Growing up in a Catholic family, I was used to seeing images around our house reminding us of our faith tradition. One of the most memorable was the framed picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that hung in the upstairs hallway. For the first nineteen years of my life, I passed by it each night on my way to bed. The picture is a bit different than most. Instead of the stylized heart typical of most depictions there is a glow emanating from Jesus’ chest. The outline of a heart is barely visible. Appearing as it does outside of the body, the glowing heart is symbolic of the vulnerability that accompanies unconditional love. No wonder it’s called “sacred.”
I salvaged the picture while working with my siblings to clear out my parents’ house after the death of my father. I used it recently as part of a retreat on the theme of the open heart. It stood throughout the retreat in front of a prayer space and provided a visual reminder of the loving heart of Christ. Such an image is a profound call to mercy in all relationships, but particularly within the family.
When it comes to the Catholic virtues needed to build a strong foundation in a home, the virtue of mercy stands as strong as those of faith, hope, and love. Along with a rich capacity for sharing commitment, devotion, and kindness, family life also has the potential for inflicting severe wounds and deep hurt. The practice of mercy helps to mitigate these by giving us the strength and wisdom to continue forgiving and caring for one another. The late James McGinnis wrote that merciful love “demands that we never give up on others.” Perhaps that’s why the picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus continues to mean so much to me. It now hangs in my own home and serves as a reminder of the importance of mercy in my family.
Mercy is one of 52 Catholic virtues found in Sadlier’s Catholic Identity Links program. Initiate a discussion with your students or children about mercy and ways to put it into practice in the home.