It is recommended that the reader of this reflection keeps before him/her the image of the Divine Mercy for better understanding. Our Lord, Master and Redeemer, Jesus Christ founded His Church having its root on the Apostles, and afterwards made two solemn promises which remain valid in perpetuity.
The first is that the gates of Hell shall never prevail over the Church (see Matt 16:17-19), and the second is that He will be with His Church till the end of times (see Matt 28:20). It is amazing and interesting to see that He made this second promise after His Resurrection in His glorified body. It is doubly amazing to even observe in awe that one of the ways He fulfills this second promise is by His Apparitions to chosen mystics in different eras of the Church’s history.
Outstanding among these apparitions of Jesus Christ are the revelation of His Sacred Heart to St Mary Margaret Alacoque which was discerned by her pious and learned spiritual director, Fr. St. Claude de la Colombiere; and the revelation of His Divine Mercy to St. Maria Faustina Kowalska who was sincerely assisted by Fr.
Blessed Michael Sopoćko, her spiritual director. The account of Faustina’s encounters with Jesus the Divine Mercy is recorded in her Diary which she titled “The Divine Mercy in My Soul.” There are remarkable things to notice in the images of the Sacred Heart and of the Divine Mercy. The first is that both are approved apparitions of Jesus by His Church. The second is that both depict the pierced Heart of Jesus, from which the Church was born, signified in the water and blood which represent Baptism and Eucharist. The third is that both portray Jesus’ hands pierced by the nails, while additionally in the Divine Mercy image, one sees also the piercing of His feet.
This implies that both images echo the event of the Paschal Mystery recorded in the Scripture – His Passion, Death and Resurrection. Thus, both images proclaim the first preaching of the risen Christ done by His disciples in the early Church. This is known as the Kerygma! Hence, we see the mystery of our Redeemer and our Redemption represented in these holy images. It is even more amazing to discover one more thing hidden in the image of the Divine Mercy (and implicitly in that of the Sacred Heart), namely, that Jesus gazes at us individually as we look at these images. And while He gazes at us, He touches his heart with his pierced but glorified hands, and invites us.
The image of the Divine Mercy depicts Him too in motion – He comes to us even when we run away from Him; He follows us with His Mercy even when we choose Justice; He approaches us with salvation even when we prefer damnation; He offers us graces even when we remain adamant in sin. A deep reflection on these points to one fact, that Jesus in the image communicates to us something about His Sacraments, for the image, devoid of being a Sacrament is a sacramental.
Therefore, it tells us something deeper about the same Jesus who is morally present in the image, and mystically (as God) present in the Sacraments. What are they? In the image of Divine Mercy is the depiction of water which gushed forth from Jesus’ pierced heart. This runs in tandem with the invocation in the Litany of the Sacred Heart where we say: “Heart of Jesus pierced with a lance, have mercy on us.” In touching that same heart, He reminds us that we are still God’s children no matter our sinfulness, and that cleansing us from original sin proves that we do not belong to the Evil One.
This is a solemn invitation to renew our baptismal vows by renouncing Satan, his pomp and works, while professing belief in God, in the mysteries He revealed and in Life Everlasting. From the same spot of the Heart in the image flows also the Precious Blood of Jesus. In touching His Heart, He echoes to us: “This is My Body (Luke 22:19); this is My Blood” (Matt 26:27). He also says to us: “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:35). Thus, He means that if He has given us life in God through the waters of Baptism, then, He sustains this life by feeding us with His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
Yet, He equally begs us not to receive the Eucharist in state of mortal sin, while He also appeals to us to approach His Sacred Body with reverence and to do reparation for all sacrileges and desecrations committed against His sacred Body (such as stealing the Blessed Sacrament, spreading consecrated hosts on the ground etc.). Jesus, in touching His Heart in the image equally encourages us to approach His mercy in the Sacrament of Confession. For we cannot receive absolution from sacramental (image), but from the Sacrament (Confession/Reconciliation). He looks into our eyes and inspires us to come to Him no matter how many years we have not gone for Confession, no matter the depth and number of our sins, He is pleased to forgive us more than it pleases us to be forgiven by Him as One with plentiful redemption (see Ps 130:7).
