Back in Feb. 2016 I wrote this Year of Mercy Long Teaching Blog. I am offering it again in an updated “rerun.” I have found that not enough persons saw that blog and did miss this essential study of the meaning of “Hesed” Mercy. So I repeat it here. I have no pics included because of the length)
THIS WILL BE MY LONGEST BLOG EVER. (I wont make a multi-part one, either.)
“WHAT IS MERCY?’” What’s the Bible say? What’s the Church say?
We could answer it BEST by stating that the best question really is WHO is Mercy… HE is Jesus!
We are covering that Personal side of Mercy in our Lenten Mission and DVD day of renewal and in guest talks in the parish–so the “Who” of Mercy will be greatly addressed.
Yet in the answering of the WHAT in Mercy: Here we go!
The word “mercy” in English has its roots in many beautiful words throughout the Bible. In the Hebrew word of the Old Testament, “hesed” is the most important one to understand. Hesed Mercy is defined as a covenant-pacted, steadfast, loving kindness act of God. .
We will study it here.
Also, in another beautiful mercy word of Scripture, the New Testament Greek gives the word “eleos” which means a kindness or good will offered from the giver towards someone in need who has some misery or affliction. The giver desire to help the one in need in a personal care. The one in need is called to repond.
In a third description of mercy in beautiful words, the Latin one for mercy is “misericordia,” derived from misericors, “merciful”, which is in turn derived from misereri, “to pity”, and cor, “heart.” So, mercy is heart-pity or heart-compassion in this other familiar term. In Medieval Latin, the word “misericordia” denoted various merciful things, and these senses were borrowed into English. Today, in our English language, mercy relates to tenderness, kindness, sweetness, compassion, and pity.
“Hesed” is the one I’d like to study here. Catholics can best relate to it for our deeper understanding of mercy. “Hesed” in Hebrew Covenant practice, and even practiced by Jesus’ life ( in His being a devout Jew), was the loving kindness of God found in direct relationship to His covenant promises.
Like His people in the Hebrew Covenant, we Catholics identify ourselves strongly as covenant people (in now the Christian covenant or New Covenant in Jesus the Son of God). Our Church is born in that Covenant, as Jesus established Himself as our source and foundation 2000 years ago. He is THE promise of God fulfilled, even as the God-man. Now we are commissioned to live in the Christ (or Christian) Covenant era. Jesus is the full revelation of God and the Personal Sign of the Covenant of Peace with God. Jesus is The Sacrament of God (as many Catholic councils and documents declare through the Ages). His is an Incarnate Wonder where and when His Divine Promise and Presence remains with us now always. It is the Church’s delight, so affirmed by gospels like John chapters 12-18 and Matthew chapters 16 and 28.
Mercy is The Deal of this abiding Presence of God to us. Jesus (on The Cross–and so pre-offered at His Last Supper Gift of Himself) is the covenant seal of the deal (or agreement) of God to humanity and of humanity (in Jesus, the God-man) to God. Jesus is God’s Mercy Deal. There is No other.
This is a “Hesed” gift. It is the lavish, forgiving, and loving and kind Action of God. It is the covenant we presently celebrate. It is not just a past deal of God to humankind; it is ongoing in the Eternal Son Who is our Sacrament. This deal is celebrated within the rites of Holy Mass. It’s a founding principle of ourselves as Christ’ Church, His Body. We have been covenanted to be in Christ who we are– His bride or embodiment of love, His people (Ez.34, 36,). Now the Spirit of God brings that new life or identity in Christ alive. The Bible ends in Revelation with the Call: “The Spirit and the Bride say come!”
So, we should understand–what is a covenant deal? As introduced in the Bible back a few thousand years, a covenant is a “blood-pact” –where one person says, “I will do this forever, if you will do that forever.” To mark the promise, they would cut an animal open from head to toe, then lay the two parts open opposite each other, and then walk in-between them and say, “May you do this and that to me if I am unfaithful to the vow.”
(Which BTW is where I think we get walking down the aisle for marriage with the groom’s family on one side and bride’s on the other–there is some symbolism of a deal in that.)
This flesh-and-blood covenant pact of early Old Testament times may seem to be a gruesome image to us modern people, but can we get at least the drama and seriousness of the animal pact? God was using such covenant-making actions to prepare His people for the super deal He’d make in His Son.
