Words have personality; they come and go out of fashion. Take the word “mercy.” A bit old-fashioned, a little shop-worn, a tad dusty. Now, what if “mercy,” a word many spiritual folk have politely shelved, could be resurrected? Is there any hope for “mercy”? Alas, if only it didn’t just sit there looking archaic. If only it weren’t a boring noun, but lively and vigorous as a verb. But wait, it is a verb! Pope Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) has made it so. According to Austen Ivereigh, author of the Pope’s biography The Great Reformer, “Bergoglio liked the way Latin had ‘mercy’ as a verb, miserando, and so created the Spanish misericordiando—an activity of the divine, something God does to you. ‘Dejáte misericordiar,’ he would tell the guilt-ridden and the scrupulous, “let yourself be ‘mercy’d.’”
“Let yourself be ‘mercy’d.’” Nice. It reminds me of an old grandma’s hand-on-heart exclamation, “Mercy me!” Now, if only we had an example of this “verb” to burst forth from our merciless world of war, planetary destruction, and economic injustice. But wait, we do! Pope Francis himself is doing that very thing. He is vigorously showing us how to mercy the world.
While unapologetically upsetting the status quo with his relentless passion for the poor, the planet, and for the transformation of an economic system that creates havoc on both, Pope Francis puts mercy back into our vocabulary. But not as a noun. Rather, Pope Francis has single-handedly transformed an old-fashioned, dead-beat noun into a lively, active–albeit, somewhat subversive—verb.
In short, the Pope rocks.
Thanks to Pope Francis, mercy is a now a verb; he has given mercy legs to run. And we are all invited into this activity of mercy—all of us, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, nonreligious—we are all invited to be part of this divine activity of mercying the world.
The Pope sees mercy as the most salient feature of God’s activity in the world. Some might prefer words like compassion or love. But these, too, are nouns--and that’s not good enough. Pope Francis believes in verbs, in divine activity, not just ideas that sit around getting dusty.
As a process thinker, I can’t help but feel a spiritual kinship, for the great process philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote not of a remote noun-like God, but rather of an active, loving, suffering, transforming God who is “the great companion—the fellow-sufferer who understands.” In the process worldview, everything is a verb—the whole world of becoming, from rocks to stars to people: everything is a verb. Including God.
And as a Protestant influenced by both Jesus and Whitehead, I share the belief that mercy moves divinity. It’s a Copernican revolution of sorts, to think of the world—and God—in terms of verbs. Just as God, long ago, got lost in a noun of self-thinking thought (Aristotle), so mercy, through the centuries, became a fossilized noun: nice for display, but no longer alive. Well, now it is.
So “let yourself be mercy’d." It's not a trendy new malapropism, but rather old wisdom resurrected. It is the way of Jesus, the way of Buddha, the way of lovingkindess, the way of God. And now, as we witness a pope who continues to galvanize the world with his bold bent toward mercy for the poor and for the planet, we—all of us—are blessed to be mercy’d by his voice.