What Does Mercy Mean?

05 DEC | DAY 7


Dr. Allen Hunt is a nationally known speaker, bestselling author, former Methodist mega church pastor, and a Catholic convert. In his powerful book, Confessions of a Mega Church Pastor, Hunt chronicles his journey to find a home within the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Anita, live in Atlanta and have two daughters.



Mercy is one of those theological concepts that seem pretty abstract. I know I have experienced mercy from God and from others. I also know there are times when I’ve been merciful. But I always thought of mercy as just having to do with forgiveness. Even as a music minister and songwriter, I have a hard time finding many songs that sing specifically about what mercy is; rather most sing about mercy in relation to what God has done, or they use the word to describe him.

It wasn’t until recently, when I heard a priest’s homily about mercy, that I finally had a concrete definition to apply to my thoughts and actions in daily living. This priest broke down the Latin word for mercy, which is misericordia, derived from the two words miserere (“pity” or “misery”) and cor (“heart”). He then proceeded to say that when we ask for God’s mercy, we are essentially asking him to relieve us of a heart that is in misery. And our hearts can be in a state of misery not just from sin, but from the deep hurt caused by a broken relationship with a family member, from the suffering of infertility, from the pain of a physical or mental illness, from losing a job, from being betrayed or abandoned, from spiritual or physical poverty, and so on.

Now when I think about mercy as “relieving someone from a heart of misery,” I realize that I’ve experienced God’s mercy much more than I could ever count. And I’ve also realized that I, in turn, have given mercy to others in more ways than just by forgiving someone who has wronged me.

The seven spiritual works of mercy show that mercy is more than just forgiving offenses willingly; it can also include instructing the ignorant and counseling the doubtful. I have frequently lived out these latter two spiritual works of mercy in my fourteen years as a youth minister and as a speaker at teen conferences. While I’m speaking to young men and women from the stage, most often I’m instructing the ignorant, just as countless speakers have done for me. However, it is afterward, when I get to meet these teens face-to-face, that I get to hear their stories and practice the spiritual work of mercy of counseling the doubtful.

In youth ministry, I’m often helping young men and women decide to get out of relationships that are leading them away from God. My husband and I help to counsel many single Catholics who are torn in their discernment between consecrated celibate life and married life. I also try to give counsel to teens or young adults who want to become Catholic but have some reservations, whether theological or family related. And, of course, I have tried to help young people make good decisions when they explain they are dealing with very serious issues such as pornography addiction, suicidal thoughts, abortion, cutting, eating disorders, or abuse (and in most of those cases, I refer them to professional counselors or authorities).

In all of these situations (and the millions more that you can think of) in which we are giving counsel to the doubtful, we are actually practicing a spiritual work of mercy by “relieving a heart of misery.” And this comes not from us, but from God. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the gift of counsel, and it is only by knowing God that we can lead others toward him and his will, which is “good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Thus, every time we go to Mass and say, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy,” we know that the God who is relieving us of a heart of misery is also empowering us by his Holy Spirit to go and do the same for others.

Excerpt taken from Beautiful Mercy. Get your free copy of the book (just pay shipping).


Think about mercy as “relieving someone from a heart of misery.”


Take a few moments to talk to God today, and ask him to make you an agent of his mercy.


Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.


What does mercy mean to you?