Divine Mercy Is a Human Necessity by Fran Salone-Pelletier

It is incredibly challenging to watch television news channels. It is equally challenging to read newspapers and participate in conversations and discussion. All dare us to recognize our human need for deepening understanding and to remain calmly cognizant of the ongoing human necessity to beg for divine mercy—and then to live it in our daily encounters.

Yes, this is easily said and likely even more easily written. The challenge remains in the huge question: “How do we do it?” How do we evoke, empower, and engage ourselves in the quality of mercy that is both divinely ordained and humanly critical? How do we define and describe such mercy? Where do we discover it? Who have we seen live it?

As I type these words, I recall an episode from the television program Morning Joe. Rarely do I watch it, and even more rarely for the entire time. However, I was drawn to a portion which illustrated mercy in a painful situation.

The particular segment offered a poignant story. It entailed details of a wrongful incarceration that lasted for nearly a quarter of a century. Entitled “Letters from Sing Sing,” it was a documentation of Jon-Adrian “JJ” Valaquez’s 23-plus years spent in the infamous prison located in Ossining, New York—and his subsequent battle for merciful understanding and recognition of innocence.

Velazquez dared to seek divine mercy and found it by boldly contacting a reporter named Dan Slapian. As NBC News describes:

In December of 2002, NBC News producer Dan Slepian got a letter from a New York state prison. It was from a man serving 25 years to life for murder. And it ended with a desperate plea: look into my case. Jon-Adrian “JJ” Velazquez had been convicted of killing a retired New York City police officer, but he insisted he didn’t do it. Dan was skeptical. Prosecutors said five eyewitnesses had sworn JJ was the killer. Could five people be wrong? So Dan began to dig. What he discovered went far beyond just JJ’s case. And 20 years later, it’s still unfolding. Letters from Sing Sing tells the story of a man convicted of murder, a journalist, and the letter that changed both of their lives.

JJ knew he was innocent. He knew this was not a truth that could or would be easily received and accepted. He knew his two young children, boys aged five and eight, would be deprived of his presence as a parent. He knew the pain and power of seeking and needing divine mercy. He trusted it could be discovered in another human being. He was right.

However, his belief did not result in immediate release. Imprisonment was yet his cross to bear. Divine mercy, in those circumstances, would be revealed in his ongoing belief that God allows things to happen for a reason. This would not be a sugary kind of faith. It would be revealed in his expressed conviction that hate must be kept at bay. Yet hate was what he first experienced in the confinement of prison. Despite that reality, an incredible trust would be honed over the course of years. JJ lived with and in the powerful belief that love is the solution. Divine mercy prevailed.

The story both captured my interest and created a series of questions that would never be completely answered. They would, instead, be fodder for pondering and food for action. Would I be bold enough, could I be courageous enough, to live in and with the ambiance of divine mercy? What would that look like? What would it take from me and give to me—and others?

Sister Mary McGlone posed the boldness question and added this statement which, for me, defined divine mercy in an incredibly beautiful manner. She wrote that mercy is revealed in “God showing us mercy by giving us new birth through the Resurrection.”

She continued: “What it comes down to is that mercy is an action, not an emotion. . . . Mercy is what the Samaritan did as he risked his life and put his goods at the service of a person in need. In the story [of the Prodigal Son] the father practiced mercy by embracing his son and throwing a party for him. . . . Mercy is thus a concrete and generous response to another’s need.”

We have lifetime to learn and live the various aspects of mercy. We give ourselves time and space to ponder the power of forgiveness, even in the face of its being “one-sided,” poorly received, or considered superficially offered. We learn, daily, that it really does require a certain degree of boldness to walk the way of mercy. It means that we cannot seek its prized presence without surrendering to its precious price.

Mercy may not fall, as Shakespeare wrote, like gentle rain from heaven. Yet it is not constrained from its divine source. Nor is it restrained from universal presence. It is, in fact, more pervasive than one might first perceive and more readily received than one might be able to comprehend.

It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
It is an attribute to God himself;  
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
That in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea,
Which, if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence ’gainst the merchant there.

(The Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1)

Surely, both JJ Valasquez and Dan Slepian did more than discover, or even rediscover, wisdom and truth in those words. They lived the reality, and they continue to reap its rewards in freedom and truth, justice and peace. So might we. If we can be bold enough to try—together! ♦

Fran Salone-Pelletier holds a master’s degree in theology. She is the author of a trilogy of scriptural meditations, Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives, from which this selection is taken. She is also a religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer, and grandmother of four. Reach her at hope5@atmc.net.

Image: El Greco, Christ Healing the Blind, c. 1570

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