On Mercy and Mercilessness

In the Magnificat, we read: “He (the Lord) has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.” Those who do not “fear” Him evidently do not come off so easily. Why not? It is no accident that mercy is bound up with fear. What is forgiven is worthy of the punishment that any disorder rightly deserves, whether forgiven or not. Mercy too has a component of intelligence designating what it is. Forgiveness of sin does not mean that what was forgiven was not evil. It means that it was. Mercy only comes into view when something that ought not to be actually occurs in the world through free agency.

The words “mercy” and “love” are not exactly the same. We love all being because, and only because, it is good. Mercy comes into view when something is not good, when evil is present in our souls. But if we do not acknowledge our part in an evil initiative and intend to correct it, mercy cannot gain entrance.

Chesterton said that the opposite of “funny” is not “serious.” It’s opposite is “not funny.” Similarly, the opposite of mercy is “merciless.” Mercy is directly related to justice, a good. A fully just world, in which everyone has what is “due” to him, has no need of mercy at all, though it does have need of the love that goes to the core of the good in a way that justice does not.

St. Thomas remarks that the world is not created in justice. If it were, that would imply that God “owed” something to someone not Himself. The world’s existence is a result of gratuitousness, not justice. The world has no cause in itself to explain why it exists other than the suspicion that good might freely diffuse itself in being.

Mercy is a more surprising and restrictive word than we might at first realize. We want the world within itself, of course, to be “just.” But if it is only just, which it isn’t, then all actual crimes and sins that occur within it must be requited according to the degree of their disorder. Unpunished sins are very unsettling. They make the world itself seem unjust, as Plato correctly saw. This is, indeed, why he proposed a “last judgment.”

Dante gazes at Mount Purgatory by Agnolo Bronzino, c. 1530 [National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.]
Dante gazes at Mount Purgatory by Agnolo Bronzino, c. 1530 [National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.]

Mercy is the forgiveness of what need not or ought not to be forgiven. Indeed, mercy follows after, not before, both forgiveness and punishment. Mercy was never designed to minimize the heinousness of sins or to eliminate their possibility. It was meant to affirm their disorder. But their disorder did not prevent God from forgetting them to allow us to begin anew. Thus, God does not just “forgive” sins because He is merciful. He forgives them in the context of our realizing and acknowledging their disorder. Mercy is designed to encourage virtue, not to undermine it.

Pope Wojtyla said rightly that God would forgive everything that could be forgiven. Evidently, some things even God cannot do. He cannot forgive what does not freely ask to be forgiven. If He could or would forgive everything whether repented or not, it would mean that we could wander about with terrible sins on our souls that were simply ignored. When God said that our sins would be “blotted out,” He meant those things that we identify as sins when we acknowledge that we committed them and recognize that we ought not to have done so. These are the sins wherein mercy becomes relevant.

Mercy, paradoxically, can, if we are careless, become merciless. How so? Suppose an all-merciful God forgives all sins, whether repented or not. Everybody thus saves his soul automatically. We do not have to worry about what we do. The “merciful” God has already taken care of us whatever we do. Notice: no input on our part is required. God’s merciful love is said to be unrestricted. It is not limited by the distinction of good and evil.

But if everything is forgiven with no indication on our part that we acknowledge what is wrong and intend to cease doing it, this awareness empowers the merciless to do whatever they want. They too are already forgiven. This misunderstanding of mercy has created a jungle.

The second Jesuit General, Diego Laynez, said: “The throne of justice must not be turned into the throne of mercy. To do so is prejudicial to grace. It results in the denial of purgatory.” Benedict XVI made the same point in Spe Salvi. He pointed out that purgatory makes a good deal of sense when we realize the heinousness of our sins and the need ourselves to repent of them even if forgiven.

If the forgiveness of sins is automatic in mercy, we have no need of fear or grace to help us to realize and acknowledge our own disorders that alone are the objects of mercy.

James V. Schall, S.J.

James V. Schall, S.J.

James V. Schall, S.J., who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. Among his recent books are The Mind That Is Catholic, The Modern Age, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, Reasonable Pleasures, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught, and Catholicism and Intelligence.

  • Cheryl Jefferies

    Brilliant, as always, Fr. Schall. I love your essays! They always make me think and thinking deeply truly is good for the mind and the soul. At least, I’ve found it to be. Thanks for, once again, pushing my mind and spirit to a new level, a deeper and, I think, a better plane of understanding.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    “He cannot forgive what does not freely ask to be forgiven…”

    That is true, but can be misleading, for it is the mercy of God that causes anyone to freely ask.