Now the Church seriously celebrates her covenant with God in a body and blood covenant sign: The Holy Eucharist. It’s what Jesus taught us to do at His Last Supper. He said: Do This.
We “do it” (Eucharist) as our obedient connection to Him. We “do it’ to please God. We imitate our faith forefather Abraham, that, of whom it is told, pleased God and inspired the covenant so offered by God to us.
Let’s remember that Genesis story of Abraham with God– in this man that “pleased God.”
When God “cut a covenant” with Abraham, God knew that man could never keep his end of the bargain. Therefore God caused Abraham to “fall into a deep sleep” so that Abraham would never have to walk through the “split me open if…” part of the ceremony. (Genesis 15:9-18) We see that it was really UP TO GOD to keep the covenant by extending MERCY again and again to this “prone to wander” people. And in order to do that, God meted out a great deal of LOVE, FORGIVENESS, COMPASSION, LONG SUFFERING and SACRIFICE so that the “covenant” would work.
He comes in the “right time of history” to reveal the Covenant Sign to be as God’s Son offered, in response to Abraham’s willingness to offer his only Son Isaac.
Jesus was born for this reason: He is the fulfilment of the True Covenant. He is the once and for all sacrifice, our true “blood covenant” with God (read more about it in the New Testament book of Hebrews). It is by HIS blood that we enter into relationship with God and therefore receive the full extent of His mercy, love and forgiveness. All of this is offered to us because of what Christ has done for us on The Cross. He is our link between heaven and earth. We, too, are a “prone to wander” people, just as our spiritual ancestors were, and we too are still in need of His MERCY!
Pope Francis says Mercy is “the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.” Just this past week Francis said that Christians are all about bridges of connection with God. (We don’t want to put obstacles or walls up in the way for people to get to God; we are supposed to be ambassadors of reconciliation, even bridge builders in society.)
So throughout this Year of Mercy…
Remember that we are given MERCY, not because we DESERVE it, as we do not. And we are able to extend MERCY, not on the basis that others DESERVE it, as they may not! We love because we have first been greatly loved, we forgive because we have first been greatly forgiven…
God gives us mercy to free us from the bondage of sin and slavery in order to enter into a loving relationship with us. We pass that free gift on to others because we ourselves have been loved and set free. (Thus the JUBILEE! A year in which we focus on forgiveness and healing by encouraging each other to grow spiritually through the sacraments and works of service to promote unity in the Church and in our world.)
Mercy can be shown through tangible acts of love according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (see #2447). “The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities.”
This Lent and Easter in the parish I am concentrating our focus on the 7 Spiritual Works. While the bodily or corporal works of mercy are remembered better by Catholics, as they all appear in Matthew 25 (Feed the hungry, Give drink to the thirsty, Clothe the naked, Give shelter to the homeless, Visit the sick, Visit the imprisoned, and Bury the dead), still most people cannot name the other 7, The Spiritual Works of Mercy. These are actions on our spiritual side of outreach to others. The spiritual poverty of people is huge.
Here are the Spiritual Works of Mercy: Admonish the sinner, Instruct the ignorant, Counsel the doubtful, Comfort the sorrowful, Bear wrongs patiently, Forgive injuries, and Pray for the living and the dead.
In church homilies I am covering them, which you can find via this blog, too.
I pray that this year we will be like God in His Hesed– full of steadfast and loving kindness–and showing it in loyal service to Him in The Spiritual Works. To succeed in it, I pray that we can have Jesus in us as our Mercy. He Who was Mercy in the flesh in its most splendid, loving way–He lives in us now, His Body, to offer us participation in that faithful love and in that great extension of mercy to all! Awesome! Let us remember the great beatitude of Our Lord: ” Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:7
PART TWO MERCY MERCY MORE.
Do you want more on this topic? If so, then let’s go further in our study of Divine Mercy.
The Year of Mercy has us ask the obvious question: “What is Mercy?” We realize that a quick surface answer is not sufficient. Mercy goes deep. Way deep.
Let’s pose these questions for our pondering further… What is your own idea of Mercy, or what do you think others understand about it? Does Mercy mean benevolence or forgiveness? Or rather is it more about charity or generosity? Or does it lean more in definition in the goodwill category? Or, is Mercy more about to some kind of ‘loving leniency?’
