Divine Mercy

I love the image of Divine Mercy, but I wonder if our own society isn’t in need of the counterbalance: i.e. Divine Justice.

Doesn’t American Christianity, (and that includes American Catholicism) already reassure everyone of the Divine Mercy–even to the exclusion of Divine Justice? What I’m talking about is the tendency towards universalism–that belief that everyone will one day get to heaven.
The problem with universalism is that it is simply too good to be true. To be more precise, it is too good to be true–especially for universalists. What I mean is that most people who think God is too nice to send anyone to hell really mean that he wouldn’t send them to hell. That is not only too good to be true, it is too comfortable to be true, and whenever I find a religious belief that is comfortable (rather than comforting) I suspect it as bogus.
Built into universalism is an incredible assumption of self righteousness. God would not surely send me to hell! At the very root of this belief is the overbearing conviction that I am okay as I am, and that assumption is surely the one sin, above all, that is unforgivable. It is unforgivable not because God cannot or will not forgive it, but because the guilty person cannot see that there is anything to forgive. He does not, and cannot know his need of God, and is therefore not only likely to be damned, but he is first in line.
The other dangerous thing about universalism is its tendency to reduce religious and moral judgements to questions of good manners and respectable behavior. The universalist finds it difficult to imagine God sending his bank manager to hell because the fellow is such a nice chap, a member of the country club, supports the Rotary and goes to church every Sunday. Judgements are made on outward appearances, and the shallow unitarian assumes that everyone, deep down, is just as nice and squeaky clean and wholesome as all those beautiful people in Coca Cola advert
Sharp moral judgements, a keen eyed sense of sin and a stern sentence–first of all against ourselves–is what is needed. I worry that Divine Mercy devotion may indulge all the wrong sentiments and that what our society needs most at this moment is a reminder that Jesus Christ is not only the Divine Mercy, but also the Righteous Judge at the End of Days.
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  • This is so familiar; where have I heard this recently? Oh, right! This morning at Mass. Father Newman used Divine Mercy Sunday as a jumping-off point to discuss the necessity — and purpose — of the sacrament of penance. It was one of those “I’m talking directly to you, missy” moments because, well, it was so uncomfortable. I don’t even think sin is truly on my radar yet, even though I’d *like* it to me. As a recent revert, I’m going to confession out of a sense of duty; not because the sins I commit are so readily apparent to me. (I’m hoping the ability to easily ID my sins comes with time and practice.) (And, of course, I add that some sins are just plain obvious. I’m not a complete self-absorbed relativist. At least I don’t think so. Would a self-absorbed relativist even *know* she is??)It is so easy, even as a Catholic, to fall into the “well, I’m a good person” and “God knows my intentions even if I’m not living in full accordance with the Church” mindset. And then! And then if you *do* go to confession, it’s not all hugs and platitudes. Where’s my gold “I showed up for confession!” sticker? How about comforting me with something fuzzy that Oprah said? I mean, who actually puts themselves through that just to hear something along the lines of “Well, that’s a serious sin. You need to be confronted with the gravity of your actions.” Ouch!Remember the high school teachers who were coasting and couldn’t muster the effort to call you on your missed homework or poor test performance? Well, I had no respect for them. That sure isn’t the case with the confessors I’ve chatted with recently. (Though, a box of Kleenex in the confessional would be a nice touch.)

  • Perhaps God’s mercy and His justice are not two different things, but one and the same thing. Jesus says that the Father has given him all power of judgment, but he consistently refuses (if that is not too strong a word) to exercise that power. And in the Psalms, the psalmist says “the ungodly…is fallen into the destruction that he made for other…his wickedness shall fall on his own pate” (Psalm 7). I have this idea, and more knowledgeable heads than mine have agreed, that God’s love is such that when we live within it, we experience it as joy, and when we are outside it, as pain. Anyway, I agree that we need to be mindful of God’s justice, but we need to be careful not to fall into that Calvinist god who seems to delight in the sadistic punishment of his creatures. That’s probably what has swung the pendulum too far in the other direction.

  • I went to confession today. The priests there had the image of Divine Mercy up in the confessional and like to assign a chaplet as a penance.I’ve a mild qualm with your post. Universalism only arises out of a false understanding of God’s Mercy. It is only when we admit our sinful, miserable existence that we can reach out and grasp the Mercy of God.Before we can be healed, we must first admit that we are sick. This is why His Sorrowful Passion is so essential to the Chaplet and novena.

