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The mercy of God is infinite

on Monday, 01 May 2023. Posted in Church teachings

But it does not override human freedom

Some might say, after seeing the previous article, that there is no need to worry about hell, since St. Paul told us that "God wants all men to be saved" (1 Timothy 2:4). If God wills it, then everyone is automatically saved, some would say but they forget that God respects men's freedom. Each person can accept or refuse salvation. It is true to say that God is love, and that His mercy is infinite, but precisely because He is love, God respects the free will of human beings. Without freedom there can be no love: God does not force us to love Him, He does not impose Himself on us; our decision to love Him and our neighbour is entirely free.

In other words, even though God is almighty and died on the cross (and rose again!) for each of us, He cannot save us in spite of ourselves nor against our will. We must make an effort; we must cooperate with His plan of salvation and we must accept His salvation. Jesus said: "Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to perdition is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:13).

We are all sinners and weak beings, and without God's grace we stumble. We were created for God, but original sin has broken us, leading us to selfishness and withdrawal, instead of loving God and our neighbour. St. Augustine offered this formula in his book, The City of God: "Two loves, then, have made two cities: love of self to the point of contempt for God, [which is] the earthly city; love of God to the point of contempt for self, [which is] the heavenly city."

The good news is that God does not abandon us nor does He leave us alone with only our limited human nature. He is mercy. The word "mercy" comes from the Latin "misereo" (to have mercy) and "cor" (heart), which indicates that God bends His heart over our miseries and comes to our aid through the sacraments, especially in Confession and the Eucharist, so that we may share with Him in His eternal wedding banquet and the happiness of Heaven.

We fall, but we must not remain in sin, we must rise again. St Augustine reminds us: "To err is human, to persist in error is diabolical." To fall into sin is human. To rise again is divine, but for that we need divine grace and God's forgiveness.

God rich in mercy

To understand all this, consider the second encyclical letter, dated November 30, 1980, written by St. John Paul II on Divine Mercy, entitled Dives in Misericordia (God rich in mercy), paragraph 13):

"Theologians affirm that mercy is the greatest of the attributes and perfections of God, and the Bible, Tradition and the whole faith life of the People of God provide particular proofs of this… The Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy — the most stupendous attribute of the Creator and of the Redeemer — and when she brings people close to the sources of the Savior's mercy, of which she is the trustee and dispenser.

"Of great significance in this area is constant meditation on the Word of God, and above all conscious and mature participation in the Eucharist and in the sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation. The Eucharist brings us ever nearer to that love which is more powerful than death… The Eucharistic rite, celebrated in memory of Him who in His messianic mission revealed the Father to us by means of His words and His cross, attests to the inexhaustible love by virtue of which He desires always to be united with us and present in our midst, coming to meet every human heart.

"It is the sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation that prepares the way for each individual, even those weighed down with great faults. In this sacrament each person can experience mercy in a unique way, that is, the love which is more powerful than sin… It is precisely because sin exists in the world, which 'God so loved...that he gave his only Son,' (John 3:16) that God, who 'is love,' (1 John 4: 8) cannot reveal Himself otherwise than as mercy. This corresponds not only to the most profound truth of that love which God is, but also to the whole interior truth of man and of the world which is man's temporary homeland.

"Mercy in itself, as a perfection of the infinite God, is also infinite. Also infinite therefore and inexhaustible is the Father's readiness to receive the prodigal children who return to His home. Infinite are the readiness and power of forgiveness which flow continually from the marvelous value of the sacrifice of the Son.

"No human sin can prevail over this power or even limit it. On the part of man only a lack of good will can limit it, a lack of readiness to be converted and to repent, in other words persistence in obstinacy, opposing grace and truth, especially in the face of the witness of the cross and resurrection of Christ."

And the Holy Father adds that if we want to be forgiven by God, we must ourselves be merciful to our brothers and sisters, as Jesus teaches us in the Lord's prayer: "Forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us".  We must accept God's forgiveness not only in our words, but in our actions. Indeed, as it is written in the Gospel, it is not those who say "Lord, Lord" who will have eternal life, but those who do the will of His Father. And the Father's will is that we love Him, of course, but also our neighbour, for as it is written in Matthew 25: "What you did to the least of your brothers, you did to Me (Jesus)." Then we must orient our lives accordingly, by living the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

The seven corporal works of mercy are:

  • feeding the hungry;
  • giving drink to the thirsty;
  • clothing those who are naked;
  • welcoming pilgrims;
  • assisting the sick;
  • visiting prisoners
  • and burying the dead.

The seven spiritual works of mercy are:

  • to advise those in doubt;
  • teach the ignorant;
  • warn sinners;
  • comfort the afflicted;
  • forgive offences;
  • put up with annoying people patiently
  • and pray to God for the living and for the dead.

Sister Faustina and Divine Mercy

In 1931, Jesus appeared to a Polish nun, Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), asking her to paint a picture of Him with the words "Jesus, I trust in You", and to establish a feast of Divine Mercy in the universal Church. On 30 April 2000, Sister Faustina was declared a saint by Pope John Paul II, who established Mercy Sunday for the universal Church on the same day, to be celebrated every year on the first Sunday after Easter.

"I am Holy," Jesus said to Sister Faustina, "and the least sin abhors me. But when sinners repent, my Mercy is boundless... The greatest sinners could become very great saints if they trusted in my Mercy... My Mercy can only be drawn from the cup of trust. The more you trust, the more you get... It is a joy to me when sinners turn to my Mercy. I fill them beyond their hope."                                                  

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