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By Marian Friedrichs (Mar 31, 2009)
At the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy in Rome last April, I met a priest who asked a question that I have been turning over in my mind ever since. How, he wondered, could mercy be God's greatest attribute if eventually it will be set aside? If mercy is the divine quality that enables God to forgive our sins and allow us, in our fallen states, to be redeemed and reconciled to Himself, then, this priest reasoned, after the world has ended and everyone has been judged, God will no longer need to practice mercy. Surely it doesn't make sense to say that our Eternal Father's greatest attribute is one that will not be manifested eternally.

I didn't know what to say to this priest at the time, but now, nearly a year later, I do have a few thoughts to share. First of all, we need to know what mercy is. If mercy is nothing more than forgiveness, then yes, I think this priest has a point. Forgiveness isn't needed anymore after everything has been forgiven. But mercy, I believe, is much more than that. My favorite definition of mercy is one that I didn't come up with, but I don't remember where I first heard it, so unfortunately I can't give credit to the person by name. (To that person, I say thank you, and I'm sorry for leaving you anonymous.)

Here it is. Mercy is love that bends down, grabs hold, and lifts up. In other words, when a soul is crushed under some weight — usually guilt, oppression, or weakness — mercy is the arm of love that scoops that soul off the ground, embraces it, kisses it, dusts it off, dries its tears, and sets it on its feet again. That's why, in the seven corporal and seven spiritual works of mercy, we find such a wide variety of ways to practice mercy. If mercy were merely another word for forgiveness, the Church would list not 14 works of mercy, but just one.

I recently started reading Pope John Paul II's book Love and Responsibility, written when he was Cardinal Wojtyla. The book, which is about sexuality and marital love, begins by describing the concept of utilitarianism, which states that the whole world revolves around me — the individual — and that everything, including other people, is relevant to me only insofar as I can use it in order to get pleasure or avoid pain. We've all heard the adage that the opposite of love is not hate but indifference, and there is truth in that. But when Cardinal Wojtyla wrote Love and Responsibility, he made a new observation: The opposite of love is in fact utilitarianism.

If I'm using you, I can't claim to love you, for love, as the Great Mercy Pope defined it, is self-donation. It means the generous outpouring of ourselves in order to achieve the greatest good for someone else. If we look at it that way, then the opposite of love must indeed be the using of someone else to get what we want without caring what it might cost that person. The opposite of actively loving others is trampling them to get where we want to go.

How does that fit into the subject of mercy? Well, when we're trampling others, we can't also be reaching down to lift them up. And so, to that priest who wondered how mercy could really be God's greatest attribute, I would like, humbly and respectfully, to offer this response: Yes, Divine Mercy is the love that forgives me, but Divine Mercy is also the love that will, if I hide in the wounds of Christ, lift me up to heaven and keep me there. It would be impossible to separate God from mercy because God is love, and mercy is the ultimate love: the extreme and complete opposite of the selfish using that Cardinal Wojtyla described. Mercy is love perfected, and who can practice perfect love but God?

Let's imagine, though, just for a second, that Judgment Day has come and gone, and God puts aside His mercy because He doesn't need to be merciful anymore. That lifting arm of love would suddenly let go, and what would become of us? We know we can't hold ourselves up. How could we keep from tumbling into hell?

"Proclaim that mercy is the greatest attribute of God," Christ tells St. Faustina (Diary of St. Faustina, 300). But, actually, mercy is more than God's greatest attribute. It's His entire nature. "All the works of My hands are crowned with mercy," Christ says (Diary,, 300). Without mercy, God wouldn't be God, and Judgment Day or no Judgment Day, if God stopped being God, there would be no more heaven because heaven is where He is. But — Christians, rejoice! — there is a heaven, and it will last throughout eternity because God is eternal. And we will get to live there because God's name is Mercy. Lent is here now, but Easter is coming to remind us that Jesus is in heaven, waiting eagerly to lift us up and hold us in the arms of Mercy. Forever.

