The story is told of a young French soldier who deserted Napoleon’s army but who, within a matter of hours, was caught by his own troops. To discourage soldiers from abandoning their posts the penalty for desertion was death. The young soldier’s mother heard what had happened and went to plead with Napoleon to spare the life of her son. Napoleon heard her plea but pointed out that because of the serious nature of the crime her son had committed he clearly did not deserve mercy.
The mother answered, “I know my son does not deserve mercy. It would not be mercy if he deserved it.”
That is the point about mercy: nobody deserves it. Everyone deserves justice; mercy, on the other hand, is sheer gift. Mercy does not suggest that the guilty are not guilty; it recognizes the guilt but it does not demand an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth satisfaction for the wrong. In all this, mercy reflects the utter graciousness of the one who has been wronged.
On this Divine Mercy Sunday we ask ourselves, “What exactly is Divine Mercy?” Allow me to reflect with you on the Biblical meaning of Divine Mercy?
In the Old Testament there are three words that are usually translated as mercy: hesed, rachamin and hen or hanan. Hesed means “steadfast covenant love.” When the Hebrew hesed is used to refer to God, it is in connection with the covenant that God freely established with Israel as a gift. The word rachamin means “tender and compassionate love” or simply “compassion.” Coming from the root word “rechem,” the word means a “mother’s womb.” The connotation is clear: there is a special intimacy and concrete responsiveness about this kind of love, and a special concern for the sufferings of others. Hen/hanan, which means “grace” or “favor”, refers to mercy as a free gift that is dependent solely on the giver.
In the New Testament, the Greek word for mercy is “eleos”. We use this word when we pray or sing, “Kyrie eleioson, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison,” “Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy, Lord, have mercy.” This Greek word can be translated as “loving kindness” or “tender compassion.” It is interesting to note that the root word of the word “eleos” means oil that is poured out. So when we sing or pray “Lord, have mercy,” we literally say or pray, “Lord, pour out your oil of loving kindness or tender compassion upon us.”
In Latin the word for mercy is misericordia, which literally means “miserable heart.” Fr. George Kosicki says the meaning of misericordia is “having a pain in your heart for the pains of another, and taking pains to do something about their pain.” We can also say a merciful heart is one that feels miserable in the face of the miseries of others.
In summary, on the basis of these meanings and insights from the Bible we can say that Divine Mercy refers to God’s gratuitous or freely given and compassionate love for his people, especially for his people in pain and in misery of all types, manifested in concrete saving acts of grace. These saving acts definitely include, but are not limited to, the forgiveness of sins. According to our beloved Pope John Paul II of holy memory, the Pope of Divine Mercy, Divine Mercy is the greatest attribute of God and love’s second name.
In Jesus Christ– in his incarnation, life, ministry, passion, death and resurrection – we see the incomparable and tangible personification of the great depths of God’s merciful love for us. Jesus is Divine Mercy personified. The Incarnation and Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus have shown the world to what extent God could go to show His Divine Mercy. God in Jesus has gone as far as Bethlehem and Calvary to pour out His oil of merciful and compassionate love upon us – giving Himself without reservation even to the point of death. Indeed, “there is no greater love than this to offer one’s life for one’s friends.”
The gospel text that I have chosen for our reading and reflection on this Divine Mercy Sunday is the Lukan rendition of the Matthean command of Jesus for us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. While in Matthew we have “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” Luke has “Be merciful or compassionate, just as your Father is merciful or compassionate.” Comparing the two gospel lines makes it very clear that God’s perfection has something to do with His unconditional and boundless love, compassion and mercy for all his children, good and bad alike. God the Father is perfect because His love is complete, embracing everyone including, if not especially, the sinners, the poor and the miserable. As God’s children, we are to imitate the Father in this way of loving mercy. The perfection of God consists in his being merciful, and our perfection consists in imitating the merciful Father.
Divine Mercy is something that we often find very hard to understand, to comprehend and even to accept precisely because divine behavior does not match our judgments, our ways, and our dealings. “Our ways are not God’s ways, and His ways are not our ways.”
As human beings we tend to thrive on getting even. We tend to thrive on vengeance. To hate those who hate us. To strike those who strike us. To consider enemies those who consider us enemies. To condemn the sinners who are not like us. Because this is often the way we are and what we do; we find it very hard not only to be challenged by God to be and to do the exact opposite, to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, to pray for those who abuse us. Worse is that we want God to behave in the same way we behave. We find it hard to allow God to deal with us in a way that is different from the way we deal with ourselves and one another. We find it hard to allow God to deal with us and with others in His own way, according to His merciful love. We often want God to think and act the way we think and the way we act. Divine mercy is just too much for us.
The private revelation given by the Lord Jesus to St. Maria Faustina Kowalska has been intended to draw the world to the fullness of the public revelation of the Father’s immeasurable, unconditional and merciful love for us in and through his Son Jesus. While there is no new revelatory message that the Divine Mercy Devotion is telling us that has not been revealed in Jesus, what it does is to remind us of this great divine attribute of mercy.
Based on the Lord’s revelation to St. Maria Faustina we can say that there are at least three challenges for us related to the Divine Mercy Devotion: First, to truly and worthily, by way of a converted heart, recognize and receive God’s undeserved gift of divine mercy and to trust in him and in his mercy; second, to devoutly celebrate and propagate this gift of divine mercy through rites of devotion and spiritual practices; and, third, to concretely live, practice and share God’s mercy with others, especially with those who need it most.
Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, one of the first things that we dare to do is to acknowledge the mercy of God and our need for it. “Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.” We do this because we want to be soaked and baptized with the divine mercy so that we can experience the miracle of God’s mercy and share the same divine mercy shown to us. Indeed, to reject divine mercy and to refuse the same mercy to someone else is the ultimate mortal sin. In so doing, we are obstructing the saving, loving and forgiving intervention of God in our lives and in others.
Someone has said that Christ cannot exist in any place where there is no mercy because He is mercy personified. Thus the gospel, especially in the scene of the Last Judgment, makes it very clear that mercy will be the quality on which the Christian will ultimately be judged. Traditionally, the Church, in her wisdom has handed down the dictates of divine mercy in the gospel in terms of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. In short, how do we become embodiment of God’s divine mercy as shown in and through Jesus Christ? How is mercy concretized? Mercy becomes concrete when we do the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Mercy becomes concrete when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick, visit those imprisoned and bury the dead. Mercy becomes concrete when we admonish sinners, instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowful, bear wrongs patiently, forgive injuries, and pray for the living and the dead. I am sure more can be added to these traditional lists of corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
I was still a young seminarian when The Divine Mercy Devotion started to become popular in the Philippines.
In the mid-1980’s, in the midst of political turmoil that beset the country under the Marcos Dictatorship, our Bishops, under the leadership of the late Jaime Cardinal Sin, asked the Filipino people to turn as a nation to the Divine Mercy through a daily nationwide prayer of the Three O’clock Hour of Mercy prayers and the chaplet. We pleaded and begged the Lord for a peaceful and just resolution of the national conflict. In February 1986 a miraculous non-violent revolution did take place, and democracy was restored to our country. God showed his Divine Mercy upon us as a suffering people.
On this Second Sunday of Easter let us once again consecrate ourselves, our families, our parish, our Universal Church, our nation and the entire world, especially our brothers and sisters in miserable pain of different types, to the Mercy of God. And may this celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday help us to truly receive God’s mercy, so that the mercy shown to us is the same mercy we show to others.