See and Believe

By Marian Friedrichs

Anyone who has read to a group of children has experienced it: the jostling, the squirming, the scramble to snuggle in as close as possible to “see the pictures!” When our Lord settles in to tell the story of His love, He makes sure that His children can “see the pictures.” Teaching the crowds that followed Him, He painted word-pictures of His quest for souls: a shepherd seeking a wandering sheep, a housewife hunting for a lost coin, a father peering down the road for a rebel son.

With the persistence of that shepherd, that housewife, that father, God continues to show us the pictures that stir our hearts with their beauty and capture our minds with their message. God’s illustrations are invitations. At the center of devotions like the Sacred Heart and the Divine Mercy we find pictures that invite. Comparing the images of the Sacred Heart and the Good Shepherd, Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen wrote that “both are living, concrete expressions of the merciful love of Jesus, and they urge us to go to Him with complete confidence” (Divine Intimacy, 629). The same can be said of the Divine Mercy Image.

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In one famous depiction of the Sacred Heart, Jesus presents His Heart in His outstretched left hand. His eyes search ours while His right hand gestures toward the Heart as if asking us to come closer, examine its bleeding wounds with our eyes and fingers, and perhaps even take the Heart and press it to ours, feeling its spreading warmth. In this image, Jesus is an earnest, hopeful Bridegroom, asking His beloved to leave her old life behind and trust in Him to take care of her always. In place of the diamond ring, Jesus offers His burning Heart; in place of a home on earth, He pledges to provide a mansion in Heaven.

We must respond. When a man offers himself to a woman in marriage, she has to accept or reject him. If she tries to ignore him or if she asks him to take the offer back, she has not really escaped the question; she has said no. The moment Jesus meets our eyes in the Sacred Heart image, we have two choices: We can hold His gaze, extend our own hand, and exchange hearts with Him, or we can turn away and leave Him reaching for us until the end of our lives.

Through the Divine Mercy Image, Christ pursues those who still hesitate to fall into His arms and let Him carry them home. As He emerges from the shadowy background, the rays pouring from His Heart beckon as lights always do in the darkness, stretching and searching like an offered embrace. His left foot steps toward the one from whom His gaze never wavers (the one — for no matter how many gather before the Image, He is always gazing at each one alone). The left hand parting His garment (the same hand that held the Sacred Heart) prepares to unveil, at our word of acceptance, the treasure He holds in keeping for us.

That gaze, that step, that gesture call to mind the welcoming words He spoke to Thomas long ago, words the Church recalls during Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday: “Do not doubt but believe” (Jn 20:27). Again, we must respond. We can retreat from Christ’s advances or fall to our knees, calling Him, with St. Thomas, not simply Lord and God, but our Lord and our God.

And yet the Image itself provides other words He would like us to use: words that do not call Him Lord and God, though of course He is both. He asks us to use His name, familiarly and intimately, and to assure Him simply that we trust in Him. He is still the hopeful Bridegroom, but instead of waiting for His bride to walk to Him, He cannot help stepping eagerly toward her. In both images, Jesus perpetually invites us to the marriage feast, but He does not stop at asking us to come. He lets us know of His yearning to come and get us. Our promise of trust is His signal to set out.

The pictures tell the story, and the story is true. Let us see and believe and trust.

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