Divine Mercy and Forgiveness

ON JAN 16, 2016

Day of Recollection

Sovereign Military Order of Malta

Thomas Aquinas College

Ojai, California

16 January 2016


It is a pleasure for me, as Cardinal Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, to meet you today and later to offer the Holy Mass for you. I express my deepest gratitude to all who have made possible our time together today.

There are two preliminary observations which I regarding the topic of divine mercy which dominates so much our speech in the Church today. Pope Francis has just published a book which is being distributed in six languages in more than 80 countries with the title: The Name of God Is Mercy. Frequently, one hears various difficult situations in the Church rather easily dismissed by invoking God’s mercy. It is important then today that we take up a serious consideration of the nature of God’s mercy as He has revealed it to us and has it has been taught in the Magisterium.

My first preliminary consideration is that the topic of forgiveness and divine mercy, upon which I will reflect, is especially appropriate for us as Knights and Dames of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. From its inception at the beginning in the 11th century, the Order has been dedicated to the service of Christ and His Mystical Body, the Church, in two ways: the defense of the faith (tuitio fidei) and the care of the poor (obsequium pauperum). For the defense of the faith, we must know the faith profoundly and practice it with integrity. Clearly, key to the faith is our belief in God’s mercy, when we have repented of our sins and seek to be reconciled with Him and with one another. Belief in divine mercy, as we shall reflect, is part of belief in the immeasurable and unceasing love of God, which is represented for us by the Divine Heart and, after the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by His Most Sacred Heart.

The covenant of love, which God has formed with us from the time of our First Parents and which He has brought to fullness by the Redemptive Incarnation of His only-begotten Son, is the source of our care for the poor. We are not social workers. We are not do-gooders. We are soldiers of Christ who, by the very nature of being incorporated into the Body of Christ, express our holy militancy by bringing the love of God to the poor whom we serve. The Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, and the Encyclical Letters of Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est and Caritas in Veritate, express the profound truth of our care of the poor. Yes, we address their poverty, whether it be serious illness, homelessness, material poverty, or any other form of human misery, but, first, we address their deepest need: to know the love of God in Our Lord Jesus Christ. Our charity is always defined by our life in Christ Who inspires and strengthens us to bring the Father’s love to every neighbor and especially the neighbor who is in most need.

It must always be clear, for example, that, in our care for the poor, we respect absolutely the moral law. In today’s highly secularized world, pressure is often exerted upon works of charity to engage in immoral practices which are somehow seen to be a ready answer to one or another form of suffering. For us, charity can never contradict the truth. What is morally evil can never serve the good of the one for whom we care, even if it may seem to offer some immediate help or remedy.

Regarding the care of the poor who are not Christian, we do not engage in proselytism. But it must be clear to them that our love of them has a source other than ourselves, namely, that our love of them is Christian. It comes from our communion of love with God the Father in God the Son through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Pope Benedict XVI takes up this question in his Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est.

As Cardinal Patron of the Order, I have the hope that the present strong emphasis on divine mercy in the Church will lead to a profound reflection on our twofold service of Christ and the Church. It is my hope that the Year of Mercy which we are observing will be the occasion for the Knights and Dames of Malta to deepen our knowledge and commitment to the life which we have embraced in the Order.

The second preliminary observation regards the Jubilee Year of Mercy. First of all, we must be conscious that technically the Year of Mercy is not a jubilee, in the way in which the Church has always understood the devotion. In the Old Testament a jubilee was celebrated every 7 years or at other intervals. It was always, as it is today, a time to set things right in life, to correct injustices and to exercise more strongly the bond of love with neighbor which is inherent to the bond of love with God. Since the Redemptive Incarnation, the jubilee year always marks a 25 year anniversary of either the Birth of the Lord or His Saving Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension. The jubilee year then happens in a multiple of 25 or 33. Thus, we held the last jubilee year of the Birth of Our Lord in the Year 2000, and the last Jubilee of the Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension in 1983. I make this point, not to be technical, but to remind us all that a jubilee year is essentially connected to the Mystery of Faith. If we lose that connection, then there is a risk, as I sometimes detect today, to make the jubilee of mercy a kind of slogan of which the content is not well defined.

Secondly, every jubilee year is by definition a year of repentance and mercy. The Christian is invited to make pilgrimage to the holy places of our Catholic faith, principally the four major basilicas in Rome, as an expression of repentance for sin, as a work of reparation, and as a means of obtaining extraordinary grace for reconciliation and peace. Hence, the concession of special indulgences.

The symbolism of the Holy Door.

Once again, I make these points, not to be technical, but to help us to avoid a superficial understanding of divine mercy which is not rooted in our covenantal relationship with God, which He initiated out of His totally pure and selfless love. Here, once again, we must be careful to avoid reducing divine mercy to a slogan.

Justice and Mercy in Saint Thomas Aquinas

Justice and Mercy in Dives in Misericordia

Pope Saint John Paul II takes up the discussion of the relationship of justice and mercy in his encyclical letter on God the Father, Dives in Misericordia. His first encyclical letter was on God the Son, Redemptor Hominis. His encyclical letter on God the Holy Spirit is Dominum et Vivificantem.

Christ is the incarnation of the mercy of God the Father (pp. 11-12). Anthropocentric-theocentric: Christ, Redeemer of the world, “reveals man to himself”, and Christ can only be understood in relation to the Father.

Old Testament. The mercy of God prevails over the sin and infidelity of the chosen people (p. 17). Purification of the Exodus. King David.

