After commemorating the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ during the Holy Triduum, the Roman Catholic Church celebrated the Sunday of Divine Mercy last Sunday, April 24th, in her Liturgy. In doing so, she teaches her members, all Catholics, that God’s offer of divine mercy to human beings in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, includes His passion, His death and His resurrection. For this reason, the Church’s celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday cannot be reduced merely to the passion, or to the death, or to the resurrection of Christ. After all, Christ does not just suffer or die for human beings; and He is certainly not just raised to the life of glory for them either. On the contrary, He fully offers Himself to God the Father in His passion, death and resurrection for human beings. As such, in this complete offering of Himself to God, Christ offers God’s grace of salvation to them. This is a grace they certainly do not deserve, but a grace He still mercifully offers to them. In this act, He conforms them spiritually and physically to Himself, after His image, as the Crucified and Risen Lord. On this basis, in the Church’s celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday, she fully commemorates the passion, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
For the Church, this celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday involves, first of all, commemorating Christ’s sacrificial offering of Himself to God the Father in His passion and death to save human beings from sin and their punishment for sin. After all, by sin, particularly the original sin of Adam and Eve and mortal sin, people justly incur not only the moral guilt for sin, but also the debt of eternal punishment for such sin, for here they act against the order of God’s divine justice. This divine order requires, in justice, that human beings offer to God the honor due Him by good or virtuous actions. Consequently, by sinning against God, they unjustly deny God this honor. In fact, after the first human beings, Adam and Eve, first deny God this honor due Him by sinning against Him, their descendants do the same. They do this either directly or indirectly. On the one hand, they directly deny God the honor due Him in justice by failing to love Him as their First and Greatest Good, by failing to worship Him daily, especially at Holy Mass on Sundays, by offering false worship to idols, and by using His Holy Name in vain. On the other hand, they also deny God the honor due Him, indirectly, by failing to love their neighbors virtuously or chastely, by dressing immodestly, by abusing alcohol or drugs, and by using profanity. In this direct and indirect denial of God’s honor, through sin, by human beings, they introduce an inequality of actions in the order of God’s divine justice. This means that the evil action, the sin, they introduce in this divine order is unequal to the good action required, in justice, to honor God. For this reason, they can only restore equality in the order of justice by paying to God, the Just Judge, a penalty of compensation for sin through a good action, for such an action is, at least, equal in goodness to an action that honors God.
In Catholic Teaching, this compensatory payment of the penalty for sin is called satisfaction. In St. Thomas’ doctrine of satisfaction, he recalls the general principle that a human being, a just man, can satisfy for the sin of his neighbor, his brother or sister, if he remains in a state of charity, but he cannot satisfy for all human beings because the action of a single human being, a mere creature, as good as he may be, does not have the full value of all the people in the human race. On the other hand, the action of Christ has a value that could fully satisfy for the sins of all people, particularly the sin of Adam and Eve and all mortal sins, by reason of His divine dignity as the Son of God. In fact, here the action of Christ, the Son of God who has become the Son of man, has a divine goodness infinitely greater in efficacy than the goodness of all the members of the human race. Accordingly, He alone, by His dignity as the God-man, could offer infinite satisfaction for the guilt and debt of punishment for all the sins of human beings in human history. In this sense, in offering such satisfaction for all human beings, Christ does not merely offer to God a good action equal in goodness to some action that honors God, as divine justice requires. On the contrary, by His divine dignity, Christ offers to God the perfect action, the perfect sacrifice, infinitely greater than the requirements of justice, for He acts by a higher principle, divine charity, to satisfy for sin perfectly through His passion and death. In this perfect sacrifice, the perfect act of love, Jesus obeys His Father’s will to voluntarily suffer and die for human beings as satisfactory payment for their guilt and punishment for sin, because of His love. Indeed, in obedience to His Father, He offers Himself sacrificially as satisfaction for them, principally because He loves His Father as His First and Greatest Good, and secondarily, because He loves His neighbors, all human beings, as Himself. On this basis, He satisfies this compensatory penalty, required by God’s divine justice, through an act of divine love, the greatest act of love He could ever offer to His Father for human beings. As He says in the Gospel, He could offer no greater love for His friends than to offer Himself as a sacrifice for them.