  • blarg

    Bonhoeffer’s “cheap grace” is what your spelling out father. The grace we bestow upon ourselves–like the crown Lady MacBeth is wearing in your other post–rather than the grace that comes from above. Didn’t Jesus say, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). I could be wrong, but I think this means Christian discipleship requires constant conversion.I agree with you, some humility in the confessional and a good swift kick in the pants would gain an appreciation for Divine Mercy Sunday.

  • Anonymous

    Yea, well, I absolutely agree with “Praise Divine Mercy” except that in my parish, what had been a full & complete Divine Mercy Sunday for several years suddenly this year was without priestly support, AKA sacrament of confession (new priest, new everything). Ya know, guys, we laity can pull off a lot of stuff (and often must in this post-V2 age), but we CANNOT administer our own sacraments. It was joked about today that our devoted and much-used/abused acolyte could have heard our confessions, but still could not have granted absolution is a not-so-funny commentary on our times and the state of our church & priesthood. Sometimes, folks, the fault is not with the person in the pew…

  • Thanks for this post. The priest tonight at Mass also used the Divine Mercy as point of departure for confession. I agree with all the above as well. I think that distraction, distraction, distraction is the order of the day, not so much that people are on the rebound from forms of Calvinism, though this too is true for some. There’s simply a fierce battle to be fought in these days of surging noise and habitual pastimes and comforts, just to make an examination of conscience, and then to actually get your butt into the confessional. And here is where I agree very much with anonymous: when a parish says there are confessions before Mass in its bulletin, and then you go, and the priest isn’t in the confessional, merely because no one has shown up, this really puts me off. It’s like my examination of conscience and the effort made, though insufficient and scrappy it may be, has been contradicted, like it has no reality. On the other hand, there is this parish I know of where the priests listen to confessions just before Mass and while Mass is going on, and will hear confessions after, granted there are still people waiting. And there, the priests really listen to what you tell them, and they address you personally. There is this one priest, who will actually wait in the confessional for people, and he has this amazing retentive power for everything you say, so that when you finish, he goes through everything you said, one thing at a time. And he’s an old man! I’m really not into criticising priests, but um, if the person who is making the confession is laying bare his or her soul, then a certain sensitivity happens where the demeanour of the priest also, likewise, in a certain fashion is laid bare. Sometimes from certain priests you get this, I don’t know, this sense that they are not listening, that you are wasting their time, and that they don’t want to be there. Priests are supposed to care about their flock. Robotic administration in the confessional does not manifest this care. Okay, I’m getting off topic perhaps. Anyways…

  • I should correct myself. Sometimes the priest doesn’t “address” the things you tell them, and its totally grace-filled and fine and good. The actual confession time should be fairly quick, but it can’t be like that all the time, or else the soul makes no progress.

  • Anonymous

    Saint Faustina was not as gung-ho about Universal Salvation as some of her followers appear to be.In her Diary, she recounts the clandestine baptism of a comatose Jewish woman moments before the woman dies. Praying the Divine Mercy chaplet was not going to save the woman. Baptism was the key.In another passage, Sr. Faustina tells about two sisters in the convent who were planning to sin together and thus “enter the gates of hell.”It seems to me that she was very concerned with Divine Justice.And as human beings we should all fear for our immortal souls.

  • Anonymous

    I thought the Divine Mercy emerged from a recognition of our offenses. That God’s justice will fall on us and that we pray for mercy. Recognition of the offenses we commit lead us to the knowledge that God’s judgements on us would be harsh. We pray the Divine Mercy not as a demand but as a pleading for mercy in the face of the obvious sins of mankind and the justified serious judgements they deserve. I think your post is very good and true in many respects but I do not think that the Catholic tradition of “Divine Mercy” should be associated in any way to the pap of universal salvation for all mankind because “god” is just an easy going, indulgent hippy and so on. Certainly you are right to pull this nonsense up short. However, we are not talking about divine mercy here. In fact those who hold these views as you rightly point out, do not believe God has anything to be merciful about. Divine Mercy is intrinsically linked to Divine Justice in the Catholic tradition so statements as follows seem a little strange to me:-“I love the image of Divine Mercy, but I wonder if our own society isn’t in need of the counterbalance: i.e. Divine Justice.”I would venture to say that our society could not possibly withstand Devine Justice for the awful offenses we commit. We can only really beg for mercy and we had better beg a lot more than we do. Benfan

  • Anonymous

    When I think of Divine Mercy I think of Jesus saying that He will put His law into the hearts of those who do not know Him and they will be judged by Him accordingly. It also comes to mind that He said those who are given more then more is expected. Divine Mercy would seem to carry with it the ability to discern rather than to judge what is in a person’s heart. God intentionally created obstinance in the Egyptian Ruler so the ruler would not submit to the obvious signs that God was using to free the Jews from slavery.This blindness in certain people seems to be used by God to create an opportunity, for those who have been given the Grace to know God’s Love, to exercise His Love in human interactions where conflict and violence previously existed. It would seem then that we are to exhibit Divine Mercy in order to achieve conversion for those who do not have the sight of God’s Love as yet.

