A Different Take on Mercy: Mary and a Medieval Cistercian

By Fr. Christopher Roberts - Kokomo, Indiana, USA - 20 November 2017



Recent years in the Church have seen much discussion about the priority of proclaiming God's mercy. At the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Saint John XXIII expressed the wish that the Church address the modern world with the "medicine of mercy rather than the weapons of severity." The first saint whom John Paul II canonized in the new millennium was Saint Faustina Kowalska, whose mystical revelations form the basis for the Divine Mercy devotion. Pope Francis has made mercy an almost programmatic focus of his pontificate. In this context, it can appear as if mercy is a recent discovery in the life of the Church. Yet, the Church has proclaimed the message of mercy to varying degrees and in different ways throughout her history. One of the particularly fruitful ways in which popular piety has approached the idea of mercy has been through looking to Mary as mother of Mercy.


Odo of Marimond was an obscure figure in the twelfth-century Cistercian movement. He died in 1161. His significant corpus has not yet been edited, systematically published nor translated. His relative obscurity demonstrates just how deeply the Church in the Middle Ages had developed the Gospel message of mercy and identified how Mary participated in God's mercy. In his homilies on John 19:25-27 and Luke 11:27, Odo presented a vision of God's mercy wherein receiving it profoundly associated the beneficiary with the divine mission to communicate mercy to others by suffering with them. This dynamic had a unique instantiation in the Blessed Virgin Mary, who exercised the office of Mother of Mercy in the Church as a teacher, intercessor, and advocate for sinners on Judgment Day. While the manner in which Odo presented Mary's exercise of this role raises some questions as regards how her mercy relates to God's, there remains a profound harmony and complementarity between Christ's mercy and Mary's mercy that provides a paradigm for Christians to model in receiving and sharing mercy with others. In Odo's vision, there will come a time when Christ and Mary cease to be merciful. This way of seeing mercy differs from some contemporary approaches that see it as God's fundamental attribute.



Christ's Mercy


Typical of some medieval writers, Odo's approach to the divine action was Christocentric. One of the ways in which Odo presented Christ's mercy was through what some modern theologians call "solidarity." On the Cross especially, Christ shared in the miseries of the human race. One of the miseries in which Christ shared was spiritual poverty.


Sin has the twofold consequence of alienation from God and neighbor. It strips one of natural and supernatural gifts. The Cross illustrated this reality. Odo noted that Christ "left His virgin mother to His virgin friend, and likewise gave up His spirit. Then he gave everything to God." By giving Mary to John, Jesus gave away His most intimate human relationship. By giving up His spirit, He relinquished the spiritual gift that had anointed His human nature throughout His life. After having parted with all of the supernatural and natural gifts that He humanly possessed, Christ let go of His own human life in a gesture of radical solidarity with sinful humanity. He mercifully chose to participate in the double natural and supernatural poverty that afflicts the human race on account of sin.


Christ's mercy manifested itself on the Cross through more than just sharing in human misery. He did something to take away the human misery that results from sin. Odo's explanation, while not original, provided an articulate illustration with several images from the Gospel of how Christ's mercy undid the effects of sin. Addressing Jesus on the Cross, Odo wrote, "you remove sins through the gate of death...you bring back the lost sheep on your very shoulders...you patiently bear up men in their sins...you gather together all the children of men for judgment...you render according to one's merits." It is true that Odo definitely focused on how Christ brings mercy to sinners through the forgiveness of sins. At the same time, he did not lose sight of the reality of divine judgment inchoate in Christ's mercy. If a sinner refuses to allow our Lord to accompany him in his misery and so to receive healing, the sinner stands self-condemned by his own obstinacy.


One might ask why Christ's mercy does not automatically overwhelm the hardened hearts of unrepentant sinners. In Odo's conceptualization, a key to understanding why the fruit of God's mercy does not always come forth from an encounter with the Cross was his idea of the finality of Christ's salvific mission. The Word became flesh so that human beings might actually become adopted sons and daughters of God, "participants in the divine nature" (1 Pet. 2:4) Thus Odo explained that Jesus "merited by His death for me that I might be His brother." This is not just forgiveness; it is transformation. Divine mercy seeks to transform those who receive it in order to make them like the God Who gives it.


A conceptual itinerary of the operation of Christ's mercy in Odo must begin with Christ's goal of bringing sinners from being "children of wrath" to adopted sons of God the Father through our Lord's human nature. The Cross makes this telos possible by Christ taking human misery to Himself in such a way that He extended the possibility of reconciliation to His Father to sinners. This reconciliation was not merely an extrinsic act wherein divine mercy masks human sinfulness. It was a process wherein mercy freely received actually transforms the sinner by divinizing him.


