Many readers know Jeanne Kun as the author of numerous books and reflections on the Bible. For her new book, The Infinite Tenderness of God, she has selected and compiled Gospel meditations by another lover of God’s word: Pope Francis. In the following interview, she reflects on the project.
It must have taken some effort to track down the selections for this book.
It did. For months, I was immersed in the Holy Father’s homilies, addresses, and speeches, searching through everything he has said about passages from the Gospels. This kind of research has its tedious moments, yet compiling the book turned out to be not only an engaging assignment but a profound experience.
I came away with a deeper knowledge of Jesus, as the Gospels portray him—and, consequently, of Pope Francis. Both became more alive to me as my personal shepherds, their words guiding me as I make life’s little daily decisions. I hope readers experience the book this way, too.
How do you suggest using this devotional?
Don’t read it straight through! This is a book to be pondered slowly and prayerfully. It’s best to delve into one selection at a sitting. It especially lends itself to use in daily times of personal prayer.
Each of the book’s sixty selections is tied to a specific Gospel passage. I suggest opening your Bible and starting there, reading the passage slowly and taking time to grasp its meaning as fully as you can. Then move on to Pope Francis’ reflection on that Scripture. Mull over his remarks and observations. Finally, consider what God might be asking you through your reading and prayer. Is he encouraging you? Consoling you? Challenging you to take some practical action?
Where did the title, The Infinite Tenderness of God, come from?
Well, the book touches on many subjects that are dear to the pope’s heart—like care for the poor, the sacredness of marriage, and our call to evangelize. But as Pope Francis speaks about all these things, you become aware of a single underlying theme: he wants everyone to come to a deep encounter with Jesus, who reveals “the infinite tenderness” of God. “Allowing God to seek me, find me, and caress me with tenderness”—that’s what Pope Francis wants each of us to experience.
Did the "mercy" theme become personal for you as you worked on this project?
Oh yes. Mercy is, by its definition, undeserved grace—or, as some say, “Getting what you don’t deserve, and not getting what you do deserve!” Many of Pope Francis’ homilies helped me to recognize this mercy at work in my life. At one point, for example, I was struggling to get in the groove of daily prayer. I had let it go for a while, and I felt like hiding from the Lord. But I was comforted—and motivated—by Pope Francis’ emphasis on the patience of God:
This is so beautiful: our God is a patient Father who always waits for us and waits with his heart in hand to welcome us, to forgive us. He always forgives us if we go to him. . . .
Jesus is patient, Jesus knows how to wait; he waits for us always. . . .
We need not be afraid! Let us open ourselves to the light of the Lord, he awaits us always in order to enable us to see better, to give us more light, to forgive us. Let us not forget this!
These reminders that God is always waiting to welcome and forgive were just what I needed to begin again.
What strikes you most about the pope's pastoral approach?
Reading his homilies and addresses, I felt the presence of a pastor who speaks with loving warmth, wisdom, and an awareness of the world we live in. Pope Francis has an ability to communicate big truths in a simple, down-to-earth way. He is very open about his life, frequently sharing anecdotes from his childhood to illustrate his points. He challenges us—often and straightforwardly—to follow Christ more faithfully and to become better missionaries of God’s love. But he does it in a way that builds hope. And sometimes, he uses a little wit and humor to sweeten the message.
In one homily, Pope Francis jokes that many of us would like it if Jesus had a TV channel; that way, we could listen to him without having to work at tuning out competing voices. In another homily, he remarks that while gossip might seem to be an innocent amusement, “like enjoying a candy,” it fills us with bitterness “and even poisons us.” Francis is convinced that if we decided to avoid this poison candy, “we would eventually become holy!”
Many of us seek the closeness to Jesus that Pope Francis seems to have. What's his secret?
It’s no secret! Over and over, Francis gives this simple piece of advice: read and reflect on a Scripture passage every day. “Carry a small Gospel in your pocket, handbag,” so that you can read God’s word wherever you are.
The Gospel allows you to know the real Jesus . . . it speaks to your heart and changes your life. . . . You can effectively change lifestyles or continue to do what you did before but you are someone else; you are reborn: you have found what gives meaning, what gives flavor, what gives light, to all things, even to toil, even to suffering, and even to death.
Ultimately, that’s what I wanted this book to reflect: the transforming grace that comes when we meditate on the Gospels. And who better than Pope Francis to help guide our reflections?
The Infinite Tenderness of God: Meditations on the Gospels (softcover, 160 pp.) by Pope Francis is available online at wau.org and on amazon.com.