IT was the most cunning of lies in the Garden of Eden…
You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of [the fruit of the tree of knowledge] your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil. (Sunday’s first reading)
Satan lured Adam and Eve with the sophistry that there was no law greater than themselves. That their conscience was the law; that “good and evil” was relative, and thus “pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.” But as I explained last time, this lie has become an Anti-Mercy in our times that once again seeks to console the sinner by stroking his ego rather than healing him with the balm of mercy… authentic mercy.
WHY THE CONFUSION?
As I recounted here four years ago, shortly after the resignation of Pope Benedict, I sensed in prayer these words for several weeks: “You are entering into dangerous and confusing times.” cf. How Do You Hide a Tree? It is becoming clearer by the day as to why. Sadly, the apparent ambiguity of the papal exhortation Amoris Laetitia is being used by some clergy as an opportunity to propose a kind of “anti-mercy” while other bishops are using it as an additional guideline to what is already taught in Sacred Tradition. At stake is not only the Sacrament of Marriage, but “the morality of society as a whole.” POPE JOHN PAUL II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 104; vatican.va; see The Anti-Mercy for an explanation on the gravity of this debate.
While noting that ‘the language could have been clearer,’ Fr. Matthew Schneider explains how Amoris Laetitia can and must be ‘read as a whole and within tradition,’ and as such, there is essentially no change in doctrine (see here). American canon lawyer Edward Peters agrees, but also notes that “because of the ambiguity and incompleteness” with which it discusses certain real world doctrinal/pastoral decisions, Amoris Laetitia can be interpreted by “diametrically opposed schools of sacramental practice,” and thus, the confusion “must be addressed” (see here).
Hence, four cardinals took the step of asking Pope Francis, privately and now publicly, five questions called dubia (Latin for “doubts”) in order to put an end to the ‘tremendous division’ Cardinal Raymond Burke, one of the signers of the dubia; ncregister.com that is spreading. The document is entitled, “Seeking Clarity: A Plea to Untie the Knots in Amoris Laetitia.” cf. ncregister.com Clearly, this has become a crisis of truth, as the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith himself called the subjective interpretations of Amoris Laetitia by bishops: “sophistries” and “casuistry” that are not “in the line of Catholic Doctrine.” cf. The Papacy is Not One Pope
For his part, the Pope has not answered the dubia thus far. However, during the closing remarks of the controversial Synod on the family in October of 2014, Francis reminded the gathering of prelates that, as the successor of Peter, he is…
…the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church…. —POPE FRANCIS, closing remarks on the Synod; Catholic News Agency, October 18th, 2014
Thus, as I have repeatedly said for three years, our faith is not in man but in Jesus Christ, even if Our Lord permits the Church to enter a serious crisis. As Pope Innocent III said,
The Lord clearly intimates that Peter’s successors will never at any time deviate from the Catholic faith, but will instead recall the others and strengthen the hesitant. —Sedis Primatus, November 12, 1199; quoted by JOHN PAUL II, General Audience, Dec. 2, 1992; vatican.va; lastampa.it
Popes have made and make mistakes and this is no surprise. Infallibility is reserved ex cathedra [“from the seat” of Peter, that is, proclamations of dogma based on Sacred Tradition]. No popes in the history of the Church have ever made ex cathedra errors. —Rev. Joseph Iannuzzi, Theologian, in a personal letter; cf. The Chair of Rock
But just as Peter of old once brought confusion down on the Church, even swaying fellow bishops by caving into “political correctness,” it can happen in our time too (see Gal 2:11-14). So we wait, watch, and pray—while not hesitating to exercise our baptismal duty to preach the Gospel as handed onto us through Sacred Tradition…
DANGER: POLITICAL CORRECTNESS
We should not be misled into thinking that, suddenly, it is now uncertain what authentic mercy is. The crisis at hand is not that we no longer know the truth, but rather, that heresies can cause immense damage and lead many astray. Souls are at stake.
…there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies… Many will follow their licentious ways, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled. (2 Pet 2:2)
The Scriptures are generally not that difficult to understand, and when they are, their proper interpretation has been safeguarded in Apostolic Tradition. see The Unfolding Splendor of Truth and The Fundamental Problem Even in the present situation, remember that The Papacy is Not One Pope—it is the voice of Peter throughout the centuries. No, the real danger to us all is that, in the current climate of political correctness, which steamrolls over anyone who proposes moral absolutes, we could become cowards ourselves and deny Christ by our silence (see Political Correctness and the Great Apostasy).