One of the reasons that one must be careful not to limit the concept of mercy merely to forgiveness of sins Odo described well when he looked at Jesus' mercy to His mother on the Cross. This is significant because by this point in Latin theology, it was the consensus that Mary was without actual sin. Nonetheless on the Cross, "the Son had compassion for His co-suffering mother." Our Lord entered into our Lady's misery that was caused by seeing His misery from the wood of the Cross. His doing so indicates that one need not be a sinner in order to benefit from God's mercy. The needful thing to receive mercy is the experience of suffering.


The nature of Jesus' mercy to Mary on the Cross held within it a strange paradox. The main source of the Virgin's suffering lay in her Son's suffering. At the same time, the merciful love poured out from Christ's heart provided the remedy for the suffering it caused. Apropos of the paradox, Odo addressed Mary, "how deeply infixed is the ray of this gaze [of Jesus to you] in your heart, O holy mother." He described the impact of the arrow of Christ's merciful gaze that had pierced her heart by adapting the words of the Song of Songs that the bridegroom speaks to the bride and placing them on Mary's lips, "you have wounded my heart, my Son, in the gaze by which you looked upon me from the Cross and in the words you had with me while dying."


The original context from which Odo adapted these words came from the mouth of the male lover in the Song of Songs. He spoke them to his female beloved, "you have wounded my heart, my sister, my bride" when addressing the manner in which her beauty had ravished him (Song of Songs 4:9). In placing these words on Mary's lips and addressing them to Jesus, Odo did at least two things. First, he presented Mary as Jesus' companion or socia in His work of salvation, doing so with nuptial overtones. While it is true that in His human nature Jesus is Mary's Son, it is also true that Jesus is the bridegroom of the Church and of the soul of the individual Christian. In this sense, Mary can be a spouse of her Son insofar as she is the preeminent member of the Church. The critical point that Odo made here was that there is a mystical union between Mary and Jesus that involved a profound level of sharing, even to the point of nuptial imagery.


A second element that Odo introduced in his appropriation of Song of Songs 4:9 was that Mary's cooperation with Christ's work of mercy on the Cross brought her more deeply into participation with the divine nature in such a way that one can say of her what one says of her Son in certain respects. When Christ suffered, Mary suffered with Him and He with her. Here is a good example of the admirable commericum between God and men that takes place in Jesus Christ brought to a fine point in the life of our Lady. Mary as a personification of the Church cooperated with the Bridegroom on the Cross in a most intimate way, sharing all His communicable goods.


Understanding Mary's co-suffering with Christ at the foot of the Cross in terms of mercy raises an interesting question about how merciful it was to leave Mary behind after the Ascension. Odo himself proposed this question. Since she suffered with Christ on the Cross, it would seem at least possibly fitting that she should also accompany Him immediately to heaven when He ascended. In order to explain why things did not unfold in this manner, Odo pointed out that our Lord, "judged [Mary] worthy of a greater honor." The first step in giving this greater honor came when Jesus gave her the office of remaining with the faithful of the infant Church. In this sense, Mary became an instrument of mercy in the very act of receiving it. After suffering with Christ on the Cross and consoling Him, she likewise suffered with His Body the Church and consoled Her members. The second part of this greater honor was that Jesus went to prepare a place for our Lady in heaven. After accompanying the Church on earth in her first years as mother of Mercy, it was most fitting that she be assumed into heaven in order to exercise this same role for the entire Church through the centuries.


The at least years' long delay in Mary taking her place at her Son's side in heaven highlighted an important aspect of the nature of mercy. Experiencing it does not necessarily mean that the agent removes the misery entirely. Christ defeated sin and death on the Cross, but in doing so did not preserve His mother from having to suffer the pain of separation again from His bodily presence at the Ascension. This example illustrates how receiving mercy makes one a fit instrument of suffering with others, even as one continues to suffer oneself. The power of grace transforms this suffering, but usually does not eliminate it.


