Time to Render to God His Due
"Indeed, mercy is the central nucleus of the Gospel message; it is the very name of God, the Face with which He revealed Himself in the Old Covenant — and fully in Jesus Christ the Incarnation of creative and redemptive Love. May His merciful love ... shine on the face of the Church and show itself through the sacraments, in particular that of Reconciliation, and in works of charity. ... May all that the Church says and does manifest the mercy God feels for man, and therefore for us. When the Church has to recall an unrecognized truth or a betrayed good, she always does so impelled by merciful love, so that men and women may have life and have it abundantly (cf. Jn 10:10)."
On this day, as we celebrate this Most Solemn Feast of the Divine Mercy, we reflect upon these words of Blessed — soon to be St. — John Paul II, words that were expressed by this holy man on the Second Sunday of Easter, March 30, 2008. And, we know, that it was only eight years earlier to the day, on April 30, 2000, that Maria Faustina Kowalska was canonized a saint within St. Peters square in Rome, a day that we should all remember because it is this day that Blessed John Paul II announced to the Universal Church that from this time forward, the Second Sunday of Easter would formerly be known as Divine Mercy Sunday.
Here we must see, through these words of Blessed John Paul II, that the very heart of the Gospel message is mercy. That at the very heart of each and every act of God is His limitless love and mercy. That "when the Church has to recall an unrecognized truth or a betrayed good," she does so free from any coercion or the shackles of fear, because she has the authority of God, and through God's merciful love she has been charged with speaking the Gospel truth, the truth that all men and women may have life, free from any slavery to sin, and have it abundantly.
Thus, we see the mercy of God active right from the very beginning within the Book of Genesis: God created the Heavens and the Earth, He created light and darkness, He created dry lands and the seas, and He created all these things for a purpose. Nothing that God created was lacking a function or a purpose. God, who is one in substance and one in being, has three distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It was not a necessity that God create anything. Creating for Him was not an obligation. He did so because He desired to communicate His goodness and His love. And, so, God created not only the animals, but He also created man after His own image and likeness. This is a mercy. God could have created nothing at all, or He could have stopped creating when he created the animals, but He desired to create more than a mere animal. God created a rational being, man, who has an intellect, man who is able to reason and understand, man who has a free will and is able to choose for himself. God created a being who is able to love, because first, this man is able to know, and be aware of himself.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in paragraph 27: "For if man exists, it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his Creator." It is God who gives existence, because He is Existence itself, and it is He who holds all of creation in being. And just as any human father wants his child to bear his image and likeness, so also our Father in Heaven. Therefore, man will not live fully according to the truth until he acknowledges our loving Father who: "formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life — and man became a living being." When God created this first man, Adam, He provided for all of his needs. He created a place for the man within the Garden of Eden. There was no sin, and as a result, there was no disorder. Everything had its proper order. This was how God intended mankind to live, in friendship with God. Before sin, man had a fourfold order: Man had friendship with God, man had harmony within himself, his passions were subject to his intellect, there was harmony between man and woman (once Eve was created) and there was harmony between the man and the rest of creation.
And we know that God allowed Adam to eat from all of the trees in the Garden except for one: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And God warned Adam that if he were to eat from this tree on this day he would die.
But even though the man was taken care of, even though he had all his needs met, God knew in His Infinite mercy that it was not good for the man to be alone, that the man needed someone to be with, someone to be in relationship with. The nature of man is to be in relationship, not just in relationship to God, and the other animals that God created, but also in relationship with other human beings: "So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the LORD God had taken from the man He made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, 'This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.' Therefore, a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed." Even after God created Eve, the relationships between God and Adam, God and Eve, and between Adam and Eve themselves are all still properly ordered. We know this because within the Book of Genesis we hear the verse: "The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed."
It is only after Adam and Eve are tempted by Satan to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and they freely choose to do so, that sin, death, and disorder, enter the world. But, what is it that is behind this choice? It is a failure to be humble, a failure to accept one's rightful place within God's creation.
And we know that this is the same choice that the Angel Lucifer was once faced with, that God asked Lucifer to be humble, to serve Him and His creation: "How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.' But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit." Lucifer chose pride over humility; he thought so highly of himself that he believed that he was equal to God. And it is due to his sin of pride that this angel and his followers were cast down to Sheol.
Satan, therefore, seeks to tempt the first parents Adam and Eve in the same way, to commit original sin, through a sin of pride, the desire to be like God, a rejection of the state that God in His providence had given them. Saint Thomas Aquinas defines the sin of Adam and Eve as an: "excessive desire for one's own excellence which rejects subjection to God." And with this sin, they reject not just their subjection to God, but also a loving relationship with God.
