Merciful love is a strong love, is capable of withstanding the cross, both difficulties and challenges.
Where does the title, “Mary, Mother of Mercy,” come from? We have many popular prayers that speak of Mary as Mother of Mercy. For example, “Hail holy Queen, Mother of mercy” … and, later: “turn, then, your eyes of mercy towards us.” In another prayer, the Memorare, we hear: “To you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful, O Mother of the Word incarnate, despise not my petitions but in your mercy, hear and answer me.” Moreover, in the lives of the saints, we hear Mary referred to as “Mother of mercy.” Once, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska had a vision of the Blessed Mother. Mary said to Sr. Faustina: “I am not only the Queen of Heaven, but also the Mother of Mercy, and your Mother” (Diary of St. Faustina,330). Also, Pope John Paul II refers to Mary as Mother of Mercy in his 1980 encyclical, Dives in Misericordia:
Mary is also the one who obtained mercy in a particular and exceptional way … Mary, then, is the one who has the deepest knowledge of the mystery of God’s mercy. She knows its price, she knows how great it is. In this sense, we call her the “Mother of mercy” (§9).
Note that the Hebrew word for mercy, rahamim, comes from rehem, a mother’s womb. God’s mercy must have something of a maternal warmth about it—unconditional, intimate, and nurturing love, symbolized by a mother’s womb. God’s mercy is, therefore, tender and affectionate, life-giving and indispensable. God chose Mary to reveal this merciful love to us. Therefore, we need Mary in our lives as Christians. Many people, many sects, will tell you that you don’t need Mother Mary. Have you heard that? One elderly Jesuit I know told me once that some people were arguing about how we don’t need Mary in order to know Jesus. They told him to go directly to Jesus. He replied that God has given us Mary for a reason, suggesting finally: “Okay, you go directly to Jesus; I will go through Mary. And we will see who gets there first!”
God has given us a mother for a reason. At the foot of the cross, Jesus said to his beloved disciple, St. John: “Here is your Mother,” and he said to Mary: “Here is your son” (Jn 19:27). Mary was able to stand firm at the foot of the cross—a merciful love is a strong love! Merciful love is capable of withstanding the cross; capable of withstanding difficulties and challenges. How many times in our lives are we in need of that firm and strong love of Mother Mary?
Do you know the statue by Michaelangelo, called the Pieta? Mary is holding the dead body of Jesus in her hands. The left hand is small and feminine, but the right hand is under Jesus, supporting the weight of his body. What does it mean? It means that the love of Mary is gentle and feminine, yet, also strong and firm. It is a love that does not give up. St Paul even said that love believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things—the mercy of God, likewise, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.
Through Mary, the divine life is born in us
In those words, spoken by Chris from the cross, “This is your son,” Mary is given her mission: to form the image and likeness of Christ in each of her children. In some ways, the mercy she shares with us is to help form the face of Christ in us. It helps me to imagine a mother’s womb. What is a mother’s womb? It is the place where new life grows, where the growing child is nourished, nurtured and protected. Mary, our Mother, desires that the life of Christ grows in us, his divine life in us grows and becomes strong. When we come to Mary, Mother of mercy, when we ask for her help, what is it for? Is it to help the life of Jesus grow in us? Is it so that we can become more Christ-like?
Approaching our Mother of mercy—she is also our Lady of Perpetual help—it is not only to ask for material help. “Mary, help me to pass my board exam to be a doctor.” But, afterwards, when I do become a doctor, is it to really reflect Christ? Or, is it just to become rich? To ask for material help from Mary is fine. But afterwards, do I forgive others?
Sometimes, in coming to Mother Mary, we treat her like a first aid kit. What is a first aid kit? I go and get the medicine, like the Omega lotion for back pain. In treating Mother Mary like a first aid kit, we are just coming to her in emergencies, for more money, for health. But, Mary wants to give us, not merely the Omega lotion, but the Alpha and the Omega, Jesus himself. Do you think it pleases our Mother if we come to her, ask for blessings, and then go home where we scold our children, shout at our husbands, and curse those who work for us?
Through Mary, Christ is born in us, Christ matures in us
The desire of Mother Mary is to see that each one of us grows up as her children: growing up in faith, growing up in charity. If we draw close to her, she will teach us how to be more mature in our following Christ. For many years, I lived my faith in a very immature way. I did not know Jesus; I felt distant from him. I went to Church on Sunday, but I did not know Jesus. I was working as a doctor, a surgeon. Many people would admire me for my career: “Wow, you are a surgeon, a plastic surgeon!” I was doing my work and being praised. But my love was quite immature. It needed to grow up. I remember saying a prayer before a job interview, one of those prayers when you make a promise to Mary: “Mother Mary, I want this job. Seeing as it is for three years, I will go to Lourdes three times as payment.” It is like making a business deal with her! So, I went to the interview, got the job, and, then, forgot the promise. What happens when you forget the promise you make? Bad luck? Mary is the Mother of Mercy, remember? A year later, I walked into a church, where I saw a poster which read: “Doctors needed for Lourdes!” with a big finger pointing at me. Next to the poster, there was a statue of the Virgin of Lourdes! “Okay,” I said. “I surrender. You win. I’m going!”
