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DEAR FATHER | God’s justice is demanding, and fulfilled in His mercy

My ex-Catholic friends say the rules of the Church are oppressive and not from God. Is God’s justice really opposed to His mercy?

There is a common idea, whose technical name is “antinomianism” (against-laws-ism), which claims that rules are oppressive and espouses the correlated idea that God’s mercy is opposed to His justice. Adherents to this belief will often pit God against the Church: “I believe God is merciful, but the Church is full of unmerciful rules.” Those who claim rules are inherently burdensome would have difficulty receiving Jesus’ words: “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me” (John 14:21).

God’s mercy is not opposed to His justice, but is the very fulfillment of His justice. To be just means to stand in right relationship with God: to hold one’s relationship with God dearer than any created reality and to honor God with all the energy and passion of one’s life. Justice is quite demanding, yet we would be unsatisfied if God demanded anything less than the totality of our lives. Mercy does not mean we turn away from striving for justice, but rather that we receive God’s strength to pursue justice with all our heart.

Just think of the disappointment if we had to say: “The cross was for Jesus, so now I will live a comfortable life and will not join Him in sacrificial love.” Mercy is only properly understood by those who seek refuge in the cross: refuge from our past sinfulness, refuge in offering our suffering to the Father, refuge in asking Him to heal our disordered desires. Those who believe mercy equates to permissiveness have not yet discovered the beauty of the cross. When God’s justice feels demanding, do not give in to the temptation to say, “This is too hard for me, so I will say it is not from God.” Instead, take courage! And find your strength in the passion of Christ.

This understanding of mercy clarifies seemingly contradictory events in the Scriptures. Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17), yet, inspired by God, St. Peter clearly sets aside the ritual law concerning food (Acts 10-11). Jesus did not abolish the moral law, but calls us to even greater purity in His new commandment of love (John 13:34). This fulfillment entails letting the ritual law go, while the moral law remains.

The “rules of the Church” give us the great gift of being obedient in the details of our life to the love of God. We do not have to constantly guess, “What is God’s will?”, because He has made our calling clear in the Scriptures and tradition. We can rejoice in the rules we have received, for by them we express our love for God!

Father Charlie Archer is associate pastor of St. Peter Parish in Kirkwood.

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