"As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him. And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard it, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matthew 9:9-13).

The mercy of God has the power to radically change lives.

After the fifth ballot during the March conclave, following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was asked if he accepted the outcome of the election.

"I am a great sinner confident in the patience and mercy of God. In suffering, I accept," he said, according to a Vatican Radio account.

"Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity," proclaimed John Paul II about Divine Mercy Sunday.

The Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday on April 7, and it is a feast dear to the heart of Pope Francis, who has described his priestly vocation as a response to the mercy of God and whose motto, "Miserando atque Eligendo," stands for "Having had mercy, he called him."

The Pope claimed this motto years ago, when he was named the archbishop of Buenos Aires, and it is a reference to St. Bede the Venerable’s commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus Christ offered his mercy to Matthew, the shunned tax collector.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio was just 17 when he experienced the "loving presence of God in his life," explained a statement from the Vatican Press Office. "Following a confession, his heart was touched, and he felt the descent of the mercy of God: that with eyes of tender love, he was being called to the religious life, after the example of St. Ignatius of Loyola." The scriptural passage that touched his heart was Matthew’s encounter with Jesus, who "looked at him with love and said, ‘Follow me.’"

Matthew’s prompt response to Christ’s invitation was repeated as the Lord touched the heart of each of his apostles. And surely one of the mysteries of salvation history is the fact that the Lord chose Simon Peter, the fisherman who repudiated him three times, to pilot his Bride, the Church.

In a 2001 talk, then-Cardinal Bergoglio reflected on the Gospel passage that foreshadowed Peter’s commission as the first Vicar of Christ: "When Jesus asked Peter, ‘Do you love me?’ his ‘Yes’ was not the result of an effort of will; it was not the fruit of a ‘decision’ made by the young man Simon. It was the emergence, the coming to the surface of an entire vein of tenderness and adherence that made sense because of the esteem he had for him — therefore an act of reason."

The cardinal suggested that "only someone who has encountered mercy, who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, is happy and comfortable with the Lord."

He said that believers must adopt the habit of saying "Yes" to Christ — and "saying it often. It is impossible to desire it without asking for it. And if someone starts to ask for it, then he begins to change. … This is the experience of Augustine."

With these words, he affirms that the heart of the New Evangelization is a personal encounter with the Lord: "He who encounters Jesus Christ feels the impulse to witness him or to give witness of what he has encountered, and this is the Christian calling."

Now as the Vicar of Christ, Pope Francis calls us to a deeper encounter with the mercy of the Savior who died for our sins and left the Consoler to guide the pilgrimage of the Church until the Bridegroom returns.

We live in a time of great suffering and spiritual doubt and indifference. And during an even darker time — the rise of Hitler’s Germany and Nazi oppression, the gift of Divine Mercy was communicated to St. Faustina Kowalska. It is precisely during such times that we are most aware of our need for mercy — as Peter’s personal struggles reveal so painfully.

During his first Angelus prayer on March 17, Pope Francis told the crowd of 300,000 in St. Peter’s Square not to forget that the "Lord never gets tired of forgiving; it is we who get tired of asking forgiveness. … And let us also learn to be merciful with everyone. Let us call upon the intercession of the Madonna, who has held in her arms the Mercy of God made human."

With Our Lady’s intercession and in imitation of the witness of the apostles, let us renew our "Yes" to our merciful Lord.