    As St Augustine says, in his Letter to Simplician, “The effectiveness of God’s mercy cannot be in the power of man to frustrate, if he will have none of it. If God wills to have mercy on a man, He can call him in a way that is suited to him, so that he will be moved to understand and to follow.

    It is true, therefore, that many are called but few chosen. [Matt 22:14] Those are chosen who are effectually [congruenter] called. Those who are not effectually called and do not obey their calling are not chosen, for although they were called they did not follow.

    Again it is true that “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.” [Rom 9:16] For, although He calls many, He has mercy on those whom He calls in a way suited to them so that they may follow. But it is false to say that “it is not of God who hath mercy but of man who willeth and runneth,” because God has mercy on no man in vain. He calls the man on whom He has mercy in the way He knows will suit him, so that he will not refuse the call.”

    He asks, “Who would dare to affirm that God has no method of calling whereby even Esau might have applied his mind and yoked his will to the faith in which Jacob was justified?”

    That is why scripture says, “I will have mercy on whom I will, and I will be merciful to whom it shall please Me” (Exod. 33:19)

    • Michelle

      If God calls one in such a way “so that he **will** not refuse the call” then God is no longer Love and man has no free will and Jesus’ sacrifice was not freely done in obedience and is, rather, of no account. After all, Jesus was a man and I praise God, had a free will or so the Church teaches, for it was in his manhood that he suffered *willingly. And after all, hasn’t God called all in the same Most Perfect Way? by sending The Son- The Way, The Truth, and The Life? The Son does not change for each particular one. He is the same yesterday, today and forever, with no shadow due to alteration or change. This is why we are The Church of the One Great Physician, The Word, but with many lesser saintly doctors of many words – Augustine (who I love and am reading his “Confessions” as we speak.) But these are just the thoughts of one lowly Christian.

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        But the Gospel says that the Jews could not believe such great and eminent mighty works as were done in their sight “But though He had done such great miracles before them, yet they believed not on Him; that the saying of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled which he spake, [Isa. liii. 1] Lord, who hath believed our report, and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? And, therefore, they could not believe, because Isaiah said again, [Isa. vi. 10] He hath blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.” [John xii. 37 ff.]

        Again, “To you,” said He, “it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” [Matt. xiii. 11]

        St Thomas explains, “Since the love of God is the cause of the goodness of things, no one would be better than another if God did not will a greater good to one than to another.” (Ia, q. 20, a. 3)

        That is why St Augustine was able to say, “This is the predestination of the saints,–nothing else; to wit, the foreknowledge and the preparation of God’s kindnesses, whereby they are most certainly delivered, whoever they are that are delivered.”

        • Michelle

          “What is good but God alone?” Yet you use Aquinas, hypothetical like it is a statement of fact: “**IF** God did not will a greater good to one than to another.” So I ask you, does God actually do this hypothetical thing set out for us by Aquinas? No. And Jesus came to show us this EXACTLY. God wills the One Good, Jesus Christ, and Him for all. That is the whole point of the Incarnation, to show this exact Truth. The Father wills to send Christ, God himself the only Good, for all. You are dealing in in the hypothetical realm of “goods” as if Good can be divided into a multiplicity, when in reality there is only The One Good which is perfect simplicity, unity. Its a “can’t see the forest for the trees” problem, but, of course I am no doctor.

          • Michael Paterson-Seymour

            It is evident that the man who, in fact, observes the commandments is better than the one who is able to do so but actually does not. Therefore he who keeps the commandments is more beloved and assisted. In short, God loves that man more to whom He grants that he keep the commandments than another in whom He permits sin.

          • Michelle

            First, God grants to all redemption and freewill. That means all have the possibility to sin and all have access to grace to keep the commandments. Your statement seems poor logic based on human perception rather than Revealed Truth. What is “evident” to us can in fact be merely human opinion, an idol of my own making. My perception of what is evident does not the Truth make. However, it IS revealed Truth that Christ, the One Good, came for the whole world because the Father willed it. Do you think God, who is Love, can be measured such that one gets more and some less? Or do you think to divide Christ? Divine Love is not human “love.” Love IS. But maybe you are just trolling. So pax Christi.

  • ForChristAlone

    How is it then that Jesus on the cross asked His Father to forgive those participating in His crucifixion if He was, at the same time, acknowledging that they did not know what they were doing? If forgiveness presupposes contrition, was that a merciful act? Was justice served?

