Father Booth’s Weekly Reflection

Divine Mercy

Divine mercy is hardly a new thing. Some might think that it is a recent development in our understanding of God, but that is hardly the case. Yes, thanks to St John Paul II and St Faustina we see a greater understanding and appreciation of His mercy toward mankind, but God was most certainly merciful in times past. Because of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, we might resent that we toil for what we need, that women suffer so profoundly in childbirth, and that we suffer disparities in our relationships. We might convince ourselves that it is not fair that we have to suffer these effects of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, especially the fact that their sin brought death to us all.

Then again, we have to remind ourselves that God could have simply chosen to end the lives of Adam and Eve right then and there. That we exist at all because Adam and Eve were spared, that they were allowed to live long enough to propagate humanity into the future, is probably the most underappreciated aspect of divine mercy. Likewise, we see divine mercy in action with regard to the murder of Abel by Cain. An eye-for-an-eye application of justice would have brought the execution of Cain, but our merciful Lord chose to protect his life, saying “If anyone kills Cain, Cain shall be avenged seven times” (Gen 4:15). It is not as if Cain went unpunished since he was banished from living off the land and thus having to live a nomadic life.

God is not lax when it comes to sin as the whole earth found out with the Great Flood as did the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah. Because of God’s mercy, Noah along with his wife, three sons, and three daughters-in-law were spared from the flood while Lot and his two daughters were saved from the fire and brimstone. Then again, His mercy can be spurned and rejected as Lot’s wife found out the hard way. Jesus reminds us of this when He challenges His disciples to remain vigilant until the end, not turning back to sinful ways but remaining steadfast. To punctuate this challenge to remain faithful Jesus merely has to say “Remember Lot’s wife” (Lk 17:32).

Sadly, many Christians today do not take their sins seriously because they presume upon God’s mercy. Yes, God is infinitely merciful and we have unprecedented access to His mercy thanks to Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. However, while divine mercy is a grace, an unmerited gift, that does not mean this gift of His mercy requires nothing on our part. Out of His mercy the people of Israel were liberated from Egypt, but most of them failed to reach the Promised Land. God was faithful to the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but the people were unfaithful in return. If it was not for Moses’ intercession and God’s mercy, God could have wiped out the Chosen People for their lack of faith and their disobedience. Instead, the people liberated from slavery were allowed to live but were not permitted to enter the Promised Land. Of that original generation of adults set free from slavery, only Caleb and Joshua were faithful and only they crossed the Jordan River along with the next generation of the Israelites. Not even Moses entered the Promised Land.

The people of Israel entered into a covenant with God but were not faithful to that covenant. Through Jesus Christ we have an even better covenant with better promises, but rejecting those better promises certainly invites greater consequences. “Anyone who rejects the law of Moses is put to death without pity on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Do you not think that a much worse punishment is due the one who has contempt for the Son of God, considers unclean the covenant-blood by which He was consecrated, and insults the Spirit of grace? It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:28,29,31).

Falling short of what we are called to be – saints – makes falling into the hands of God a fearful thing indeed. Then again, He would much rather we do what we ought and accept the graces that lead to salvation. After all, “The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard ‘delay,’ but He is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2Pet 3:9). His patience is certainly an aspect of His mercy. Nevertheless, there are limits to His patience as the antediluvian people and the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah found out the hard way.

—Fr Booth