Mercy — In a secular sense of definition, it is a word that sometimes is used as describing an act that is done by a person in power or control as an extraordinary offer to someone who is weak or needy. In a recent film, for instance, the violent over-taker is ready to shoot someone for not cooperating and submitting enough to them, and the person with the gun pointed AT them screams Give me mercy!, even while expecting their end to come. Some people understand “mercy” to be something of that description of a desperate last-course cry or need.
Mercy — In another definition, interviewed people thought of “mercy” as a word associated with hospitals. Some hospitals are actually named “Mercy Hospital” (like the one nearby in Baltimore).
People thought of mercy as witnessed in those actions of caring for the sick and dying (because it is not an easy thing to do). In a related definition, some posed mercy as in works like aiding refugees or displaced homeless people of the world, as in Iraqis or Syrians, since these kind acts for others are not easy and ask for so much compassion.
So sometimes mercy is defined in the heroic category.
We can ask, then: What inspires a person to give of their heart and soul to another in any need for mercy? Or, better asked, Who are we turning to for that inspiration? Who is always around to help offer it to us? (In the context of this Mercy Blog– our defined Person is Jesus. HE is our inspiration, and He lives in the people around us who offer inspiring example.)
Mercy — Let us not just see it as in the big, heroic acts, though.
Mercy is not only in large, difficult services in the Spirit of Care to others. Many people also will define it as our regular, small and consistent acts of treating people with kindness and forgiveness.
God is in the normal and small things, too, and He is needed there in His Mercy.
For the Christian, the self-examined life is one where we go looking for how God’s Mercy made it into our living in the day. At the day’s closing, how good it is for a believer to pray and ponder: How did God, in small or large ways, minister Mercy to someone today, as through me?
As we make daily self-examinations in our Christian walk, isn’t it good for each of us to review if we resisted Mercy or offended Mercy (Jesus) at all in the day just lived? We could ask ourselves: Was I ever cruel or harsh today to someone? Did I act carelessly or insensitively to someone today? Was I not willing to give someone a benefit of the doubt or a break of consideration?
Then, if we remember such a sin versus Mercy, we could then repent of it, since we were momentarily an obstacle, and not a vehicle, for the Merciful Christ to reach others.
Mercy also can be an admission of our not doing something in the positive. Perhaps a friend has been sick, and we come to realize it has been quite too long since we have called to check on them. Perhaps a person has suffered a loss, and we realize we have been reluctant and uncomfortable about checking in with them. Mercy can be in that kind of act of contrition and reflection in a night prayer, so to resolve to do something ahead.
Mercy also walks with us in our waking to sleeping time. In the course of our day, can we be open to Christ and His will (via our choices)? Can we see that Mercy walks with us? Can we kindly be giving up some of our own will for God’s greater good and will in spreading forgiveness around or showing sensitivity with people?
The idea here is that the persons who are flexible or cooperative or forgiving are the “merciful” ones. And Jesus lives and shines best through them. “O Mercy of God, inhabit me!”
Now, with those expansive considerations of Mercy, as treated above, let’s again at what “Hesed” means. “Hesed” means that mercy is about being godly and acting in virtue of life with The Lord. It is the act of being faithful to the One Who is always faithful to us. God’s favor is best thanked by it taking residence in our souls and being given back in acts in His sight.
Mercy in its Hebrew sense and its Christian definition is an action that always involves God. According to STRONG’S EXHAUSTIVE CONCORDANCE, this Hebrew word of “Hesed” (mercy) is used over two hundred times in the Bible. It is used 82 times in the PSALMS and 52 times in the New Testament. The “Hesed” term is so rich in meaning as to be almost untranslatable. It means so much more than in being kind and nice. Just as the word PEACE in Hebrew SHALOM means much more than the absence of war – but rather as a great prosperity and blessing experience— so also the word MERCY has a much richer and fuller meaning than in being compassionate or in not being cruel… “Hesed” mercy means TOTAL devotion, utter loyalty, unequalled love… The words abundance or reward to the fullest amount (i.e. plenty, overflowing, bountiful acts) can be used to describe “Hesed.” It’s a word implying one’s cooperating with the Heart and Spirit of God, and being humble in their humanity, as in selfless engagement in the world.
Just ponder about that for a moment.