Marian Tascio is a freelance writer who lives in Yonkers, N.Y.

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Robert Stackpole, STD - Nov 6, 2015

"Pace" dear Catherine: there is no heresy here. Neither St. Faustina nor has any author of an article on this website has ever claimed that all will be saved in the end, that there is no judgment day, or that mercy is in every respect "unconditional." Jesus said to St. Faustina: "He who refuses to pass through the door of my mercy must pass through the door of my justice" (Diary, entry 1146) and "when sinful souls bring all my graces to naught, I begin to be angry with them, leaving them alone and giving them what they want" (1728) and "I do not want to punish aching mankind, but to heal it, pressing it to My merciful Heart. I use punishment when they themselves force me to do so; My hand is reluctant to take hold of the sword of justice" (1588). In short, Jesus longs to be able pour out upon us fullness of His merciful love, but unless we repent of our sins and trust in Him, He cannot do so. Those who are stubbornly unrepentant to the bitter end will fall into the hands of Divine Justice.

With regard to Mercy as the greatest attribute of God, this was not just taught by a few visionaries. It is the teaching of the saints and doctors of the Church (principally St. Augustine, St.Thomas Aquinas, and St. Bernard of Clairvaux). If we consider God's attributes philosophically, of course, than all his attributes are "equal" and the same; Love, Justice Mercy, Omniscience, Omnipotence, etc--all are just so many names for the one infinite eternal act in which God is Himself. But if we consider the attributes of God from a personal and biblical perspective (which ones are the motives by which he acts, which are the ones by which he carries out his intentions--and which are supremely good news to us, his creatures) then, in a sense--the sense that the fathers and saints, and St. Faustina and Pope St. John Paul II were talking about, then mercy is indeed "the greatest attribute of God." It is the motive behind every one of his actions toward his creatures (even, by the way, his acts of judgment and justice--see my book Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI on this--one of the central themes of the book! It is merciful that God respects our freedom even to the bitter end, and will not compel us to love him back--even if that respect means permitting us to choose to dwell in the "outer darkness" forever. it is out of His mercy that he will not force unrepentant sinners to gaze on Him face to face for all eternity (can you imagine spending eternity looking into the eyes of someone you hate and despise???). So even hell, paradoxically, is an expression of his mercy--but also of his justice, of course. For God's mercy is always just and his justice is always merciful. Again, please check out my book on this (Marian Press, 2nd edition, 2009). I think it may help.

Catherine - Nov 5, 2015

Speaking of God, Catholic teaching is that God is infinite in all his perfection: omnipotence; omnipresence; goodness; justice; mercy; beauty etc...
If as you say divine mercy is His greatest attribute, then God's other attributes are less than divine mercy and as such, limited. I have a big problem with this heresy.

Two popes, three times warned that these visions were not from God and the message of "unconditional mercy" will not only lead souls astray but also endanger the faith and the Church. This is precisely what is happening today. Today we are told contrary to even the words of Jesus Christ that no matter what one does every one will be saved????

Divine Love and Mercy - Oct 13, 2015

Divine Love is one attribute of God and Divine Mercy is another attribute of God. Even two words "love and mercy" are two different naming words plus "and" means there is one different word and another different word. Divine Love of God is expressed by red colour and Divine Mercy by white colour. These colours of two powerful attributes of God are shown in the picture which was painted for the sake of Sr. Faustina, who had a vision of Christ with two rays flowing out of His heart. Many theologians and philosophers confuse the Divine Love with Divine Mercy. It is true that Divine Love and Divine Mercy outflow together from the Heart of Christ but as soon as it is out of his heart, two rays flow apart and they are separated by two differently colours; one on the left hand side of Christ is white and flows to the world as attribute of God - Divine Mercy; another ray has red colour on the right hand side of Jesus and flows to the world, expresses first attribute of God - Divine Love.
Our Lord through Sister Faustina’s picture shows us that He revealed to the world not only one attribute Divine Mercy but also He is going to reveal to the world his first attribute Divine Love in the nearest future. God wants to save the world through his most powerful attributes Divine Love and Divine Mercy. Divine Mercy has already been revealed through Sr. Faustina to the world. Jesus’ left foot (in the picture) took a step, which means attribute of His Divine Mercy has been revealed and revelation fills up - shown in the picture as a” step” made by Christ. His right foot is just one step behind and his hand shows his blessing. He blesses the one who will reveal his Divine Love (red ray) in the nearest future. ………………….