Another particular person to whom Jesus showed mercy on the Cross was the Apostle John. In his case, the mercy given seems strange at first glance. Odo described Christ's entrustment of His mother to John as something that made John "a man to be honored in the whole Church." On one level, entrusting Mary to the beloved disciple seems akin to a dying solider asking one of his companions to watch over his widowed mother while dying on the battlefield. It appears to be something like a sentimental gesture and acknowledgement of John's importance to our Lord. Yet, Christ's entrustment of His mother to John was more than a sentimental gesture. It contained within itself a deep responsibility. What our Lord did on the Cross for John made the apostle "as it were another Jesus." On the one hand, this statement clarified what exactly John's honor was. John must seek to become like the one bestowing the honor on him. On the other hand, one cannot but recognize that the honor of being made almost another Christ by the Same in the midst of His crucifixion was not an honor to which many would aspire. The act contained within itself an invitation to embrace the Cross as well. Our Lord showed special mercy to John on the Cross by giving Mary to him as his mother. In doing so, He also invited His beloved disciple to walk the path of suffering as an alter Christus.



Mary's Mercy


Odo's homilies brought into relief the fact that a consequence of the Incarnation is that mercy flows from man to God as well as from God to man. The instance that proves the possibility of consoling the heart of Jesus most clearly came with Mary. Thus, Odo explained that at the foot of the Cross, Mary "knew fully the desolation and ineffable sadness" of her Son. Jesus received mercy from His mother insofar as beholding the suffering of Mary's Son moved her heart to comfort our Lord in His misery. Christ poured His mercy to the human race into Mary's soul and she returned that mercy back to Him as He suffered as the New Eve.


The role that Mary played gave her a unique office in co-operating with her Son's work of salvation. Arguing thusly, Odo addressed our Lady, "from this generous outpouring show yourself to be mother and spouse of the Savior." While Mary's office of mother of the Savior is obvious, her role as spouse needs more explanation. This will involve going beyond Odo's explicit analysis.


One can rightly call Mary spouse of the Savior, generally and specifically at the foot of the Cross, because she stands as an exemplar of the Church at the precise moment that Christ took the Church to Himself as His bride. Saint Paul explained in Ephesians 5 that "Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25b-27). The bath to which Paul referred here is a ritual bath that a bride took before entering into the nuptial chamber on the night of the consummation of her marriage. Odo understood Mary as being without actual sin. For this reason, she represented the already purified Church as bride of Christ crucified. She stood at the foot of the Cross pure and free from sin just as Christ was in the process of cleansing the Church from sin through shedding His own blood. Since she was already free from sin, she became a giver of mercy insofar as her Son's sufferings moved her heart. For this reason, Mary was uniquely capable of being a merciful spouse and mother to Jesus. Her capacity to enter into loving union with God had not been tainted by deliberate sin.


One can also call Mary bride of Christ at the foot of the Cross because Mary showed herself to be the New Eve. By doing so, she was in some real sense the spouse of the New Adam. As Eve fell and contributed to the fall of the entire human race near a tree, Mary stood by the wood of the Cross and contributed to the salvation of the whole human race. Odo pregnantly pointed out that Mary's posture was "standing is opposed to falling." The typological relationship is obvious.


The office that Mary had as spouse, mother, New Eve and exemplar of the Church at the foot of the Cross did not exhaust itself in the mercy that she showed to Jesus. Rather, it qualified her to exercise mercy toward sinners in communion with her Son. One finds further evidence for this in her posture. Those who judge and who are proud sit. Odo gave two examples. Judges sit as a symbol of their capacity to render judgment. Before her fall, the harlot Babylon sat proudly as queen of the nations. In contrast, Mary's standing at the foot of the Cross was emblematic of her readiness to go out and serve others by bringing them mercy. Just as she stood with Jesus and was merciful to Him and received mercy from Him, "she is the one who always stands for the condemned party and judges no one...she always hurries to the assistance of the poor and the contemptible." Mary's role as advocate for sinners resonates with her words at the wedding feast at Cana, "do whatever He tells you" as she interceded for the couple whose wine had failed at their wedding feast.


These actions were not singular but rather expressions of Mary's permanent position in the Body of Christ. In illustrating this point, Odo quoted Pseudo-Ignatius of Antioch, who described Mary as "a servant of works of pity [pietatis]." Although only John 19 makes reference to Mary's standing posture, Odo interpreted this reference as paradigmatic for her mission. She is always ready to go out and open her heart to those who suffer, especially to sinners who suffer from moral wretchedness.


One of the particular ways in which Mary shared mercy at the foot of the Cross came when she accepted Saint John as her adopted son. By doing so, she showed a special love to John, a sinner, who had no right to be called the son of one who was without actual sin. When she received John as her son, "she accepted a servant in place of the Lord, disciple in place of the master, relation for only-begotten Son, John for Jesus Christ." Here we encounter another aspect of mercy. Namely, that mercy goes beyond the order of justice and gives not according to strict merit but according to a different, more generous logic.