“Hesed” was a Hebrew faith word on the lips of Jesus and deep in His mind, too. Jesus communicated it to His disciples, and taught that The Father’s mercy, His Hesed, was unfathomable. Yet Jesus said that Hesed could be experienced. Jesus said that He was the bridge to it. “I AM the Way to the Father….The Life.” He also said He was the image of The Heavenly Father. He, The Son, was helping the Father’s mercy to be lived out deeply on the earth. He would make it real and even eternal for us: as a Gift.
In every Mass by Catholics, we look to celebrate Divine Mercy. It is The Gift offered. At Mass, we present Jesus and His Mercy to the Father. God receives the amazing, loyal, generous, and pleasing Gift of His Son when the Church prays the Sacred Liturgy. The unfathomable is somehow experienced, even while we hardly comprehend its great value and meaning among us. Yet we do it, because Jesus said it was what we were to do. “DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME…. THIS IS MY BODY… THIS IS MY BLOOD, OF THE NEW AND ETERNAL COVENANT.”
The Church has a prayer early on in the Mass with our using the Greek word for Mercy, which is Eleison (as in Kyrie, Eleison–Lord, Have Mercy). This is more of the Gentile definition of holy pity or compassion. It is inserted at the Liturgy’s start, so to lead us in our first petitions to God, that Mercy is beckoned. We call out to the One Who Has Mercy to give.
Then, as the Mass goes on, we hopefully are ready to go deeper in Mercy by the consecration and then the breaking of the bread into The Hesed.
Pleading for Compassion is the Kyrie (and newer Greek meaning for mercy), and it is about being attentive to Mercy. When we say “Lord, have mercy,” think of it as saying ‘Lord, You have enveloped Your Grace and Mercy around me. Therefore, please pour it into the well of my being and to all these others who are gathered and praying for it here, and then may it flow and spread out to the world after this Mass ends. We are with You, Lord. Can You pour out Your Mercy on us?’
Or just, ‘Lord, have mercy flow to us here. We cry for it! Then help us give it to others. May the whole world want to receive Mercy and take it in! Start here, as we cry for it. ‘
This is how Mass is supposed to start. Plus, if any personal sins of ours come to mind as we start praying Mass, then we are to pray as sorry for them and to say that we do want help to turn away from them. Lord, have mercy!
THEN, as we reach the Anamnesis and Memorial action of The Mass in the Offering (the part of the Eucharistic Prayer where the priest moves his hands in invocation over the bread and wine, and then lifts the paten and chalice up with its gifts), NOW we move deeper into the loving-kindness and loyalty of God, as He comes in Sacrament/ Real Presence to us. This is the HESED MERCY. We are moving deeper in the Mass.
In the covenant prayer of Jesus from The Last Supper Mass, we are reminded how God is faithful; He keeps His end of the Promise. And, He helps us even for our end of the salvation deal.
In Jesus, God is Supreme in love.
We know that God is not to do all of the covenant work; we have our part of the deal. His side is indispensable, of course, but we are called to respond to Him, to make it complete. That is, if we can act in covenant love back with God, as heart-willing cooperators in His grace, then God can help us to see what His Mercy is all about. Amazing. It is about our being led fully back to intimacy with The Blessed Trinity. It is the joining-in-covenant unto the Holy Faithful One: God.
Getting to this realization of Mercy, we do holy works as not of our own goodness to give to God, but as more to find His goodness and Mercy to be planted in us to use, as so to give unto Him, via our free and happy cooperation.
Just think about that realization for a moment…
Mercy is something humankind lost in our fall into sin. We need to find it again, as we find ourselves becoming children of God now. This is our right disposition at Holy Mass.
The beginnings of the Kyrie Eleison show us that a good holy pity or compassion is what we see as a crying need in this broken world, and then, we move to the Offertory prayer to call down Jesus to be found among us. Then, as He appears as Eucharist, we long for the sweet, loving embrace of Him. This is what receiving Holy Eucharist is about. It is the summit Mercy experience of Holy Mass.
So maybe The Mass has three Mercy levels.
1.Kyrie. “Have pity on me, O Lord …(Ps. 6)” Lord have mercy
2. The Call of the Paraclete for Jesus to come to the altar gifts (the HESED understanding that we come to God reliant on His favors and benefits). We pray in such an Other-centered way in this time of Mass. Here we acknowledge how we are humbled dependents on God, not arrogant independents. We pray “let Your Spirit come upon these gifts and make them holy (to make usholy). We know that God’s realm and reign is all about His kindness extended to His creation and creatures. We call on that kindness. Come Holy Spirit.
