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Photo: Felix Carroll

"The Image of The Divine Mercy was not meant to be merely a theological curiosity," says Lee Bowers, above. Mrs. Bowers, a lay evangelist for Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy, frequently gives talks about Divine Mercy to parishes around the country.

Be 'Image' Conscious

What Are We to Make of the Image of The Divine Mercy?

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By Lee Bowers

As those who have taught religious education to very young children will testify, there are few things in the world more delightful than watching children draw pictures of God.

Usually, children are asked to draw pictures of Bible stories such as Noah and the Ark, or Jonah and the Whale, but some of the more astute children realize that God should be in the picture somewhere too, and so He is drawn up in the clouds, with a "smiley face," or walking on earth with a long beard like Santa Claus. Our Lord must have a very fond spot in His Heart for these innocent, childlike attempts to depict His likeness.

It is a bit more worrying, however, when not-so-innocent adults try to imagine the divine likeness. The ancient pagan religions were filled with images, statues, and idols that were the fruit of these day dreams. They called God Zeus, Wotan, Moloch, Baal, and they bequeathed to us all manner of bizarre representation of the Most High God. That is one reason why the Lord God solemnly forbade His Chosen People, Israel, from trying to depict what they imagined God to be like and trying to enshrine this into art. As the Lord said in His 10 Commandments, "Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image" of the heavenly realities. Because of our sins, and our ignorance, we are just too likely to get it wrong. As limited human beings, and as sinners not-yet-fully-healed, we are completely unqualified to paint or sculpt the Holy Mysteries of heaven.


But something new has happened in Jesus Christ. We are still not fully qualified to communicate the things of heaven in earthly artwork. But because we could not picture Him, the Lord, out of His infinite Mercy, has pictured Himself for us. God, as it were, painted His own portrait for us through Jesus Christ. He fashioned the true image of Himself through His incarnate Son: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14).

Pope John Paul II expanded on this gospel teaching in his encyclical Dives in Misericordia ("Rich in Mercy"):

It is precisely here that [God's] "invisible nature" becomes in a special way visible, incomparably more visible than through all the other things that have been made: [God] becomes visible in Christ and through Christ, through His actions and His words, and finally through His death on the cross and His resurrection.

In this way, in Christ and through Christ, God also becomes especially visible in His mercy. ... God becomes "visible" in a particular way as the Father "who is rich in mercy."



In short, the Pope is telling us that the very best image that we have of God, the Father of Mercy, is His only Son in human flesh, Jesus Christ, the very incarnation of Mercy.

It is for this reason that Christians all through the ages have felt free to make images and sculptures of Jesus, the saints, and even highly symbolic images of the Trinity. For God has "imaged" Himself for us; it is therefore permissible for us to copy God's sacred art in our own, proclaiming the Gospel in paint and stone, and drawing our hearts ever nearer in prayer to the heavenly persons depicted.

Moreover, it is best for us when we are not left on our own to copy the Master's sacred art, but when He Himself lends us a helping hand. That is why true Christian icons must be the fruit of prayer and fasting. It is also why the most powerful holy images we now possess, the one's most "full of grace and truth," are the ones traceable most directly to divine intervention. One thinks, for example, of the Holy Shroud of Turin, an image not made by human hands at all. We also have the image of the Mother of God given miraculously to Bl. Juan Diego at Guadalupe, Mexico. We have the image of the Sacred Heart, revealed in four apparitions of our Lord to St. Margaret Mary in the 17th century, prophetic revelations accorded the highest degree of approbation by the Church.

And now, in our own time, at the dawn of the third millennium, we have what has come to be known as the Image of The Divine Mercy, given to a simple Polish sister, St. Faustina Kowalska, in 1931 — an image fashioned especially for the needs of our age by the guiding hand of Jesus Himself.

The Origins of the Image
The story of the Image of The Divine Mercy begins on the evening of Feb. 22, 1931, when St. Faustina was alone in her cell in the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Plock, Poland. Suddenly, she saw the Lord Jesus clothed in a white garment, with His right hand raised in blessing. His left hand was touching His garment in the area of the heart, from which two rays shone forth, one red, and the other pale.

Sister Faustina gazed intently at the Lord in silence, her soul filled with awe, but also with great joy. Jesus said to her:

Paint an image according to the pattern you see with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You. I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and [then] throughout the world. I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over [its] enemies already here on earth, especially at the hour of death. I myself will defend it as my own glory.



