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Mercy and Justice

Header-Mercy Without Justice Is the Mother of Dissolution; Justice Without Mercy Is Cruelty

 

Contemporary man feels very much attracted to God’s mercy, more so than his forerunners in bygone eras.


Man’s Smallness, God’s Infinity

Is this attraction due to the countless wars that marked the last century and still mark the present? Or is it an effect of the continuing series of natural disasters that have been happening lately? Be it as it may, what is certain is that both developments make man feel small in the face of situations that are way beyond his control.

Just like the huge moral crisis that shakes humanity, today’s ambience of unprecedented immorality make stand out even more how man is weak and helpless without divine goodness. This brings to mind the clamor of Prophet David, crying for his sin: If thou, O Lord, wilt mark iniquities: Lord, who shall stand it (Ps 129/130).

On the other hand, when looking at God’s infinite perfection, one should also bear in mind His infinite goodness and endless mercy so that His perfections will not scare us but rather draw us to Him. Thus, a loving and confident consideration of divine mercy and a special devotion to it are abundantly justified; they support us and fill us with the hope of attaining eternal bliss, our final destination.

Mercy and Justice Go Hand in Hand

Yet, since God is infinitely perfect, we cannot limit ourselves to looking at only one of His attributes while leaving aside the others, which are equally infinite. If God had only mercy and no justice, He would be missing something essential to every rational being, which is to act equitably. That would be absurd and would lead to a distorted notion of the Creator.

This is why the same Prophet David underlines God’s infinite justice by saying, He [The Lord] hath prepared his throne in judgment: And he shall judge the world in equity, he shall judge the people in justice (Ps. 9: 8-10). And also, The Lord is just, and hath loved justice (Psalm 10:8).

Obviously, there can be no contradiction between divine mercy and justice, but only harmony, as the same prophet emphasizes: Mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed (Psalm 84:11).

Therefore, we must love God’s mercy as much as His justice, as both are attributes of the same infinite God and reflect His boundless wisdom and love.


Psychological Difficulties

Much of the difficult in understanding the harmony that exists between divine mercy and justice arise from an erroneous notion of human mercy. Hence we must first analyze the latter before going on to consider divine mercy.

Mercy is a feeling of compassion with someone’s suffering and needs, along with a desire or readiness to help him according to one’s possibilities. It is therefore more than a merely emotional sentiment that does not lead to action; nor is it mere philanthropy that turns aiding the needy into a quasi bureaucratic procedure.

Mercy must come from true charity toward neighbor and must be entirely subject to the guidance of reason, the judgment of the intelligence, and the dictates of justice. For, as St. Augustine puts it, mercy is a virtuous act “in so far as that movement of the soul is obedient to reason,” and “is bestowed without violating justice.”[1]


A Summary of Christian Life

In order for mercy to be a virtue and for the act of mercy to be virtuous, both must come from charity; because every supernatural virtue comes from the love of God.

Mercy, well understood, as St. Thomas says, is the greatest virtue toward one’s neighbor even though absolutely speaking, charity, which inspires it and unites us directly with God, is superior to it. According to the Angelic Doctor, mercy is, as it were, a summary of Christian life.[2]


Harmony Among Virtues

Together, the virtues form a single whole: the theological virtues (faith, hope and charity) guide the cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance); and it is this ensemble that guides our actions and directs us to God.

Thus, one who is not merciful does not really love justice; and a person who does not practice the virtue of fortitude will fail to be peaceful. Each person can shine more in one virtue than another, but Christian perfection consists in always seeking to practice the virtues in their ensemble.

A saint who has become a symbol of mercy is actually a good example of this love of virtues in their ensemble: St. Vincent of Paul (1581-1660). In his charity for the poor he was a model of heroic self-denial while at the same time his zeal for the Faith led him to combat the nefarious errors of Jansenism (a kind of Calvinism infiltrated into the Church) and Gallicanism (the Church of France’s attitude of semi-independence in relation to the Pope). He also carried out an intensive apostolate with members of the aristocracy and was one of the founders of a society of nobles to practice charity and defend the Faith, the Company of the Blessed Sacrament. He also founded the Congregation of the Mission (Lazarists) to teach in seminaries and preach to the crowds.


