"If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself."
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis today began a new series of catecheses exploring the mystery of divine mercy according to the biblical perspective, “so as to learn about mercy by listening to what God himself teaches us through his Word.”
Addressing pilgrims in the Paul VI Hall, the pope devoted his first catechesis to the theme, “The Name of God Is Mercy,” taken from Old Testament passage of Exodus: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (34:6).
It is also the title of his new book-length interview presented yesterday in Rome.
Pope Francis said the biblical text evokes the tenderness of a mother’s love for her child, and a father’s forbearance, compassion and ability to wait and forgive when his children go astray and come back.
“God is faithful in his mercy,” he said, citing St. Paul. “If you are not faithful to him, he will still remain faithful to you, for he cannot deny himself” (cf. 2 Tim 2:13).
Here below is a full English translation of the pope’s address.
The Name of God Is Mercy
Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. Today we begin the catecheses on mercy according to the biblical perspective, so as to learn about mercy by listening to what God himself teaches us through his Word. We begin with the Old Testament, which prepares us and leads us to the full revelation of Jesus Christ, in whom the Father’s mercy is fully revealed.
In Sacred Scripture, the Lord is presented as a “merciful God.” This is his name with which he reveals to us, so to say, his face and his heart. He himself, as the book of Exodus recounts, reveals himself to Moses, calling himself “The Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (34:6). We also find this formula in other texts with some variation, but the emphasis is always placed on mercy, on God’s love which never tires of forgiving (cf. Gen. 4:2; Joel 2:13; Psalm 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Neh. 9:17). We see together, one by one, these words of Sacred Scripture that speak to us about God.
The Lord is “merciful.” This word evokes an attitude of tenderness, like that of a mother toward a child. In fact, the Hebrew word used by the Bible makes one think of the bowels or even the maternal womb. Therefore, the image it evokes is one of a God who is moved with pity for us, like a mother when she takes her child in her arms, wanting only to love, protect and help, ready to give everything, even herself. This is the image which this word evokes. Therefore, a love that can be called “visceral” in a good sense.
Then it is written that the Lord is “gracious,” in the sense that he has favor, he has compassion, and in his greatness, he bends down to the weak and the poor, always ready to welcome, to understand, to forgive. He is like the father in the parable recounted by the Gospel of Luke (cf. Luke 15:11-32): a father who doesn’t close himself off in resentment at his younger son’s desertion but instead continues to wait — he begot him — and then runs to him and embraces him, and does not even let him finish his confession — as though he covered his mouth — so great is his love and joy in having him back.
And then he goes to call the eldest son, who is angry and doesn’t want to celebrate, the son who remained at home but lived more like a servant than a son. And the father bends down to him as well, he invites him to enter in. He seeks to open his heart to love, so that no one is excluded from the feast of mercy. Mercy is a celebration!
Of this merciful God it is also said that he is “slow to anger.” Literally, “long of breath” (i.e., with the wide breath of patience and the ability to endure). God knows how to wait. His times are not the impatient ones of men. He is like the wise farmer who knows how to wait, he gives the good seed time to grow, despite the weeds (cf. Matt. 13:24-30).
And lastly, the Lord proclaims that he is “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” How beautiful this definition of God is! Everything is there. For God is great and powerful, but this greatness and power unfolds in loving us, we who are so small, so incapable. The word “love” used here indicates affection, grace, goodness. It isn’t the love found in soap operas. … It is the love that takes the first step, that does not depend on human merits but rather on an immense freedom. It is the divine solicitude that nothing can stop, not even sin, because it is able to go beyond sin, to conquer evil, and to forgive it.
A “faithfulness” without limits: This is the last word of God’s revelation to Moses. God’s faithfulness never fails, because the Lord is the guardian who, as the Psalm says, does not slumber, but continuously watches over us in order to lead us to life:
“He will not let your foot be moved, he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep. […] The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. The Lord will keep Your going out and your coming in From this time forth and for evermore” (121:3-4,7-8)
And this merciful God is faithful in his mercy, and St. Paul tells us something beautiful: If you are not faithful to him, he will still remain faithful to you, for he cannot deny himself. Faithfulness in mercy is the very being of God. And that is why this God is totally and forever reliable. A strong and stable presence. This is the certainty of our faith. And so, in this Jubilee of Mercy, let us entrust ourselves totally to him, and experience the joy of being loved by this “merciful and gracious God, who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
After his catechesis, His Holiness blessed many in the crowd, taking a moment to cuddle an infant in his arms, as seen in this video.
Translation by Diane Montagnaof Aleteia’s English edition.