Emotional Health · News

The Message of Easter Is Mercy

Forgiveness by  Kate WaresOn Wednesday, March 13, white smoke billowed from the chimney that had been installed to announce the election of the pope who would succeed Pope Benedict XVI. And then the announcement was made: Habemus Papam (We have a Pope!). The cardinal elected was Jorge Bergoglio, a 75-year-old Argentinian Jesuit, who took the name Francis I in honor of St. Francis of Assisi and because of his own concern for the well-being of the poor.  It is unlikely that this new pope is going to promote any changes to Roman Catholic moral doctrine or advocate for the ordination of women to either the diaconate or the priesthood. But in very brief time since he was elected he has set an impressive tone and an example of simplicity and compassion.

Pope Francis delivered his first Sunday Angelus prayer and address from his papal apartment on Sunday, March 17. The theme of his address was mercy and forgiveness. He told about meeting a very old woman at a religious festival in Buenos Aires. He asked her, “Grandmother, would you like to make your confession if you have sinned?” She said, “We all have sinned.” He then asked her, “What if he should not forgive you?” to which she replied, “The Lord forgives everything.” He then asked her how she knew this to be the case. She replied, “If the Lord had not forgiven all, then the world would not still be here.” Pope Francis used this conversation to illustrate his conviction that the Lord never tires of forgiving. He said, “Let us not forget this word: God never tires of forgiving us, but we sometimes tire of asking Him to forgive us . . . Let us never tire of asking God’s forgiveness.”

Francis used as his text John 8:1–11, in which a woman who has been caught committing adultery is brought before Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees. They challenged him by reminding him that in the law Moses had said the punishment for adultery was death by stoning, and asked him what ought to be done.  After writing pensively in the dirt, Jesus said, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  One by one the accusers walked away until Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” Francis summarized the meaning of the text in one word: mercy.  “Mercy is the Lord’s powerful message. God has the ability to forget: He forgets our sins, he kisses you, he embraces you, and he says to you, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go and from now on, sin no more.’”

The old woman with whom Pope Francis spoke was correct—if the Lord had not forgiven all, we would not be here.  This is the message that Christians have to proclaim about Easter, that celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus three days after his crucifixion.  Rather than stoning us or destroying us on account of our sin, the Lord has forgiven and saved.

The message of Easter is that we have a God who never tires of forgiving us. The message of Easter is a message of mercy, not of judgment. The message of Easter is that God has the ability to forgive and the ability to forget. God has the ability and the desire to embrace us. The Christian message is that we have only to trust ourselves to the mercy of God.

Image Credit: “Forgiveness,” by Kate Wares via Flickr

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  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. March 31, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Thank you for taking the time from your work during this Holy Week to share your thoughtful message with us. Your parish is indeed lucky to have you.