The Path to Pope Francis' Much Beloved Virtue of Mercy

First Comes a Humble Heart

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Here is Bishop James Conley’s latest column from the Southern Nebraska Register.

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Mercy begins with humility.  Mercy is the generous forgiveness that restores relationships and rights wrongs.  Mercy is a manifestation of love in the face of sin.  But each act of mercy requires a humble heart, a heart capable of approaching another, confessing a wrong, and asking for forgiveness.  Mercy requires an awareness of our sinfulness, and an acceptance that sin is real, and harmful, and damages our relationships.

Last year, in a now famous interview by a journalist, Pope Francis, when asked how best to describe himself, told the world “I am a sinner – this is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

In a later interview, he said that he is tempted to sin regularly—to think “bad thoughts about someone,” for example, and that he must regularly fix his thoughts on the mercy of God and to remember God’s love for all sinners.

Last week, Pope Francis took an unusual opportunity to demonstrate humility.  He was leading a penance service in St. Peter’s Basilica.  Priests were stationed in confessionals throughout the basilica preparing to hear confessions in multiple languages.  While he was making his way to a designated confessional to hear confessions himself, the Holy Father, unbeknownst to those attending him, made a detour.  He stopped in front of a confessional, knelt before the crucifix, and began confessing his sins to the priest. Imagine the surprise of the priest whom providence chose to hear the pope’s confession!

In the sacrament of confession, waiting with joyful expectation, was Christ himself – offering his divine mercy to Pope Francis.
We all know humility is not an easy virtue to live in a consistent way.  But if we want to be friends of Jesus Christ, intimate disciples of the Lord, we need to approach him as sinners, sinners who are in need of mercy.

In 1931, Jesus appeared to a young Polish nun: Sister Faustina Kowalska.  He was wearing a white garment with rays of white and red emanating from his heart.  These rays, St. Faustina would later report, represented “blood and water. The white ray stands for the water that makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the blood, which is the life of souls.” 

Christ told her that “my heart overflows with great mercy for souls, and especially for poor sinners….it is for them that the blood and water flowed from my heart as from a fount overflowing with mercy.”

The Lord longs to forgive our sins.  We need only to approach him, as Pope Francis did last week, with the knowledge that our humility will draw us into an ever-deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

On April 11, St. Elizabeth Regional Medical Center will host “Divine Mercy:A Catholic Spiritual Gift,” a workshop seminar for all Catholic healthcare professionals.  The workshop will tell the story of St. Faustina Kowalska, and unpack the meaning of the Divine Mercy of Jesus Christ.  It will offer opportunities for healthcare professionals to understand the relationship between the ministry of healing and the ministry of mercy. 

I pray that all healthcare professionals will attend this workshop, and that they will approach their ministry in the hope of Christ’s divine mercy.  And I hope that all of us might approach Christ in humility, and receive his divine mercy, and be transformed!

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