Disorder has now entered the relationship between God and Adam, God and Eve, and between Adam and Eve themselves. And we see that God explains the result of this sin to the serpent: "Because you have done this, you shall be banned from all the animals and from all the wild creatures; on your belly shall you crawl, and dirt shall you eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel."
To the woman: I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children. Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master. Here we must see that pain and suffering has entered the world and disorder in relations between the man and the woman.
And finally, to the man: "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat, cursed be the ground because of you! In toil shall you eat its yield all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you, as you eat of the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat, until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; for you are dirt, and to dirt you shall return." The man will now have to work for his food, food will not just be provided for him, he will have to labor to obtain it, and death has entered the picture, "for you are dirt and [unto] dirt you shall return."
But even though man has made the choice to turn away from God through sin, we know that God in His mercy continues to demonstrate His love for His people: "[when the fullness of time had come] God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' So through God you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son then an heir."
Why did God the Father send His Son to become Incarnate? Saint Anselm explains: "To sin is nothing else than not to render to God His due. ... He who does not render this honor which is due to God, robs God of His own and dishonors Him; and this is sin. So long as he does not restore what he has taken away, he remains in fault — and it will not suffice merely to restore what has been taken away, but, considering the contempt offered, he ought to restore more than he took away. ... So then every one who sins ought to pay back the honor of which he has robbed God; and this is the satisfaction which every sinner owes to God." Therefore, so far as we fail to restore God's honor for what we have taken away through sinning, we are still at fault — and due to the fact that we have sinned against the one whose dignity could be no higher, we should restore more than we have taken away.
If man gives his obedience to God, He is already owed this as a matter of justice. And since man cannot give God anything greater than what he already has in his possession, it must be God Himself, that makes this reparation: "None but a man ought to do this; otherwise man does not make the satisfaction. If it be necessary, therefore ... that the heavenly kingdom be made up of men, and this cannot be effected unless satisfaction be made which none but God can make, and none but man ought to make, it is necessary for the God-man to make it."
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the Son of Mary, makes this reparation, the reparation that only the mercy and love of God could make, that the end proposed be fulfilled: that men who have offended God through their sins might attain their salvation. The sufferings that Christ endured during His Passion demonstrates to man the greatness of His love and mercy, and once man has understood this fully and properly, he himself will be moved to love God in return.
This is the ultimate in mercy. The Son is not required to be the bread that came down from heaven, yet He did so out of love for us, that He might reconcile us with the Father and save us from our sins. Thus, it is only through the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ, it is only through the way of the Cross that the Resurrection is realized. Jesus gave His life in sacrifice on the Cross for us, but we must understand with all of our heart that He also made us a promise that He will remain with us always.
How is it that the Lord is able to offer His life in sacrifice, yet remain with us not just spiritually but also through His Real and True Presence: "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My Blood is true drink. Whoever eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood remains in Me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent Me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on Me will have life because of Me. This is the bread that came down from Heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died - whoever eats this bread will live forever."
The Eucharist, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the new and eternal covenant between God and men, through His real and True Presence, He has removed the veil forever, the veil that veiled all peoples. He has put an end to the web of darkness, the web of sin and death that plagues all of mankind. Saint Peter Julian Eymard speaks of the Eucharist in this way: "The Eucharist is the supreme proof of the love of Jesus. After this, there is nothing more but Heaven itself."
This is the mercy God has shown to us - the victory that the Lord has won for us.
We have been given the gift of free-will — the ability to choose, to ask the Lord for His loving forgiveness. It is up to us then to accept His mercy, to choose life, a life dedicated to living out the Lord's will for us, in all truth, serving God and our brothers and sisters, knowing in faith that He remains with us always. That through this great gift — through His Body and Blood in the Blessed Sacrament, His Real and True Presence — He will impart to us the grace we need to live Holy lives. We must trust in Him always who is the Supreme Good, He who loves us more than we can comprehend. I would like to close with these poignant words from the Venerable Servant of God Archbishop Sheen:
By a beautiful paradox of Divine love, God makes His Cross the very means of our salvation and our life. We have slain Him; we have nailed Him there and crucified Him; but the Love in His Eternal Heart could not be extinguished. He willed to give us the very life we slew, to give us the very food we destroyed, to nourish us with the very Bread we buried and the very Blood we poured forth. He made our very crime into a happy fault. He turned a Crucifixion into a Redemption; a Consecration into a Communion; a death into Life Everlasting.
Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II, Pray for us.
Father Kenneth Dos Santos, MIC, is rector of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass.