The Mercy of God
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
If there is one divine attribute that we spontaneously associate with Christ and Christianity it is the attribute of mercy. Mercy, we may safely say, is the distinctive quality of being a Christian: to be a Christian is to be merciful. There are many reasons for this. One reason cannot be that the word mercy, just as a word, is so common in the New Testament. By actual count, justice is used almost three times as often as the word mercy in the New Testament. This is not a matter of arithmetic; it is a matter of spirit. The spirit of Christianity is the spirit of mercy.
Pope John Paul II went so far as to say that “Jesus Christ is the incarnation of Divine Mercy.” Surely Christ is the incarnation of God. But among the divine attributes which most distinguishes who Christ is as the incarnation of the God-head, none identifies Christ more concretely and distinctively than mercy.
Our scope in this article is to cover three areas of a subject which is as vast as our faith. First, what does the Church understand by mercy? Then, how is Christ really incarnate Divine Mercy? And then very pertinently, how do we not only have the option but the obligation of responding to the profound mystery of the Mercy of God who became Man out of love for us? What is mercy? It comes in two stages. First stage. Mercy is love shown not only to those who are in need. Mercy is love shown not only to those who are in want. Need expresses the real objective absence or lack in someone. Want is rather the subjective, the psychological desire to get whatever a person wants. Can people need what they don’t want? Yes. Objectively they may need many things which subjectively they may not want. Do people want things which they don’t need? Do they ever! Nevertheless this is not a clever distinction.
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