27 X 22cm in Standard Script (楷書)
This particular term, mercy (慈悲), is commonly known in East Eastern cultures as a term linked to Buddhism (1). However, Western Christianity also emphasizes on the concept of mercy in salvation; specifically, to receive God's salvation, one must "Be merciful just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36) as “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mathew 5:7). Mercy is also one important characteristics of God as "Jesus reveals the nature of God as that of a Father who never gives up until he has forgiven the wrong and overcome rejection with compassion and mercy"(2). In Buddhism, the term 慈悲 is usually interpreted and translated as "Loving-kindness" or "Mettā (慈) and Karuṇā (悲)". It is a collective term that embodies Mettā and Karuṇā, both of which are sophisticated concepts in Buddhism. Since discussing these two topics carries significant amount of space (and, perhaps, is out of my scope), interested readers are encouraged to read the links provided here as beginning steps to understanding them. Nonetheless, the Buddhist interpretation of 慈悲 generally carries the meaning similar to mercy, where one should help and empathize those who are in pain or in need. This specific calligraphic piece is written in celebration of the The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (Dec.8, 2015 - Nov.20, 2016), which was announced by Pope Francis on March 13, 2015. In this special year, the Pope would like to remind Catholics that "Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life" and that "Perhaps we have long since forgotten how to show and live the way of mercy", and so "It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters"(3).
On Mercy in Traditional Chinese Culture
In ancient Chinese culture, the concept of mercy can probably be traced back to Mencius's (孟子, 372 – 289 BC) assertion that "The feeling of commiseration" is innate to all human beings (惻隱之心，人皆有之)(4). Specifically, he reasoned "Each one of us has a mind which cannot bear to see the sufferings of others" (人皆有不忍人之心) and that "if one suddenly sees a child about to fall into a well, one will without exception experience a feeling of compassion (ie. mercy) towards the child" (今人乍見孺子將入於井，皆有怵惕惻隱之心)(5). With the advent of the Buddhist concept of karma (因果/業), some hold the belief that having mercy on others is a good deed (善因/積德) that will be returned eventually to benefit oneself (善果). This is best illustrated in The family precepts of Sima Guang (司馬溫公家訓) wherein Chinese historian Sima Guang (司馬光, 1019-108) argued that accumulating good deeds instead of wealth is the best avenue to pursue in benefiting one's descendants (積陰德於冥冥之間，為子孫長久之計).
On Mercy in Catholic Teachings
Catholic's interpretations of Mercy run very much in parallel to those in traditional Chinese culture with some minor but important additions. The similarities are:
- The inclination to be merciful is innate to humans, since we all inherit a part of the merciful God;
- To receive mercy from God, one must be merciful to others -- a logic akin to karma where one plants a good seed to yield good fruits (種善因得善果).
There are, however, additional important aspects of mercy in the Catholic faith other than the two outlined above:
- Through the mystery of God's mercy, bad can be turned into good. An unfortunate situation or bad deed can result in a good ending with God's mercy. God's grace and mercy is not limited and goes beyond karma where bad causes must result in bad effects.
- Our salvation relies on this specific God's mercy as our original sin (bad) can be forgiven through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (God Himself) so that we can enter into eternal life (good). This great mercy and sacrifice cannot be understated in the faith as it is the root of salvation; without God's mercy, there will be no salvation. It is, therefore, very true that Pope Francis stated "Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life" so that we can mirror God's mercy in treating others in the hopes of receiving the mercy of salvation from God (“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mathew 5:7)).
- One cannot, therefore, easily judge whether a good result must be rooted in a good source; God's grace and miracle is always working even when great sin and evil is present ("Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Romans 5:20). Hence, one should always show humility even during times of success; and show hope and pray for mercy during times of distress.