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In describing divine mercy, the books of the Old Testament in the Bible use two expressions in particular, each having a different semantic nuance: hesed and rahamim.





The term hesed indicates a profound attitude of "goodness." When this is established between two individuals, they do not just wish each other well; they are also faithful to each other by virtue of an interior commitment, and therefore also by virtue of a faithfulness to themselves. Since hesed also means "grace" or "love," this occurs precisely on the basis of this fidelity. It is a love that gives, a love that is more powerful than betrayal, a grace  that is stronger than sin. This fidelity vis-a-vis the unfaithful "daughter of my people"(cf. Lam 4,3,6) is, in brief, on God's part, fidelity to Himself. 





While hesed highlights the marks of fidelity to self and of "responsibility for one's own love" (which are in a certain sense masculine characteristics), rahamim, in its very root, denotes the love of a mother (rehem = mother's womb). From the deep and original bond - indeed the unity - that links a mother to her child there springs a particular relationship to the child, a particular love. 


Of this love one can say that it is completely gratuitous, not merited, and that in this aspect it constitutes an interior necessity: an exigency of the heart. It is, as it were, a "feminine" variation of the masculine fidelity to self expressed by hesed


Against this psychological background, rahamim generates a whole range of feelings, including goodness and tenderness, patience and understanding, that is, readiness to forgive. 


The Old Testament attributes to the Lord precisely these characteristics when it uses the term rahamim in speaking of Him. We read in Isaiah: 


"Can a woman forget her nursing child,

that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?

Even these may forget,

yet I will not forget you" (Is 49,15). 


This love, faithful and invincible thanks to the mysterious power of motherhood, is expressed in the Old Testament texts in various ways: as salvation from dangers, especially from enemies; also as forgiveness of sins of individuals and also of the whole of Israel; and finally in readiness to fulfill the (eschatological) promise and hope, in spite of human infidelity, as we read in Hosea: 


"I will heal their apostasy,

I will love them freely" (Hos 14,4). 


Jesus Christ is the perfect revelation and incarnation of this hesed and rahamim.

Fr Hayden envisages rahamim as the heart of his ministry in giving Jesus Christ to others in the power of the Holy Spirit manifested in Father's compassionate merciful love.

St John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, footnote 52.


The Logo


The logo, an abstract drawing by the Maltese artist Jennifer Lonfat, depicts Jesus Christ crucified as the incarnation of the Father's rahamim.  


On the cross, Jesus transforms his rejection by humanity into mercy and compassion for the whole world whilst he abandons himself to the Father's merciful love that resurrects him from death in the power of the Holy Spirit.


The cross is embraced by Mary's motherly tender love (rahamim) for humanity, who receives on her outstretched hand the blood - being personified here by a foetus -  coming out of her son Jesus' wounded side.  


The swift brushstrokes convey the Father's fidelity (emet) towards mankind whilst the white background behind portrays the birth of the church as the community of merciful love.

About Rahamim

Divine Mercy in the Word of God

St John Paul II

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