What Is True Mercy?

Is mercy merely the affirmation, allowance, or clemency an authority figure extends toward a subject — in light of the subject’s understanding of an act he or she desires to engage in given a specific circumstance? Or, is mercy something much greater: a solemn responsibility to safeguard the truth?

Does true mercy not originate in faith — the ultimate acknowledgment that God is the Sovereign Ruler over All, the Supreme Authority over Good and Evil, and the First Principle of our practical reason: to seek always the greatest good and avoid every form of evil? The Lord God, who instills deep within our hearts, by means of His grace, the duty to ensure the true good of all entrusted to our care, guided by the Holy Spirit and the Gospel Truth of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He, Who became Incarnate through the power of the Most High, Who offered His life on the Cross out of love for all of mankind, and was resurrected from the dead: that the Church He founded would forever continue His mission upon the earth. That, through the sacramental life of the Church, apostolic succession, and a proper and appropriate magisterial teaching, we would continue to be shepherded — a shepherding that will only be realized through the loving Providence of God, a Father Who leads, corrects, and admonishes: “For the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”1

Is this not the first step in understanding the mercy of God? Thus, to acknowledge God as the Sovereign Ruler over all is to recognize that He is eternal, that He Exists outside of all time and creation:

Blessed art thou, O LORD, the God of Israel our father, for ever and ever. Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from thee, and thou rulest over all. In thy hand are power and might; and in thy hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank thee, our God, and praise thy glorious name.2

If God is the greatest good, and is love and mercy itself, does it not make good sense that His fullness of love and mercy be poured forth into all creation? All that God has created is created and ordered toward a specific purpose and end, that all things be reconciled to God, most especially all of mankind — that they might abide with Him forever in Heaven.

This is to say that all of creation is an expression of the mercy of God:

Lack of existence or nothingness is the greatest of all wants and the most awful misery. All nature shudders before such misery. Every man and animal flees from this want, fearing it above all other sufferings and wants, proving thus that want of existence is the greatest of all miseries. So creation of the world with all its beings is the work of the Mercy of God, which may also be called Divine Goodness in relation to the supreme misery of non-existence.3

How can there be creation at all without that creation expressing something of its Creator? If all of creation has come forth through the loving Providence of God, could this providential care fail to account for the ongoing sustenance of that which has been created? God does not make mistakes, nor does He fail to provide for that which He has created — most of all for the entirety of mankind, those He created in His own image and likeness. God does not abandon His creation but sustains and holds it in being toward the end that all things be reconciled through Him and restored to communion with Him.

Is this not the mercy of God in action? Through original sin, man has fallen from grace and yet, through the Sacrament of Baptism, God restores man to the state of grace. God is a Father who watches over His children, they who are in need of His protection and oversight even when this protection and oversight is not perceived by them as being beneficial.

To illustrate this more clearly, the following example may be considered: picture a young child who is standing in close proximity to an electric stove. As his mother begins the process of preparing the supper meal for her family, she uses one of the coil burners to heat the contents of a saucepan. As the burner heats up, it eventually emits the bright color of red. As she turns away from the stove and her child’s location to attend to additional preparations for the meal, the child enticed by the coil’s spectacle of the light moves forward to touch it. The mother turns again to witness her child about to touch a red-hot coil. Accordingly, she yells out to warn him before he reaches this alluring object. The child startled by the loud noise of his mother’s shouting begins to cry, not only because he was startled by the loud noise, but also, with fear that he has done something wrong.

Was this an act of mercy on the part of the mother? Though the action undertaken by the mother was speedy and unexpected, the child was saved from serious injury — he was startled and fearful in the moment, but he was spared the pain and suffering of a serious burn. Here, any reasonable person would have to conclude that this was an act of mercy.

Thus, can teaching children through acts of correction or admonishment — founded upon the moral order and the Gospel truth of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ — be both beneficial and merciful? Through our lived-out experience of the world, we have more than likely had the opportunity to witness a father or mother who decidedly made the choice to parent their children employing very little discipline or boundaries. And, as a result, these children seek to test the limits of their parents’ patience, what their parents will allow them to get away with. If at no time does the child reach a point that his parents are moved to draw boundaries for him, regarding his safety or well-being, it is easy to see how the child would come to the conclusion that his parents do not care for him or care about him. The child could even seek out self-destructive behavior in order to illicit a response — a validation or acknowledgement from his parents — because, after all, they did not seem to care enough about him to discipline his behavior or draw boundaries for him.

Here, one must realize this method of parenting is not beneficial or merciful toward the true good of the child. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks about the origins of the family in paragraphs 2201–02:

The conjugal community is established upon the consent of the spouses. Marriage and the family are ordered to the good of the spouses and to the procreation and education of children. The love of the spouses and the begetting of children create among members of the same family personal relationships and primordial responsibilities. A man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children, form a family. This institution is prior to any recognition by public authority, which has an obligation to recognize it. It should be considered the normal reference point by which the different forms of family relationship are to be evaluated.4

Parenting is a vocation, one that is accompanied by grace, provided that the man and woman entered validly into a matrimonial covenant within the Sacrament of Matrimony:

The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.5

Thus, parents should be strengthened through the grace of God and be granted the courage and fortitude to guide and correct them out of love for God and their children.

