The Merciful Christ
As seen through the eyes of St Catherine of Siena
I HAVE LOVED YOU WITH AN EVERLASTING LOVE, SO I AM CONSTANT IN MY AFFECTION FOR YOU. (JEREMIAH 31)
The good news is: You are infinitely loved by Our Lord Jesus Christ!
Gazing deeply into the icon of the Divine Mercy, one can only be deeply touched by the penetrating, lovingly serene gaze of Jesus as he points to his Wounded Heart while raising His hand in blessing. There is no precedent in either the Greek or Russian schools of Iconography for an icon of the Merciful Christ, but the writer of this icon has faithfully followed the canons for the icon of the Transfiguration.
What is this secret which is hidden in the heart of Jesus? The scene on Calvary where the soldiers pierced the side of Jesus, and blood and water flow out is the climax not only of the Crucifixion but also of the whole story of Jesus. With the piercing of His side His whole being is laid bare.
How well Catherine intuited this truth. The Eternal Father speaks to her:
“Let your place of refuge be my only begotten Son, Christ Crucified.
Make your home and hiding place in the cavern of my side. There in His humanity, you will enjoy my divinity with loving affection. In that open Heart you will find charity for me and for your neighbour. Once you see and taste this love you will follow His teaching and find nourishment at the table of the Cross. (Dialogue 124)
O immeasurably tender love! Who would not be set on fire with such love? What heart could keep from breaking? You deep well of charity, it seems you are so madly in love with your creatures that you could not live without us”.
Experience led Catherine again and again to God’s Mercy.
“Eternal Mercy: By your Mercy we were created. And by your Mercy we were created anew in Your Son’s Blood—- Your Mercy made Your Son play death against life and life against death on the wood of the Cross.
O mad lover! It was not enough for you to take on our humanity: you had to die as well! Nor was death enough: you descended to the depths to summon our holy ancestors and fulfil your Truth and Mercy in them.
O Mercy! my heart is engulfed with the thought of you! For wherever I turn my thoughts I find nothing but Mercy”. (Dialogue 30)
Catherine knowing her own sinfulness and the sinfulness of the world, knew also the Lord’s immense love, and drawn into the side of the Lord she discovered the magnificent Mercy of God who loved us to the bitter end.—-She argued with The Father:
“My Lord, turn the eye of Your Mercy on Your people and on your mystic body the Church. How much greater would be Your glory if You would pardon so many?
I offer my life to You Eternal Father for Your sweet Spouse, unworthy though I am. I ask only this to see the renewal of that sweet Spouse, Your Church. I will not leave Your presence till I see You have been merciful to them. Eternal God this I beg of You”.
Catherine wondered, as we do, why Jesus suffered the soldiers to pierce His side. She was given the following explanation:
“—it was because My desire toward the human race was infinite; while the torments and sufferings that I had endured were finite; and also because I could not show you by means of finite things all the love I had for you. Therefore by showing you My open side, I wished you to see the secret of My Heart. In causing the blood and water to spurt from My side I showed you that you had received the holy baptism of water by virtue of My Blood”. (Dialogue 75)
We can see now that the feature of the Passion that most captivated Catherine was the Wound in Christ’s side. In this Wound she found herself inebriated with the Precious Blood———-that Blood which gives life, and makes visible what is invisible—–that Blood which contains all remedies, all strength, and all sweetness. She invited everyone to drink at and take refuge in this source of life.
“Bathe in the Blood of Jesus Crucified, hide yourself in His sweet Wounds, and there expand, consume your heart, clothe yourself in the Blood————-in time of battle you will find peace, and in bitterness you will find sweetness”.
The person who discovers divine Love has only to gaze fixedly at it, and allow her/himself to be consumed by the fire mingled with the blood. We have only to bathe our entire being in the Blood of Jesus, the cleansing, healing Blood which alone breaks down our resistance and softens our heart to God and to one another.
No matter how grievous, our every sin can be washed clean by this saving Blood that bathes us in the “expansiveness of God’s charity and forgiveness” The Eternal Father even forbids Catherine to think of her sins “either in general or specifically without calling to mind the Blood, and the greatness of my Mercy”.
Put then your lips to the side of Christ, His wound is a mouth breathing out a fire of charity and pouring Blood to wash our iniquities.
Catherine also began to understand that hope in God’s Mercy during our lifetime helps us to have confidence in His many promises. She encourages us to make of our lives a radical act of trust, so that at the moment of death we will plunge ourselves into the abyss of God’s Mercy. The Lord so yearns for our trust at this moment of our lives that he nurtures this constant trust in us now. With this confidence we will approach death itself with joy and peace, and as we have filled our memory with the Blood and water that came from the side of Jesus, so in death we will immerse ourselves in this Blood. We will stretch out the arms of our hope and grasp with the hands of our love the very Heart of God, and so awake to see Jesus gazing at us, not with reproach but only with the most tender compassion and mercy.
WHAT A MEETING THAT WILL BE!