In contemplating Mary's mercy, it is one thing to identify her acts of mercy as past events. It is another thing altogether to see them as ongoing realities. For Odo, her acceptance of John as her son was not a singular action of adoption of one individual but rather a prophetic sign that represented her consent to her Son's will that she be adoptive mother of all Christians. In holding to this interpretation, Odo faithfully handed on the anterior tradition. In one of his homilies, he asked rhetorically, "should we think that by this honor John is privileged as if he were the mother's only adopted son? Far from it!" John is just one among many adopted sons and daughters. Mary has continued to accept adopted children even after her Assumption.


The consequence of Mary's ongoing motherly role toward all Christians is that she has an active role as mother of Mercy in their spiritual lives. The twelfth century Cistercian painted Mary's intercessory role vividly, almost as if our Lady called out to her spiritual children from heaven with an audible voice. He imagined "the mother of Mercy crying out to her adopted children, and to this unworthy one [Odo himself], that they might come and receive from the only fruit of her womb and eat that they may not die of hunger." Three ways that Odo developed the work of Mary as mother of Mercy in the Church were her role as teacher, intercessor, and advocate on Judgment Day, rooting all of these in her total existential ordering toward her divine Son.


The first way in which Mary exercised her role of mother of Mercy in the Church was through standing at the foot of the Cross. In Odo's words, she "stood suffering with her suffering Son that the world might clearly understand how displeasing to God the Father sin is in us." Based on what Odo has said elsewhere, one can adduce several different ways in which Mary's presence at the foot of the Cross might serve to teach about the ugliness of sin. Killing a son in the presence of his mother strikes the observer as a greater act of cruelty than doing so would be without the mother present. There exist at least three ways that this point is true. First, it is more emotionally painful to the mother. Second, it is more humiliating for a son. Third, the fact that Mary is without personal sin makes even more clear the contrast between Mary, who cooperated fully with her Son's redemption, and the others, the price for whose sins Christ was paying.


Mary also carried out her role as mother of Mercy through teaching the Church in the period between Jesus' Ascension and her Assumption, the years in which the young Church suffered greatly. This instructing role included both faith and morals. As regards faith, Odo sustained that "the Blessed Virgin remained for a time in the still undeveloped Church in order to teach the faithful the basics of the faith." Here Odo referred to Mary's presence in the cenacle between the Ascension and Pentecost in Jerusalem, before the dispersion that followed Stephen's martyrdom and during her time with Saint John. According to this way of thinking, Mary exercised an important role in shaping things like the theology behind the Johannine corpus. An additional element in Mary's teaching role involved sharing information that only she could have known regarding Jesus' conception, birth, and infancy.


A first way in which Mary exercised her role as teacher and mother of Mercy was through accompanying the persecuted Church. In times of persecution, two very important aspects of continuing the witness of the Church involve encouraging those who suffer and having good examples. Martyrs, especially leaders of the Church called to remain faithful in the face of death, are much more likely to persevere in their suffering if they have supporters. When prominent Christians continue to confess the faith in the face of persecution, their example fortifies other Christians. According to Odo, Christ left Mary behind after He ascended into heaven precisely in order to "strengthen the Church by word and example in the midst of that very turbulent time."


Furthermore, Mary exercised her role as mother of Mercy in Odo's homilies through her office of intercessor, both generically and on the day of judgment. When it comes to Mary's general intercession, the linkage between our Lady as intercessor and mother of Mercy is organic and holistic, with one arising from the other. The Cistercian placed the following words on Mary's lips, "I am called mother of Mercy. I give the food of grace freely. Do not wonder at the greatness of your miseries, for my mercy is far greater than all of your miseries." Mary's role as mediator of graces falls under her general role as intercessor on behalf of sinners. It is important for those who feel as if they are hopelessly mired in the misery of their sins to trust that Mary's intercession bring God's grace even to them. Here there was no question of Mary being a separate source of grace but rather the subordinate means by which it pleases God to grant His grace to those who suffer.


Mary also fulfilled her role as mother of Mercy by being a merciful judge. Odo described our Lady as a "wall...that surrounds and protects the Church by means of her patronage in the presence of God." He continued by turning to Saint Bernard's words about how Mary judges as mother of Mercy, citing Bernard's statement that she facilitates the path to salvation for those who turn to her. When Mary judges during the season of mercy, she never condemns. On the contrary, she shelters and guides those who need assistance.