It is not the vocation of a parent to be the child’s peer or friend, or to allow them the latitude to pursue whatever desire enters their mind or heart. A child will desire many things that are not conducive to his flourishing or ultimate fulfillment. This guidance is not only essential for the good of the child, but is an act of mercy toward his true fulfillment. The child may indeed receive many negative responses from his parents concerning those things he would like to do, endeavors that he would undertake without a single thought for his own safety. And this decision may not suit him, or could even illicit a response of anger or rebellion from him. Nevertheless, in all fairness these decisions are made by his parents with the best of intentions and with the true good of the child in mind. And, the child will eventually realize, whether it is sooner or later, that his true well-being is the main concern of his parents.

These thoughts should help further our view of God as a merciful Father Who desires the best for His children — ultimately, eternal life with Him forever in Heaven. But how is this achieved by a loving Father? Is it to be achieved through God’s allowing mankind absolute freedom without consequence, or by providing us with the free will and means to choose the greatest good in every situation we encounter? And how is it that God the Father ensured that we be given the means or grace to choose the greatest good? Through His great mercy, God sent His only begotten Son to offer His life as a ransom for our sins. Christ Who is sinless took our sins upon Himself and offered His very life upon the Cross that we might have life; He placed Himself in harm’s way for love of His children. He founded a Church, that we be afforded the sacraments through which God’s grace is imparted to us — even to the extent of giving us His Flesh and Blood as food for the journey. Our journey through this life, until He calls us to our eternal reward when we will come into the presence of God in the beatific vision.

Through His only begotten Son, the Creator has given His creature His own Body and Blood in the Eucharist:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.6

God the Father extends His Mercy to us through the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Does this not require that we receive His Body and Blood worthily?

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.7

This can only mean that one who would present himself to receive the Eucharist must be in the state of grace, unaware of any grave sins, which is another way of saying unaware of any mortal sins:

For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.” Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: “Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother.” The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger.8

If one commits a sin that meets these three conditions, then it is mortal sin and must be confessed before presenting oneself to receive the Eucharist.

Grave matter is considered further within the Scriptures:

But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.9

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.10

Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.11

Why would the Scriptures be so definitive concerning grave matter, or that which leads to spiritual death? Cannot the Commandments and the above passages taken from Scripture be considered a warning very similar to the mother who warns her child not to touch the red-hot burner on the electric stove? Is this not God extending His mercy toward us? His beckoning us always toward His light and away from the darkness of sin?

Thus, it should seem somewhat puzzling how anyone who professes himself to be a good Catholic can — in full view of the public eye — vote for legislation supporting efforts to further so called “abortion rights” or make contraception available to everyone. Not to mention those Catholics who would endorse so called “same-sex marriages,” men and women intent on committing homosexual and lesbian acts without remorse, as being among those who should be “welcomed” into full communion with the Church as faithful and orthodox Catholics, while they remain obstinate in this sin in favor of tolerance or diversity. “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you so that he does not hear.”12 “Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have kept good from you.”13

It is our sinfulness that separates us from union with God. In keeping with this line of thought, we occasionally hear about a Catholic Politician being denied reception of the Blessed Sacrament. And, in most cases, this Politician has voted consistently against the teachings of his faith concerning a wide range of issues including the protection of human life and birth control. Thus, one could say it is an established and well-known fact how he has voted over the years. And, while it is currently debated by canonists whether or not a politician excommunicates himself latae sententiae (sentence already passed) — and even further debated whether or not the bishop in the location where the politician resides should formerly excommunicate him for voting in favor of legislation that directly and definitively contradicts the teachings of his faith — these acts are certainly sinful and cannot be justified or condoned.

Nevertheless, can it be said to be a merciful act on the part of the priest to deny this politician the Eucharist? The predominant culture of today would suggest that the politician should be able to receive Communion because the legislation he voted to support was not necessarily the belief he personally holds; rather, he was merely voting on behalf of the constituents he represents.

First, no one has an unconditional “right” to receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is a privilege and a great blessing to be able to receive this phenomenal gift, and, as we have already discussed, one needs to be properly disposed in order to do so. The point to be made here is best illustrated through a thorough consideration of the prayer the priest prays silently at Mass as he prepares to consume the Blessed Sacrament: “May the receiving of your Body and Blood, Lord Jesus Christ, not bring me to judgement and condemnation, but through your loving mercy be for me protection in mind and body and a healing remedy.”14 Here one must ponder the fact, that it is possible to bring “judgment” or “condemnation” upon oneself — through the choice to remain ill-disposed — and, adamantly approach the altar for reception of the Blessed Sacrament nonetheless.

Thus, should the action of the priest to “deny” the politician the Eucharist be regarded as mean or exclusionary or as denying him a basic right? Or, should this action be viewed as a merciful act, one that spares the politician condemnation as concerns his eternal salvation — because, he chooses to remain unrepentant?

