THE MERCY OF GOD
There are those who in the welter of suffering and sorrow in which practically the whole of this world is now involved are incline to doubt the very existence of God, or if they still have a vague and indistinct belief in it they ask with blasphemous lips, “Where is his mercy?”
Looking at everything from a merely human point of view
Their mistake is to look at everything from a merely human point of view, to forget or ignore the eternity that lies before them and to regard this life as the only measure of time.
The mistake of regarding this life as the only measure of time
They do not, or will not, see that it is not God but men themselves who have brought all these present evils upon us. Granted the gift of freedom of will, the choice between good and evil, men have deliberately chosen the latter, and in doing that, they have wrought their own destruction and have made of earth a hell, when it might be the place of peace and contentment.
Man was granted the freedom of will, the choice between good and evil
There are degrees, of course, in wrongdoing; but in the case of those who have striven to thrust God out of His own world and, as far as they could, to force a whole nation to join their rebellion, it has now been made evident to what an appalling issue it leads.
These wretched men, in their arrogance and pride, thought to make themselves the lords of the world and, ignoring all the rights to freedom and justice of the rest of their fellow men, have not scrupled to take the basest and most atrocious means to accomplish their ends.
The self-inflicted consequences of arrogance and pride
The nemesis of ill-doing has inevitably fallen upon them and they now lie in the dust, in a state of misery and destitution in which, though in a less degree, the rest of the world has to take a share. Nor can we entirely exonerate the rest, for great numbers of them have neglected God, have broken His commandments and laws, and discarded religion. Even among nations who have followed some ethical standard of good, paganism and irreligion are rife and have brought in their train what departure from God sooner or later always means.
What about the innocent, the fervent servants of God?
If it be asked why should many totally innocent people, fervent servants of God, be subjected to these widespread miseries and calamities, the answer is that they have been chosen to be co-victims with the crucified God-Man Himself in His great work of redemption. For the mercy of God is such that out of evil He designs, and will always ultimately draw, good.
This was first proved when, immediately after the fall of man in Paradise, God decreed that a Redeemer should come and raise up mankind, so that by the merits of Christ, the God made Man, it might be pardoned its sin and once more be restored to the greatest of privileges it had lost, eternal felicity with its Maker in heaven. So that the Church in her liturgy calls that original sin a “Felix Culpa”, seeing that out of it, God was able to draw so much good to the countless millions of the saved.
“Thy kind hand wipes away their tears”
It is this thought of the infinite mercy of God that made St Augustine in his Confessions (v 2) exclaim:
Oh, that they might turn and seek thee; for though they have abandoned thee, their Creator, thou hast not abandoned thy creatures. Oh, that they might turn and seek thee. And lo, thou art there in their hearts, in the hearts that confess unto thee, and cast themselves upon thee, and weep in thy bosom after all their weary wanderings.
And thy kind hand wipes away their tears, that they may weep no more and find joy in weeping. For thou, Lord, art not a man of flesh and blood. Thou art the Lord who canst renew what thou didst create, and canst console. Where was I myself when I was seeking thee? Thou hast before me: but I had forsaken mine own self, and could not find myself – how much less, then, thee?
If there be a God – and reason itself besides revelation proves His existence – then it logically follows that one of His attributes must be that of infinite mercy. The Venerable Leonard Lessius, one of the greatest theologians of his time, thus writes:
“God is called Merciful first, because He is the source of all mercy and of every merciful prompting in men and angels. Second, because in so far as depends upon Him, He is ready to save the whole human race which had lapsed from eternal salvation into eternal misery.
God is ready to restore the whole human race to eternal happiness
He is ready not only to free it from that misery but restore it to eternal happiness. For that He has paid a price more than sufficient, and besides He has in effect delivered from eternal misery an infinite number of souls whom He has enabled to attain to the enjoyment of the infinite and eternal good.
For that He has paid a price more than sufficient
Third, nor has he done this in an easy manner, as when He created the world or when He conferred beatitude on the angelic nature, but at the cost of labours, pains and immense sacrifices, humbling Himself by assuming the baseness and infirmity of human nature; embracing poverty and want, and countless miseries and afflictions, anguish and toil; submitting to shameful outrages, buffets and scourgings; permitting Himself to be spat upon, and accepting the cross and the cruellest kind of death; and finally delivering Himself up to us under the species of bread and wine in the most holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. All that He has done out of His Infinite Mercy to lift us out of infinite evil and raise us up to infinite good.”
All that He has done out of His Infinite Mercy is to lift us out of infinite evil and raise us up to infinite good
All these reasons are enough in themselves to prove the infinite mercy of God; but we can see in our own days of bitter suffering and trial how He has contrived to draw good out of evil; and to show mercy in the many spiritual benefits He has conferred.
There have been many thousands of souls who because of the war and its menace to safety and life have from bad or indifferent lives turned to the practice of their religion for consolation and help. The number of converts to the Church has markedly increased, as most priests on the missions in this country alone can testify. Now that the war is over, its spiritual effect is seen in the large number of those who have joined Religious Orders or Congregations, so that in some cases at least their novitiates were never so crowded. In one Order that the writer knows of, not only is there a record number of novices, but ten of the number are converts to the Faith. If we believe, as we should do, that spiritual good is of infinitely greater value than temporal, then we must conclude that God’s mercy has been wonderfully displayed and that He has known how to draw eternal gain out of temporary loss and suffering.
