Sometimes we look at something so often that we no longer see what once we saw. We overlook the depth of what is before our eyes and see only what lies on the surface. On occasions such as this, it can be helpful to stop for a moment and look a little more closely at what is already familiar to us.
With this thought in mind, take a few moments and look thoughtfully at the Face of Jesus in the Image of Divine Mercy. Look at it carefully. What do you notice about it?
Certainly, it isn’t the most beautiful face ever painted – but then, “not in the beauty of the colour, nor of the brush lies the greatness of this Image, but in My grace”, (Diary, para.313) as the Lord told Saint Faustina. While it may not be a masterpiece humanly-speaking, still it is unusual. In fact, it is entirely unique – for it was commissioned by the Lord Himself; He commanded St Faustina to “paint an Image according to the pattern you see” (Diary, para.47), before repeating the vision of the Image on many occasions to ensure that it was deeply etched into the memory and the heart of the simple sister. And while she may not have been pleased with the finished painting – after all, how could any brush capture the beauty of Jesus? – the Lord told her it was good enough for His purposes. This Image is to be a vehicle of divine grace and mercy.
But there is something else about the Face in the Image.
While in most portraits of the Lord, He looks straight out of the painting and directly at the viewer, that is not what happens here, in this Image. This Image is different. In this Image, the Lord is not looking outwards, but slightly downwards. Why is this? The Lord Himself gave St Faustina the reason for this –
“My gaze from this Image is like My gaze from the Cross” (Diary, para.326)
In other words, this is the gaze of mercy, the mercy which was poured out superabundantly on the Cross of Golgotha.
This expression links the Image of Divine Mercy to the events of the Passion, culminating in the Death of Jesus on the Cross – but not ending there; for in this Image, we see the Risen Lord.
This is Jesus pictured at the moment He appeared to the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room on the evening of Easter Sunday, as recounted by St John in his Gospel –
“In the evening of the same day .. Jesus came and stood amongst them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them His hands and His side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and He said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father sent Me, so am I sending you’. After saying this, He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained’.” (Jn.20:19-23)
And so, this is indeed the Merciful Christ – crucified, risen from the dead, bestowing peace on His disciples and giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins.
All of this is captured in this single gaze of mercy.
It is a gentle look, for it is the same Jesus who tells us – “Come to Me, all you who labour and are over-burdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder My yoke and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt.11:28-29).
It is also a look of invitation; the Lord, who is mercy, invites all of us, who are misery, to be clothed in His mercy. As He tells us in the Gospel of St Luke –
“I have not come to call the virtuous, but sinners to repentance” (Lk.5:32)
And it is a look as old as the ages, for it echoes the words of the Psalmist –
“The Lord is kind and full of compassion, slow to anger, abounding in love. How good is the Lord to all, compassionate to all His creatures” (Ps.144:8-9).
And again, where the Psalmist tells us –
“Have mercy on me, O God, in Your kindness. In Your compassion, blot out my offence. O wash me more and more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin .. My sacrifice, a contrite spirit. A humbled, contrite heart You will not spurn.” (Ps.50:3,19)
It is also the same call of mercy which continues to resound loudly and insistently in the Church today, as Pope Francis reminded us very recently –
“This is the first condition of salvation: feeling oneself in danger. It is the first condition of healing: feeling sick. Feeling sinful is the first condition of receiving this gaze of mercy. But let us think of the look of Jesus, so beautiful, so good, so merciful. And we, too, when we pray, we feel this look upon us; it is the look of love, the gaze of mercy, the gaze that saves us. Do not be afraid.” (Homily of Pope Francis, 21 September 2017)
Merciful Lord, grant that as we look upon You depicted in this Image as Divine Mercy, we may never fail to perceive Your gaze of mercy and to respond to it. May we humbly acknowledge our sinfulness and misery before Your infinite holiness, for this humility unlocks the compassionate mercy which overflows from the Cross and throughout all of human history, seeking a response in every human soul. In responding to Your infinite mercy, O Lord, may You cover our misery in Your mercy, grant us the forgiveness of our sins and give us Your own peace, which is beyond all human understanding. Jesus, we TRUST in You.