Another issue that prevents Catholics from recognizing the mercy of God is human pain and suffering. The concept: “how could a merciful God” allow this righteous man or woman to suffer, even for years? This “man or woman never hurt anyone.” The first thought which should come to mind is: did God the Father allow His Only Begotten Son to suffer? And did something positive come from His suffering? As a result of His suffering, we have received the sacraments — we receive grace through the Sacraments; they heal and transform us and help us to live out our lives in good Christian example. And, if we persevere in the Faith to the very end, we have the promise of eternal life with Him forever in Heaven. Yet, we must also be aware that if we have not been purified of our sins by the time we are called to our eternal reward, we will have further need of purification in Purgatory.

So, can human pain and suffering be viewed through the lens of God’s merciful love — allowing us to be purified here in this life, in union with Him and the suffering He endured for love of us? Christ accompanies us in our suffering, He remains with us always, granting us the grace to endure this trial as we offer our pain and suffering in union with His one eternal sacrifice.

Could not this pain and suffering change us in a way that both powerfully unites us to Him, and opens us up to His love on a level which cannot be understood or reached without it? “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”15

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.16

Is not the mercy of God entirely integral to faith and a reasonable acknowledgement of the truth? And isn’t the truth a divine person, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?

The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”17

God is certainly patient, slow to anger and merciful to those who are repentant for sin, yet that does not mean that justice will be precluded for the unrepentant, those who remain steadfast in their sins. And this does not suggest by any stretch of the imagination that God is lacking in mercy; rather, it is His children who remain firm in their rejection of His mercy and, if they remain so, the eventuality is that they will receive His justice.

This should illuminate for us the vast importance of the “Great Commission” and the promise of Our Lord to remain with us always:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”18

God Who is both mercy and truth will never fail us if we are determined to repent of our sins and remain a people filled with hope striving always toward a greater degree of holiness. Not of our own accord, but wholly reliant on Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His grace to strengthen and grant us the courage to fight the good fight. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because he first loved us.”19 “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments.”20

  1. Prov 3:12. Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain), The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Translated from the Original Tongues, Being the Version Set Forth A.D. 1611, Old and New Testaments Revised A.D. 1881-1885 and A.D. 1901 (Apocrypha Revised A.D. 1894), Compared with the Most Ancient Authorities and Revised A.D. 1952 (Apocrypha Revised A.D. 1957). Catholic ed. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994). All quotations are from this version.
  2. 1 Chron 29:10–12.
  3. Michael Sopocko, God Is Mercy (St. Meinrad, Ind.: Grail Publications, 1955), 45.
  4. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. Vatican City/Wash., D.C.: Libreria Editrice Vaticana/United States Catholic Conference, 1997), nos. 2201–02.
  5. CCC 1601, quoting CIC can. 1055 § 1; cf. GS 48 § 1.
  6. Jn. 6:53–58.
  7. 1 Cor 11:27–29.
  8. CCC 1857, quoting RP § 12, and 1858, quoting Mk 10:19.
  9. Mt 5:28–30.
  10. 1 Cor 6:9–10.
  11. Gal 5:19–21.
  12. Is 59:1–2.
  13. Jer 5:25.
  14. The Roman Missal: Renewed by decree of the most holy Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, promulgated by authority of Pope Paul VI and revised at the direction of Pope John Paul II (New Jersey: Catholic Book Publishing, 2011), 520.
  15. Rom 8:18.
  16. Rom 5:3–5.
  17. Ex 34:6–7.
  18. Mt 28:18–20.
  19. 1 Jn 4:18–19.
  20. Deut 7:9.
Rev. Kenneth M. Dos Santos, MIC About Rev. Kenneth M. Dos Santos, MIC

Rev. Kenneth M. Dos Santos, MIC, is a member of the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy Province, located in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and was ordained a priest in 2010. He is currently serving as a Provincial Councilor and is the Superior of a Marian house in Thompson, Connecticut. He holds a BA in Philosophy from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and an MDiv from the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. He is the author of Hagia Sophia: the Wisdom of God as Offered to the Modern World (Marian Heritage, 2021).


  1. Avatar Glenn LANHAM says:

    Very good article Father, and this coming from a former Marian…
    mariani qui vocamur…..

    God Bless

  2. This is an all inclusive article of the true teaching of the Catholic Church. I am very impressed with the Father’s love of the Eucharist and the value of suffering. Very much needed today.

  3. Avatar Deacon Ken says:

    Excellent Article on the true meaning of Mercy. Useful for homilies. God’s Blessings
    Deacon Ken

  4. Avatar ShealTiel says:

    ROMANS 9:16 – “So then, everything depends, not on what we humans want or do, but only on GOD’S MERCY” – Reference: Good News Bible GNT

  5. Substitute the would “mercy” for “charity.”

    It is not charity to leave others in the dark with respect to the truth.

    It is not charity to feed the poor or visit the sick and offer them human resources without speaking to them of the Word that saves.” Pope John Paul ll (LOsservatore Romano, English, November 6, 2002)