Mercy cannot be understood apart from the poverty and emptiness, especially the sinfulness, of man. Mercy is the free act that sustains a needy thing. We all, as creatures, are needy. God’s creative act is the mercy that sustains us, even before we sin. We are also empty of ourselves, unfulfilled just in existing. God’s wise mercy is committed to bring to fulfillment what he began in creating us. His gentle providence leads us home.
Now that we have sinned, and inherited from Adam that primal sin called original, we require the mercy of forgiveness. But note that forgiveness is given where law is violated. What is called for is a mature reception of forgiveness. Such reception requires the recognition of the evil that one has committed. One must recognize one’s act as evil. One must reject that act. One can reject it either out of love for God above all things, or out of the fear of hell. Only the love of God is a salutary rejection, but the fear of hell ain’t all that bad. In fact, the Church teaches that it is good and not bad. The Church rejects those who condemn the fear of hell as itself evil.
Now, in order to recognize that my sinful action is evil, I must know the Law that it violates. I must recognize the Law of God’s mind as knowable by reason — natural law. And / or I must recognize God’s law given freely to men in the 10 Commandments.
But how can I know the Law unless someone helps me to know it? For fragile and weak, darkened and distorted are our minds unless God’s light shines in the darkness. Yes, yes, natural reason can in principle know the truths of natural law. In principle, but not so easily in practice. Practically speaking, we need help from above. We need the Church to shine the light of God on our minds. Thus, we are elevated above human limitations to a certain knowledge, clearer than the noonday sun, of what the good is that must be done and what the evil is that must be shunned. The paths laid out before us – the paths of life and death – we know which way we must trod in order to reach that blessed abode, where tears no longer fall upon our faces, where shadows are not cast on all our plans, where joints do not ache with age, where limbs are youthful to express the love the heart bears, were brothers dwell in peace. Ah, Lord: The blessed way you have given us in your person and your body, The Church, our true Mother on earth, our dearest homeland in this weary pilgrimage.
And when we know these paths, yet forsake the good one in pursuit of evil, when our own minds then convict us of our sin, we are cut to the heart because we know the truth clearly. We then reach out a hand, for help. And help comes near. A friend sits with us, while we weep for our own sins. A friend consoles us while we fear judgment. A friend leads us back the proper way. Not denying, not lying. Rather, our friend takes us to the channels of mercy, the confessional and the Eucharist, penance and ashes. Only then can we feel at peace, at one with ourselves in the unity restored between our soul and God.
Consider, then, what happens when no one knows the Law. When darkness prevails. When the many call Good evil and Evil good. When perversion abounds. When lies abound. When flattery is the rain, and deception the wind. When the light of the sun is man’s own construction, his aims projected outward with fiery wrath that denies the in-born natural inclinations. How, then, can a man recognize his own fault? How should he ever claim “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa” when the Law he knows not?
And why does he not know the law? Because the Bishops are silent. Yes, even Peter fails to offer a clear presentation of the true faith. Because the Priests remain silent. Because all the world that should lead to that vision of the two paths, that should cast a light upon darkening minds, so that they might be elevated towards the participation in the One True Light – because all these have gone astray. They fail to preach because it is not in season.
What, then, of the poor man who sins in ignorance? What must his friend do for him? Instead of greeting him in his own clear recognition of fault, and lifting him up towards the font of life… instead of all the finer elements of mercy, his friend must first preach to him the Law. His friend must do what the priest, the bishop, even Peter have failed to do. His friend must preach the Law so that the real sin might be laid bare. And then the friend must extend the finer elements of mercy. Etc.
But it is notoriously difficult for a sinner to undergo both aspects of his friend’s love. And it is notoriously difficult for a friend to maintain both these aspects in balance. Indeed, if the priests, and the bishops are in fact preaching contrary to the Law and the real teaching of Holy Mother Church, then this friend must in fact correct them. Correct them so as to direct the poor wandering, alienated and forgotten, trampled upon soul of the misled man who thinks that Evil is good and Good evil.
And what confusion is provoked now! The princes of the Church being corrected on the spot by some poor member of the Church for the sake of the salvation of another poor member. While the rich batten on spoil.
O great perversion. Yet, be corrected they must! For those who preach error invite correction.
Speak Truth, Ye Pastors. The Full Truth. And Nothing But the Truth.
For the law of morality is universal and exceptionless. This is the foundation and presupposition of all true Mercy. Mercy does not obstruct the law and cancel it. Now, it enables its fulfillment. Thus, if you strangle the law’s voice with your silence, you eclipse Mercy from drawing a man home. But if a man through your diligent courage knows the full truth, then the laity are free to lead him to the waters of mercy that you are charged to dispense, faithfully and lovingly. Thus, let the laity do their proper role. Let them work on the application of principles. Preach the principles.