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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 March 22, 2019

Holiness without suffering is just a dream. The Cross is the...

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March 22

 

Holiness without suffering is just a dream.

The Cross is the key to Heaven.

St. Magdalena of Canossa


SATAN V. the Immaculate Conception  SIGN!

Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Nicholas Owen

Concealed in the small cramped spaces in which they could ne...

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St. Nicholas Owen

Perhaps no single person did more for the preservation of the Catholic Faith when its practice was forbidden in England than Nicholas Owen.

A “diminutive man” according to one report, and called “Little John” on that account, Nicholas Owen was possibly a builder by trade. He worked for eighteen years with the clandestine Jesuit missionaries Fathers Henry Garnet and John Gerard and built expertly concealed hiding places for priests and Catholic fugitives.

In an age of license, Nicholas led a singularly innocent life, untainted by the allurements of the world. His confessor affirms that he preserved his baptismal innocence unto death.

Every time Nicholas was about to design a hiding place, he began the work by receiving the Holy Eucharist, accompanied the project by continuous prayer and offered the completion of the work to God alone. No wonder his hiding places were nearly impossible to discover.

After working in this fashion for some years, he was received into the Society of Jesus by Father Garnet as one of England’s first lay brothers. For reasons of concealment, his association with the Jesuits was kept a secret.

He was arrested with Father John Gerard on St. George’s day in 1584. Despite terrible torture, he never revealed the least information about the whereabouts of other Catholics. He was released on a ransom paid by a Catholic gentleman, as his services in contriving hiding places were indispensable.

The unique and successful escape of Father Gerard from the Tower of London was most certainly planned by Owen, although the escape itself was carried out by two others.

Finally, on January 27, 1606, after a faithful service of twenty years, Nicholas Owen fell once more into the hands of his enemies. Closely pursued by government officials, he and three other Jesuits successfully avoided detection for eight days, hidden in a couple of priest holes at Hindlip Hall in Worcester- shire. Concealed in the two small cramped spaces in which they could neither stand upright nor stretch their legs, they received nourishment through small drinking straws hidden in the building’s own structure. Attempting to protect the two priests by drawing attention to himself, Owen left his hiding place first. His fellow lay brother was arrested with him as soon as he emerged from hiding; Fathers Garnet and Oldcorne were seized soon after.

His enemies exulted when they realized they finally had their hands on the great builder of hiding places. Father Gerard wrote of him: "I verily think no man can be said to have done more good of all those who labored in the English vineyard. He was the immediate occasion of saving the lives of many hundreds of persons, both ecclesiastical and secular.”

Brother Nicholas was hung upon a wall; during “interrogation” periods, iron gauntlets were fastened about his wrists from which he hung for hours on end, day after day. When this torture proved insufficient to make him talk, weights were added to his feet. Finally, the pressure caused his entrails to burst forth, causing his death. He revealed nothing.

First Photo by: Quodvultdeus
 

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

A Bargain with Our Lady

From his sick bed, Ansaldo implored the Mother of God to hea...

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A Bargain with Our Lady


In the city of Doul, in France, lived a young cavalier named Ansaldo. This gentleman was trained in the arts of horsemanship and battle. As was common for those in Ansaldo’s line of work, he received a battle wound from an arrow, which entered so deep into the jaw-bone, that it was not possible to extract the iron.

After four years of suffering in this way, the afflicted man could endure the pain no longer. His affliction had made him very ill, a shadow of his former robust self. He thought he would again try to have the iron extracted. But before doing so, this time he decided to make a bargain with the Blessed Virgin.

From his sick bed, Ansaldo implored the Mother of God to heal his jaw and restore his health to him. In exchange for this great grace, he vowed to visit a sacred image of her in the city of Doul every year, and make an offering of a certain sum of money upon her altar if she granted this request.

He had no sooner made the vow than the iron, without being touched, fell out of his jaw and into his mouth.

The next day, ill as he was, he went to visit the sacred image. With a great deal of effort, the weakened, but hopeful man placed the promised gift upon the altar.

Immediately, he felt himself entirely restored to health.

Amazed by the quick maternal response of Mary Most Holy, Andsaldo never forgot his vow and returned every year to honor his part of their bargain.

From the Glories of Mary, by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori.

From his sick bed, Ansaldo implored the Mother of God to heal him and restore his health to him. In exchange for this great grace,

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