Dear friends of Pope John Paul I:
I have some good news this month. We have continued to receive donations, and have received enough to have the transcriptions of the two conference talks done, with some left over.
I’ll write more about our future plans later, but right now I’d like to urge you to read Pope Francis’s book-length interview with Andrea Tornielli, The Name of God is Mercy, which just came out last month, near the beginning of the Year of Mercy. It’s a wonderful book.
There are many wonderful surprises in the interview (and I haven’t even finished it yet!). But the most wonderful one for me was that Francis quoted from the writings of Papa Luciani – four times! That is, he quoted from four different writings of his, one on St. Leopold Mandic’s mercy as a confessor, and the other three on humility (a prime attitude necessary for accepting forgiveness). Two are from his time as Pope. It’s clear from this that he knows John Paul I’s writings very well. Here are the passages:
When you think of merciful priests whom you have met or who have inspired you, who comes to mind?
[After speaking of some other priests he had known, Francis said:
I once read a homily by then cardinal Albino Luciani [later Pope John Paul I] about Father Leopold Mandić, who had just been beatified by Pope Paul VI. He described something that was very similar to what I just told you. He said: “You know, we are all sinners,” Luciani said on that occasion. “Father Leopold knew that very well. We must take this sad reality of ours into account: no one can avoid sin, small or great, for very long. ‘But,’ as Saint Francis de Sales said, ‘if you have a little donkey and along the road it falls onto the cobblestones, what should you do? You certainly don’t go there with a stick to beat it, poor little thing, it’s already unfortunate enough. You must take it by the halter and say: ‘Up, let’s take to the road again…. Now we will get back on the road, and we will pay more attention next time.’ This is the system, and Father Leopold applied this system in full. A priest, a friend of mine, who went to confess to him, said: ‘Father, you are too generous. I am glad to have gone to confession to you, but it seems to me that you are too generous.’ And Father Leopold said: ‘But who has been generous, my son? It was the Lord who was generous; I wasn’t the one who died for our sins, it was the Lord who died for our sins. How could he have been more generous with the thief, with others, than this!’”
(My complete translation of this homily by Luciani is here.)
Another question and answer:
You have often defined yourself as a sinner. When you met with the prisoners in Palmasola, Bolivia, during your 2015 journey to Latin America, you said, “Standing before you is a man who has been forgiven for his many sins….” It’s truly striking to hear a Pope say these things about himself.
Really? I don’t think it’s so unusual, even in the lives of my predecessors. For example, in the documents related to the process of the beatification of Paul VI, I read that one of his secretaries confided that the Pope, echoing the words I have already quoted from “Thoughts on Death,” said, “For me it has always been a great mystery of God to be in wretchedness and to be in the presence of the mercy of God. I am nothing, I am wretched. God the Father loves me, he wants to save me, he wants to remove me from the wretchedness in which I find myself, but I am incapable of doing it myself. And so he sends his Son, a Son who brings the mercy of God translated into an act of love toward me…. But you need a special grace for this, the grace of a conversion. Once I recognize this, God works in me through his Son.” It is a beautiful synthesis of the Christian message. And then there is the homily with which Albino Luciani began his bishopric at Vittorio Veneto, when he said he had been chosen because the Lord preferred that certain things not be engraved in bronze or marble but in the dust, so that if the writing had remained it would have been clear that the merit was all and only God’s. He, now bishop and future Pope John Paul I, called himself “dust.” I have to say that when I speak of this, I always think of what Simon Peter told Jesus on the Sunday of his resurrection, when he met him on his own, a meeting hinted at in the Gospel of Luke (24: 34). What might Peter have said to the Messiah upon his resurrection from the tomb? Might he have said that he felt like a sinner? He must have thought of his betrayal, of what had happened a few days earlier when he pretended for three times not to recognize Jesus in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house. He must have thought of his bitter and public tears. If Peter did all of that, if the Gospels describe his sin and denials to us, and if despite all this, Jesus said, “Tend my sheep” (John 21: 16), I don’t think we should be surprised if his successors describe themselves as sinners. It is nothing new. The Pope is a man who needs the mercy of God.
Again, in answer to a question about the “scholars of the law,” and their “closed attitudes,” the Pope said:
At times I have surprised myself by thinking that a few very rigid people would do well to slip a little, so that they could remember that they are sinners and thus meet Jesus. I think back to the words of God’s servant John Paul I, who during a Wednesday audience said, “The Lord loves humility so much that sometimes he permits serious sins. Why? In order that those who committed these sins may, after repenting, remain humble. One does not feel inclined to think oneself half a saint, half an angel, when one knows that one has committed serious faults.”
A few days later, on another occasion, the very same Pope reminded us that Saint Francis de Sales spoke of “our dear imperfections,” saying, “God hates faults because they are faults. On the other hand, however, in a certain sense he loves faults, since they give him an opportunity to show his mercy and us an opportunity to remain humble and to understand and to sympathize with our neighbors’ faults.”
Pope Francis, The Name of God Is Mercy Random House Publishing Group, 2016 (Kindle Editions locations, 237-43, 412-424, 622-29).
Pope Francis gave this interview in July 2015, well before we sent him our petition asking him to make John Paul I’s teachings on mercy known during the Year of Mercy. I think he has already fulfilled our request without knowing it! If he does read our petition – and I don’t have any sign yet that he has -- I feel sure he will continue to talk about Papa Luciani during the Year of Mercy.