In touching his Heart while looking at us from the image, Jesus reminds us of His promise that whoever’s sins are forgiven by the priest are forgiven by Him (see John 20:21-23), for He is present in every priest to absolve our sins just as He is really present in every bread consecrated by priests to feed us. Hence, we can understand Him saying to us that He is pleased to absolve us when we sincerely approach Him in the Confessional for He is the Lamb of God who takes away our sins. It is of this that St. Maria Faustina writes in the Prayer for Divine Mercy saying that “we expect to obtain everything promised us by Jesus in spite of all our wretchedness.
For Jesus is our Hope: Through His merciful Heart as through an open gate we pass through to heaven” (Diary 1570). In the same image, the Lord in touching His Heart with His right hand raised in blessing, identifies Himself as the Eternal High Priest, and the One who ordains every Deacon, Priest and Bishop in the three Degrees of Sacrament of Holy Orders. Here, He means to tell us that the sacred power He has bestowed on His ministers makes them more powerful than the Devil, and reminds us that he who hears them hears Him (see Luke 10:16). An instance that proves that the Devil cannot consecrate the Eucharist even if he dares to inspire a person to plagiarize or impersonate being a priest. The same Devil inspires souls to receive Communion in the state of mortal sin, yet He himself dare not approach receiving the Communion. On the contrary, Jesus who gives the priests power to celebrate the Eucharist, also gives them power to perform exorcism during Baptism, and yet, He indwells them.
By this, He informs us that the Priesthood is a mystery, and that in fact, every priest must strive to be a priest after His merciful Heart, for how penitents are handled in the Confessional matters so much to His merciful heart. A devout gaze at the Divine Mercy image sees Jesus reminding us of what He has done to us in the Sacrament of Confirmation, namely, that in confirmation, we become soldiers of Jesus Christ by the seal and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as taught by Bishop Faustus of Riez, which the Church includes in her catechism. In looking at us, the Lord inspires us not to be afraid, that as His soldiers who defend the faith in the face of difficulties and crises of life, He is always with us.
He equally encourages us to imitate His virtues so as to be docile to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with His internal peace, joy, hope and other graces. In the image, Jesus gazes as well to all married couples, and to all those intending to get married to remind them that He is the author of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. The emphasis here is on Holiness of marriages, for since they have been sanctified by the Sacraments, their sanctified bodies now unite in another Sacrament called marriage. In touching His Heart, Jesus pleads with couples not to do anything that will break His heart in homes. Hence, any act of immorality, infidelity, neglect of parental duties towards children etc. should have no place. He also invites every couple to trust and be devoted to His Mercy, for He will protect their marriages.
He reminds every man to see his wife as the best woman to lead him to Jesus, and every woman to see her husband as the best man to lead her to Jesus. Therefore, the Divine Mercy is as a practical Invitation to Holiness. Finally, the Lord touches His Heart in the image to give hope to all who are sick and aged in the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick and Aged. In this way, He identifies Himself as the wounded Healer, and Ancestor who never abandons His own people.
He assures us that He is ever close to us to console us either by healing us of such illness or if it be His Will, by preparing us to die in God’s grace and peace. Thus, this is a merciful gesture. He directs us not to neglect the sick and aged, and that we have great role to play in informing the priests to visit them for anointing. Deriving from the above, it follows that while the image of the Divine Mercy refers us to the reality and importance of all the Sacraments, all these Sacraments have a meeting point in the Mercy of God and the God of Mercy, for in celebrating them, we celebrate God’s gift of mercy.
For Jesus instituted them out of His Mercy as avenues of Grace which is the effect of all the Sacraments. While in Baptism, Jesus washes us from original sin and makes us God’s children, He makes Confession a second Baptism where we receive forgiveness for our sins, and afterwards out of His Mercy, feeds and nourishes us with His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. While in the Sacred Orders, He calls and raises men who will continue the merciful works of His Apostles in serving humanity, in matrimony, He calls men and women who will discover themselves in God’s invitation to life companionship, and also enable them to cooperate in the works of procreation, it becomes a way of informing mankind that fornication, adultery and other forms of impurity are against what is in the mind of God.
While in Confirmation, Jesus strengthens and fortifies us to be His knights of faith, in the Anointing of the Sick/Aged, He reveals Himself as the Healer and One who gives us consolation to pass from time unto eternity in joyful death. All these are summarized in the invocation in the Litany of the Divine Mercy as the “Greatest attribute of God.”
Let us, therefore, be confident in God’s mercy and show this mercy to others. Let us trust in God’s Mercy by using and not abusing the graces He gives us in the Sacraments.
Jesus, I trust in You
• Martin Nchedo Umeatuegbu is an alumnus of Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA).
He can be contacted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.