Christ is merciful – indeed, He is mercy itself. He sees the needs not only of each one of us as individual human beings, but also as a human family. He sees the faults and failings we have as people and as a society, the selfishness and sinfulness which is present amongst all of us, and the consequences of all the wrong decisions we make because of our human fallibility.
And yet despite all this, He loves us – and His love is infinite.
Because that love is given to us “whilst we were still sinners”, as St Paul describes it eloquently, we call it ‘mercy’ – mercy is a love which is not in any way deserved, yet which is given regardless of that. Mercy is not opposed to the justice which might very well be deserved – rather, it reflects the very nature of the one who is extending that mercy, whose very nature it is to be merciful, and it overcomes justice. If you doubt this, pick up the Gospels and read the accounts of every single encounter Jesus had with those who approached Him – what do you see in His engagement with everyone of them? Mercy.
This mercy is the very mark of Jesus. His merciful compassion allows and encourages them to approach Him, it engages with them precisely where they are in the personal messiness of their human story, and it offers them something.
Now imagine this had not been is approach; imagine that woman caught in adultery – imagine Jesus had thrown the stone at her. He would have had every right to do so, for He is the Lord and it is given to Him to judge – yet, He did not do that. More than this, He told everyone else not to judge her before reminding her that “I do not condemn you, either”. Jesus, despite what some of His followers believe even now, does not condemn – He frees and He forgives. And if we stand one day before Him unrepentant it will not be He who condemns, but we who condemn ourselves – for on that day, we will finally see clearly what we cannot see now in this life.
Jesus extends His mercy to us always. He is the ‘Merciful Saviour’ as the Church tells us rightly. But there is one single condition which is necessary as a pre-requisite to receiving that mercy; we need to ask for it. And we will not – cannot – ask for it until and unless we perceive that we stand in need of it. In other words, we need to recognise our sinfulness precisely so that we seek the antidote, His divine mercy.
Consequently, those who say that the message of Divine Mercy is too generous, too forgiving, too easy, have misunderstood what mercy is and what it requires. They re however, right that it is too generous – look at the Cross; you will see all too clearly just how generous Christ really is. It is too generous for the Son of God to come amongst us as one of us; it is too generous of Christ to offer us a message of mercy, salvation and redemption in the good news of the Gospel; and it is far, far too generous of Him to open His arms on the Cross and willingly die for us there. Too generous indeed.
And yet – that is precisely what He did.
None of this was in any way deserved by a single one of us. The sinner who died beside Jesus on Calvary did not ‘deserve’ the promise of Heaven that very day. The woman at the well did not ‘deserve’ the Water of Life. The Apostles, who fled in terror from the Lord at His Passion, did not ‘deserve’ that He should come amongst them once more and make them the foundations of His Church. Yet that man was given the promise of Heaven. That woman was given that Living Water. Those fearful Apostles were given the Spirit and their mission.
We don’t deserve the mercy of Christ, because of whatever holds us back from Him and all those sins which give precedence to ourselves rather than to Him. Yet He does offer us His divine mercy. He does offer us salvation and redemption. Even whilst we are still sinners.
Yes, it is too easy and it is too forgiving. But it is not easy. And it is not easy because this is not the end of the journey, but the beginning. Receiving this divine mercy places demands upon us. First, it demands a lifelong process of on-going interior conversion – it demands that once the Lord invites us to Himself, we not only accept His offer but build upon it, with the help of His grace, which alone makes this possible. And secondly, it demands that we ourselves become merciful toward others. In the prayer of the ‘Our Father’, the Lord lays out this requirement before us – He asks us to pray to God to “forgive us our sins as we forgive others”. The important word there is “as”. We will receive mercy to the extent that we give mercy. And in case we have not understood, the good Lord repeats it ever more clearly in the Beatitudes – “blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy”. Conversely, if we fail to give mercy, then we cannot really expect to receive it.
Mercy is easy for Christ – He is mercy itself and it is His very nature to be merciful. It is not so easy for us – we need to acknowledge our need of mercy, ask for it, then become channels of mercy ourselves. And we need all three things.
It all sounds so very simple, doesn’t it? And it is. It is no more complicated than described here. We just have to believe it.
To help us in this belief, Christ gives us His own life, which proclaims loudly and clearly this message of mercy; He gives us His death, which proves that mercy; and He gives us the Gospels which recount the story of divine mercy.
To support this message of mercy and to keep it alive within us, at various points in human history He also gives us specific devotions which remind us of his divine mercy. There are two such devotions which do this most perfectly. The first, given to us some three hundred and fifty years ago, is the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, that Heart which was opened wide by the lance upon the Cross, and which is the very fount of all mercy. And the second is the Divine Mercy devotion, given to us around ninety years ago, and the object of which is that Mercy itself which flows like a river from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is its source.
The story of the Divine Mercy devotion is recounted fully in the writings of Saint Faustina Kowalska, ion her personal letter and particularly in her Diary, entitled ‘Divine Mercy In My Soul’.
I began this piece by noting that the Lord sees not only our personal and individual failings, but also those of our collective human family. At particular moments in history, those needs become almost overwhelming and certainly far more pressing. Such was the case in this first half of the Twentieth Century, the time in which the devotion was given to Saint Faustina; that time was characterised by immense evil and suffering in the world, manifesting by the atrocities of not one but two World Wars. This was the context in which the Lord reminded us of His merciful love for each of us and for humanity itself, and in which He offered us a remedy. It is a remedy because if we each become vessels of mercy – acknowledging our personal sins, asking for mercy, and becoming merciful ourselves toward others – then how we would change the world. A collective personal response would transform this world, starting with each one of us. That mercy would spread throughout the world like a blazing fire.
The Lord always offers us precisely what we need, and in the specific moment in which we need it most. That itself is merciful. And so the Lord has done His part – indeed, He has done much more than this even “whilst we were still sinners”.
And now, the rest is up to us. We must do our part in response to His divine mercy.