Quite often at our house, I like to debate with my daughters about various teachings of the Catholic church. We will talk about anything having to do with Catholic teaching, and generally my daughters will teach me as much as I teach them. This has proven to be a great way for them to understand our faith, and it gives them the opportunity to form their own thoughts and opinions. Invariably, one of our favorite discussion points is about forgiveness and mercy.
Our conversation usually starts by me throwing out an idea. One of our favorites is whether or not someone who has done unspeakable evil will be in Heaven. Of course the quick answer is no, but there are many different ways to look at it. First, we would have to know what that person was thinking before he died. Did he realize he was a sinner and repent? Maybe he turned away from sin, went to reconciliation and received sacramental absolution. Wouldn’t turning away from the sin allow him to receive God’s mercy? In his book, The Name of God is Mercy, Pope Francis points out, “The Church condemns sin because it has to relay the truth, ‘This is a sin.’ But at the same time it embraces the sinner who recognizes himself as such, it welcomes him, it speaks to him of the infinite mercy of God.” (emphasis added)
I guess the real question is whether or not there is a limit to God’s mercy. Is there a point when someone’s sins are so great that they cannot be forgiven? The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
1864 “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”136 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.137 Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss. (2091, 1037)
This tells us that as long as we admit our sins and confess them, our sins are forgiven. It also specifically states that there are no limitations on God’s mercy. This is good news for all of us sinners, but it also means that we are back to where we started, in that we don’t know someone’s thoughts and actions. People may repent on their deathbed and be absolved of their sins.
In our politically-correct existence, it seems that we are no longer able to talk about sin. It is almost an anything-goes society. I agree that, as Christians, we should love and respect everyone. However, we must still recognize our sins in order to receive God’s mercy. It isn’t always easy to cast light on our sins, because we want to do whatever makes us happy. But, in searching for our happiness, we must remain true to our Catholic faith and its teachings.
In looking at our own sin, we must not cast judgment on someone else’s. We have all had someone try to point out our sins, and it probably was not appreciated. There are many places in the Bible that caution us against looking past our own sins in order to cast light on someone else’s. It always makes us feel better to find fault in someone else, but we must remember we will receive that same judgment when we seek forgiveness. One of my favorite quotes is from Mother Teresa, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” And, the Bible also cautions us:
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” Matthew 7:1-3
What about our forgiveness of others? Are we as abundant with our forgiveness and mercy? There is nothing heavier than the burden we carry when we refuse to forgive. In Matthew 5:7, we are told, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” We will receive God’s mercy, as long as we are merciful with others. During Lent and while we are celebrating the Extraordinary Year of Mercy, this is a good time to look at ourselves and all of the things we refuse to forgive. This is a great time to lighten our load.
There are many more topics we cover in our conversations which I will discuss in future posts. For now, I pray that we are all able to look at our sins and confess them so that on Easter we will rise anew with Christ.