  • Anonymous

    Fantastic thoughts as usual Father. I remember a religious documentary a long time ago and they were interviewing a Rabbi. He set up the story as once upon a time a very evil man died, and he found himself before God and two doors; one to Heaven and one to Hell. God said to him, pick either one, whatever you want; it doesn’t really matter. The man chose the door to Hell. Why? Because if he could go to heaven, considering the way he lived his life, there was no ultimate justice; and without Justice, life had no meaning.I always remembered that when I hear someone prattling about relativism, and I’m OK, you’re OK, et. al.Only slight nuance change I would recommend. God does not send people to Hell; it is a choice. THAT is Divine Justice. As CS Lewis penned in The Great Divorce (paraphrase) when we die, where we go based on one of two statements: THY will be Done, or MY will be done. God grants either one of those requests. There is a great piece (albeit translated to English sloppily) by an Orthodox bishop to that effect http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news÷=4466As a former Protestant, I have always found an Orthodox viewpoint the old Left Hook to Protestantism, as so much of it is geared to the refutation of Catholicism. If we could ever glue the two back together again, our faith would be as powerful as Mike Tyson …in the early years 🙂

  • Well, I was sitting at Mass this morning and I thought to myself “It is a wonderful thing to hear of God’s Mercy, but the only way God can be Merciful is if we are reminded that we are sinful”. Christ did not come to heal those who thought themselves to be well. It is, therefore, our loving duty to speak of sin and justice in regards to Mercy. Once I heard a priest who is well versed in the Old Testament say that Jews believe that God only sits on His throne of Justice for a brief moment each day. He doesn’t like it, and then moves over to His throne of Mercy.Now, Mercy does trump justice. But we must be willing to accept that Mercy, which means that we willingly obey God’s Justice. Mercy does not negate it, it just trumps it. That is why we have Purgatory. Justice is not negated, it is just trumped. That is the problem with Protestantism (at least, so long as you are one), when you believe in Christ as your Lord and Saviour, God’s Justice is completely negated. What our view is, rather, is that God’s Mercy is wonderful and powerful and is a wonderful expression of God’s love for us. The problem enlies, as you said, when we negate the view of Justice in this matter. Justice has a role, it will always have a role. If it didn’t, then Christ would not return as the just Judge. And so, Catholics believe that Justice has a role, but Justice should never be the end of our focus, but rather Mercy. If Justice were the sole pursuit, then why did Christ choose not to speak when He was being unjustly accused? Justice, of course, has its role in day to day life, and the State is obligated to ensure that there is a just ordering to society. But when someone wrongs us, ought we to pursue justice? I had an incident at work last week in which a business owner was chewing me out because our Church had a soup kitchen that was bringing “bad people” around his building and thus was threatening to close the soup kitchen down. I honestly did not deserve to be treated as he had treated me. After that, I so much desired justice, I thought to myself “How dare he!”. And, if I wanted justice for that, I could have pursued it. But then I thought “and how often have I offended others, how often have I been the one to treat God or others unjustly?”. Oh so quickly was I reminded of God’s mercy to me that, despite my weakness and failings, He was always there to help me start anew through the Sacrament of Penance. And because of my failings, I didn’t deserve anything. I only have the right to pursue justice when I am being just myself. We must remember that “the just man falls 7 times a day” and I think most of us would be the first to admit we are no just man, so our sin is even greater. But God’s merciful love looks past that.I guess what I am saying is that most definitely God’s Justice is essential to our faith. We just must remember that it has a role in the pursuit of mercy and love. Justice is a means through which we are able to merciful and loving. I am not talking about “social justice” as in an activism, which is contrary to the definition of the word in the first place. I mean, by treating others according to their dignity, just as God treats us, is the means to sanctification.I have something to say about universalism as well, but my post is long enough.-Harrison

  • I don’t think it’s the people who don’t believe in sin who, by and large, are devoted to Divine Mercy.It’s the people who are deathly afraid that their dead child, who committed suicide, is going to Hell. It’s the people whose friend had a truck splatter their motorcycle all over the road, just as the friend was finally recovering from a tragic life and inching away from the devil into healthy pursuits — and are afraid their friend is going to Hell. It’s the young woman who’s the only one in her family who believes in God, whose family is being torn apart, who is desperately drawn to Divine Mercy despite not even being Catholic.Maybe you see different people, people who don’t believe in sin and Hell. But maybe even they’re drawn to Divine Mercy because really they do believe, and fear.

