A monthly letter from Orbis Books Publisher, Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg

The Works of Mercy—such as feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, visiting the prisoner—are drawn from the message of Jesus, who tied our salvation to the treatment of the least of our brothers and sisters: “I was hungry and you fed me…. Imprisoned and you visited me.” This message offers a stark contrast to the spirit of anti-mercy that animates so much of our national policy, marked by disdain for the stranger, the poor, the sick, the prisoner.

In this light the publication of a new book by Pope Francis, The Works of Mercy, is especially timely. In reflections drawn from his writings and preaching, the pope treats in turn each of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. Each topic opens a window on a larger theme. For instance, under “Welcoming the stranger,” Pope Francis reflects on the plight of refugees and immigrants. His reflections on “Visiting the prisoner” are set in the context of his own pastoral visits to prisons, and his self-description of himself as “a man who has experienced forgiveness . . . who has been saved from his many sins.”

The theme of mercy and hospitality also applies to our encounter with those of other faiths. In Dialogue of the Heart: Christian-Muslim Stories of Encounter, Benedictine Martin McGee describes experiments in dialogue carried out by Catholics in North Africa with their Muslim neighbors. In particular, he tells the moving story of the Trappist monks of Tibhirine, Algeria, the story depicted in the acclaimed film “Of Gods and Men.” As Leo Lefebure writes, “In a world too often marked by mutual suspicion, these engaging stories vividly demonstrate how the dialogue of life can bring Muslims and Christians together in transformative friendships and offer moments of grace.”

The principle that sees Christ in our poor neighbors implies a wider understanding of the Incarnation. Diarmuid O’Murchu extends this principle further in Incarnation: A New Evolutionary Threshold. The acclaimed author of many books on the intersection of theology and the new cosmology shows how the principle of incarnation applies to all reality—overcoming concepts of separateness, “otherness,” and borders—to reveal the embodiment of God’s Spirit and our oneness with all creation.

Pope Francis has spoken of his preference for “shepherds who have the smell of the sheep.” No one better exemplifies this than Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the archbishop of Manila, a leading voice of the Asian Church, and a champion of church renewal. In I Have Learned from the Least: My Life, My Hopes, he recounts his life journey, from growing up in poverty, his spiritual formation, and his surprising rise on the world stage. With unusual frankness, he shares thoughts on religious pluralism, social justice, and ecology—all rooted in his commitment to the poor and his ardent faith in the gospel.

On that note, it is appropriate to recall the centenary of Blessed Oscar Romero, who was born on August 15, 1917. If there is a patron saint for Orbis Books, it would be Romero. May his witness inspire us to follow the path of Jesus, a way that leads to our neighbors in mercy and justice.



Robert Ellsberg

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