“When you ask for mercy”
by Fr. John Harris


When we pray for mercy what exactly are we praying for?


This may seem like a strange question but it is possibly one of the most important questions being asked and argued about in the Church at this time. Does mercy change us or allow us to stay as we are?

For some people, mercy seems to act like a white-wash, covering up all sin and not actually changing the situation of our lives. An understanding of mercy, which allows a person to become at peace with sin, is far from the mercy shown by Jesus, because His true concern is for our true happiness.

To put this more clearly, let us take the example of Jesus in the scene with the woman caught in adultery. This woman had been “caught” in the act of adultery and the Pharisees bring her to Jesus to judge her. As we know, Jesus shows her great mercy. He does not demand that the law be fully observed. She was not stoned to death. In this way, Jesus can be said to act beyond justice.

But, in His act of mercy, He tells her to go back to her husband and not commit such a sin again. He restored her to a just relationship with her husband by forgiving her sin, showing great mercy and allowing her the freedom to do the right thing.

Jesus would not have been merciful if He had forgiven her the sin and told her it was okay to go on committing adultery. Mercy releases us from sin and allows us to live in friendship with God. Mercy does not make sin acceptable.

Mercy is not a white-washing over of sin, but a true forgiveness which allows one to return to live a holy life. Mercy restores us to holiness. It doesn’t simply turn a blind eye and pretend everything is okay. God loves us too much not to take us seriously.

Mercy must always put us in a true relationship with God and others. One can never work against justice if one is to be truly happy but one can act beyond justice by allowing forgiveness to open us up to move beyond the present situation of sin and selfishness. This is precisely the space opened up by Divine Mercy. An unjust act is never merciful because mercy wishes the best for the other. A false consolation that allows someone to say that it is a lesser evil is not mercy at all if the person is not freed from the sinful situation.

Whatever you do in mercy must be done in love for the other and only act for the good of the other. God shows mercy to us through love alone, inasmuch as He loves us as belonging to Him.

The sinner is loved, but the good that God intends, has as its purpose, the conversion of the sinner from sin, making sure that the sinner does not remain in sin, since that would be an evil.

Divine Mercy is directly reunited with justice, and thus it has nothing to do with any sort of tolerance with respect to the sin, rather it is about seeking the conversion of the sinner. This conversion may take time as one has to come to terms with turning from sin and living now in the freedom of the children of God.

God tolerates sin with a view to a greater good. God tolerates the fact that sin is committed in the view of the future repentance of the sinner whom He loves. Mercy springs from love for the person who is a sinner in order to cure the sinner of the sickness of infidelity or sinfulness that afflicts us all and prevents us from living in communion with God.

This is something quite different from consenting to the continuation of living in a sinful situation without an interior transformation by means of grace, as though God covered our sins without converting the heart by cleansing it. A kind of mercy that left us in our sinful condition would not be true mercy but a pretend mercy, a false compassion which leaves us in sin. True mercy always seeks conversion and the purification of heart so that the onetime sinner can now begin to truly become a friend of God. We know when we are sinners and all the pretence doesn’t bring us any peace. Only mercy which forgives and gives us the chance to be truly good allows us to live in peace.

St. Pope John Paul II once wrote “According to Catholic doctrine, no mercy, neither divine nor human, entails consent to the evil or tolerance of the evil. Mercy is always connected with the moment that leads from evil to good. Where there is mercy, evil surrenders. When the evil persists, there is no mercy.”

Divine Mercy is God’s offer to us to come close to Him. It is a real offer which invites us to a conversion of life, a definite break with sin and a peace of knowing and living in communion with God. This relationship is not a pretend relationship in which we have to hide anything. God’s offer of mercy opens us to a peaceful and honest way of living. When one meets the Lord’s mercy, our lives change. Our acceptance of mercy involves us trusting our lives to Jesus and our willingness to obey Him. When we pray for true mercy, we ask the Lord to forgive us our sins and weaknesses and to give us the grace to live in communion with Him in sincerity and truth.

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St. Eunan's Cathedral, Letterkenny, Donegal, Ireland

St. Eunan's Cathedral

Letterkenny, Donegal, Ireland



You can pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy with the Sisters of Merciful Jesus everyday at 3pm via the webcam in St. Eunan's Cathedral, Letterkenny, Donegal, Ireland.