Insofar as Odo attributed judgment, mediation of grace, and facilitation of the work salvation to Mary, one might ask if this picture of our Lady as intercessor and mother of Mercy risked attributing what is proper to God to someone who is less than God. Odo, in keeping with the best of the Church's tradition, did not see an opposition between Mary's role as mother of Mercy and God's mercy. The two go together and Mary's mercy always leads to God's mercy. Thus, Odo turned to Augustine to underline the nature of the fittingness of Mary's participation in God's work of salvation. The Doctor of Grace addressed Mary by saying, "in you, O Lady, the wretched find mercy, the graceless find grace, the pilgrims find their homeland, the sick find relief, men find God, mortals find life." While it is true that Augustine named several apparently distinct destinations, it would be a mistake to read into his lyricism a lack of theocentrism. All of the destinations that Augustine named one best understands as steps on the way to being with God in heaven. Mary's mercy does not provide a different economy. It merely illumines the way to the one divine light, whose brightness it reflects.


Even though our Lady's role as Mother of Mercy is bound up in Christ's role as source of mercy, certain distortions can arise as regards Mary's role in the final judgment. Odo was conscious of this risk. On occasions, distortions have arisen in popular piety that have cast Christ as a just judge and Mary as a merciful alternative to her Son's strictness. Odo sought to navigate this tension between the instincts of popularity and doctrinal rigor in such a way that Mary's mercy could not serve to overturn her Son's judgment. Even so, there remained in his reflections a certain tension between Mary's mercy and God's justice.


From a superficial perspective, Odo depicted Mary's mercy as being somewhat subversive of divine justice. At the same time, he was careful to ground such devotional statements with provisos that qualify them. Some examples are phrases like "if it were correct to say" or as "sinners are in the custom of calling out." Yet, these appeals to Mary as mother of Mercy against God's justice concorded with a certain way of understanding the relationship between divine mercy and divine justice. One encounters such an understanding articulated in the Book of Hosea, although Odo did not directly reference it. In chapter 11, the Lord God contemplates the penalties that His people have merited through their disobedience to the covenant. In the end, however, God could not bring Himself to punish His people as they deserved. While this explanation definitely lacks something from the point of view of the fine distinctions of systematic theology, it establishes that understanding the relationship between the apparent contradictories of God's mercy and justice is not easy. One may theorize that because Mary is not the directly offended party in sin that she may seem easier to approach initially for mercy than God, because sin directly offends God.


Odo took something of this approach as he tried to explain Mary's mercy on Judgment Day. He quoted Anselm's maxim that "may the guilty party against God's justice fly to the loving mother of the merciful God." Anselm's maxim concretized Mary as the place of encounter with God's mercy over and against His justice, yet not so as to pit God's justice against Mary's mercy. She is mother of the merciful God. Instead, Anselm pitted God's mercy and Mary's mercy against divine justice. While such a devotional approach lacked something in terms of theological precision, it spoke to the existential difficulty of understanding how God's justice and mercy go together. For one seeking to draw near to God's mercy, Mary provides an unambiguous beacon pointing the way to the desired destination.


Mary's role as mother of Mercy never undermines Christ's role as definitive judge on the last day. Odo conceded that on that day "the mother of Mercy will then cease to be merciful." What followed was a strong warning to contemplate how frightful the day when the mother of Mercy ceases to be merciful will be. Here one needs to be careful to distinguish between rhetoric and doctrine. The rhetorical value of Odo's exhortation to conversion before even the tender mother of Mercy will cease being merciful, seemed to gesture toward a vision of a harsh, just God looming the background. Yet, Mary will cease to be merciful at precisely the same moment in which God ceases to be merciful in this vision. One cannot deny the pastoral and homiletic richness of this image. Nor should one read more into it than it said. Mary's mercy and God's work in harmony. One cannot but recognize that Odo failed to make this congruence between God's mercy and Mary's mercy particularly explicit. This shortcoming is lamentable because it made what he said about mercy patient to misinterpretation. All the same, one must also acknowledge that these two homilies were not tightly-reasoned theological treatises but rather devotional works calculated to speak to the heart more than the intellect.


