Some New Lyrics for the Year of Mercy


The Archdiocese of Milwaukee commissioned two composers to author a hymn and a song for the celebration of the Year of Mercy that begins December 8th.  I was blest to have been called to compose a song… and surprised as well.

Before reading further, would you reflect upon your definition of mercy, please? Thanks.

OK then: Two scripture passages initially came to mind: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves…” (2COR 4:7) and “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18)

These are passages about mercy. They describe a challenging mercy which calls us out of our comfort zones into the uncertainty of freedom in Christ. YIKES! That’s why it’s terrible. Mercy cannot be domesticated forever, seems to me. So, I am sharing this draft of the lyrics for feedback. At some point I will have a recording of it. Thanks! –roc,sj



Your Tender and Terrible Mercy – a FIRST DRAFT

Lyrics by Roc O’Connor, SJ                                      Based on 2 Corinthians 4:7, Romans 9:19-23, Jeremiah 18: 3, Isaiah 64:8

Verse 1: In these vessels of clay, in these vessels of earth and of clay, You reveal your mercy, your tender and terrible mercy, Lord.

Verse 2: Mercy you show through your art, still conforming the vessel to Christ: Making each an image, an icon of Jesus the Risen Lord!



Though we are the clay, we would be the Potter / Constructing our lives, controlling our fate! / Save us, O God, from vain and hollow lives, in your mercy, O God.


Verse 3: Hands of our God sculpt the clay; form and function emerging as art / Yet will clay turn haughty, rejecting the form that its Maker chose?

Verse 4: How can the clay blame the hands? Scorn the pattern applied by our God? / “Why have you thus made me? You shaped me without my consent, oh, Lord!”

Verse 5: Take away our hearts of stone, Lord. Give us hearts of flesh! / Place your Spirit deep within our souls, in your mercy, oh God!

Verse 6: In your mercy, O God, you will call us where we would not go / Leading us from exile to share in the fullness of freedom, Lord!

© Robert F. O’Connor, SJ, All Rights Reserved, 2015


  1. Theresa Mahoney says:

    Hi Father Roc,
    That is so special that you share your song. My favorite verses are I and two and 5 and 6.
    3 & 4 strike me as a tad dark. As you say, God’s mercy can be a terrible mercy. I never have thought of it that way before.(I guess I tend to picture Him rescuing the stray lamb and carrying it back home on His shoulder).Your song will be a blessings.
    Theresa from St Mads


    • Thanks, Theresa, so this is a pretty different take on mercy. It has to do with God shining the light on our darkness, helping us realize our resistance, and bring that forward for whatever healing we can receive in this life. It’s that “to go where we would not go” part. So, about the stray lamb: we humans are a tad more complicated than lambs. We hide out, resist, and fear the approach of the shepherd who, in my view, wants to meet us as we are in every way. Uncovering that part is a terrible mercy…. and that’s my Irish-Existentialism at work. As they say, take what you need and leave the rest! Blessings to you and all at St. Mad’s! –roc,sj

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mary Clare Carlson says:

    Congratulations Roc – I especially like the refrain

    Sent from my iPhone



  3. toutparmoi says:

    Whenabouts would you like feedback? I’d like to read all the verses you mention. Two things did strike me straightaway. That “mercy” is an over-used word nowadays (but that’s no reflection on what you’ve written – it’s been domesticated, as you say). And that in verse 2, you say “showing mercy through your art”. I have difficulty with “your art” because to me that phrase also signals artifice and artfulness. Just saying.
    OK, now the good news. I really like what you’ve done, which is why I’m being so picky!


    • Anytime is good for feedback, Tout.
      I think of another image, actually, from St. Thomas Aquinas: the grace of the sacraments shapes us into Christ for the world as a sculptor fashions a beautiful statute. So, the artifice, as best I understand Catholic theology here, is like that – to create deeper beauty. Thanks a bunch!


  4. Marjorie Brennan says:

    These words reach deeply into my spirit both comforting and disturbing. They speak to my independent self that believes it needs only itself and to the sometimes wiser part of me that recognizes the Creator and the Gift but pulls away from these. The dance of your words reflects back to us the steps of our dance toward and away from our God always ending in a return to the Maker. Very nice done Roc O’Connor SJ

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Marge! That’s a great image – the dance. I love it! I’ve used “Hide & Seek” as an image often, but this works better. Independence/dependence… what a choice, eh? Thanks for your insights! Hi to Larry! –roc,sj


  5. Candice Tucci, osf says:

    Hi Roc,
    Just reading over your lyrics. Hard to separate them from the music. Have you written the scores yet? I was reflecting on Mercy from a viewpoint of discipleship. To be merciful and assist those in need. I guess along the lines of the corporal and spiritual works of Mercy. Your lyrics truly speak to our own need for a Merciful God through our own brokenness. I like the potter and clay image, artwork and artist…of course! Go where the Spirit leads you. It will be another masterpiece!


    • Thanks, Candy, yes, I have a first draft of the music. I’ll run them by a choir tomorrow night and hopefully get some kind of basic recording of it. Receiving mercy & sharing mercy, that’s what it’s about, eh? Thanks for your good words and support, Candy! –roc,sj


  6. Yes, would love to hear a recording. Thanks for sharing.


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