Father Robert McTeigue, SJ writes: "Very often, I hear folks speak of mercy as if it were a cancellation of justice. On this view, “justice” means, “you have to pay off your debt—or else.” “Mercy”, then, says, “About that debt—never mind!” And who wouldn’t breathe a sigh of relief when told that one’s debt has been dismissed, made irrelevant? That’s an appealing, even tempting image of justice and mercy, especially if you’ve ever been deeply in debt. Unfortunately, such a view tragically distorts justice and mercy. If left uncorrected, such a view runs the risk of making us unable to see or feel what is, to borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis, “the weight of glory.” In other words, the roots of human dignity and the very character of God may be obscured by such a facile, beguiling, and impoverished view of mercy and justice."
Sadly many Catholics have succumbed to such a false notion of mercy.
Pope John Paul II, speaking to workers at the Solvay factory back in the 1980s, reminded his listeners that mercy does not cancel out the objective requirements of justice. He said:
"You know, in fact, that Christian love animates justice,
inspires it, discovers it, perfects it, makes it feasible, respects
it, elevates it, surpasses it; but it does not exclude it, does not
absorb it, does not replace it, but rather presupposes it and demands
it, because true love, true charity, does not exist without justice.
Is not justice perhaps the minimum measure of charity?"
Forgiveness is not a matter of overlooking sin. While forgiveness can anticipate contrition, reconciliation always requires contrition. And such contrition is only genuine if it involves the will and a real effort at making amends, insofar as this is possible. Therefore, authentic mercy (unlike its counterfeit which is preached at so many parishes) does not condone or ignore the evil which it forgives.
Again, Pope John Paul II: "Christ emphasizes so insistently the need to forgive others that when Peter asked Him how many times he should forgive his neighbor He answered with the symbolic number of 'seventy times seven,' meaning that he must be able to forgive everyone every time. It is obvious that such a generous requirement of forgiveness does not cancel out the objective requirements of justice. Properly understood, justice constitutes, so to speak, the goal of forgiveness. In no passage of the Gospel message does forgiveness, or mercy as its source, mean indulgence towards evil, towards scandals, towards injury or insult. In any case, reparation for evil and scandal, compensation for injury, and satisfaction for insult are conditions for forgiveness. (Dives in misericordiae, No. 14).
But where there are bonds of friendship or love, as D.
Dietrich von Hildebrand explains, "..it is strictly required by the logos of the
relationship that our partner shall recognize and regret the wrong he has done
to us....Most certainly we must forgive him...but here we must desire that he
recognize and repent of his wrong, not merely for his own good but for the sake
of our relationship itself - of the restoration of that intimate union of hearts
which essentially demands the clearing up of all misunderstandings and
the healing of all disharmonies.."
We can never achieve true
peace by ignoring objective evils. Dr. von Hildebrand explains that, "the
attitude of rancorous enmity is not the only antithesis to the Christian spirit
of forgiveness. Another attitude opposed to it is that of simply ignoring the
wrong inflicted upon us, as though nothing had happened. This aberration may
result from laziness, from faintness of heart, or from a sickly, mawkish
clinging to outward peace. We hold our comfort too dear to fight it out with
our aggressor; or again, we feel terrified at the thought of any tension or
hostility, and fear lest a sharp reaction on our part should exasperate the
adversary; or perhaps we yield just out of respect for the abstract idol of
peace. This is akind of behavior far remote
from the genuine love of peace or from a genuine spirit of
forgiveness. It can never achieve
the true harmony of peace, but at best a superficial cloaking of enmity, a mood
of false joviality which drags our souls towards the peripheral...Also, people
who behave thus fail to consider the moral damage that their supineness is
likely to inflict on others. It is very often necessary to draw a person's
attention to the wrong he has done to us - in fact, necessary for his
own good. To pass over it in silence may easily encourage him in
his bad dispositions."
This used to be understood by nearly all
Christians. But today, ignorance of the Scriptures has infected even many of
our clergy. In the Gospel of Luke, Our Lord says, ",,if your
brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and
if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times,
and says, 'I repent,' you must forgive him." (Lk 17: 3,
If he repents. The word "if" in this sentence makes
this a conditional statement. Those of you who have studied philosophy or
mathematics know that a conditional statement is often used to assert a
connection of some sort between the antecedent and consequent. For example, an
equation which states "if X = 5 and Y = 3, then X times Y = 15 represents a
conditional statement. When Jesus says, "If your brother sins [against you] and
if he repents, forgive him," He is saying that authentic reconciliation
involves, first of all, repentance for wrongs committed.
is not possible otherwise. Only what Dr. von Hildebrand so eloquently refers to
as a "superficial cloaking of enmity." As Christians, we are called to an
authentic Christian spirit of forgiveness. We are not called to live a lie.
While we must always forgive those who have wronged us, glossing over wrongs
committed or pretending they never happened is not the road toward authentic