Mercy and Justice

Mercy tempers justice by diminishing the punishment or by making its application more benign. But it cannot run counter to justice or eliminate it; for, as St. Thomas states,“Mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution; [and] justice without mercy is cruelty.”[3]

Thus, when the balance between mercy and justice is lost, the wicked either are allowed to go unpunished or are punished with brutality. Both things lead to social chaos and cause confusion in people’s minds. Indeed, failing to punish one who breaks divine or human laws weakens the notion of good and evil in people’s consciences and leads to moral relativism. For its part, cruelty in punishment makes justice odious to the people.

A sinner or criminal should be adequately punished for his fault so that justice is done and the sense of justice remains alive in society. Without the sense of justice, life among men degenerates into the law of the jungle. However, along with justice, St. Thomas says, the sinner should also be the object of mercy, taking into account some involuntary or not directly desired effects of his fault. This does not eliminate the punishment for the evil done but makes it more suave.[4]


To Correct the Sinner is a Work of Mercy

We should bear in mind that the works of mercy with which we practice that virtue are both corporal (to give alms, visit the sick, etc.) and spiritual (teach the ignorant, give good advice, admonish sinners, pray for the deceased, etc.). Although both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy are necessary and important, St. Thomas, following Church tradition, considers the spiritual works of mercy superior to the corporal ones, as they are more directly related with eternal salvation.

Of these spiritual works of mercy, to admonish sinners is very important “because thereby we drive out our brother's evil, namely sin, the removal of which pertains to charity rather than the removal of an external loss, or of a bodily injury, in so much as the contrary good of virtue is more akin to charity than the good of the body or of external things.”[5]


Justice and Mercy in God

Obviously, God being a pure spirit, His mercy toward us is not linked to a feeling of compassion. It comes solely from His infinite goodness and wisdom. It was by an act of mercy and of pure love that God created the whole universe and, in it, rational creatures (angels and men) to participate in His own happiness.

Justice and mercy appear in all of God’s works because He does everything with order and proportion, which implies the idea of justice. On the other hand, since divine goodness is the ultimate foundation of everything that exists, God’s infinite mercy is reflected in all His actions and even in His justice.

“Even in the damnation of the reprobate mercy is seen, which, though it does not totally remit, yet somewhat alleviates, in punishing short of what is deserved. In the justification of the ungodly, justice is seen, when God remits sins on account of love, though He Himself has mercifully infused that love. So we read of Mary Magdalen: ‘Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much’ (Luke 7:47).”[6]


Let us Love God in all His Perfections

While divine mercy attracts us greatly because we know that without it we are nothing and can do nothing, we should not separate this divine attribute from that of justice, as both are part and parcel of His infinite wisdom and love.

The Incarnation, Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in which He took our sins upon Himself in order to satisfy offended divine justice and through this act of mercy merited for us eternal salvation, attest to God’s perfect mercy and justice.

Let us thus love God in all His perfections, in His mercy as well as His justice; for this is the only way for us to understand divine wisdom and sanctity and to be able to imitate them as much as we possibly can.

This is important not only for our spiritual life but also to enable us to make a balanced judgment of our neighbors and understand that mercy cannot destroy justice, otherwise society would be bound to complete collapse.

 


Notes:
1. Quoted by St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 59, a.1 ad 3. [back to text]

2. Ibid., II-II, q. 30, a. 4. [back to text]
3. Super Matthaeum, Cap. V, l. 2. [back to text]
4. Cf. Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 30, a. 1, ad. 1. [back to text]
5. Ibid., II-II, q. 33, a. 1, answer. [back to text]
6. Ibid.,, I, q. 21, a.4 ad 1. [back to text]


 

 

Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for April 2, 2020

Do not grieve over the temptations you suffer. When   ...

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April 2

Do not grieve over the temptations you suffer.
When the Lord intends
to bestow a particular virtue on us,
He often permits us first to be tempted by the opposite vice.
Therefore, look upon every temptation as an invitation
to grow in a particular virtue and
a promise by God that you will be successful,
if only you stand fast.

St. Philip Neri


My Mother, I will stand with you on OCTOBER 10, 2020

Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Francis of Paola

Francis explained that the lives of kings are in the hands o...

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St. Francis of Paola

Born in Paola, a small town in Calabria, Francis’ parents were humble, industrious people, dedicated to the service of God. Childless after several years of marriage, the couple prayed earnestly for a son, and when, at last a boy was born to them, the grateful parents named him Francis after the Poverello of Assisi.

At age thirteen Francis was placed in the Franciscan friary of S. Marco where he learned to read and where he began to tread the austere life he was later to live.

