By Andrea Tornielli

Vatican City (Ansa), August 26, 2015

On the 37th anniversary of the election of John Paul I, Pope for only 33 days during the summer of 1978, it is important to recall some of his words on mercy and humility on the vigil of the extraordinary Jubilee proclaimed by Pope Francis. An indelible memory remains of those words he spoke during his first general audience on September 6 of that year, when he said: “I will limit myself to recommending a virtue so very dear to the Lord. He has said: ‘Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart’ (Mt. 11:29). I am going to risk saying something absurd, but I will say it: The Lord loves humility so much that at times he permits serious sins. Why? So that those who have committed these sins, after they have repented, may remain humble. We don’t feel any desire to believe that we are half saints, or half angels, when we know that we have committed serious sins. The Lord has so strongly urged us: be humble. Even if you have done great things, say: ‘We are useless servants.’” (Luke 17:10).

Two months previously, on July 29, 1978, Luciani, then cardinal Patriarch of Venice, had paid his last visit to Agordo, the little town a few miles from his native village where he had begun to exercise his priestly ministry as assistant to the pastor. In the course of the homily he had recalled those years as the most beautiful of his life: “I heard so many confessions, how many confessions I heard!” Throughout his life, as many who knew him testify, the future John Paul I had repeated these words: “How mistaken they are, how mistaken they are, those who do not hope!” Judas committed a great folly poor man, on the day he sold Christ for thirty pieces of silver, but he committed a much greater one when he thought his sin was too great to be forgiven. No sin is too great, none! There is not one greater than his boundless mercy!”

In January 1965, when he was bishop of Vittorio Veneto, during a retreat for priests coming from various dioceses of the Veneto, Luciani commented on the parable of the Good Samaritan: “The Good Samaritain is Jesus: the unfortunate traveler is us. Historia salutis (Salvation History) means this: the Lord runs after human beings.” The future Pope cited St. Augustine: “Recognize, therefore, the grace of the One to whom you are indebted if you have not committed certain sins; there is no sin committed by a man that another man cannot commit, if the aid of the One who created man is not there.” Thus Luciani commented on these words of Augustine: “Heaven is a little bit high and we struggle to get there. Well, we find ourselves in the situation of a little girl a small child who has seen cherries [on the tree], but who cannot reach them to pick them. So her father has to come, take her under the arms and say, ‘up, little one, up!’ Then yes, he lifts her up and she can take and eat the cherries. The same with us: Heaven attracts us, but it is too high for our poor efforts. Woe to us unless God comes with his grace! The same St. Augustine very often repeated a prayer: Da, Domine, quod iubes, et iube quod vis ‘Lord, I am not able to do this, give me to do what you command, and command what you will, but after you have given me the grace to do it.’ Everything is possible with grace. His grace is necessary for us.”

On that same occasion, the bishop of Vittorio Veneto had spoken about the patience of God: “Because, you see, it is He who wants to come to meet us, and He does not lose heart even if we want to run away: ‘I want to try again: one, ten, a thousand times…’ Some sinners would not want him in their house. They would even take a gun and kill him and not hear any more about Him. No matter. He is waiting. Always. And it is never too late. He is like this, he is made like this . . . he is Father. A father who waits at the door. He catches sight of us when we are still a long way off, his heart softens, and he comes running to throw his arms around our neck and kiss us tenderly. Our sin then becomes almost a jewel that we can give to bring him the consolation of forgiving us. We are like lords and ladies when we give jewels, and it is not a defeat but a joyous victory to let ourseles be conquered by God!”

As for the model confessor fom whom he took his inspiration, it is well known that Luciani had a veneration for the Capuchin friar Padre Leopoldo Mandic, today a saint, who died in 1942; he himself, when he was a seminarian, had gone in confession to him. On May 30, 1976, the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice celebrated Mass in the church of the Capuchins in Padua, beside the little cell-confessional of the little friar who had been proclaimed Blessed a few days before. During the homily, he said: “You know, we are all sinners, he knew it very well. We must realize this sad reality of ours: no one can avoid sin, either small or great, for very long. ‘But,’ said St. Francis de Sales, ‘If you have a 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 Fr. Leopold applied this system in full. A priest, a friend of mine, who went to confess to him, said: ‘Father, you are too indulgent. I am glad to have gone to confession to you, but it seems to me that you are too indulgent.’ And Fr. Leopold: ‘But who has been indulgent, my son? It was the Lord who was indulgent; it wasn’t me who died for our sins, it is the Lord who died for our sins. How could he have been more indulgent with the thief, with others, than this!’”

Translated by Lori Pieper

Originally appeared in Vatican Insider, translated and reprinted with permission