Fr. Seraphim, MIC - Apr 9, 2009

Dear Marian,
St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest Catholic theologians, comes to our aid here, telling us that Mercy is God's greatest attribute (quality), which is the same as His nature. God said this of Himself when He revealed His Name to Moses (Exodus 34:6-7). Mercy is God's "gutt reaction" to misery, impelling Him to do something about it. According to St. Thomas, the greatest misery is NOT TO BE --- NON-EXISTENCE. Therefore, Creation is God's first act of mercy. Then, he tells us, a second act of God's mercy, greater than the first, is REDEMPTION, following upon the rebellion against God by the "crown of His creation" -- the human being. There will be a third, and greatest act of God's mercy, when He comes to take those who cling to Him in love into the very Heart of the Most Holy Trinity -- something no one could ever dream of deserving. So, Divine Mercy is as eternal as God. It can never end. Our living in God in eternity is thanks to His eternal attribute, the only "sure thing" that can NEVER slip from under us. That's why He can DEMAND our utter trust in His promises. That is the true exercise of our faith. Quoting the prophet Habakkuk 2:3,4, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews (10:37-39)reminds us: "'He who is coming will come and not delay. But my righteous [FAITHful] one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.' But we are not of those who shrink back and are not destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved."

Elizabeth - Apr 1, 2009

Thank you for this beautiful article. Jesus' Mercy is in a very holy priest who guides and instructs you what is mortal and what is venial sins, then leads you to a life of purity. I have personally experienced this with a priest in the last year of my life. This order of priests are vigilant in their prayer life, fasting and penances, and because of their dedication to the sanctification of the laity, it's been possible to see the mercy of God through the Sacrament of Confession. Saint Isaac of Syria said, "A defiled soul does not enter the pure Kingdom and does not unite with the spirit of the Saints." So as Chrisian Catholics we've been given God's mercy through the Sacrament of Confession which leads us to a life of purity, so that we can enter into the kingdom of God! Praise God!

Maria P. (Can) - Mar 31, 2009

Thank you Marian for this beautiful and amazing article. Truly words of wisdom. Great to reflect on. This also reminds me of 1 Corinthians 13. Love is patient, love is kind........replace with mercy is patient, mercy is kind........... These two words are the greatest words in our vocabulary that God gave. Can you imagine how this world would be if mercy and love would be exercised by all.... God bless you.

Loretta - Mar 31, 2009

WOW!!! L really needed to Read and Hear that today.!! Thanks and God Bless To You Marian and Praise be Divine Mercy

Mehari - Mar 31, 2009

Perfectly said! Thanks Marian Tascio for this wonderful article.

I was just reading St. Paul’s letter to Corinthians at 2 Corinthians 12 . Here it follows;

1 If I must glory (it is not expedient indeed) but I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ: above fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I know not, or out of the body, I know not: God knoweth), such a one caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know such a man (whether in the body, or out of the body, I know not: God knoweth): 4 That he was caught up into paradise and heard secret words which it is not granted to man to utter. 5 For such an one I will glory: but for myself I will glory nothing but in my infirmities. ……

After reading your beautiful article and St. Paul’s glorious experience, one can conclude that, it is God’s Mercy which bends down, grabs hold and lifts up, the Apostle Paul upto …….

Yes! Mercy is God’s Greatest Attribute, i.e, love that bends down, grabs hold, and lifts up upto Eternity.

Jesus, I Trust In You!