The true meaning of the word mercy is often misunderstood and misused. Far from indicating that all bets are off and you are free to do whatever you please – without repercussions – true mercy has ramifications that benefit the immortal soul. The definition of Mercy is:
The disposition to be kind and forgiving. Founded on compassion, mercy differs from compassion or the feeling of sympathy in putting this feeling into practice with a readiness to assist. It is therefore the ready willingness to help anyone in need, especially in need of pardon or reconciliation.
Mercy and Atonement
When God offers us His mercy He expects certain commitments from us in return. As with the woman caught in adultery, Jesus knew full well what sins she had committed. Much to her surprise, He called her attention to them and offered forgiveness. That, however, was not the end of the exchange. When Jesus offered forgiveness there was a caveat. He told her to “Go, and now sin no more.” In order for her to receive full expiation for her past sinfulness, she was admonished to make a commitment.
What It Is Not
Our superficially minded society advocates many misconceptions when it comes to the meaning of mercy and tolerance. In the colloquial sense, tolerance indicates the willingness to accept any type of behavior on the part of another – often to the point of unwavering glorification of it. Yet, the properly catechized know this to be the Devil’s attempt to normalize sin. The Catholic Encyclopedia clarifies, “this kind of tolerance implies indifference towards the truth and in principle, a countenancing of error”.
In the same way, the meaning of this word is misused. It is not the forgiveness of a sinful act while condoning the repeating of the offensive behavior. It is not acceptable that some people are simply unable to behave in a moral way. True mercy acknowledges the sinful behavior and the penitent admission thereof. Yet it goes on to further offer aid to the offender. Atonement and a strong intent of not repeating the offending act are necessary as well.
Sorrow and Penance
The Act of Contrition, recited at the end of the sacrament of Confession, gives the perfect example. We pray, “I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen”. Although we are the imperfect creatures of a Perfect God, our atonement and resolve to better ourselves is a major factor in obtaining forgiveness.
Even the Lord’s Prayer illustrates the need for the resolve to sin no more. We state, “…and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”. In all aspects of our lives, asking for mercy is vital, but so is our reciprocation by a firm commitment not to repeat the sin.
The Bad Servant
The Bible makes it clear that in order to ask mercy for ourselves we must also be merciful to others. When the bad servant had been forgiven for his inability to repay the king what he owed, he failed to show the same benefit to another who owed much less. This wicked servant was, therefore, thrown into jail until his accounts had been paid in full. When we recite the Lord’s Prayer, we say “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. This shows another example of mercy and what it takes to obtain it for ourselves. It is a double sided commitment. To gain mercy, we must give mercy.
Divine Mercy Sunday
When Pope John Paul II instituted the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday, on April 30, 2000, we were called to a deeper understanding of what ir means. In reciting the Chaplet of Divine Mercy we ask Jesus to pour his mercy on the whole world. Saint Faustina shared that Jesus has oceans of mercy. We can ask for an overflowing of it – not just for ourselves but for others as well.
Pope John Paul II proclaimed,
“by this act today, I pass on the message of Divine Mercy to the new millennium. I pass it on because I want people to know the better face of God, and that of his Divine Mercy, and through it, the better face of their brethren. The light of the message of Divine Mercy which the Lord wished to renew in the world, will be as much a beacon of hope for the third millennium, as the apostles were in the first.”
During the past nine days, beginning on Good Friday, many of us have shared in this promise through a Novena. We asked Jesus to pour His mercy on everyone who is willing to accept it. According to the diary of Saint Faustina, Jesus asks us to pray for the following petitions:
- All mankind, especially all sinners
- The souls of priests and religious
- All devout and faithful souls
- Those who do not believe in God and those who do not yet know me
- The souls of those who have separated themselves from my Church H
- The meek and humble souls and the souls of little children
- The souls who especially venerate and glorify My mercy
- The souls who are detained in purgatory
- Souls who have become lukewarm
Pray More Novenas, is a website that encourages us to pray. There they share, “St. Faustina reports in her diary that she transcribed the words of the Novena as Jesus dictated them to her day-by-day beginning on Good Friday”. As we celebrate this official feast of the Catholic Church, let us never forget what we have been promised. We also participate in the responsibility to share it with the whole world.