    This interplay among forgiveness, justice and mercy is an interesting one in moral theology. I have often wondered whether Jesus’ crucifixion was a just or unjust act. Was justice served because reparation for sin was made or was the crucifix an unjust act in that an innocent person paid the price for guilty acts that were not His to pay for?

    • Rusty

      I have also been meditating on the state of the souls of the Roman soldiers who tortured and crucified Christ as I pray the Rosary. I assume these men were not Jews, and had no real connection to the Abrahamic faith; they were following orders; the cruelty of their acts is undeniable. And yet, at least one acknowledged Christ after He died on the cross. I do not know what to make of the Mystery of their participation in God’s plan; they were truly instruments of His will.

  • Michael Dowd

    Excellent Fr. Schall. I wonder if Pope Francis would agree with you. He would pour forth a blither of words about which only confusion would result. Your clear statement of the meaning of mercy and it’s preconditions is exactly what we need at the present moment. Mercy without repentance is a fraud and irrational on its face.

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    Mercy is well defined by you Fr Schall specifying that Justice cannot be removed from its reality in the need for acknowledgment of sins and repentance. Tragic Flaw. I use the Gk literary term to indicate an important omission by you. The unfortunate reality of hell. You do not mention it. That seems to coincide with recent Jesuit theological musing that an infinitely good God could not have sinners suffer eternally. The best response I can give to that theological error is precisely that God is Infinitely Good and sin is infinitely more abhorrent to Him than we can imagine, an absolute contradiction to His goodness. It is a truth that is revealed, a truth that many of us including myself find difficult but necessary to accept by faith in Christ’s words and consistent Church doctrine. Exactly what hell is is not the real issue except that it is eternal and irrevocable due to a person’s choice in refusal to acknowledge sin, to ask forgiveness, and repent. Personally I think your omission was unintended since your thinking to date is so orthodox. I’ll end with the words of Saint Catherine of Siena Doctor of the Church in her dialogues God tells her [although it is private revelation] that Judas would have been forgiven even for betrayal of His Son if he had turned to Him. There absolutely must be reconciliation with God for serious sin to be saved from damnation.

    • John II

      I find it easier (intellectually, at least, and that may not be saying much) to accept the doctrine of hell when I consider Newman’s remark in one of his sermons that a man who has lived in unrepentant rejection of God’s grace would be utterly miserable in heaven.

      On a somewhat deeper level, I find it impossible not to believe in hell whenever I read the daily news. And I think Fr. Schall touches on both those points.

      • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

        I agree my first reading left me with the impression that judgment for unrepentant could be misconstrued as what, a longer sentence in Purgatory. On rereading Fr Schall does “touch on” loss of salvation. I guess John II there has been so much confusion and clergy denying or neglecting doctrine I felt compelled. God’s goodness is such that He creates us eternally and abides by our decision for life or eternal living death [hell]. It’s a hard doctrine for us. I suppose now that I’m older the absolute need to acknowledge sin and repent as Fr Schall states makes taking that to heart and preach it that more urgent.

    • Pat Ekeler

      Agreed Fr. That is what is so disappointing with what is going on with Pope Francis. It is his job to basically call a spade a spade (or sin a sin). In his position as leader of the Church, he has a duty to follow and proclaim the teachings of the Church and not just tell people that they are free to follow their conscience (ie divorced and remarried Catholics receiving communion – among other things). Since this is against Church teaching, who is the most responsible. Since Vatican II, I think many in the Church no longer believe there is a hell and that we could go there.

    • lwhite

      The silence about the existence of Hell or in some quarters, the claim that it is “empty”, has been a hallmark of the failure to teach the true Catholic faith for the last 50 years.
      The innovator’s claimed that the new Novus Ordo liturgy would place an emphasis on Sacred Scripture, claiming Catholics were so ignorant of it that it would now be the central purpose of the Mass. They even replaced Jesus Christ as The Word with Scripture. So they introduced a three-year cycle of readings that supposedly would give Catholics a better understanding of the faith. What they didn’t tell the people was they decided to eliminate all of the verses that they determined might offend Modern man’s sensibilities, particularly modern woman. No “negative theology” was their game. Thus the Catholic attending a Novus Ordo Mass only on Sunday’s isn’t going to hear such a negative word as “Hell”.

    • Diane

      Thank you Fr. Morello!

