The Image of Divine Mercy
(Acts 2:42-47; 1Pet.1:3-9; Jn.20:19-31)
We know from her diary that in 1931, Jesus appeared to St Maria Faustina Kowalska in Poland as the King of Divine Mercy. He was wearing a white garment with rays of white and red light streaming from his heart.
He asked her to paint this image with the words: Jesus, I trust in You, inscribed underneath. ‘I want this image to be venerated,’ he said, ‘and I promise that the soul that venerates this image will not perish.’ [i]
But poor Faustina was no painter. She asked her confessor what she should do. ‘All you need,’ he said, ‘is to paint Jesus’ picture in your soul.’ But it was a real picture Jesus wanted, so she asked her superior, who gave her some canvas and paints. ‘But I don’t know how to paint!’ she cried.
It was only after relocating to Lithuania that her new spiritual director helped her find an artist, and the first Divine Mercy image was painted in 1934.
In The Seven Secrets of Divine Mercy, Vinny Flynn writes that it’s important that this picture be seen as an icon, and not as an idol. An idol takes our attention away from God, but an icon draws us towards him.
An icon is not an object of worship, however. It’s more like a window we look through with the eyes of our soul to see God.
This picture is of Jesus, but as St Paul says, Christ ‘is the image of the invisible God.’ So, this is also an image of our heavenly Father. As Pope St John Paul II writes, the Father’s invisible nature becomes visible in Christ and through Christ, and most especially visible in his mercy.[ii] For Jesus doesn’t just talk about mercy – he is mercy itself. ‘Making the Father present as love and mercy is… the fundamental touchstone of Jesus’ mission as the Messiah,’ he says. [iii]
Now, see Jesus’ right hand – he’s giving us a blessing. What is a blessing? It’s a divine and life-giving action, but it’s not only Jesus giving us this blessing; his Father is too. And because this action is ‘frozen’ in time, that blessing is unending. The Father is always giving life – all the time.
Jesus’ white garment reminds us that he is a priest. Indeed, Jesus is the only priest; he is the one great and eternal High Priest. All others share in the one priesthood of Christ. So, it’s fitting that his hand is raised in blessing, because the first function of the priest is to bless.
Look now at Jesus’ left hand. He’s touching his heart and his fingers are opening his garment. Jesus is inviting us to come into his heart and to rest there.
Like his ‘frozen’ blessing, this gesture is also permanent and unchangeable. As Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel, ‘Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’ (Mt.11:28).
Now, see the rays of mercy streaming from Jesus’ heart. When St Faustina asked Jesus what they meant, he said: ‘The two rays denote Blood and Water (which) flowed from the depths of my tender mercy when my agonised heart was opened by a lance.’[iv]
The pale rays, Vinny Flynn explains, point to Jesus’ promise of ‘Living Water’ and our rebirth in the Holy Spirit through Baptism. But they also remind us of the Sacrament of Reconciliation because the cleansing of Confession is an extension of our Baptism.
The red rays represent the Holy Eucharist, the blood that is the ‘life of souls.’ In the Old Testament, before receiving the Ten Commandments on Mt Sinai, Moses sprinkles the people with the blood of the sacrifice, proclaiming it as ‘the blood of the covenant’ (Ex.24:8).
And now, pouring out his red rays upon us, Jesus is the new Moses (and the new sacrificial lamb), fulfilling on the Cross his gift of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, when he proclaims the ‘new covenant’ in his blood (Lk.22:20). [v]
The Divine Mercy image has spread widely since 2000, when St John Paul II canonised St Faustina and established Divine Mercy Sunday, to remind us to always trust in God’s merciful love.
In today’s Gospel, the disciples are hiding in the Upper Room, terrified of Jesus’ wrath. They know they were wrong to have abandoned Jesus when he most needed them during his Passion. But when Jesus arrives, he simply says, ‘Peace be with you.’ In fact, he says it twice.
There’s no anger or retribution. Only love, mercy and a blessing.
We shouldn’t be surprised, because Jesus is Divine Mercy itself.
Today, we are all called to focus on the incredible goodness of God, who is always loving us, always blessing us, and always inviting us into his heart.
When we firmly fix our eyes on Jesus, through God’s grace we are gradually transformed into the image and likeness of what we see.
We become living reflections of our loving God [vi]
[i] St Faustina Maria Kowalska, Diary of Divine Mercy, Marian Press, Stockbridge MA, 2007. n.47, 48.
[ii] Pope St John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), 1980, n.2. https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_30111980_dives-in-misericordia.html
[iii] Op cit. n.3.
[iv] St Faustina Maria Kowalska, Diary of Divine Mercy, Marian Press, Stockbridge MA, 2007. n.299.
[v] Vinny Flynn, 7 Secrets of Divine Mercy, Ignatius Press, Fort Collins, CO, 2015:65-89.
[vi] Op cit. p.209.