In the last half century, many different versions of this image have been painted. Saint Faustina's spiritual director, Fr. Michael Sopocko, commissioned an artist to attempt it during her lifetime, because she could not paint herself. But when St. Faustina saw the first try at a painting of the image, she wept with disappointment, and she complained to Jesus: "Oh, who will paint you as beautiful as You are?" And Jesus replied: "Not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush lies the greatness of this image, but in My grace" (Diary of St. Faustina, 313).

An Ecumenical Image
It helps to call to mind both of the great traditions of Christian art whenever we gaze on the Image of The Divine Mercy revealed to St. Faustina. For if one looks closely and with attention at the Image of The Divine Mercy, one discovers that this Image actually contains most of the essential characteristics of both an eastern icon and a western holy picture. It is a remarkable fusion of both traditions: an ecumenical miracle.

Consider the figure of Jesus in the image. He is certainly resplendent with heavenly glory: the light seems to shine from His body, His garments, and especially from His breast. This is the Son of God, risen from the dead in glorified flesh, almost as in an eastern icon. And yet, He is a three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood, human being too, with wounds in His Hands from His passion, and (in the best renditions of the image) an expression of tender compassion for us on His face. In other words, this could just as well be a western picture of the Holy Face and the Sacred Heart.

Consider also the treatment of time in this image. What event, what moment in time does the Image depict? Again, a closer look reveals eastern characteristics. For this image is like a triple-exposure photograph; it is an icon that sums up the whole mystery of our redemption — Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter — all at once.

What springs to mind first, perhaps, is Easter. It is Easter Sunday night. It is Jesus appearing to His disciples in the Upper Room. He has just come through the locked doors of the cenacle, with His hand raised to bestow His blessing of peace: showing them His wounds, shining with radiant light, overcoming their fears (Jn 20:19-23).

This image is also an image of Good Friday. It is Calvary, the time of the piercing of Christ's side by the spear, for out of His Heart flow streams of blood and water, a fountain of mercy to wash us of our guilt and heal us of all the wounds caused by sin. The flow of blood and water show us His merciful love poured out to the limit for us on the cross (Jn 19:34).

In addition, this image alludes to Holy Thursday, the institution of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass — or indeed any Holy Eucharist. This is clear from the garment that Jesus is wearing. He is dressed all in white, in the ankle-length white linen vestment of the High Priest of the Jewish temple. Only the High Priest was allowed to wear this particular vestment, according to the Old Testament. Clad in this garment, the High Priest was allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies of the Temple to offer the blood of sacrifice, and to emerge from that inner sanctuary with a hand raised in blessing for all the people from the Most High (Lv 16:1-4, Sir. 50:18-21).

Similarly, in the Image of The Divine Mercy, Jesus is shown as the sacrificial "Lamb of God," who forever pleads all the merits of His self-sacrifice for us before the true Holy of Holies: throne of God in heaven (Heb 7:24-25, 9:23-28).

Jesus is our great High Priest; on the basis of His pure and perfect self-sacrifice, He can now bless His disciples with the most perfect blessing: the water and the blood — in other words, Baptism and Holy Communion — a special, intimate, and sanctifying union with Himself.

In short, here is the whole mystery of our redemption — Good Friday, Easter, Baptism, and the Holy Eucharist — all summed up for us in a single image. It is enough to make any eastern icon painter proud.

On the other hand, the Image depicts two other moments in time, with an historical realism that makes it a western as well as an eastern picture. First, it is a single moment in the past that is literally depicted here, that moment back in 1931 when Jesus appeared to Sr. Faustina just like that in her cell in her convent in Poland, and said to her: "Paint an image according to the pattern you see ..."

An Image for Our Time
Most importantly, it is another time as well. It is today; it is our time. For one
thing about this image makes it not quite like an eastern icon at all: Jesus appears in almost total darkness! This is not so much a window into the glories of heaven; there is no gold backdrop here. Rather, it is Jesus Himself, Divine Mercy Incarnate, piercing the darkness and gloom of our terribly dark age with His saving light, and with His rays of mercy.

What more accurate description of our age could there be than simple, enveloping darkness? Over the past century, mankind has suffered two world wars, communist and fascist totalitarianism, new refinements of oppression and police torture, violent revolution and terrorism, mass starvation and new and hideous plagues.

