Today we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. The infinite mercy of God is something so grand and awesome that we have been blessed with a day on our liturgical calendar dedicated to meditating upon it. What exactly is Divine Mercy and how does it relate to us and our lives practically?
We can identify two primary types of Divine Mercy from the countless examples in Scripture. The first form of mercy that God extends to His people is the withholding of just punishment, or providing a lesser punishment for sins, because of His immense compassion and love for us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church cites the parable of the Prodigal Son to highlight this type of Divine Mercy (CCCC #1439, Lk 15:11-32). If you’ll recall, the prodigal son squanders everything his father has given to him and, as a result, he finds himself in a complete state of misery and eating with pigs. This may sound somewhat familiar when use this lens to examine how we have squandered our own gifts from our Father and find ourselves miserable in the muck of our sins. The son has a conversion of heart and knows that he can return home. In his own understanding of justice, he even knows that he deserves to no longer be considered a son, but to live as his father’s servant and he willingly accepts this reality. However, when he returns home, rather than receiving what he rightly deserves for sinning against his father, he receives an extravagant party and a fine robe. If we have true conversion in our hearts, repent of our sins, and return to our heavenly Father, we too will receive the most extravagant welcome home party we could ever imagine rather than what we rightfully deserve. This is God’s Divine Mercy. He is not sitting on His throne with a scorecard and a list of consequences. If He was, we’d likely all be in a lot of trouble. Rather, He is a loving Father who wants nothing more than to joyfully welcome us back to Him with open arms. Every time we enter into the confessional in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are like the prodigal son, coming home to our Father’s loving arms which He readily wraps around us. “I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Lk 15:10)
The second type of Divine Mercy found throughout Scripture is in the ways God alleviates the pain and suffering of His people. A couple of examples from the Old Testament include when He led the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt, when He gave Sarah and Abraham a son in their old age, or when He restored Job’s life super-abundantly after he had lost everything. The gospels also contain numerous examples of Jesus, in his divine nature, alleviating the pain and suffering of those around Him. He healed the sick, He raised Lazarus from the dead, and He comforted His disciples. How many times have we found ourselves in the midst of suffering and cried out to God for His mercy? Sometimes this can be a bit tricky when we don’t find ourselves immediately cured like the leper, or have everything restored to us like Job. It requires a lot of faith in His goodness and mercy on our part. What we can’t see is how much more we could be suffering if He was not extending His mercy over us by withholding what we could not, in fact, handle. We must understand that the suffering He allows us to experience is for our own good, as it causes us to draw closer to Him, which, in and of itself, is a merciful act. Through our suffering, we must always do as St. Faustina did and simply say, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
We cannot leave this topic without discussing what all of this means for us practically. Yes, we must repent of our sins and ask for God’s mercy on us, and yes, we need to ask God for His mercy in alleviating our pain and suffering, but there is more. We are always called to imitate God in our relationship with others. “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:48) As Christians, we are always called to action.
With regard to the first type of mercy, we are called to forgive others as God forgives us. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” How can we justifiably expect to be forgiven for anything if we are unwilling to extend forgiveness to others? In our Christian worldview, we know that everyone we encounter is a sinner and will likely commit some wrong (large or small) against us at some point. We need to be forgiving. When someone who has seriously sinned against us, like the prodigal son, has a conversion of heart and truly repents, we should not only simply accept their apology, we should rejoice in their repentance because that is what God is doing. Similarly, we should not hold old sins against others, particularly if they have repented (easier said than done!) because God holds nothing against us when we repent. Now what if someone hasn’t repented for the harm they have done? We can still show mercy and forgiveness. Certainly, there were and are plenty of people who are not sorry for the great suffering that came to Jesus, but He said, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). Mercy and forgiveness can be difficult for us to offer, but we can pray and ask God for the strength to do it in recognition for all He has done for us in His Divine Mercy. We can also seek out opportunities to practice giving mercy.
We are also called to show mercy to others in the second type of mercy which is to help alleviate their pain and suffering. The Church teaches us how to do that by explicitly naming the spiritual and corporal acts of mercy as they are derived from Scripture (CCCC #2447). The spiritual acts of mercy are: instructing, advising, consoling, comforting, forgiving, and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal, or bodily, works of mercy are: feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Just as Jesus tended to the suffering and the marginalized around him, we are called to do the same because Jesus said, “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me.” (Matt 25:40) Typically, we need to extend these spiritual and corporal works of mercy to those immediately closest to us. If you have a home with children, aging or ill parents, or others who depend on you, that is where you begin. Insofar as you can extend yourself beyond that, you most certainly should as it is pleasing to God. However, when you perform these acts of mercy for others in order to alleviate their suffering and increase their comfort, do it out of love in return for all that God has done to alleviate your own pain and suffering and in thanksgiving for all the mercy and blessings He has bestowed on you.
This Divine Mercy Sunday, contemplate the times in your life when God has extended His mercy to you. Often, you don’t notice it at the time, but it may be clearer in retrospect. How can you take one step further in extending mercy to others in thanksgiving for all that has been offered to you?
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