maternal womb. Therefore the image suggested is that of a God who is moved to tenderness for us like a mother when she holds her child in her arms, wishing only to love, protect and help him, willing to give everything, even herself. A love, then, that can be defined as … visceral”.
The Lord is full of pity and compassion; in His greatness “He stoops to those who are weak and poor, always ready to welcome, understand and forgive”. He is like the father in the parable of the prodigal son “who does not close himself in resentment at his abandonment by his youngest son, but on the contrary continues to wait for him, and then runs out to meet and embrace him. He does not even let him finish his confession … so great is his love and joy at finding him again”.
Of this merciful God it is also said that He is “slow to anger”, as if He waited before responding, breathing deeply without losing patience. “God knows how to wait: He does not have the impatience of men. He is like the wise farmer who knows how to wait, who leaves time to let the good seed grow, rather than weeds”.
Finally, the Lord proclaims Himself “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”. “How beautiful is this definition of God!”, exclaimed the Pope. “Here we find everything. Because God is great and powerful, but this greatness and power are shown in loving us, so small and incapable as we are. The word ‘to love’ as used here indicates affection, grace, goodness. It is the love that takes the first step, that does not depend upon human merits but on an immense gratuity. It is the divine solicitude that nothing can stop, not even sin, as it goes beyond sin, conquering evil and forgiving it. A faithfulness without limits: here is the last word of God’s revelation to Moses. God’s faithfulness never ceases because the Lord … never sleeps, but rather keeps watch over us continually to bring us to life”.
“God is always and completely loyal”, concluded Francis. “His is a solid and stable presence. It is the certainty of our faith. In this Jubilee of Mercy, let us trust fully in Him, to feel the joy of being loved by this merciful and clement God, slow to anger and great in love and faithfulness”.