We are living in a world in which nature itself seems to be broken and bleeding, and (despite advances in medicine, agriculture and the spread of democracy) mankind still seems to be running away from Jesus Christ into the darkness as fast as it can: rejecting a culture of life, turning its back on the light, and fashioning instead in the darkness a "culture of death," a culture of abortion, euthanasia, and suicide, of materialistic greed, hedonism, and empty pleasures, of broken families and broken hearts.

But Jesus will not give up on us!

The mercy of the Incarnate Lord is so great, the ocean of His mercy is so vast, that He pierces the darkness with His light and comes to find us. In an age in which the visual image has become the most powerful means of human communication — whether through television, films, billboards, or the internet — Christ has given to us, through St. Faustina, a new image of Himself that powerfully proclaims the message of God's merciful love to a lost and aching world.

An Image of God's Merciful Love
Early in the 20th century, several of the popes called the world back to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Pope Leo XIII consecrated the whole world to the Sacred Heart in 1899, and Pope Pius XI asked the universal church for loving acts of reparation to His Heart for all the outrages of human sin.

Through the revelations given to St. Margaret Mary in the 17th century, the Church had already received the basic pattern for the image of the Sacred Heart that was central to this devotion and spirituality: Jesus was depicted as pointing to His Heart aflame with love for us, yet pierced and wounded by our sins, and He beckoned the world to come back to His Heart, asking all mankind to "return love for love." By and large, however, the world would not listen; His pleas fell upon deaf ears.

Now our Savior has reached out to us again. He has given us a new image of Himself — not as beckoning us to return to Him, but as coming to rescue us. In the Image of The Divine Mercy Mercy, He is shown walking toward the viewer, with His hand raised in blessing even before we are ready to repent and ask for blessing. Here is the Good Shepherd, the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, seeking out His lost sheep in the darkness of the night. And the rays of His mercy, shinning out from His Heart, spread out to embrace the whole world.

In short, everything about this image speaks of the Risen Christ graciously taking the initiative to seek out lost souls in the darkness. As He once said to St. Faustina, "Be not afraid of your Savior, O sinful soul. I make the first move to come to you, for I know that by yourself you are unable to lift yourself to me" (Diary, 1485).

A Call to Trust
At the bottom of any authentic Image of The Divine Mercy, the words should be inscribed: "Jesus, I trust in You." This is not an "optional extra." Rather, Jesus Himself commanded that the image bear this signature (see Diary, 47).

These words are important because they sum up for us the principal response that Jesus asks of us to His merciful love.

In fact, for the devotee of the Merciful Heart of Jesus, the words of the inscription can become a simple prayer to repeat over and over again each day, in every life situation. In the midst of trouble and strife, crippling financial burdens or the grievous loss of close family members and good friends, in times of terrible illness, or social turmoil — whatever sufferings and uncertainties we may face, there is no moment in our lives when this little prayer, "Jesus, I trust in You," does not apply. Trusting in Jesus is what all people everywhere need to do, at every moment.

Over and over again, as we see in the Diary, Christ Jesus reassured St. Faustina of His infinite trustworthiness:

I am Love and Mercy itself .... Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet ... My mercy is greater than your sins and those of the entire world ... I let my Sacred Heart be pierced with a lance, thus opening wide the source of mercy for you. Come then with trust to draw graces from this fountain. I never reject a contrite heart ... Sooner would heaven and earth turn into nothingness than would My mercy not embrace a trusting soul ...

I am offering people a vessel with which they are to keep coming for graces to the fountain of mercy. That vessel is this image with the signature: "Jesus, I trust in You".... The graces of My mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is — trust. The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive.
.



In other words, what Jesus was telling St. Faustina is that His pierced Heart is like a fountain; the water and the blood (represented by the red and pale rays in the image) symbolize the graces of His Mercy, pouring out from His Heart for us. Moreover, the vessel with which we can collect for ourselves these graces is one vessel only: the vessel of "trust." The bigger the container we bring to this fountain of mercy, the more graces of mercy we can receive. If we bring a vessel of trust that is barely the size of a thimble, then we can receive only a thimbleful of grace. But if we bring a 10-gallon jug, we can receive enough graces to satiate our thirst, and more besides. As Jesus said to St. Faustina, "Souls that make an appeal to My mercy delight Me. To such souls I grant even more graces than they ask" (Diary, 1146).