I think modern life, including life in the Church, suffers from a phony unwillingness to offend that poses as prudence and good manners, but too often turns out to be cowardice. Human beings owe each other respect and appropriate courtesy. But we also owe each other the truth—which means candor. —Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Rendering Unto Caesar: The Catholic Political Vocation, February 23rd, 2009, Toronto, Canada
UNTYING THE KNOT
When John the Baptist was presented in the temple as an infant, his father Zechariah prophesied over him saying…
…you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins… (Luke 1:76-77)
Here is revealed the key that opens the gate to eternal life: the forgiveness of sins. From that moment on, God began to reveal how He would make a “new covenant” with humanity: through the sacrifice and blood of the Lamb of God, He would take away the sins of the world. For the sin of Adam and Eve created an abyss between us and God; but Jesus bridges that abyss through the Cross.
For he is our peace, he who… broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh… through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it. (Eph 2:14-16)
As Jesus said to St. Faustina,
…between Me and you there is a bottomless abyss, an abyss which separates the Creator from the creature. But this abyss is filled with My mercy. —Jesus to St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, Diary, n. 1576
Thus, the mercy of Jesus that gushed forth from His Heart is for this, and this alone: to take away our sins so that we can pass over the abyss and rejoin the Father in a communion of love. However, if we remain in sin by either rejecting baptism, or after baptism, continuing in a life of mortal sin, then we remain at enmity with God—separated still by the abyss.
…whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him. (John 3:36)
If mercy fills the abyss, then it is our free response through obedience which carries us over it.
However, the anti-mercy emerging at this hour suggests that we can remain on the other side of the abyss—that is, still knowingly remain in objectively grave sin—and yet still be in communion with God, so long as my conscience “is at peace.” cf. The Anti-Mercy That is, it is no longer the Cross but conscience which bridges the abyss. To which St. John replies:
The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:3-4)
…indeed His purpose was not merely to confirm the world in its worldliness and to be its companion, leaving it completely unchanged. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, September 25th, 2011; www.chiesa.com
No, it is all really quite simple, dear brothers and sisters:
No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God. By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:9-10)
MERCY MEETS WEAKNESS
But few of us are “perfect” in love! I know that God’s nature does not abide in me as it should; I am not holy as He is holy; I sin, and am a sinner.
So am I a child of the devil?
The honest answer is maybe. For St. John qualified this teaching when he said, “All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.” 1 John 5:17 That is, there is such thing as “venial” and “mortal” sin—sin which breaks the New Covenant, and sin which only wounds it. Thus, in one of the most hopeful and encouraging passages in the Catechism, we read:
…venial sin does not break the covenant with God. With God’s grace it is humanly reparable. “Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness.” —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1863
Authentic mercy makes this message known to those who struggle with daily sin. It is “Good News” because “love covers a multitude of sins.” cf. 1 Pet 4:8 But anti-mercy says, “If you are ‘at peace with God’ about your conduct, then even your mortal sins are rendered venial.” But this is a deception. Anti-mercy absolves the sinner without confession while authentic mercy says all sin can be forgiven, but only when we acknowledge them through confession.
If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. (1 John 1:8-9)
And thus, the Catechism goes on to say:
There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1864
Thus, authentic mercy reveals the extent to which Jesus has gone—not to coddle our egos and make us feel a false contentment that our sin is really “not that bad, given my difficult situation”—but to take it away, to set us free and heal us of the disfigurement that sin causes. Just look at a crucifix. The Cross is more than a sacrifice—it is a mirror to reflect to us the nature of what sin does to the soul and to our relationships. For, to even persist in venial sin…
…weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul’s progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment, [and] deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin…. “What then is our hope? Above all, confession.” —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1863; St. Augustine
Anti-mercy claims one can arrive at salvation by doing the best one can in the present situation, even if that means, for the time, one remains in mortal sin. But authentic mercy says we cannot remain in any sin—but if we fail, God will never reject us, even if we have to repent “seventy-seven times.” cf. Matt 18:22 For,
…circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act “subjectively” good or defensible as a choice. —POPE JOHN PAUL II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 81
Anti-mercy asserts that culpability is ultimately guided by an individual sense of “peace” and not the objective moral standard of revealed truth… while authentic mercy says that when a person is genuinely not responsible for his erroneous judgment, “the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him.” Anti-mercy suggests that one can, therefore, be at rest in sin as the best “ideal” one can reach at the time… while authentic mercy says, “it remains no less an evil, a privation, a disorder. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience.” cf. CCC, n. 1793 Anti-mercy says that, after a person has “informed his conscience,” he can still remain in objective mortal sin if he feels he is “at peace with God”… while authentic mercy says peace with God is precisely to cease sinning against Him and the order of love, and that if one fails, he should begin again and again, trusting in His forgiveness.
Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
THE NARROW ROAD
“But it is too hard!… You don’t understand my situation!… You don’t know what it’s like to walk in my shoes!” Such are the objections over some who embrace the incorrect interpretation of Amoris Laetitia. Yes, perhaps I don’t fully understand your suffering, but there is One who does:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help. (Heb 4:15-16)
Jesus showed us the extent to which you and I must love, to which we must go in order to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Mark 12:30
Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last… whoever claims to abide in him ought to live just as he lived. (John 23:46; 1 John 2:6)
The struggle with sin and temptation is real; it is common to us all—common even to Jesus. It is also an existential reality that presents us with a fundamental choice:
If you choose, you can keep the commandments; loyalty is doing the will of God… Set before you are fire and water; to whatever you choose, stretch out your hand. Before everyone are life and death, whichever they choose will be given them. (Sirach 15:15-17)
But this is why Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, not only to transform us into a “new creation” through baptism, but also to come “to the aid of our weakness.” Rom 8:26 What we should be doing is not “accompanying” sinners into a false sense of security and self-pity, but with genuine compassion and patience, journeying with them to the Father, along the way of Christ, through the means and powerful graces of the Holy Spirit at our disposal. We should reaffirm the grace and mercy available to us in the Sacrament of Confession; the strength and healing awaiting us in the Eucharist; and the daily sustenance one can receive through prayer and the Word of God. In a word, we should be imparting the means and tools for souls to develop an authentic spirituality by which they can remain on the Vine, who is Christ, and thus “bear fruit that will remain.” cf. John 15:16
…because without me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
It requires a daily picking up of one’s cross, a renunciation of one’s own will, and following in the footsteps of Our Lord. This cannot be watered down. So, for those who prefer the “wide and easy road,” Pope Francis warns:
To accompany them would be counterproductive if it became a sort of therapy supporting their self-absorption and ceased to be a pilgrimage with Christ to the Father. —Evangelii Gaudium, n. 170; vatican.va
For as we read in the Gospel, there will be a final judgment in which we will all stand before the Creator to answer, by our conduct, how we loved Him, and how we loved our neighbour—whether we crossed the abyss by our obedience or whether we remained aloft on the island of ego. An authentic message of mercy, therefore, cannot exclude this reality nor the reality that Hell is for Real: that if we reject or ignore the mercy of Christ, we risk plunging ourselves into that abyss for eternity.
As for cowards, the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste, sorcerers, idol-worshipers, and deceivers of every sort, their lot is in the burning pool of fire and sulfur, which is the second death. (Rev 21:8)
Those are strong words from the mouth of Jesus. But they are tempered by these, which flow from an Ocean of authentic mercy in which our sins are like a single drop:
Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet… the greater the misery of a soul, the greater its right to My mercy… I cannot punish even the greatest sinner if he makes an appeal to My compassion, but on the contrary, I justify him in My unfathomable and inscrutable mercy… The flames of mercy are burning Me—clamoring to be spent; I want to keep pouring them out upon souls; souls just don’t want to believe in My goodness… A soul’s greatest wretchedness does not enkindle Me with wrath; but rather, My Heart is moved towards it with great mercy. —Jesus to St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, Diary, n. 699, 1182, 1146, 177, 1739
Indeed, the one who trusts in God’s mercy and forgiveness will not only find the timely grace they need, moment by moment, but will themselves become vessels of authentic mercy through their witness. cf. 2 Cor 1:3-4
I am Love and Mercy itself. When a soul approaches Me with trust, I fill it with such an abundance of grace that it cannot be contained within itself, but radiates to other souls. —Jesus to St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, Diary, n. 1074
For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow. (2 Cor 1:5)
But the one who caves in to the sophistry of anti-mercy not only marrs their witness as Christians in their church and community and risks giving scandal, but such a sophistry also denigrates the heroic witness of men and women in our time who have resisted sin—particularly those couples who have separated or divorced, but have remained faithful to Jesus at great cost. Yes, Jesus said the road that leads to life is narrow and constricted. But if we persevere, trusting in Divine Mercy—authentic mercy—then we will know, even in this life, that “peace which surpasses all understanding.” Phil 4:7 Let us also look to the saints and martyrs before us who persevered to the end and appeal to their prayers to help us along the Way, in that Truth, which leads to Life.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood. You have also forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons: “My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him…” At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it. (cf. Heb 12:1-11)
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|↑1||cf. How Do You Hide a Tree?|
|↑2||POPE JOHN PAUL II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 104; vatican.va; see The Anti-Mercy for an explanation on the gravity of this debate.|
|↑3||Cardinal Raymond Burke, one of the signers of the dubia; ncregister.com|
|↑5||cf. The Papacy is Not One Pope|
|↑6||see The Unfolding Splendor of Truth and The Fundamental Problem|
|↑7||cf. The Anti-Mercy|
|↑8||1 John 5:17|
|↑9||cf. 1 Pet 4:8|
|↑10||cf. Matt 18:22|
|↑11||cf. CCC, n. 1793|
|↑14||cf. John 15:16|
|↑15||cf. 2 Cor 1:3-4|