  • AAD1

    Thank you Fr Schall. You are a spiritual advisor to many you’ll never know. In the hustle and bustle of everyday Parish life, most priests don’t have the time or training to be spiritual advisors. The introduction of fear in your essay is so important , but neglected nowadays, even though it is so central to the old and new testaments. If God is Love and Truth, who wouldn’t be wise to fear either one?

  • RainingAgain

    Thank you, Father Schall. A wonderful essay, but only to be expected.

    The way I look at it, if we are all going to go to Heaven anyway, what is the purpose of the drama in this world? It would imply that this world and its accompanying suffering would be pointless, meaningless. Consequently, it would be tantamount to implying that God was a sadist (and perhaps a masochist, undergoing a needless Crucifixion).

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    “Everybody just saves his soul automatically” and implying need for final judgment indicates eternal loss if there is no repentance. Upon reading over your article you do imply this however my impression is that eternal loss and suffering should have been stated clearly.

  • Rusty

    “If He could or would forgive everything whether
    repented or not, it would mean that we could wander about with terrible
    sins on our souls that were simply ignored”

    Not to quibble, but what of those sins which have not been remembered and confessed by someone who nonetheless seeks the sacrament of reconciliation? The contrite heart that seeks forgiveness for specific sins does so as well for sins generally, including any they may not have remembered, do they not? Otherwise, is that not Donatism?

  • Stanley Anderson

    Seeing sin or evil as “incompleteness” or “lack of fullness” has interesting benefits. It is not the only, nor perhaps the best way in many circumstances, but it does make for a way to look at it, not as a thing-unto-itself, but manifested as the “emptiness” surrounding incompleteness, and therefore avoiding some troubling implications of dualism when seeing sin or evil as “something”.

    And here, I might offer the analogy of seeing our fallen nature and sin as a kind of “flattening” of our unfallen “full selves” into a paper-like image. In that sense we might see, say, a drawing of a cube as the flattened image of an actual full-bodied cube. I would suggest that Mercy of the sort mentioned in the article is, in this analogy, a sense of perspective that allows one to “see” the acute and obtuse angles and parallelograms of that drawing as having the potential to allow us to see the “risen” full-bodied cube with its perfect right angles and squares, all meeting (impossibly, when confined to two-dimensional paper drawings) together in unity, if you will.

    Strict Justice without Mercy would confine those lines and shapes and angles to their current flatness and see them as only acute angles and crooked parallelograms and such, never allowing for the potential “life” of the full cube. And in line with the article, Mercy without recognition of that “incompleteness” to repent from, would be, perhaps, like acknowledging the drawing as a drawing, but assuming that it could remain in that state, being battered about “mercilessly” but unavoidably by the restoration of the solidity and “weight” of actual cubes that had repented and seen salvation. Not a pretty picture for the paper drawing to be in, I think.
    Anyway, just a thought.

  • olhg1

    Clearest stuff I’ve read on the subject. Makes the labors of Jesus so admirable and loving. THX

  • Jill

    “He cannot forgive what does not freely ask to be forgiven.” Amen. In a recent discussion with friends, one man said that he will not forgive certain persons who wronged him until they ask him for forgiveness. Does this same idea apply to people as it does to God, only forgiving sins for which forgiveness is sought? We couldn’t quite figure this out.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      But God’s mercy is different in this way, as the Council of Orange teaches: “If anyone maintains that God awaits our will to be cleansed from sin, but does not confess that even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit, he resists the Holy Spirit himself who says through Solomon, “The will is prepared by the Lord” (Prov. 8:35, LXX), and the salutary word of the Apostle, “For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

    • That’s a brilliant point. I never thought about that.

  • Truths brilliantly explained – and in the midst of all the chaos and confusion of the current papacy, you can’t help but wonder how well these truths are understood at the Vatican.

  • Jon S.

    Thank you, Father Schall. Thank you for your comment, Michael Dowd.

  • Alicia

    Father, your essay is very clear. I don’t understand why the Works of Mercy, such as visiting the sick, feeding the poor, etc., are called of Mercy. Except for forgiving someone who did us wrong, most are more Works of Love, empathy. Because we love our neighbors and feel their pain, we want to help them.
    There is no judging here: no policeman deciding not to give you a ticket, no judge giving to the repentant criminal community service instead of jail time.
    Mercy requires someone with authority to decide.
    I think most people confuse Mercy and Love because of the so-called Works of Mercy required from us.
    There is a difference, isn’t there ?

  • Quo Vadis

    It makes me wonder is it ever too late to repent and be sorry for your sins and is it ever to late therefore to receive forgiveness and God’s mercy ?

    We are taught the most sinful who die are condemned to hell but you have to wonder if it is possible to actually change once there and be sorry, ask forgiveness and receive mercy ? Would a kind, merciful God actually turn His back on this soul ?

    • Andrew Joe Nelson

      There is time to repent and receive the mercy of God up to our death. “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment.” — Hebrews 9:27 Only those of us who die in a state of mortal sin are condemned to Hell. God does not turn his back on any soul. It is us who turn our back on God here on Earth by not repenting of our sins. It is good for us to ponder the Four Last Things from time to time for the benefit of our soul.

    • Guest

      “Would a kind, merciful God actually turn His back on this soul ?”

      I think you have it the other way around.

      • Quo Vadis

        Review my comments above and the Church teaching on mortal sin and hell and then tell me if you have led a good life and mess up at the end do you not want a chance ?

    • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

      Once a person is condemned and there is no expression of sorrow to Christ that person loses any goodness which was given him by God [the one who has little to show at judgment will have even that taken away]. So the person who has rejected Christ without an attempt to repent will have grief and remorse but no desire to express sorrow to Christ for his sins, sins that caused His suffering and Sacred Passion. The person becomes and remains evil. Some saints like Catherine of Siena say Our Lord offers a last moment for repentance at death and judgment. However that is private revelation. The best course is to do God’s will now.

      • RodH

        What you say is right according to the Bible and the teaching of the Church. How terrible on the day of judgement it will be for any of us if we have led others astray thru word or deed and are “proud” of it, and how much worse for leaders of the Church who downplay, ignore or excuse, not to mention celebrate sin!

        We are told by our Blessed Lord that if we are ashamed of Him He will be ashamed of us! It would seem many of our leaders today would like to ignore that teaching in the name of “ecumenical solidarity”…

      • Quo Vadis

        Fr. Peter, despite what St Catherine postulates, our church teaches: The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs” (CCC 1035).

        Now, while I may do God’s will to the best of my ability, I am still a sinner and could die in a state of mortal sin. Of course, I would like a “last chance” to regret my sins, be sorry, ask forgiveness and mercy. But how does that square so to speak with church teaching, which seems pretty clear ?

        It would seem that someone like me, or others who messed up, would “expect” (maybe a too strong a word), a merciful God, to give us a break.

        • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

          Aside from the clear doctrine of the Catechism there are recommendations that are part of our Catholic tradition that do not contradict it. One I recommend to you is the wearing of the brown scapular a sign of devotion given by Our Lady to St Simon Stock that whoever wears it with devotion to her will receive a special indulgence of mercy at the moment of death and will not experience the pains of hell. This is the only sacramental that has long been officially recognized by several Pontiffs as a valid devotion including Our Lady’s promise. The others are as noted the words of St Catherine of Siena and St Faustina of Poland. St. Faustina says “There is one last chance at the moment of death.” What Catherine and Faustina say are as said private revelation that the Church does at least not deny. From scripture the Apostle Peter says “charity covers a multitude of sins.” If a lawyer were to look for a loophole to win a case I would advise that you to win your case with Christ to focus on acts of charity that cost.

        • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

          I posted a reply earlier but want to add this. No sacramental like the brown scapular or other devotion is magic. They are intended to assist in living a holier life. The absolute best assurance to address your concern regarding salvation is to make the effort to live as Christ taught and deepen your interior life. If we come close to Christ our love vanquishes fear.

    • ace

      God is to be feared and not second guessed. Our ways are not His ways. It is not those who are “most sinful” who are condemned (nor are we taught that), but rather those who are unrepentant – as explained in the article.
      Jesus said: “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” – Luke 7:47 Also, of course, the repentant King David.
      It is not what someone intends, for someone may well have intended good, but still sin. (For example, we pridefully think we know what the loving or better thing is in a situation and pridefully and wrongfully act on our evaluation of a situation without looking at what God wants or prayerfully discerning.) God forgives because He is merciful to those who fear Him and repent, not because “he understands” (which He does, but the question is whether we accept His definition of sin and take ourselves off the throne with true repentance).

      • Quo Vadis

        “God is to be feared” ? Maybe in some of the protestant hell and fire churches that scare the people to death.

        But in 16 years of a Catholic education, I was never taught to fear God. Only shown His mercy, sacrifice and forgiveness as demonstrated by His Son.