It is also important to notice the way the signature at the bottom of the Image is phrased. It does not say, "Jesus, we trust in You," but rather "Jesus, I trust in You." It is meant to be personal. That is probably why Jesus referred to it as a "signature" rather than merely as an "inscription" (Diary, 47). By saying these words, "Jesus, I Trust in You," each person is, so to speak, signing the image himself, with his own name. As Jesus said in St. John's gospel, He calls His own sheep by name, and they know His voice (10:1-21). Through this image and inscription, Christ calls each person by name, as individual souls precious in His sight, and He asks from each one a personal response of trust, each and every day.

A Call to Be Merciful
To receive Christ's merciful love entails the responsibility to be merciful to others. It is to let His Mercy so take charge of our will and our lives that His mercy is able to flow through us to our neighbors in need. As Jesus said to Faustina:

I demand from you deeds of mercy which are to arise out of
love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere
(Diary, 742).



All this is but an echo of our Lord's words in the gospels, where He said "this new commandment I give you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you (Jn 13:34), and again, "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful" (Lk 6:36).

The Image of The Divine Mercy, therefore, does not invite us to a kind of "trust" that is merely passive resignation to the hardships of life. On the contrary, the image is a call and a challenge to entrust our whole lives to His love — including our will and our deeds — in active service of His Kingdom of Mercy. As Jesus said to St. Faustina:

By means of this image I shall grant many graces to souls. It is to be a reminder of the demands of My mercy, because even the strongest faith is of no avail without works (Diary, 742).



The Secret of the Image
The Image of The Divine Mercy was not meant to be merely a theological curiosity. It was meant to be used in churches, chapels, and oratories, in family rooms, on bookmarks, and on the dashboards of cars. Wherever His people live and struggle for faith and love, Christ Jesus invites us to draw near to Him through this holy image. He gave it to us as a true "sacramental," a channel of graces flowing from the Merciful Heart of Jesus. By gazing upon it, our hearts can be opened to His presence and power.

The potential impact of such a sacred image upon the human soul is hard to define. One cannot exhaust the meaning and power of holy pictures in mere words. That is why we commonly say, even of secular images, that "a picture is worth a thousand words." For the same reason, our Lord inspires the creation of sacred art: because a true and holy image can penetrate our hearts much more deeply than mere words could ever do. An authentic holy image communicates more than just a doctrinal message. Through it we encounter the divine presence, and it awakens our deepest longings.

Perhaps this is the secret behind the worldwide popularity — and attractive power — of the Image of The Divine Mercy. The fact is that, deep down inside, at the very center of the human soul, all people long for the same thing. We all long to see Jesus. In our heart of hearts we want to see Him face to face, to return His loving gaze upon us, and to adore Him forever and ever.

It is the deepest love-secret of our hearts: this restless yearning to be with Jesus. Saint Augustine touched upon this longing when he wrote perhaps his most famous words: "You made us for Yourself, Lord, and our hearts will never find rest until they rest in You."

The desire to see yhe Lord finds an echo in the Old Testament, where the Psalmist frequently prays that "the light of His countenance" may shine upon us. Saint Paul rejoiced that in Jesus, the divine Word made Flesh, we see the Lord's countenance shining more clearly than ever (2 Cor 4:6):

For the same God who said, "Out of darkness, let light shine," has caused His light to shine within us, to give knowledge of the revelation of the glory of God, shinning in the face of Jesus Christ.



This is our heart's longing: to see Him face to face, to look into His deep and wise and tender eyes and know that we are loved, forgiven, and blessed with Him for all eternity, immersed, surrounded, and embraced by the light of His glory. Truly, that is the underlying secret of the attractive power of the Image of The Divine Mercy. It has enabled countless souls, in joy and in sorrow, to see the glorious and merciful Jesus, and to receive the graces of His mercy.

As such, it is a foretaste of heaven, a first light of dawn.

May this incredible image be so for each one of us. May it unlock for us the secret of our heart's desire, that we may see the Merciful Jesus now, through this image, and in the world to come, behold the light of His countenance, face to face, forever and ever.

Lee Bowers is a lay evangelist for Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy (EADM), an apostolate of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception. Learn more about EADM and how to start a Divine Mercy cenacle in your area by clicking here.

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sharon ickes - Mar 13, 2012

I feel blessed to have found St. Faustina's diary and the blesses picture of Jesus telling us to trust in him. I wish there were some way I could post this image on YouTube and various web sites to share it with everyone who is seeking Jesus.