What does gazing at an image or icon of Divine Mercy do for my mind, body, and soul? The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The beauty of images moves me [us] to contemplation…” (1162) So what is contemplation? “Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus, ‘I look at him and he looks at me.’” (CCC 2715). This definition is taken from St. John Vianney, “the Cure of Ars” when he asked a very faithful and poor peasant who daily gazed intently upon Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
Contemplating, or gazing at Jesus is what Mary, the sister of Martha, discovers and this is why Jesus says, “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” (Lk.10:42) The Catechism further explains that, “Contemplative prayer is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.” (2709) This definition comes from St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church and mystic, when she explains contemplation at its most highest and supernatural level.
In essence we become what we love and what our eyes gaze upon, “All of us gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:18) Before Eucharistic adoration, monks and nuns would kneel, sit, stand, and prostrate themselves before images and icons in their cells. But what they most did in all those postures was gaze upon the beloved, and this would set their mind, body, and soul on fire. Not just any kind of fire but the “Fire of Contemplation” which allowed them to peer into all the heavenly mysteries and knowledge or as the Catechism explains, “Contemplation also turns its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ. Thus it learns the ‘interior knowledge of our Lord,’ the more to love him and follow him.” (2715)
Yes, the ancients knew that we are slowly being made new and changed into His image and likeness each time we gaze upon Him even through it appears to be just an image or icon. The Catechism concurs, “Through their icons, it is man ‘in the image of God,’ finally transfigured ‘into his likeness.’” (1161) and “He destined us in love to be conformed to the image of His Son.” (257) Similarly, Jesus explains in Matthew 6:22 that the gaze is the lamp of the body and that we are either living in the light or in darkness depending upon our gaze. In the world, in an opposite sense, is this not what happens when someone continually gazes upon pornography? Except that the fiery experience does not build up the mind, body, and soul but instead destroys the divine life of the mind, body, and soul.
When we gaze at Him, He gazes back at us as a mother irresistibly gazes upon her child except that it is a divine gaze that blesses, cleanses and sanctifies us in the process, “His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men.” (CCC 2715) His gaze is called the “Gaze of Mercy” and it fills the soul with joy, delight, bliss, gladness, elation, rapture, and ecstasy. This is what Zacchaeus, Mary Magdalene, Matthew (the tax collector), the lepers, the blind, and the infirm experienced when His gaze fell upon them. St. Faustina writes about the “Gaze of Mercy” coming from the Divine Mercy image in her diary, “His divine gaze filled my heart with such joy that I have no words to express it.” (560) and again she explains, “His eyes penetrate my soul to its most secret depths. My spirit communicates with God without any word being spoken.” (560)
Finally, if we seek His “Gaze of Mercy” here on earth, the best place to find it is at Mass or in an adoration chapel as St. John Paul II reminds us in the encyclical, Ecclesia Eucharistia, “Consequently the gaze of the Church is constantly turned to her Lord, present in the Sacrament of the Altar, in which she discovers the full manifestation of his boundless love.” (1) and again he further adds, “To contemplate Christ involves being able to recognize Him wherever He manifests Himself, in His many forms of presence, but above all in the living Sacrament of His Body.” (6) But, Jesus loves us so, so much and He desires to be with us even when we can’t attend church. Hence, He has left us with the images of Divine Mercy, the Sacred Heart, and the Holy Face that we may gaze and contemplate them in our homes to experience what St. Faustina describes, “When I looked at this [Divine Mercy] image, I was pierced with such a lively love for God that, for a moment, I did not know where I was.” (1300)
“The human heart is converted by looking upon Him whom our sins have pierced,” (CCC 1432)