Perhaps the most incisive comment that Odo made about Mary standing by the foot of the Cross was that she was a prototype for the practice of poverty in Spirit. Mary was "most poor" because "she had nothing but her Son." Having nothing of her own, Mary pointed exclusively to Jesus, which establishes both a good starting point for Mariology as well as the spiritual life. The true devotee of the mother of Mercy will not look to Mary for anything that she has not first received from God. Odo left no room for doubt that the child of the mother of Mercy "is one who has given himself over to the service of the Virgin [and] loves God with his whole heart. He has given up the pleasures of the flesh and does works of mercy for whatever neighbor he can." In other words, the true son of Mary practices poverty of spirit in a way that is similar to the poverty of spirit that Mary had at the foot of the Cross. This poverty of spirit then leads to passing on the mercy that one has received to others just as Mary has.



Synthesis: Odo's Insights Into Mercy


Odo of Marimond's homilies on John 19:25-27 and Luke 11:27 give particular insights into the nature of God's mercy working in and through Christ, how the individual Christian receives mercy and how the Christian ought to share this mercy with others. In these reflections, Mary played a paradigmatic role for individual Christians as mother of Mercy. God's mercy working through Christ entered into human misery when He Who knew no sin became sin for us on the Cross. His suffering immersed Our Lord's heart into the depths of all of the wretchedness that comes from sin. The mercy offered on the Cross introduced the possibility of salvation into history. At the same time, this mercy also held within itself judgment for those who refused to accept it. Refusing Christ's mercy is a choice to remain in one's misery. But making the choice to receive God's mercy does not mean a total removal of suffering. Rather, one may well continue to suffer with Christ, who makes the suffering bearable. This was precisely what happened when Mary stood at the foot of the Cross. Having suffered with our Lord, she became an agent of communicating His mercy to others by drawing near to them in their suffering.


When Mary received mercy, Our Lord bestowed on her the office of mother of Mercy. The first fruit of this new role came when she took John as her adoptive son. This act of adoption held a paradigmatic quality, which is to say that in receiving the beloved disciple as her son, she become mother of all Christians. Rather than being exalted to heaven with her Son when He ascended on the fortieth day, Mary remained with the infant Church in order to exercise her role of mother of Mercy. One of the important ways in which Mary brought mercy to the early Church was as a teacher, both about events in our Lord's life about which only she could have known and through the example of her steadfast faith in the midst of persecution. Another came through her role as intercessor. At this point, it becomes very important to clarify that for Odo, Mary's intercession did not compete with her Son's mediation. Seeing this complementarity is particularly crucial in properly understanding the relationship between Mary's mercy and God's justice. The opportunity to accept salvation will come to an end on Judgment Day. What will remain for unrepentant sinners will only be the divine justice. For this reason, speaking of Mary's mercy has tremendous pastoral value. Conceptualizing how God can both be merciful and just at the same time poses certain thought difficulties. Mary, however, is not the party directly offended by sin. As such, it is rather easier to understand how she can be merciful, even if the mercy that she shares comes from God. Odo understood that Mary would cease to be merciful at precisely the point at which God ceased to be merciful, at which point only the divine justice will remain.


The vision of mercy presented in these two homilies is challenging to a post-modern world that has great difficulty acknowledging an objective, fixed order of justice. The contemporary world has little difficulty recognizing the existence of human misery, thus the profusion of mental health professionals, poverty programs, and assistance for those who suffer natural disasters. Helping the wretched has tremendous value. For some, doing so is the most real value of being a person of faith. From this point of view, justice and mercy are opposites. Justice represents a cold, objective standard. Mercy has a logic of its own divorced from justice and centers on tenderness for the suffering. God's mercy overcomes His justice on the Cross. One can say that the name of God is mercy because it is His fundamental attribute. So complete is that victory that even though Hell exists, it could possibly be empty. There is nothing to fear from the final judgment, because mercy will triumph over justice.


Odo's vision of mercy is very different. Justice does not yield to mercy but rather mercy yields to justice. God's saving will for the human race involves more than just overlooking sins. It means the healing of sin's effects leading to the divinization of those who accept it. Here mercy is not the primary attribute of God but rather a provisional instrument through which God seeks to set humans wounded by the power of sins to rights. Those who receive mercy also receive a duty to become instruments of mercy for others. Often becoming an instrument of mercy will involve suffering with and for others who are likewise in misery. Mary at the foot of the Cross is a singular example of this fact. But even Mary, the mother of Mercy, will not always be merciful. The time for mercy, that is the time of healing, will come to an end. At that point, God will come to judge the world justly. Mercy is medicine to heal our souls. As with any medical treatment, one measures its success by seeing if it eventually renders itself unnecessary. This approach offers a different perspective that should lead to deeper reflection about what exactly is the nature of mercy.