According to the Fathers of the Church, in this sacrificial love, the perfect love that satisfies for the guilt and punishment for sin, Christ uses His humanity as an instrument of His divinity to merit the grace of justification that spiritually purifies and sanctifies human beings in their souls. This involves meriting for them, by His passion and death, God’s forgiveness and reconciliation. Indeed, He forgives them for their sins and reconciles them to God in the communion of God’s friendship. In doing so, He removes their spiritual defects of sin that separate them from God. These defects include, first and foremost, the stain of original sin, the moral guilt for mortal sin, and the debt of eternal punishment for these sins. The Church teaches that people stained in their soul by original and mortal sin, including the eternal debt, are spiritually dead. Yes, they are alive physically, but they are dead in their soul, spiritually. After all, in this dead state, they do not have the supernatural life-principle of their soul, the grace of God. Accordingly, by meriting God’s grace for them in His passion and death, Christ raises them up interiorly to a life of holiness by the spiritual resurrection of their soul. In this sense, here their soul is not dead anymore, but alive supernaturally. This means that by His meritorious grace, Christ spiritually conforms them to Himself, to His holy life, for He recreates them in His divine image as holy sons and daughters of God by the Holy Spirit. For this reason, this sacred dignity, the dignity they receive as sanctified sons and daughters of God, after the image of Christ, prepares them for the life of glory. Thus, Christ’s perfect sacrifice of love merits God’s grace of salvation for all human beings spiritually.
Secondly, the Church’s celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday also involves commemorating Christ’s sacrifice to save human beings from bodily death. In this sacrificial offering of Himself, this meritorious act of love, Jesus, the Lamb of God, suffers the death penalty, the bodily punishment for sin, required by divine justice, that satisfies the penal debt of death for all people. This is the debt of punishment, incurred by the sin of Adam and Eve, that subjected them, including their descendants, to the sentence of bodily death. In this sense, death, a defect of sin, is a punishment for sin in the body. As such, by His sacrificial death, Christ offers to God the honor due Him by a good, meritorious action that satisfactorily compensates Him for the evil action of Adam and Eve, their deadly act, that required all people to die. In doing so, He restores equality in the order of God’s divine justice, for this sacrifice fully satisfies for the payment of the debt of this death penalty. According to St. Thomas, because Christ’s action here, meaning His sacrificial death, has an infinitely great value, by virtue of His divine dignity, He alone meritoriously satisfies this debt, the death penalty, for all people. Indeed, He more than fulfills this requirement of God’s divine justice by an act of divine love. In this meritorious act of satisfaction, the perfect act of love, He suffers the bodily punishment of death that pays the debt on behalf of all people, because He loves them. As a result, He saves them from death, particularly from the unholy death of Adam and Eve. This means that by the grace He merits for them through His death, they still die, but their death becomes a holy participation in the sacrificial death of Christ. On this basis, here Christ really does end the unholy, bodily death of all human beings by His holy death on the cross.
Finally, in the Church’s celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday, she also commemorates Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead to the life of glory. This means that if He does not die, if He does not offer Himself sacrificially to the Father by His death, He will not be raised from the dead to the life of glory by the Father through the Holy Spirit. As such, His glorious resurrection from the dead is the fruit of God’s grace for suffering His passion and death faithfully. For St. Thomas, this resurrection to glory by Christ is the cause of the glorious resurrection of all the just or righteous people of God. At the same time, they will only be raised physically from the dead to a life of glory on the Last Day, the Day of General Judgment. Here they will finally be fully conformed in their body to the glorious image of the bodily resurrection of Christ.
