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Thursday, November 12, 2015

On Mercy and What it Requires!

Pope Francis talks a lot about mercy and, in fact, we will soon begin the year of Mercy. So what exactly is the Mercy of God? And what does it require of us?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about "cheap grace," the grace we bestow on ourselves, grace without the cross and without Jesus Christ. I think we might also talk about "cheap mercy."

In the wee hours at adoration this morning I was reading the first essay in Eleven Cardinals Speak on Marriage and the Family(You know, the book hijacked by Fr. Lombardi and co.) Cardinal Carlo Caffarra addressed Mercy and Conversion. The cardinal began by saying, "These reflections focus on the act in which God's mercy shines forth in its preeminent form: the forgiveness of a sinner."

God is eager to forgive the sinner, but what is required before God's mercy can be received? Repentance and conversion. Mercy, says the cardinal, was part of God's creative plan. He knew man would sin and appear more in the image of Adam than in the image God and so "the act of mercy that forgives is the summit of creation."

The cardinal goes on to discuss sin and how it imprisons man. The freedom God gives to man is lost in the act of sinning. Rather than becoming more himself, man become less when he chooses a finite "freedom" in lieu of divine freedom. That may sound esoteric but think of one specific sin, let's say pornography that is so prevalent today. Consider a husband who becomes addicted to pornography. Does he become more free as he exercises his choice to view perverted images? No, he actually changes his brain chemistry making himself more and more a slave to the "pleasure" he gets from the images of virtual perverted sex. And, as many wives attest, the addicted husband becomes less and less free to enjoy the REAL relationship which no longer gives the same high as the imaginary. So he lives in a virtual world, with virtual sex partners, basically a slave to his imaginary stable of fillies.

Certainly that is an example of a man who needs the mercy of God. But is it available to Him? Can he be forgiven? Absolutely! But forgiveness requires something from him first. He must cooperate with the Divine Grace being offered that urges him to change course. As the cardinal says, "If forgiveness does not change the direction of his freedom, and he does not convert, we cannot truly say that a man has been forgiven."

Is God the culprit here, denying his mercy to the unrepentant sinner? NO! God is respecting the free will of man to reject Him and the mercy and forgiveness He offers. Cardinal Caffarra puts it eloquently:
The Love that forgives has appeared and it has stopped at the door of every human heart, waiting for someone to say to him: "Yes, come in." On this invitation depends the highest revelation of the Mystery of God: the forgiveness of the sinner. 
What human acts bring into being the person's coooperation? Two, fundamentally. Recognition of one's own condition of moral mistery, one's own sin: "What I did is not right." This is the repentance that is expressed in confession. The consequence of this -- the second act -- is the decision not to do in the future what we acknowledge to be wrong: the resolution.
Repentance, confession, resolution! Where have we heard that before?

But modern man doesn't want to repent or confess or resolve to change. He wants cheap mercy, one that makes no demands and many shepherds are more than willing to offer it. They do not act like the Great Physician. Rather they show "the mistaken pity of an incompetent and/or weak physician who contents himself with bandaging wounds without treating them."

Cardinal Caffarra calls mercy without conversion a "mistaken pity" and conversion without mercy a "Pelagian poison....Even pagan wisdom...realized the necessity of conversion to the good." He goes on to lament the "spirit of the age" in the West that has "trivialized and empties of its proper meaning the drama of the Mercy -- misery, forgiveness -- conversion encounter. It has turned the drama into a farce." When mercy is corrupted into meaning approval of whatever I choose to do, when the "proclamation of Mercy means: 'Accept me as I am and as I act, without speaking to me about conversion, since I have no need of it.' ...we have arrived at the complete distortion of the Church's proclamation."

Our world doesn't need a false mercy that encourages sinners to continue in slavery to sin. Sinners (all of us, in fact) need the Divine Freedom found in the confessional where true repentance and a resolution to change cut off the shackles of the enemy and restore the soul to union with our merciful God.

I'll end as Cardinal Caffarra began, "There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." (Luke 15:7) Get the book, that one essay is worth the price.


  1. Another highly recommended book from me is "Christ in the home" from Fr Raoul Plus.
    Fr Plus was a French priest and chaplain in the French army in WW1. If parents and spouses want traditional and orthodox teaching on marriage and parenting, this is the book for you. It's very good especially for newly weds and new parents.

  2. The entire promise of your post is wrong. You write, "God is eager to forgive the sinner, but what is required before God's mercy can be received? Repentance and conversion.." You are confusing mercy with forgiveness, and it is right there in your sentence. You seem to think mercy and forgiveness are the same thing. God's great mercy is what leads to forgiveness. God's mercy is Jesus Christ coming to earth as a human being to die for our sins. God's mercy is not destroying us because of our sins but giving us time to repent.

    Pope Francis, led by the Holy Spirit, is giving us the year of mercy so that people will come to repentance. It is called the Year of Mercy, not the Year of Forgiveness, although that is the ultimate goal.

    I suggest you read St Faustina's diary, which contains the words of Jesus Christ about His Mercy. When he said he desires that we spread his message of mercy around the world, what do you think he means? It is obvious from this post that at this time you don't understand at all.

  3. I looked closer at this and I see that I was quoting from the Cardinal and not from you, Mary Ann. I apologize for that, but I would have to say that the Cardinal is confusing mercy with forgiveness. As I said, mercy leads to forgiveness, but I really think the Cardinal is presenting a very confusing message that leads to erroneous conclusions.

    It is very early when I am reading this, and I apologize for attributing this statement to you. However, I still very much disagree with it. There could be a very good reason why Father Lombardi tried to "hijack" the book, as you say.

  4. You're criticizing a cardinal?

    This is what I find inconsistent about you, Mary. You tell others they can't criticize clerics and then you do it. Or is it just scandalous behavior of clerics that can't be criticized?

    BTW I have read Sr. Faustina's diary.

  5. I am not criticizing a cardinal. I am disagreeing with him. And you, Mary Ann, have certainly shown the way to do that: Cardinal Dolan, Cardinal Cupich, Cardinal Kasper, Cardinal Wuerl - need I go on? In fact, you seem to think all cardinals are wrong, with the few exceptions of those like Cardinal Burke.

    Yes, I believe the Cardinal is wrong in his assessment that the Mercy of God and His forgiveness are one and the same. And since you have read St. Faustina's diary, then you know that is true. As Daniel 9:9 says, "The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him." His great mercy is what leads us to even be able to repent and receive His forgiveness. Romans 2:4 - "Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?"

  6. "You seem to think all cardinals are wrong...."

    Not so, Mary. I only think Cardinals, bishops, and priests are wrong who undermine the faith and commit scandal. I agree with Jesus who said they deserve a millstone. Unfortunately, they are legion in the U.S. as Fr. John Hardon warned us. And, in fact, Fr. Hardon also said Jesus chose Judas so we would not be surprised or discouraged when our shepherds commit actions likely to lead the flock into sin. We are called to defend the truth and fight error and heresy whatever the source.

    It seems to me when you "criticize" a cardinal (implying the book to which he contributed is so bad Fr. Lombardi was right to suppress it) that it's "disagreeing" and when I "disagree" with a cleric it's called "criticizing."

  7. Ok, Mary Ann. We can play semantics, if you would like. I am "criticizing" Cardinal Caffarra. As you say, "We are called to defend the truth and fight error and heresy whatever the source." I believe this error by Cardinal Caffarra is a critical error, and therefore I am pointing it out.

    However, I notice that you do not dispute any of the points I made about the Cardinal being wrong in his understanding of mercy. Do you care to say anything about that? After all, that is the point of your post.