A Review of
The Name of God Is Mercy: A Conversation with Andrea Tornielli
Reviewed by Roger Dowdy
We need mercy! We need healing! “We lack the actual concrete experience of mercy. The fragility of our era is this: we don’t believe that there is a chance for redemption. Today people try to find salvation wherever they can…..turning to many fallible things, seeking hope and compassion – someone who listens and cares. This is what I call the ‘apostolate of the ear’” – the ‘medicine of mercy’ (16-17).
Though I am not Roman Catholic, as an ordained Deacon I have been spiritually and missionally captivated by Pope Francis – his life story, his teaching and proclamation, and the vital public example of Jorge Mario Bergoglio. This humble ‘activist’, priest, cardinal, now Pope of the Church in Rome, embodies the essence of Jesus, the one who came to extend God’s mercy to all. Pope Francis is a magnification of prophet Micah’s directives for living according to God’s will [Micah 6: 6-8 CEB]: With what should I approach the Lord…God on high? [God] has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.
The Name of God is Mercy is in actuality a book-length interview- intended as a spiritual guidebook to the faithful, clergy and laity alike, for The Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, designated so by Pope Francis (November, 2015 – November, 2016). It is but one of several books on the theme of mercy, prayer, and evangelization as the inherent missional arms of the Church. The book is readily accessible to Roman Catholics and non-Catholics alike. And its context is evangelization [from the Greek, euangelion: good word, messenger of good news]. “Evangelization is the mission of a Church that welcomes all and is willing to journey ‘to the edges’ as servant of those dwelling in poverty, both material and spiritual. This is the true radicalism of Pope Francis’ message: ‘[the mercy of] Jesus must always be at the center; we look to Christ, who reveals to us the face of God, the [Giver] of mercies.’”
Issued under the name of Pope Francis, The Name of God is Mercy may be the most personal of such books by the very nature of its topic, and by its setting – the Pope’s lodgings in Saint Martha’s House in the Vatican – and, lastly, the fact that the text of the book is the ‘transcript’ of an extended interview-conversation between Andrea Tornielli and Francis, in July, 2015. No topic is avoided in Tornielli’s questions nor in answers from Francis [either in the interview, or in the Appendix/Papal Bull of Indiction]: the death penalty, eco-justice – mercy for ‘our common home’, human sexuality, the very name of God, immigration issues, the needs of the elderly, homeless, and the poor.
Interviewer/Journalist, Andrea Tornielli, was captivated by the words from the new Pontiff in his earliest homilies. On every occasion, Francis boldly and graciously proclaimed: “The message of Jesus is mercy. For me, and I say this with humility, it is the Lord’s strongest message”; additionally, “the first and only step required to experience mercy…is to acknowledge that we are in need of mercy…and mercy is the way in which God forgives. The medicine is there, the healing is there -if only we take a small step toward God…even just the desire to take that step.” These are words of hope which this world longs, yes needs, to hear.
The Holy Year of Mercy is a confluence of Francis’ personal passion for extending Christ-like mercy, his missional discernment, and his deeply held sensitivity and calling that this (2016) is clearly a year in need of mercy. The Great Year opened on December 8, 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception – an honored liturgical day calling to mind that “when faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy. Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive.”
In this modest volume, the reader experiences an intimate, and power-filled, Q&A dialogue. The text of the book is structured in nine brief sections consisting of questions posed by Tornielli to the Pope – framed on one side by Tornielli’s opening ‘insider’ notes “To the Reader”, and balanced with the Appendix – the full text of the Papal Bull (2015) Jubilee Indiction, twenty-five beautiful and briefly written statements.
Central to Francis’s personal theology and teaching are two very familiar biblical accounts regarding the boundless mercy of God: first, John 8: 1-11, Jesus at the attempted stoning of the adulterous woman. Jesus and the crowd and the woman are in dialogue about sin and retribution and mercy; second, Luke 15:11-32, Jesus’ parable of the Loving Father/Prodigal Son. These two passages are exegeted by Pope Francis as he unfolds his perspective of and passion for a life and ministry of mercy in the image of Jesus Christ: the Christian journey should be a life lived “to be instruments of mercy because it was we who first received mercy from God.” It follows that the ‘motto’ identified by this Pontiff for this Holy Year would become “Merciful like the Father.”
Pope Francis’ clear and gentle answers to Andrea Tornielli’s questions serve as ‘trail-markers’ for the Christian pilgrim called and sent to be ‘apostolos’ – as one who is sent on a mission (of mercy). If the reader should ask along the pilgrim way “How can I be capable of mercy?”…..Francis instructs each traveler:
- Be available, ‘open up ones-self to the Mercy of God’ and be merciful with others [pg. 97]
- Dispose one’s self to the Word of God [pg. 123]
- Be open to discover the true nature of God, ‘the one who Is’ – salvation, mercy, saving grace [pg. 111-114; 123-124]
- Consider the Christian journey to be a ‘pilgrimage’ [pg. 124]
- Attend to the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy [pg. 98-99]
- Learn to be ‘non-judgmental’ [pg. 124] .
This Great Jubilee Year declared by Pope Francis, an extraordinary year, should be an extended season for all believers to expand their understanding of the gift of mercy, and also a year to practice and to become mercy to others: “In this Jubilee Year, let us allow God to surprise us. [God] never tires of casting open the doors of his heart and of repeating that he loves us and wants to share his love with us.” (148-149)
Roger Dowdy is an ordained/permanent Deacon in the United Methodist Church, Virginia Conference. A widely respected church consultant, spiritual retreat leader, and pastoral musician, Roger lives in Richmond, VA, where his consulting and teaching ministry CROSS-PATHS Ministries is based.