As I have said in this article, the Church’s celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday, in fidelity to God’s plan of divine mercy to save human beings, involves fully commemorating the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, just as the Church does during the Holy Triduum. In this sense, the divine mercy of God, fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, through His passion, death, and resurrection, as commemorated during the Holy Triduum, informs the Church’s celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday. As merciful as this divine plan of salvation is for human beings in Christ Jesus, and as faithful as the Church is in celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday, people in society still question God’s divine mercy. In doing so, they claim that God, in a sense, abandons human beings mercilessly, at least temporarily, in their sufferings, by punishing them for their sins, both spiritually and physically. First of all, they argue that God abandons them by sentencing them to the penalty of spiritual death after they sin against Him through original and mortal sin. In this spiritual death sentence, they die spiritually in their souls through the stains of original sin and mortal sin, including the debt of eternal punishment, for these sins. Secondly, people also claim that God abandons human beings by sentencing them to the penalty of bodily death as punishment for sin. In this physical death sentence, they die physically in their bodies, not immediately, but eventually. According to them, a merciful God would not abandon them to bodily death. For this reason, they use these punishments for sin to argue against God’s divine mercy for human beings. Consequently, for them, God, in a sense, abandons people mercilessly, at least for a time, by punishing them spiritually and physically for their sins.
In their desire to develop their argument against the divine mercy of God, they consider the question that Jesus asks God the Father from the cross, right before He dies, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” This is the same question that people have asked God through the centuries. They have included people from the first century who questioned God’s divine mercy. In fact, in the Gospels, St. Peter, the apostle, after hearing Jesus’ prophecy during His ministry that He would have to suffer, die and be raised from the dead to fulfill God’s plan of divine mercy for human beings, St. Peter questions this plan by arguing that God would never subject Jesus to such a plan, suggesting that this would not be merciful by God. After the passion and death of Jesus, St. Peter certainly learns about Jesus feeling abandoned by God on the cross. Similarly, in the Gospel reading for Divine Mercy Sunday, St. Thomas, the apostle, questions the mercy of God, especially in the aftermath of Christ’s passion and death. He also learns about Jesus questioning God for abandoning Him on the cross. Consequently, he, himself, questions God’s plan of divine mercy in the person of Jesus Christ by arguing that he will not believe unless God reveals to him the Crucified and Risen Christ alive firsthand. This questioning of God’s divine mercy by people in the first century, particularly by Saints Peter and Thomas, is also a question that can be heard from people in society today, especially after considering Christ’s question to God the Father from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Why have you abandoned me in my sufferings? According to the people who question the divine mercy of God, here Jesus seems to be saying that His Father has failed to offer Him mercy by abandoning Him, by leaving Him all by Himself in His passion, especially on the cross. After all, the act of abandoning someone, in a sense, means failing to be there for him, failing to guard or save him from his suffering. Consequently, people claim that from the cross Jesus tells God that He has failed to offer Him mercy as a merciful Father by abandoning Him in His passion and death. On this basis, people in human society, from the first century to the present day, have argued that Jesus’ question from the cross reveals that He believes that God is a failure as a Father, for He fails to offer Him mercy in His suffering, by abandoning Him. Here they have also questioned if a merciful Father would really sentence His Son to such a merciless spiritual and physical punishment by subjecting Him to His passion and death. This is the same question they have about the God of mercy punishing people mercilessly for their sins, both spiritually and physically, by sentencing them to spiritual and physical death.
