from Catholic Harbor of Faith and Morals
Divine Mercy Sunday
Sin is a separation of the sinner from God, a servant’s desertion of his master, the son’s abandonment of his loving father. When man offends the Lord by transgressing His holy law, he says with Agar: “I flee from the face of my master.’ with the difference, however, that Agar fled from a severe mistress; the sinner, however, flees from His most merciful and good God, upon whom he impudently turns his back. In this miserable state the sinner will walk in the wrong path, from one abyss of crime to another. his punishment is already assured; hell is ready to swallow him.
Richly has he deserved destruction, but God in His great mercy wishes to save him. The sinner can, of himself, do nothing to return to God, but God, as it were, goes after him. he follows the straying creature, He seeks him out, calls unto him, and invites him to return to His lovingly outstretched arms.
Let us today consider the greatness of Divine mercy, and, at the same time, give attention to the fact that:
Only the contrite sinner may profit by this mercy, while the unrepentant sinner gains nothing, because the mercy of God is never separated from His justice.
The Mercy of God
Mercy comprises in itself, as St. Thomas remarks, two sentiments, that of sadness at the misfortune of the neighbor, and that of willingness to deliver him therefrom. God in His infinite love commissioned His only begotten Son to clothe Himself in our human nature, so that He might have compassion upon our misery, and sympathize with us. The Divine Word, however, was not content with sympathy for our ills, He wished to take upon Himself man’s punishment for sin, even death, so that the endurance of these sufferings would render Him all the more sympathetic to our misery. Hence, St. Paul writes, that Jesus Christ has an infinite compassion upon mankind, because He, although innocent desired to test the sufferings and the misery we endure, and through His own sufferings learn to have mercy and compassion upon ours.
The Divine Mercy is eternal, and He will have mercy on the contrite as long as He is God. Hence David sang: The mercy of the Lord is from eternity unto eternity upon them that fear Him. For from all eternity God decreed to make happy them that fear Him, to save them from every misery, in particular from damnation. To this end, Divine Mercy anticipates the actions of the just, it accompanies and guides them until death. God embraces all in His fatherly arms, great and small, rich and poor; no one is excluded who turns to Him with contrition. We read in holy Scriptures: “But thou has mercy upon all, because thou canst do all things, and overlookest the sins of men for the sake of repentance: (Wisdom xi.24). no matter how numerous and grievous your sins, the mercy of God is greater and ready to forgive them. God delays the punishment so that the sinner may become converted.
God’s great mercy for the contrite sinner is testified to by Jesus Christ, especially in the beautiful parable of the prodigal son, After this unhappy youth had squandered his father’s substance by vicious excesses, he found himself in want and privation. He reflected upon his father’s kindness of heart and determined to turn to him and ask pardon for his misdeeds. And he had not even reached his father’s home, when the father, filled with love, hastened toward him, embraced him tenderly, and, without reproach for his shameful life and the gravity of his offenses clothed him anew, and rejoiced in his return, because he was happy at the conversion of the son who had been lost.
The Justice of God
The recalcitrant sinner, however, who is over confident of the Divine Mercy, will be all the more severely visited by the justice which he feared not. In order to understand this extremely important truth, we must remember that mercy and justice shine forth equally strong in every Divine action: His mercy always presupposes His justice. Whether God punishes or rewards, He does so always with regard to the graces that man has used or misused. Hence, we must not forget that the Divine justice will be exacting toward us.
Dear Brethren, we have abundantly experienced the Divine Mercy in ourselves. Raise your eyes to the crucified Jesus, and at the sight of God Incarnate, Who bled upon the Cross, in order to deliver us from Hell, and lead us to heaven, you will perceive the most extreme effort of His love. We have been born in the bosom of His holy Church, we have been led by the light of the Catholic faith, received nourishment for our souls in the Holy Sacraments, instructed through His holy gospel. But if, instead of corresponding to these graces by a righteous life, we multiply our sins, then we become worse than unbelievers, and the misuse of the mercies of Divine goodness will burden us with the wrath of Divine justice.
God is all benevolence and kindness, but when we take this as an indulgence to sin, we forget that God is also just. As the Divine clemency and goodness should encourage us, so, too, His justice ought to make us fear. God is all merciful, but reflect for how many years He has endured your sins, without punishing them; now, at any moment, stern justice may follow upon this great mercy. God is good, but His goodness cannot stand in opposition to His sanctity; it cannot foster weakness, it cannot favor hatred, nor sensual passions, it cannot encourage injustice and fraud, nor does it intend to populate heaven with profligates and adulterers. It is a just judgment of God that those who have ignored His mercy should be made to feel the effects of His justice.
