Where Can We Find God's Mercy?

One of my best correspondents for this column is someone known to me only as "JP." He (or she) has sent in several excellent questions in the past that I have answered on-line, and here is another one:

Is the Sacrament of Reconciliation the only way we can concretely and confidently experience Jesus' mercy? ... I'm sure that experiencing His mercy is not just limited to this sacrament; I'm just not sure what other ways are out there.

Thanks, J.P. Of course, in one sense the answer to your question may depend upon what you mean by "concretely and confidently." The experience of the mercy of Jesus Christ is indeed "concrete" and assured in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, because when we have sincerely confessed our sins, and the priest pronounces the words of absolution over us, we can be absolutely certain that it is really Jesus Himself who is pronouncing those words of absolution through His priest, granting us His forgiveness in an authoritative way, because He gave His Church the power to do this in his name: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven" (Jn 20:23).

But, as a matter of fact, we can find this same degree of assurance in all the sacraments. We can have every confidence that when the priest consecrates the bread and wine at Holy Eucharist, they really and truly become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ: our merciful Savior giving Himself to us in the most intimate and personal way ("This is My Body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me" (Lk 22:19).

Likewise, in all the other sacraments of the Church: it is really the merciful Jesus who baptizes us with water and His Holy Spirit, Jesus who confirms and strengthens us with that same Spirit, Jesus who marries Catholics, ordains Catholics, and anoints them for healing - all through the instrumentality of His priests.

Moreover, none of this depends upon the dispositions that we bring to the sacraments. That is to say, even if we come to the sacraments with no faith at all, Jesus still pours out His grace upon us anyway (although without at least some measure of faith in us to enable us to receive His grace and cooperate with it, it will not do us much good!).

This is what the Church means when she teaches us that our Savior mercifully pours out His grace in the sacraments ex opere operato - that is, "by the very fact of the sacramental action's being performed." It doesn't depend on your own holiness, or even on the holiness of the priest administering the sacrament. Rather, it depends only upon the promise and power of God.

So, the first answer to your question, J.P., is that our Lord's merciful love is poured out, and can be experienced "concretely and confidently" in all of the sacraments of the Church, not only in the sacrament of reconciliation.

However, behind your good question, there seems to be an implied understanding that Divine Mercy means only God's "pardon," God's "forgiveness." I am guessing that this is the reason why you felt that it is primarily in the Sacrament of Reconciliation that we can experience the "mercy" of Jesus. To be sure, pardon and forgiveness are two very important ways that our Lord bestows on us His merciful love. But "Divine Mercy" means so much more than that as well!

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, and Pope John Paul II "mercy" is "love's second name" (See the encyclical letter of Pope John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia). "Love," in general, can be defined as a sharing and giving of oneself to another, a selfless seeking of the good of another. "Mercy," however, is a particular form of love: love that seeks to meet the needs and overcome the miseries of others.

Here is how I put it in a new book that will be coming out in January, entitled Divine Mercy Guide; from Genesis to Benedict XVI:

According to the first epistle of St. John, "God is love" (4:8). He is infinite, eternal, self-giving love within His own being, among the three persons of the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. From all eternity, therefore, within His own infinite essence, He enjoys the fullness of love given, love received, and love returned. He enjoyed that fullness of perfect love before He ever made the world - and even if He had never made any world at all, He still would have enjoyed this perfect beatitude of eternal love, for "God is love."

In the infinite, eternal love that He is, in the inner life of the Blessed Trinity, there is no need for "mercy," for there is no "want" or "misery" or "suffering" that needs to be overcome in the Infinitely Perfect Being. What then is Divine Mercy?

Saint Thomas Aquinas defined mercy in general as "the compassion in our hearts for another person's misery, a compassion which drives us to do what we can to help him" (ST II-II.30.1). Divine Mercy, therefore, is the form that God's eternal love takes when He reaches out to us in the midst of our need and our brokenness. Whatever the nature of our need or our misery might be - sin, guilt, suffering, or death - He is always ready to pour out His merciful, compassionate love for us, to help in time of need:

In fact, God's love for His creatures always takes the form of merciful love. As we read in the Psalms (25:10), "all the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth." And again in Pasalms (145:9), "His tender mercies are over all His works."
When He created the world ex nihilo, therefore, and holds it in being at every moment, it is an act of merciful love: His merciful love overcoming the potential nothingness, the possible non-existence of all things.

When the divine Son became incarnate and dwelt among us, that was an act of merciful love too: His merciful love in sharing our lot, showing us the way to the Father, and making the perfect offering for our sins.

When He sends His Holy Spirit into our hearts to refresh and sanctify us, that too is His merciful love: His merciful love pouring into our hearts the power to grow in faith, hope, and love, and to serve him with joy. Psalm 136 says it best; while celebrating all the works of the Lord in creation and redemption, the psalm bears the constant refrain: "for His mercy endures forever."

In short, J.P., where can we find and experience the merciful love of Jesus? The answer is: everywhere, if only you and I had eyes well enough to see! More and more, with the help of His grace, we will be able to see that, I trust. Saint Catherine of Siena put it best: "Wherever I turn my thoughts I find nothing but mercy!" (The Dialogue, no. 30).

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. Got a question: e-mail him at questions@thedivinemercy.org.

You might also like...

We celebrate one of the greatest mysteries of the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Aug. 15. How do we know her Assumption really happened?

With the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus upon us, Dr. Robert Stackpole addresses a matter dear to his own heart.

The invitations must say WHY the banquet is being held, WHEN it will take place, WHO is invited, and WHAT TO EXPECT....