Saturday, January 16, 2016

Thoughts on Grace and Mercy: "Amazing Grace," Arm Wresting and William Shakespeare

Earlier this month I heard a priest talk about the jubilee "Year of Mercy" declared by Pope Francis. (The logo on the left courtesy of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of New Evangelization, Vatican State.)

The priest also explained the difference between grace and mercy. 

He said, “Grace is when we receive something we don’t deserve, and mercy is when we don’t receive something we do deserve.”

He repeated that line a few times, so I figured it was important. With this post, I’ve written it down to help me remember.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the times in my life when the words “grace” and “mercy” have made an impression on me.

Whenever I hear the song “Amazing Grace” I get chills. Both the words and music move me, sometime to the verge of tears.

There’s also a saying about grace I remember a neighbor repeat while I was living in Massachusetts in the 1970s. Whenever she saw someone with an obvious impairment or heard about a person’s tragedy or misfortune, she shook her head and said, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Her words about the grace of God have stuck with me, and I’ve repeated them when I’ve encountered similar situations.

My first recollection of using the word “mercy,” is goofing around and wrestling with my siblings when I was a kid. “Mercy” was what we had to say when we admitted defeat to the stronger person.

The word “mercy” also reminds me of high school English class. Every year, the nuns at St. Alphonsus “Rock” High School taught us at least one of William Shakespeare’s plays. One semester, during Sophmore year (I think it was), we were assigned to read “The Merchant of Venice” and had to memorize Portia’s quality of mercy speech. I don’t recall all of the passage, but five decades later, I still remember this much:

"The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown . . ."

Back then I focused on getting a good grade; since then the words have come to mean more to me, especially the first four lines.

Those are my thoughts on grace and mercy.
What about you? Do you have any favorite quotes, thoughts, or memories about one or both of those words?


  1. I heard much of what you did, Donna. Must be a Midwestern thing. I also heard a lot of "Get thee behind me, Satan!"

  2. Oh, mercy mercy mercy me,
    Things ain't what they used to be.

    (I hope I got it right.)

    I love the priest's definition of mercy and grace. What was his name? Mercy/forgiveness is a big piece of my WIP...

    1. Hi Sioux,
      You're right, Mercy, mercy me, things aren't what they used to be!

      I didn't get the priest's name. He was on TV, and I didn't write his name down.

      Can't wait to read your WIP. If you need a Beta reader, send it my way.

  3. Hi Donna -- I have the same reaction when I hear the song "Amazing Grace." It was my father's favorite song, so it always reminds me of him, even after 34 years.

    1. Hi Patricia,
      How special that "Amazing Grace" can evoke memories of your dad after so many years.

  4. Amazing Grace moves me to tears also. When my granddaughter was in high school choir she was chosen to sing Acapella at a vigil for a missing, nine months pregnant woman in Hillsboro. Bittersweet occasion.
    The priest's explanation is perfect.

    1. It is a lovely song, and what an honor for your granddaughter. Talent must run in your family.
      Hope you're staying warm in this chilly weather.

  5. The explanation you shared is one of the best I've seen. Like you, Amazing Grace tears me up. "There but for the Grace of God go I," is one I know, and from Lamentations: "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning."

  6. Amazing Grace nearly always makes me cry. Another one with the same effect is Here I am, Lord. Hard as I try, I can't sing it without nearly sobbing. It's beautiful and so meaningful.

    Critter Alley

  7. Donna, as always, I love this thoughtful post, and I always learn something when I visit your blog. Really love that explanation of the difference between grace and mercy. I've never thought the words interchangeable, but also never thought about them in quite that way. You said the priest was on TV -- are you by chance talking about Father Jonathan Morris? He has such a wonderful way of explaining things. Regarding the use of the word mercy, I like simply "Lord, have mercy" at Mass. To me, that says it all, because we are always and ever at His mercy.

    So sorry I've been away from your blog for so long. Christmas felt a bit overwhelming this year, followed by a death in our family. I'm just now trying to get back to some bit of normalcy. Hope you have been well.


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