3. Receiving Eucharist. As we pray to the Lamb of Mercy, we admit how we are unworthy to receive Him as “under our roof” but we ask Him anyway for His Word of Favor and His personal healing. And He gives it to “those many who are willing to receive Him.”
Say the Word, Lord. Say, Hesed.
Oh the wonderful Hesed!
In Mary’s Magnificat, she says “His Mercy does reach from age to age… and Holy is His Name.”
If you are getting something out of this meditation on Mercy, then you are ready for an added finish to this meditation now. I wrote this part after a few months of pondering further this “Hesed” picture of God. I can also say that in watching our Mercy videos by Vinnie Flynn (Sunday 4/10 and repeated on Friday 4/22) that there is a whole lot more to understand about Mercy. Vinnie Flynn showed that he knew Mercy very deeply. If you miss the parish showings, then go to www.mercysong.org and order some of Flynn’s materials, such as the Person-to-Person three part dvd taping of his parish mission. It is what we watched.
Mercy: A Big Picture. A bonus Part 3.
Can we get a huge picture in our understanding of God as being full of mercy?! GOD’S HESED … the HESED of God …means redemption from enemies and troubles; in one’s preservation of keeping life and not perishing in death. HESED refers to the quickening of spiritual life; in redemption from sin; and in keeping in covenant with God (as in Abraham’s one or with Moses’ one) with Israel. The HESED experience, then, is a glad joining to the God of the Covenant. Mary’s songs says: “My soul proclaims the greatness of The Lord! My spirit rejoices in God the Savior!”
Mercy, then, is calling upon God for His commitment to save us. We mentioned here His covenants to us. We ask that it kick in on our part. We bow down in hope that God will flow through us. We understand all the more, then, of the Covenant of Jesus in His Body and Blood, and the need to participate in it via Mass and/or Eucharistic devotions. If we will submit to being His Body, or letting God embody us in Christ, then we will better catch on how receiving Christ’ Mercy in Sacrament gets us into His Incarnational Love. God weds man in Jesus. We are Christ’ Body. It is a covenant bod of Sacrament.
The Catholic Church is all about covenants and our seven Sacraments are much of being signs of God’s fidelity or His Hesed (His Mercy). In our prayers, so often we pray “Lord have mercy (on me)” and “Lamb of God have mercy (on us).” We also speak to God in the Lord’s Prayer as needing to show faithfulness back to God even as we have been served faithfully by Him. It really explains why we pray “forgive us our trespasses AS WE forgive those who trespass against us.” We are looking to be in Hesed (Mercy). Not only does God give mercy, but the mercy He gives we can use to act in a steadfast, faithful, and kind manner to others. It happens most meaningfully as we realize we are God’s covenant children, and Christ is embodying Himself today in the world, making us members of Himself. Hosanna! Hosanna!
Next comes the Eucharist of Mercy.
In the Resurrection accounts, often the disciples (post-Easter) still had difficulty in recognizing Jesus in His new state of being. I think that Jesus’ disciples of modern times have the same poor eye-sight of the heart in seeing that God’s Son and His Spirit are right here among us, and that the Sacraments and Church experience IS our time with Him in a special way. I think of the Emmaus story of Easter day when the two disciples were with Jesus on the road for quite a while, but would recognize only later in “the breaking of the bread.” Eucharist is meant to do the same today. Are we encountering Jesus so? His Mercy is right there. He said it plainly: “This is My Body… this is My Blood… of the new covenant. Do this!…”
If we are to act with God, then we need to appreciate God’s covenants to us (especially as expressed in Holy Mass as our renewal in covenant with God– and expressed in living the moral life and one of justice and peace in our days). Herein we show some fidelity or loyalty to our God and to His place in this world, via His Church, the One established on earth by His co-eternal Son Jesus Christ, the
Divine Mercy–THE HESED.
This one and only Eternal Son became Incarnate (coming in the flesh on earth). Now He wants to live in and through us. That’s the Incarnational Mystery we are in. We need to pray for the Divine Mercy to be accepted in the body of believers so we can be the body joined as to the Head, Who is Jesus. Jesus, the Head (and the Heart) desires to flow His mercy through us, to bless us, and to flow out into the world where Mercy is so desperately needed. And so close this blog rerun of Mercy.
May we live in Hesed.