        • Laurence Charles Ringo

          Abject,craven fear is not what the Scriptures portray,Quo Vadis…it would probably be better,at least for His people,to take”fear” in the sense of Someone who is not to be trifled with,which is certainly true; even so,”the fear of God” is most certainly a Scriptural concept,all throughout—PEACE.

        • Margaret

          Quo Vadis, the Bible tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” (Proverbs 1:7). But it is not the kind of fear that comes from being menaced by a big mean bully. Rather, as the footnotes in the New American Bible state, “fear” in this sense means “reverential fear and respect for God on account of his sovereignty, goodness, and justice toward men. This is the foundation of religion.”

      • Chemtutor

        We are all the most sinful, and deserve judgement of hell. The only redemption for us is obedience, which began with Christ, who was obedient until death. We are to follow in His footsteps, by loving God, seeking God and obeying God by doing our best to live out our lives by His laws. Jesus forged the path, we are to follow in His footsteps. The mercy of God was showing us how to be obedient and forging an easier path to follow.

    • Chris Ramsey

      Wow, these are great comments! Regarding the question you raise, Quo Vadis, wouldn’t the opposite also have to be true? I.e., wouldn’t it also have to be possible for someone welcomed into the eternal banquet to change and choose rebellion? I view both scenarios as impossible because after we die we are no longer temporal beings who are subject to change. Of course, then you have to wonder about Purgatory. I think we can all agree that whatever happens after death remains a complete and utter mystery to us who are living here on earth!

      • Didn’t Lucifer and the demons change as non temporal beings? I agree, after death is a complete mystery.

    • Laurence Charles Ringo

      You should enquire from the Scriptures,Quo Vadis…what does Jesus say?

    • kathleen

      Read St. Faustina’s Diary – Divine Mercy in my Soul – for a good answer to your question.

    • chemtutor

      Yes,it can be too late to receive mercy. Because one can sin so much that one refuses to repent and ask for forgiveness.

      • Greg Henry

        But… if someone did sin quite a bit and then repented, wouldn’t that be a greater victory than someone who sinned just a little before repenting?

        • chemtutor

          I think obedience is a greater victory, every time, since Jesus’ great victory was being obedient unto death. So the question is, who is more obedient the person who does their best to sin very little so as to offend the God, who me he or she loves? Or is more obedient for the person who as lived in offense to God, doing their own thing, decides to repent because the realization of death is upon him or here? That alone is for God to judge.

    • FreemenRtrue

      Jesus remarked about that. He said He would not know them. Or see the parable about the man in hell who wanted to warn his brothers.

  • ThirstforTruth

    One wonders why Christ said that His Father reveals Himself to the simple to confound the wicked? Is salvation of souls really so complicated that it requires a degree or two in theology? How, then. is mortal man ever saved from damnation?
    To the simple, God has written his law in the heart of man. Sinful man knows when he has done wrong and when God is displeased with him. But he believes that God is forgiving if man acknowledges his sinful way and repents. To love God and one’s neighbor is that law written on the heart.
    We must be humble and obey. God loves us in our imperfections, like a father loves his naughty child, who weeps over his wrongdoing.
    God’s ways are so far above our ways, that all we can do is walk humbly with Him who Loves us beyond measure and obey!

  • Diane

    Thank you for this wonderful explanation of Justice and Mercy. I pray the Pope will be as direct and cause less confusion as you have. We need to pray for our Pope and hope that his exhortation will be without confusion and according to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Doctrines of the Catholic Church, unchanged.

  • Mike Hurcum

    Fr James I hope you and your pet donkey are around for ever. Your Pet does not need to be Balaams Ass

  • Diego

    Fr. Schall’s use of the word “fear” is not correct. He adopts a contemporary usage that has almost purely negative connotations: anxiety, worry, trembling, terror, anticipation of danger, physical harm, etc. In ancient Hebrew and Greek, it has a more positive connotation of “reverence” or “awe” as it relates to our relationship with God. The negative form of “fear” can be quite paralyzingly and is something in the Scriptures that God protects us from (“Fear not”, “Be not afraid”).

    • RainingAgain

      I would not like to think what I might do if I didn’t work out my salvation, to use that contemporary phrase, “in fear and trembling”.

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        It is important to recall the whole sentence: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is producing in you both the desire and the ability to do what pleases Him “(Phil 2:12-13)

    • Dave Fladlien

      Thanks for clarifying that point. That was really bothering me. To me, religion has too much fear and pressure.

  • FreemenRtrue

    Mercy belongs to God. A priest may give absolution in confession by Christ’s power but Mercy as it regards sin belongs only to God not man.