Pope Francis is a leader with a gift for sounding themes that hover near the heart of all religions — themes such as sharing, patience, goodwill and fixing your eye on the divine.
Gandhi was that way. When members of other faiths would visit him for advice, he’d tell them to look to their own traditions. Everything he had to offer, Gandhi said, could be found in most holy books.
So it is with Pope Francis.
That’s why, when the pope’s new book, “The Name of God Is Mercy” came out, I decided to read it for messages that might resonate with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I found a bunch.
For starters, family has always been a fervent Mormon theme. And in his book, the pope vigorously seconds that feeling, as shown in this excerpt from page 87:
“The family is the hospital closest to us: When someone is sick, they are cared for there, if possible. The family is the first school for children, it is the unwavering reference point for the young, it is the best home for the elderly. It is the first school of mercy because it is there that we have been loved and learned to love, have been forgiven and learned to forgive.
“I think of the weary eyes of a mother exhausting herself with work to bring food home to her drug-addicted son. She loves him, in spite of his mistakes.”
Also, like the Mormons, the pontiff believes serious sin needs to be confessed aloud to someone in authority.
“We are social beings,” he writes. “If you are not capable of talking to your brother about your mistakes, you can be sure that you can’t talk about them with God, either.”
The pope cautions, however, that the religious leader hearing another’s confession needs to remember he is not in charge of a dry cleaner, but is running a field hospital for wounded people.
In fact, for the pope — and LDS people — life looks like a battlefield between good and evil. We must strive to do good works and defend the faith. But, in the end, the most important strategy we can follow as Christians is “to let God win.”
That is why Pope Francis says he feels parts of Ezekiel were written for him — the parts that talk about God never giving up on us, though we give up on him; the parts that say we must feel ashamed enough of how we live to look God’s way.
“And God forgives with a caress, not a decree,” the pope says.
Finally, in the last section, we get the pope’s letter declaring 2016 the Year of Mercy. In his own way, the pope says mercy can’t rob justice; there is always a price to be paid. But, he says, “God does not deny justice. He rather envelopes it and surpasses it with an even greater event in which we experience love as the foundation of true justice.”
The book, I think, is needed. It’s a book by a wise teacher.
Now I’m curious to see what other faiths see in it.