The painting of Jesus the Merciful

Picture of Jesus the Merciful

Sister Louise Margaret loved to draw and paint. Not only did she leave us compositions of scenery, animals, flowers and still lifes, but what made her famous is her picture of Jesus the Merciful.

According to the testimony of Sister Margaret Reynaud, co-foundress of Bethany of the Sacred Heart, the picture was painted at the orders of Sister Louise Margaret‘s spiritual director, Fr. A. Charrier, after Sister Louise had told him that she had seen Him in a vision. By a strange coincidence, Mrs. Chamberet also asked her daughter to paint a picture of the Sacred Heart as a remembrance, because she was certain by then that all the Sisters in Romans would be going into exile. Yes, Mrs. Chamberet even provided the gilded wood panel and everything else necessary for the painting.

The painting was done from the end of 1902 through 1903. The features are different from those common at the time. The face of Christ reminds one very much of the Shroud of Turin. The eyes seem to look deeply into the one viewing the picture. Around the head there is a double halo. One is made up of a crown of thorns. The other is decorated with three lilies and bears the inscription, “Misericordiam Volo,” (I desire mercy.)

Contemplating the picture brings to mind two attitudes of Christ; sweetness and majesty, both closely linked with one another. In addition, Jesus is pointing to his pierced side. The rent in the tunic, then, is almost in the form of a heart. Thus Jesus manifests Himself as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah, “They shall look on him whom they have pierced” (Jn 19:37 NAB). It is the wound in His side that reveals the Infinite Love of the Heart of Christ and becomes the fount of Mercy.

What Sister Louise Margaret writes in her diary summarizes very well what is the inspiration of this picture: “One day, prostrate at the feet of Jesus, I called Him the only good of my soul, the sovereign love of my heart, the infinite treasure of all riches, and in the end I said to Him: ‘My Jesus, how dost Thou wish that I call Thee?’ And he replied to me: ‘Call Me Mercy.‘

“O my sweet Mercy, O Jesus, who died of love on the cross, grant us that being brought back to Thee by the attraction of Thy Mercy, we may live by Thy love and for Thy love” (Intimate Notes: Good Friday, 13-4-1900).

There is still one more significant detail: the picture recalls the majesty of the “eternal high priest,” the “divine sacrificer,” who, from His open side, continues to pour out over humanity and, in particular, over His priests the “life-giving waves of Infinite Love.” The spear wound is on the right side, so the reference to the vision of the prophet Ezekiel (Chap. 47) is evident. Jesus is both “priest” (Hb 4:14) and “temple” (Jn 2:21): the water that brings salvation pours out below the right side of the temple; it comes forth in such abundance that it turns “into a river,” which gives birth to abundant life wherever it flows. In this light the wound in Jesus‘ side appears also as the “door” (Jn 10:7) to enter the temple and find “mercy and favor” (Hb 4:16).

A magnificent commentary on this picture is the page written by Sister Louise Margaret as she meditated on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, which is an exaltation of the merciful Love of God that shows itself in the person of Christ: “I meditated on the Prodigal Son. Oh! What a sweet and consoling meditation! This parable is an exquisite portrait, traced by the hand of Jesus Himself, of the Infinite Mercy of the Heart of God. How good He is to trace in detail all its lineaments and to show all its divine beauties.

“God is Love, He is Infinite Love, this divine essence in itself has no form. It is a vast, limitless sea, a light confined by no obstacle; but outside Itself, Infinite Love takes different forms in order that we may be able to recognize It. One of the forms of Love, the most attractive for our sinful souls, is Mercy. Mercy is a form of Love adapted to us sinners, but it is truly Love, Infinite Love, always the same, uncreated, eternal living and operating.”

“Infinite Love is Creator, Mediator, Redeemer, Illuminator, Glorifier.”

“Mercy is creative, in as much as it creates a new purity in the repentant soul. It is mediatory, in as much as it places itself between sin and Divine Justice, and brings repentant Love and pardoning Love together. It is redemptory, in as much as it ransoms the soul from sin, and delivers it by purifying it. It is illuminating, in as much as it, and it alone, at the same time enlightens and shows the misery of the sinner and the goodness of God. It is glorifying, because it is mercy which gives heaven to men, and by their salvation gives glory to God” (Intimate Notes: October 1905, after the Note of October 3). When the picture was finished, Sister Louise Margaret handed it over to her mother, who was filled with admiration of the work done by her daughter. As it seemed to her to be almost a profanation to place it among other paintings of profane character in her living room, she decided to keep it as a relic in a double-bottomed case.”

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