I was so very cautious to get to know the love of God. I don’t know about you, but sometimes, we are so afraid of God’s mercy: “What will he ask me? He will take something away. He will make me do something I don’t want.” These are all signs of immaturity in love. It is the selfish, adolescent syndrome: “Gimme, gimme, gimme…!” But, little by little, Mary was teaching me how to trust more in the Lord, to trust in his mercy over my life. She taught me not to be so stingy in front of him! I learned, instead, to be more generous. In that experience of Lourdes, Mother Mary helped open my eyes to the power of Christ’s merciful love in my life. When I went back home after my time in Lourdes, many of my colleagues were teasing me about seeing miracles. Some people only believe if they see miracles. They asked: “Did you see the lame walking? Did you see the deaf hear?” So I responded: “Yes! I saw a blind person opening his eyes.” What? Even the atheists responded: “Thanks be to God!” But the miracle was that I opened my eyes, and saw the need for the mercy of God. That is what the world needs, as well: to experience the power of Christ’s merciful love. This love can fix our brokenness.
The merciful love of Christ can fix the brokenness of this world
I went back to work in Sydney, Australia, and saw things differently. I remember one man coming into the hospital after cutting his wrists, because he did not want to live. He was broken. We went to the operating room at midnight, and the surgery took eight hours, sewing all the tendons and nerves together. When I went to visit him the next day, I told him he should be pleased that it went well. “You should be happy, we fixed your hand,” I said. But he just started to cry, saying: “Who will fix my life?”
What can fix a person who is broken? The answer is, the mercy of God will fix it. We have many people who have been badly treated by the world, who have been abused. They feel hurt and wounded. Is there a love powerful enough to heal them? Recently, Cardinal Rosales published a pastoral letter for all the churches in Manila on the topic of abortion. He was prompted by three recent cases where babies were abandoned: one on an airplane, one in a church, and the other in the Manila cathedral. There is so much brokenness around. Is there a love strong enough to heal the brokenness and misery?
Where God’s mercy meets human misery
The Latin word for mercy, misericordia, is derived from two words, “poor” and “heart.” As such, misericordia is where the merciful heart of God meets the misery of man. Where does this happen? In Jesus, in his crucified love, he receives all the human misery, pouring out his merciful love on the world. The cross is like a great yellow ribbon; a visible sign of God’s love for us. This mercy can heal the brokenness of the world of today! This merciful love can put back the broken pieces, making the person whole again.
We have many examples of this, for instance, look at the life of St Paul: “I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry. I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man, but I have been mercifully treated” (1Tim 1:12-13). In fact, he was present at the execution of St. Stephen, but look at the transformation that God made in his life. When each one of us looks at our own life carefully, we can see what the mercy of God has done for us; it has made us new! If we are here today (at this pastoral conference), it is because of the mercy of God. Sometimes, we think it is because of our own merits! “I am a good person, a good Christian!” But, we are not just called to sing our own praises, but to recognize God’s work in our lives.
To be sharers of God’s mercy to others
In Lk 6:36, Jesus gives us a commandment: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” We are called to be instruments of God’s mercy, revealing the power of God’s mercy in our lives. It is not only to experience mercy, but that others can experience his mercy through our lives. Do people experience God’s mercy through me? For example, if I keep a record of all the wrongs done to me, is this being merciful? Merciful love does not keep a record of wrongs done against me (1 Cor 13:6). We need to see others with the eyes of mercy. We pray to Mary, “Turn, then, your eyes of mercy towards us.” We know that Jesus looks at us with eyes of mercy. But what if we look at others with eyes of revenge? Do you think that makes Jesus happy? Be merciful! How do we see others? Do we see them with the merciful eyes of Jesus? When you look at others, what do you see? Do you see Christ? If you see Christ, why do you so easily get angry with others? Even the children experience this anger; so many times they are shouted at!
Jesus asks us also to show merciful love by reaching out to the “lost” ones, too. In his parables of mercy, he talks of the lost son, the lost coin, and the lost sheep. He wishes us to seek out the lost until they are found, in the same way that we have been found. Sometimes in our families we have black sheep, who may have not performed so well. Jesus invites us to seek out these lost ones, and not give up for lost anyone we know. It reminds me of Edison and his assistant. His assistant was asked to carry out to him the world’s first light bulb, but he dropped it! Edison asked him a second time, and his assistant was surprised that Edison still trusted him to carry the first light bulb that Edison created. The inventor said that he trusted him because “you will be the one who will take the most care now.”
One family I know is struggling because their son has just come out of rehabilitation. They are trying to show their son God’s merciful love, continuing to support him, even though he is a bit troublesome. Another mother I know is trying to show God’s mercy to her children who no longer go to Mass.
Let us not be discouraged by any situation. Instead, let us rely, more and more, on God’s mercy, believing that Christ’s merciful love is powerful. May we be thankful that we have a God who loves us so much, being able to say “thank you” for his great mercy! In French, the word for “thank you” is “merci!” So, we are able to say “merci!” for God’s mercy, to say “thank you” to our Lord for the gift of our Mother, our Mother of mercy, who desires that Christ’s love be mature in us. Let us give thanks to Jesus, who asks us to be merciful to others. He desires that our families be as good as they can be, that we try to love each other as much as we can. He does not want us to become discouraged by our limitations, but rely, more and more, on the merciful love of Christ, which he has for each one of us. Amen.