Eternal gain from temporary loss and suffering
God’s mercy must be regarded in the light of eternity. There are many men and women who are spoilt by prosperity and the material good things of this world, which lead so often to forgetfulness of God and to the neglect of the practice of religion.
In such cases God will show His mercy by depriving them of their riches and reducing them to a state of comparative poverty. Again, there are those who when abounding in strong physical health have given themselves up to sinful sensual pleasure and have denied their bodies nothing that they unlawfully craved and were unceasingly seeking. It is in God’s mercy that such people were suddenly crippled and forced to spend the rest of their lives on a bed of suffering. In this state they may turn to God and find in their misfortune a means of making expiation for all the sins of their past, while at the same time they are given an opportunity for gaining great merit in heaven.
We must remember that the whole Church is the Mystical Body of Christ and that each one of her members must contribute to the well-being of the Body
We have already alluded to the difficulty that some feel in seeing so many good and innocent people being made to suffer because of the evils that the guilty have brought upon the world and we have said that they are privileged to be co-victims with our Crucified Lord in His redemptive work for souls.
To understand this we must remember that the whole Church is the Mystical Body of Christ and that each of its members must contribute to the well-being of the Body. Christ lives on in His Church and His Life is being reproduced in a greater or less degree in each and every one of her faithful members. As suffering was the chief means by which Christ wrought our redemption, so suffering, self-denial, and sacrifice are the means by which each one, according to the graces accorded to him, must cooperate with the great work of the Saviour. This is the meaning of the words of StPaul (Col1:24): I… now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the Church.”
I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the Church (Col 1:24)
No Catholic would deny that God extended His infinite mercy to the Immaculate Mother of God, and yet she had her grievous dolours to suffer and stood at the foot of the Cross of her crucified Son to share in His anguish and pain.
All the saints of God from first to last had in their lives to bear the heavy weight of the Cross and so to participate in the Passion of their Redeemer and Lord.
It was in the mercy of God that they had so to suffer, for the nearer they got to Christ’s Cross the closer became their union with Him and the greater share they had in His eternal life of glory in heaven. And while on this earth their sufferings did not deprive them of their inner peace and joy. On the contrary, they were so filled with the love of Christ that they had a positive longing to suffer with and for Him and could exclaim with St Teresa, “Aut pati aut mori”, “let me either suffer or die”.
Let me either suffer or die (St Teresa)
Most of us have not the graces given to the great saints of God and may not hope to reach their heights of holiness; but as they never doubted God’s infinite mercy and saw their sufferings as a proof of it, a close fellowship with Him who was crucified, so it is possible for all of us who are fervent in the practice of our religion to gain something of their spirit.
Amidst all the difficulties and trials that beset us to-day we may see God’s mercy in the opportunities He has given us to exercise such virtues as will infallibly secure our eternal salvation. Is it not a sign of God’s mercy that as the outcome of these devastating wars we have been forced to realise that this world is not in itself worth living for, and that many of its allurements and attractions which in the past led to our spiritual undoing have now vanished, never in the lives of some, or perhaps most of us, to return?
There may be those whose sins in the past have been many and great, they may be filled now with dread and be tempted to despair of forgiveness
There may be those whose sins in the past have been many and great and they may be filled now with dread and be tempted to despair of forgiveness. Such souls need to dwell on the meaning of God’s infinite mercy and to recall the inspired words of Holy Scripture: “His mercy is above all His works.”
Let us suppose that some one of them has exceeded in his iniquities every soul that has ever lived before him. So far from despaitlring he has only to turn to God with sorrow and pray in the words of the publican in the gospel, “O God, be merciful to me, the sinner” – the world’s worst sinner, if you will – and at once his debt is cancelled and he can rest secure in the love of his all-merciful God.
O God, be merciful to me, the sinner
To all of us, no matter what degree of sinfulness may be laid to our charge, the words of St Theresa of the Child Jesus, who never lost her baptismal innocence, afford matter for comfort.
In her well-known autobiography she writes:
Even if I had on my conscience all the sins that could be committed, I should lose none of my trustfulness. With my heart broken in repentance, I should go and throw myself in my Saviour’s arms… I know that I may count upon His Love and His Mercy.
It is an insult to God to doubt His mercy, because it is an attempt to put a limit on His infinity.
Never was there greater proof of that mercy than when He came down on this earth and as the God-Man died for all men without exception that death of anguish in soul and body on the hill of Calvary.
The very greatest proof of God’s mercy
That was the day of His triumph; but it adds to His triumph when we, who reckon ourselves amongst the greatest of sinners, filled with repentance and love, approach that suffering Figure and let the Blood that He is so lavishly shedding pour over our own sinful souls to the renewal of our life and of our fellowship with Him.
We may ever have on our lips and in our hearts the words of St Thomas Aquinas:
Crux mihi certa salus.
Crux eat quam semper adore.
Crux Domini mecum.
Crux mihi refugium.
1) The Names of God and Meditative Summaries of the Divine Perfections, by the Venerable Leonard Lessius, S.J. Translated by T.J. Campbell, S.J. New York, The American Press, 1912
2) “O God, be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke xviii 13) – An indulgence of 500 days may be gained from each recitation. As in the original Greek the definite article is used it is more correct to say “the” than “a” sinner.
3) For those unacquainted with Latin, this may be literally translated: “The Cross is my sure salvation. The Cross is that I worship evermore. The Cross of the Lord is with me. The Cross is a refuge to me.” (An indulgence of 300 days for each recital, and a plenary indulgence if recited daily for a month.)
– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Christopher J. Wilmot, S.J., The Catholic Book Club, London 1949