Two years later, after a pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome, and with his parents’ consent, Francis retired to a remote location by the sea where he lived in a cave. Before he was twenty, he was joined by two others who also sought a life of prayer in solitude. With help from some neighbors, they built for themselves three cells and a chapel where they sang the divine praises.

Seventeen years later a church and monastery were built on the spot for them with the approval of the bishop of Cosenza. The hermits were so beloved of the people that the whole countryside joined in the work.

Penance, charity, humility. This trinity formed the foundation of Francis of Paola’s rule, which was particularly austere. In addition to the vows of obedience, poverty and chastity, he imposed a fourth binding them to observe a perpetual Lent, abstaining not only from meat, but also from eggs and milk products.

The community received Papal approval in 1474, and in 1492 from being called Hermits of St. Francis of Assisi, they became the “Minims” from their founder’s desire to be known as the least (minim) in the kingdom of God.

Francis of Paola became universally renowned as a wonderworker and prophet. In 1481, King Louis XI of France, who was slowly dying, sent a messenger to the saint begging him to hasten to France to heal him. Francis only acquiesced at the command of the Holy Father to whom the monarch ultimately appealed. At the French court the king fell on his knees before the humble hermit begging for his healing. Francis explained that the lives of kings are in the hands of God and have their appointed limits; prayer should be addressed to God. Ultimately, changed in heart, the king died resignedly in the saint’s arms. In gratitude, his son, Charles VIII, became a great sponsor of the Order.

Francis spent twenty-five years in France and died there on Good Friday of the year 1507 at the age of ninety-one. He was canonized in 1519.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

I turned to God, but God seems to remain deaf to me. Why is...

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Why Doesn't God Answer My Prayer?

Question:  I pray and pray, but I feel as if God is not listening. We always had a good, peaceful family life, but these last years have been tough. We don’t seem to be getting along and our finances have taken a turn for the worse.

I am so anxious about this situation that, not having anyone to turn to, I turned to God.

But God seems to remain deaf to me. Why is that? In addition, what do I say to certain people, agnostics and atheists, who laugh at prayer, saying it is nonsensical and only a figment of the imagination with no real value?

Answer:  God is faithful to His promises, and God promised to answer our prayers. “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Luke 11:9–10).

If God promises to answer our prayers, He will do so infallibly. But in prayer there are two sides: he who asks and He Who gives.

Our part is to ask. How must we ask?

Saint Alphonsus Liguori, a Doctor of the Church, teaches in his book Prayer, the Great Means of Salvation that prayer must be persevering and humble.

So many times we hear people saying: “Oh, I used to ask God for this and that and the other, but He never gave it to me. Now, ten years later, how glad I am that He didn’t!”

One thing is certain: God will not fail to answer a humble and perseverance prayer. Whether He chooses to grant what we ask immediately or make us wait, we must trust that He, regardless of appearances, is doing us good. What we think is good and what He thinks is good may be two different things: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways My ways” (Isa. 55:8), but here is where we must abandon ourselves to His beneficent will. Our part is to be patient, calm and, above all, faithful, because this is the time for testing and later will come the time for full enjoyment.


Answering Atheists and Agnostics
As for atheists and agnostics, their skepticism proceeds from the fact that they, respectively, deny God’s existence or deny men’s capacity to know God.

In this case, we can only express our regret over their ignorance of this Supreme Being, our omnipotent Creator and loving Savior.

We may direct them to a few sources that may help in their search for the truth of His existence. Atheism and agnosticism can only be sustained in ignorance or ill will because the evidence of God’s existence is overwhelming.

Moreover, God will not hide Himself from those who seek Him sincerely and unconditionally.

Another consideration pertaining to non-believers is this: If God were to grant us absolutely everything we ask at a moment’s notice, such people might start believing purely out of self-interest.

They would look at God as a wand-wielding wizard. And God Our Lord is infinitely more than that. He wants us to know, love, and serve Him for Himself so that He can treat us as children and heirs and grant us unending happiness in Heaven.

"My impression is that the Rosary is of the greatest value not only according to the words of Our Lady of Fatima, but according to the effects of the Rosary one sees throughout history. My impression is that Our Lady wanted to give ordinary people, who might not know how to pray, this simple method of getting closer to God."  Sister Lucia, one of the seers of Fatima.

 

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I turned to God, but God seems to remain deaf to me. Why is that? In addition, what do I say to certain people, agnostics and atheists,

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