“… [M]ercy is in a certain sense contrasted with God’s justice, and in many cases is shown to be not only more powerful than that justice but also more profound. Even the Old Testament teaches that, although justice is an authentic virtue in man, and in God signifies transcendent perfection, nevertheless love is “greater” than justice: greater in these sense that it is primary and fundamental. Love, so to speak, conditions justice and, in the final analysis, justice serves love. The primacy and superiority of love vis-à-vis justice – this is a mark of the whole of revelation – are revealed precisely through mercy. This seemed so obvious to the psalmists and prophets that the very term justice ended up by meaning the salvation accomplished by the Lord and his mercy. Mercy differs from justice, but is not in opposition to it, if we admit in the history of man – as the Old Testament precisely does – the presence of God, who already as Creator Ha linked himself to this creature with a particular love. Love, by its very nature, excludes hatred and ill-will toward the one to whom he once gave the gift of himself: Nihil odisti eorum quae fecisti, “you hold nothing of what you have made in abhorrence.” These words indicate the profound basis of the relationship between justice and mercy in God, in his relations with man and the world. They tell us that we must seek the life-giving roots and intimates reasons for this relationship by going back to “the beginning”, in the very mystery of creation.” (pp. 23-24).

Parables, above all, the Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Parable of the Merciless Servant.

Christ’s manifestation of divine mercy demands the practice of love and mercy:

“… Christ, in revealing the love-mercy of God, at the same time demanded from people that they also should be guided in their lives by love and mercy. This requirement forms part of the very essence of the messianic message, and constitutes the heart of the Gospel ethos. The Teacher expresses this both through the medium of the commandment which he describes as “the greatest”, and also in the form of a blessing, when in the Sermon on the Mount he proclaims: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (p. 14)

Encounters of mercy. The Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob; the woman caught in adultery; the penitent thief

Church and the proclamation of mercy: pp. 66-67; knowledge of God’s mercy as a fount of conversion; “cheap grace” vs. “costly grace”

Corporal and spiritual works of mercy

Justice and mercy in the Church: p. 76.

Natural Moral Law

Man created in God’s own image and likeness has an order written upon his heart which conforms to his nature and, therefore, directs him to his true happiness. It places him in a right relationship with the world and with God His Creator. God has written His law on the human heart.

The natural moral law is articulated in the Ten Commandments, the law which corresponds to the order which God has placed in His creation, the order which is a participation in the truth, goodness and beauty of His own Being. It is a law which every man, because he is created in the image and likeness of God, with intelligence and free will, knows in his deepest being. It is a law which man, the only earthly creature created in the image and likeness of God, is able to contemplate, to respect and to observe. It is the law of man’s stewardship of creation , of man’s participation in God’s providential care of the world and, above all, of His sons and daughters destined for communion with Him forever in the Kingdom of Heaven. It is manifested in man’s native capacity to know truth from falsehood, good from evil, and beauty from ugliness.

God articulated the moral law for His chosen people in the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, to which Our Lord Jesus Christ gave the fullness of expression in the Sermon on the Mount, in the Beatitudes. But every man, through his conscience, knows it and is held to observe it. After the frist three commandments which pertain to our very relationship with God Himself, our worship of Him alone, and the fourth commandment which governs the family as the origin ad secure haven of human life, the fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” gives expression to the law within the human soul which makes any attack on innocent and defenseless human life repulsive, and pure and selfless service of all human life attractive.

Address of Pope Benedict XVI to the Roman Curia of December 20, 2010. The ideological foundations of the paedophilia scandal. Veritatis splendor.

The apostolate of the respect for human life is not, therefore, based on some idea, some man-made agenda or ideology, which may or may not succeed for a longer or shorter period of time. It is founded upon the very reality of our human nature and, above all, the highest faculty of our human nature, the conscience, the faculty by which God never fails to communicate to us what is true, good and beautiful.

The apostolate of the respect for the integrity of the family similarly is not based upon some man-made agenda or ideology. It is founded upon the very reality of our human nature, male and female, and upon the conscience which teaches us that man and woman are made sexually for each other, and that their sexual union is the expression of faithful and enduring love of the marriage bond whose highest fruit is the procreation of offspring. We, therefore, must not give way to discouragement in the struggle against the advancement of a homosexual agenda which destroys us as individuals and will destroy our society.

Natural Law and the Political State

Pope Benedict XVI, in his address to the Bundestag of the Federal Republic of Germany meditated with the officials of government and other cultural figures upon the foundations of a free state of law.

Story of Solomon.

Politics must be directed to justice and the establishment of the fundamental preconditions of peace.

Success and doing what is right: “To serve right and to fight against the dominion of wrong is and remains the fundamental task of the politician.

Many issues and the fundamental issues of law, in which the dignity of man and of humanity is at stake.

How do we recognize what is right: the relationship of reason and nature.

Positivist view of nature, and view of nature which respects its integrity.

Religious Belief within the Political Process

Legitimate claims of government and the rights of those subject to it.

Catholic social teaching: overriding concern to safeguard the unique dignity of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, and in its emphasis on the duty of civil authority to foster the common good. What are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far can they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved.

The ethical foundations of civil discourse.

Economic crisis. The ethical dimension of policy decisions. Where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found?

Religion and reason. Religion is a vital contributor the national conversation.


“The experience of the past and of our own time demonstrates that justice alone is not enough, that it can even lead to the negation and destruction of itself, if that deeper power, which is love, is not allowed to shape human life in its various dimensions. It has been precisely historical experience that, among other things, has led to the formulation of the saying: summum ius, summa iniuria. This statement does not detract from the good of justice and does not minimize the significance of the order that is based upon it; it only indicates, under another aspect, the need to draw from the powers of the spirit which condition the very order of justice, powers which are still more profound.” (p. 60).

Raymond Leo Cardinal BURKE