Our faith is a friendship offered to us from the heart of God, who is the Holy Spirit. It comes from Love and for Love. Since Love is the essence of God, the core of God’s identity, it seems appropriate to capitalize that word, in this context at least, since it is really the Holy Name of God. As St. John the Evangelist repeatedly proclaims: God IS Love. 

No wonder then that the Love that is and comes from God is often portrayed in images of Christ that have become so much a part of our devotional lives. Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, reveals to us everything he has heard from the Father. Since he and the Father are one, as he tells us, there is nothing that God is or has that does not come to us through Jesus, who calls us friends, with whom he shares everything. 

The familiar images of Christ to which I refer include, for example, many crucifixes, both in graphic realism and “glorified,” artistic renditions of the face or head of Christ, portraits of the Divine Mercy and, of course, the Sacred Heart, which we celebrate this week. Each of these portrayals has been given some interpretive representation, often with considerable artistic license that reveal different theological perspectives. Some seem to focus on the woundedness of the heart of Jesus itself, as graphically represented by a crown of thorns surrounding the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  

Many of these representations also bear the stigmata, the marks of Christ’s wounds in his hands and feet and side, some more vividly than others. Most of them, however, strive to portray a certain character, a radiance emanating from the Lord, typically his side, from which flow the sacramental graces in the life of the Church. The blood and water flowing from the pierced side of Jesus on the Cross are the signs of the graces that flow from this merciful heart. 

Mercy is never easy. It is very precious for anyone who has received it, but very costly for the one who bestows it. Have you ever had the experience of being wounded by the betrayal of a friend? It is hurtful enough to have learned that one whom you consider a friend may have been found to have taken advantage of or even defamed you.  

Every sin is a betrayal of God’s Love, of course. What does God do all day long? He loves, and loves us into continual existence. When we abuse any person in some way, ourselves or someone else, or even a part of God’s creation, we act against God’s loving action, placing stumbling stones or roadblocks – scandals, literally (from the Greek, σκ?νδαλα, which means trap or obstacle) — along God’s path to us, but also in the way of God’s path to others.  

A betrayal by a friend can, of course, be forgiven, but only by the one offended, and with a willingness to pardon that offender, who may seek forgiveness, not only of the offense, but the scar it leaves. The forgiver has to absorb both wounds. It is not a matter of “forgiving and forgetting.” The wound remains and cannot easily be written off with “Oh, I’m sorry” alone, which does not erase the damage unjustly done, but restores the relationship.  

The post-Resurrection appearances of Christ contain many references to the wounds he suffered on the Cross. The dead and risen Christ are one and the same. His Resurrection does not negate his suffering on Good Friday. It affirms that death and suffering do not have power over his infinite Love. Nothing now can overcome the reach and power of God’s Love and merciful forgiveness, the Love that flows from a heart that is wounded, in the sense of being rejected, as it aches to release all of the Love it contains. 

This is a mystery that is difficult for us to comprehend. A parent or a friend who suffers from the actions of a child or friend straying from the right path, like the prodigal son, may begin to understand it. Jesus, once dead and risen, suffers in his human flesh no more. But the mystical Body of Christ, his Church, is wounded and suffers deeply from the sins of many, including its own members. 

No, mercy is not cheap. The one who imparts it must, as it were, “bite down” twice to confer it. The wound inflicted may still hurt deeply, perhaps for life, especially if that wound included damage to a reputation or even the loss of innocence itself. No forgiveness is owed to or can be claimed by the offender, who in justice deserves whatever punishment is proportionate to the crime. Some crimes, especially personal ones, can never be proportionately “paid” for. Should the wounded one decide to spare the offender the consequences, he or she is not only absorbing the ongoing pain of the wound — in memory or in fact — but freeing the offender from what rightfully he or she deserves to bear for life. 

This is how God’s mercy reaches us — every time we ask his forgiveness and seek to amend our lives. His mercy is tireless in its long-suffering compassion, but relentless in its reminder to us of the evil of sin and the suffering it inflicts. We also must never tire of thanking God for his tender mercy and resolving in our contrition “to sin no more” and “to avoid the near occasions of sin.” Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!