  • I talked to the kids about Divine Mercy Sunday morning in class and brought up exactly the points you did. Does that make me smart like you?? Oh, I hope!I’m tired of this “I’m ok, you’re ok, and, oh yeah, God’s pretty neat too. We need balance.

  • Anonymous

    When I weigh the mercy/justice equation I always come back to the fact that Christ chose to reveal Himself in this way to St. Faustina, and that the Church has chosen to give us this feast. And in a society so wounded by the breakdown of the family, the experience of a father’s mercy–THE Father’s mercy–might go far to bring true healing. -Marlena

  • Louise

    Maureen is right on. It’s what we fear for those we love and who are far from Christ that gives us hope in Divine Mercy.We had a deanery-wide celebration of Divine Mercy. In singing the jazzy setting of the chaplet, the whole congregation landed with full voice on “USsssssssss”–more than 50 times–oh, “on the whole world, too”. But isn’t God lucky to have USssssss. I prayed for mercy just to get through it without fleeing or exploding. Flight or fight? Either would do.In the prayers, there was a sour note with the words “God’s mercy exceeds His justice.” UHH, I don’t think so.

  • I think it was De Sales who said (very roughly paraphrasing) that God’s justice and mercy are offered jointly in that at the moments of our just suffering for sin His greatest graces and sweetest mercy is most available. Love , and therefore God, is most clearly seen in suffering. So is the Divine Mercy of Christ best understood through His suffering on the cross. This is what comes through St. Faustina’s Diary, which has none of this fluffy universalist sentiment, but is infused with humility, self sacrifice and joy in suffering for Christ.That’s what make Catholicism so robust – any fair weather religion can provide affirmation in good times. Catholicism by contrast prepares you for the rough times the sufferings of our personal crosses. That’s where Catholicism really shines. Here in the US where things are soft we forget, but in Poland where the memories of WWII and the Soviets are still fresh Catholicism is strong (as measured by vocations). I imagine that the Catholics in China and the Middle East know quite a bit about mercy in the midst of suffering.

  • Anonymous

    “but in Poland where the memories of WWII and the Soviets are still fresh Catholicism is strong (as measured by vocations).”I would just like to add that Catholicism is still strong in Poland as measured by the number of abortions performed, also.

  • Matthew 25 makes for enlightening reading for the complacent universalist.Does God cast anyone into Hell? He already has. Lucifer and one-third of all the angels of heaven who followed him into disobedience.If God would cast 1/3 of all the vast multitude of angels into Hell, what makes we creatures think it will be any different for us?Re the businessman who hates the soup kitchen…Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and Dives the rich man, and Matthew 25…should (one hopes) bring him to his knees in sackcloth and ashes and the hot salty tears of repentance.At the General Judgment, our opinions of ourselves and our standing with God don’t count. God’s mercy is for the saved and his justice is for the damned.(I don’t mean saved in a narrow, cramped, fundamentalist way of course.)You MUST read Spe Salvi/Saved in Hope, B16’s latest encyclical. It had me weeping with the love of God’s justice and mercy. The section on purgatory was EXCELLENT but don’t skip to it…read the whole thing, to get the full development of the idea. Our thirst for justice is answered!”I’m OK – You’re OK” is a piss poor substitute for the GLORY of “I’m a child of God and am doing my best to live out that love and give Him the glory.”The Father of the Prodigal is the Merciful Father–but notice that the Prodigal Son had to repent of his errors and come home. The Father was scanning the horizon and waiting with calf, robe, and ring, ready to party. But the Prodigal Son had to make the effort to come home.Divine Mercy isn’t cheap grace. The confessional is the Tribunal of Mercy. We are encouraged to do acts (spiritual and corporal) of mercy. That should take us a great way to being counted a sheep a la Mt 25.The Feast of Divine Mercy wasn’t St Faustina’s gift to the Church. The readings of the Second Sunday of Easter were always filled with mercy. That’s why she chose that Sunday for the requested feast.OK kids, when’s the last time you sincerely pursued a plenary indulgence? With that intention and the right disposition, meeting the required conditions? It seems to be so easy and formulaic, it scandalizes; however, the conditions require inner conversion of heart, repentance, and clinging to God. He so easily wants to give us plenary indulgences, vast treasures, for ourselves and others (Holy Souls); but we don’t seek out this vast treasury of mercy and love. I’m pointing a finger at myself here, too.