Volume > Issue > The Other Side of Mercy

The Other Side of Mercy


By Frederick W. Marks | January-February 2016
Frederick W. Marks is the author of eight books, most recently Think and Believe (Emmaus Road Publishing, 2012).

“Everyone should be anxious and fearful for himself the more ignorant he is of what is in store for him, because — this must be said often and not forgotten — Many are called, but few are chosen.“— St. Gregory the Great

Pope Francis has designated the period from December 8, 2015, to November 20, 2016, as an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, a time during which we are to “contemplate the mystery of mercy,” which he calls “a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace” (Misericordiae Vultus, no. 2). Mercy is, without question, something we all need. In the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, “As long as I look at myself, my eyes are filled with bitterness. But if I look up and fix my eyes on the aid of divine mercy, this happy vision of God soon tempers the bitter vision of myself.” Or, as Francis puts it, “our salvation depends on” divine mercy. But that being said, one must be on guard against the kind of narrow concentration on God’s mercy that precludes a corresponding appreciation for His justice.

How familiar are you with these divine attributes? If you think you know the proper balance between the mercy and justice exemplified by our Lord, try your hand at the following multiple-choice test:

(1) We read in the New Testament that God will judge the world with
(a) mercy
(b) justice
(c) mercy and justice
Answer: (b) justice (Acts 17:31)

(2) When Jesus mentions mercy and justice, which comes first?
(a) mercy
(b) justice
Answer: (b) justice (Mt. 23:23)

(3) Of the seven spiritual works of mercy, which comes first?
(a) forgive all injuries
(b) admonish sinners
Answer: (b) admonish sinners (forgiveness comes sixth on the list)

(4) When Jesus pleads with His heavenly Father for the gift of unity, He addresses Him as
(a) merciful Father
(b) just Father
Answer: (b) just Father (Jn. 17:25)

The gift of divine mercy is inestimably great. Yet it comes with strings attached because justice is “the foundation” of God’s throne (Ps. 97:2). To avail ourselves of God’s great mercy, we must repent of our errors and firmly resolve to sin no more. Pope Francis makes this abundantly clear when he tells us that the Sacrament of Reconciliation must be at the center of our lives (Misericordiae Vultus, no. 17).

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