Oh, sinner, upon you and upon you only, it depends to choose whether God should be your merciful Saviour, or your stern judge. You can now obtain mercy from God through contrition and penance; and upon your free will depends eternal death. Your stubbornness in sin will ultimately involve a severe judgment. God is all love, and desires the salvation of all. Nevertheless, he lets us have what we choose, be it punishment or reward. Amen
God’s Justice Toward Sinners
We read in the Gospel that our Divine Redeemer wept over Jerusalem, that unhappy city, so hardened in sin, because He foresaw its terrible destiny. His tears bear witness to His Divine justice, and they were shed also for every sinner who refuses to listen to God’s warnings and admonitions, or to the voice of confessors, and wastes the time of grace and repentance, putting off his conversion until the end of his life. Such a person will perish because he fails to recognize the days of his visitation, of admonition and of grace. God’s justice requires that this should be so. Let us today consider how this justice is displayed in God’s dealings with sinners.
The Mercy of God is Tempered with Justice
God is merciful; this is stated on almost every page of Holy Scripture. His mercy embraces heaven and earth, and includes even the most hardened sinners, as we see from the fact that our Saviour wept over the sinful city of Jerusalem. But God’s mercy is tempered with justice, for He is infinitely just, as well as infinitely merciful. His justice constrains Him to requite every man as he deserves, and our divine Redeemer, in speaking of the day of judgment, proclaimed this fact, for He said that the good would be rewarded, but the evil would hear the terrible sentence: “Depart from me, ye cursed into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels.” Even here on earth, God often punishes and rewards in such a way as to reveal His justice. We have an instance of just punishment in the destruction of Jerusalem, the city that knew not the time of its visitation and would not perceive what would be to its peace, not even on the day when our Lord in all meekness and humility entered the gates whence he was soon to come forth, bearing the heavy Cross amidst the jeers of the citizens. Jerusalem continued in sin until at length God’s mercy was exhausted, and His justice was brought down by the crimes of the wicked city, just as once it had consumed Sodom and Gomorrha.
God is Just in Punishing Sin
We must not be astonished if God’s justice constrains Him to punish hardened sinners; for if He invariably showed mercy and never inflicted punishment, He would wrong the good, who suffer much at the hands of the wicked, and He would actually encourage the evil to defy Him by continuing their sins and vices. When God punishes and condemns, He does so because sinners practically compel Him to punish them. He desires not the death of a sinner, but a sinner desires his own death, and demands it, as it were, of God’s justice. God acts like a king bringing a criminal to trial and condemning him to death in accordance with the law. In His compassion, He would fain save the wrongdoer, but He is prevented by justice, that has already given sentence against the sinner, and by the fact that mercy is true mercy only when it can be exercised without injury to justice.
The Justice of God Warns Us Against Presumption
We must never presumptuously rely upon God’s mercy when doing so involves a violation of His justice. Men are very prone to presumption of this kind. “God is a loving Father,” they say, “He is sure to forgive me,” and so they go on heaping sin upon sin, not thinking that this loving Father is also a stern and just Judge. Oh, you who continue presumptuously in your sins, always pleading in excuse for them that God is merciful, beware lest you share the fate of the inhabitants of Jerusalem–God’s vengeance fell suddenly upon the wretched city, when it was besieged by the Romans; many thousands perished by the sword, and still more died of starvation. It is gross presumption and a sin crying to heaven for vengeance, when a man persists in evil, relying on God’s mercy. In such a case a habit of sin is quickly formed, and this gives rise to obduracy and despair, that lead to hell. Our Lord shed tears over Jerusalem, but he did not save it; He wept over the city, but nevertheless He allowed it to be destroyed. In His mercy God is now calling you to do penance and be converted; if you do not obey and obey quickly, misery as great as that which fell upon Jerusalem may be your lot, and you too may perish suddenly and for ever. The God who did not spare a whole city and nation, but was obliged to sacrifice them to His justice, will not spare any sinner, when the measure of his guilt is filled up. We ought then to remember God’s justice, and not rely presumptuously on His mercy. Let us anticipate His judgment by doing penance and earnestly striving to amend whatever has been amiss in our lives hitherto. Fear, a wholesome fear of sin and of God’s justice, not a slavish fear, ought to accompany us through life, and then we shall some day meet in heaven around the throne of the Father of Mercies. Amen