All the same, these arguments by people, against the divine mercy of God, are false. In the first place, they have argued, falsely, that God the Father fails to be merciful to His Son, Jesus, by failing to guard Him or save Him from His suffering and death. Their false argument, of course, is informed, badly informed, by their false understanding of Jesus’ question to His Father from the cross. By questioning His Father, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”, Jesus is only quoting the first verse of Psalm 22. This Psalm is David’s prayer of faith that the innocent man, as difficult as his sufferings may be, will still receive salvation from God as an act God’s divine mercy. Here David describes this innocent man as a suffering servant of God, a Messiah. This is the same image of the Messiah that Isaiah later develops in chapters 52 and 53, the image of the Messiah as an innocent suffering servant of God. In doing so, he was certainly informed by David’s image of the Messiah in Psalm 22. For this reason, after reading this Psalm from David, Isaiah develops a fuller or more complete image of the Messiah as the Lord’s suffering servant. In developing this image first, David believes and proclaims that the suffering servant of the Lord, in his faithfulness to God, will receive victory from God, but only through suffering. In this sense, God’s servant, the Messiah of God’s people, will have no victory from God unless he suffers faithfully as God wills. Accordingly, for David, God does not fail the innocent suffering servant in Psalm 22. On the contrary, by His divine mercy, God offers him grace in his suffering that will lead him to the victory of salvation. In fact, reading Psalm 22 completely, through verse 32, not just the first verse quoted by Jesus on the cross, reveals this victory that He will receive from God as His suffering servant. As such, by quoting the first verse of Psalm 22, as He suffers faithfully on the cross, Jesus is really proclaiming all of Psalm 22, the full meaning of this Psalm, especially the victory. In doing so, He is saying that He Himself is God’s suffering servant, prophesied by David and Isaiah in Scripture, who will receive salvation from God by His passion and death. At the same time, this suffering servant will not just receive victory for himself from God through His passion and death. On the contrary, His victory will be for all human beings. For this reason, according to Isaiah, the passion and death of the suffering servant, the Messiah, as a compensatory payment of the penalty for sin, meritoriously atones or satisfies for the sins of all people for their salvation, as required by the divine justice of God. This understanding of Jesus’ passion and death on the cross is faithful to the principle of the unity of the Scriptures. This means that human beings can only really understand Jesus’ question from the cross, as He suffers, and finally dies, by fully understanding all the Scriptures, particularly those Scriptures that concern the suffering servant of God in the Psalms, in Isaiah and in the Gospels.
Secondly, the claim by people that God fails to be merciful to human beings because He punishes them for sin, as God’s divine justice requires, is also false. They are, once again, informed by their false understanding as to the true meaning of divine mercy, particularly in relationship to God’s divine justice. As such, they argue that God’s mercy has no relationship to justice. As a result, in their denial of this relationship, they separate God’s mercy from God’s justice, thereby deforming and falsifying the true meaning of the mercy of God. According to St. Thomas, all the divine attributes, including the divine mercy and justice of God, are identical to God Himself. Moreover, these divine attributes are also identical to God’s divine nature or essence, just as God is. This means that God is essentially justice and mercy. For this reason, as divine attributes of God, justice and mercy cannot be separated, for they are naturally or essentially the identity of God Himself from all eternity. In this sense, God is, by nature or essence, divine justice and divine mercy. He does not change in Himself. On the contrary, He remains the same forever in His divine dignity. On this basis, He is not nor can He become a God of mercy separated from divine justice.
Accordingly, in God’s plan of salvation, He acts mercifully and justly to save human beings. In fact, in this plan, as God acts in creation for human salvation, His divine mercy is said to be the origin or source of His justice. On this subject, St. Thomas teaches that the justice of God proceeds from the mercy of God, as an effect proceeds from a cause. As such, he calls justice a fruit of mercy. In this sense, in God’s mercy, He justly punishes human beings for sinning against Him, firstly, Adam and Ave, and secondly, their human descendants. Indeed, He sentences them to spiritual and bodily death for original and mortal sin, including the debt of eternal punishment for sin. In doing so, He certainly does not desire their eternal death. He has no desire for them to remain dead spiritually and physically for all eternity. On the contrary, He desires their eternal salvation. In this sense, by punishing them justly for their sins, God desires them to be moved or inspired, by their sufferings. According to Scripture and Tradition, including St. Thomas, in disciplining people justly for their sins, God sends sufferings to them as penances to help them humbly open their hearts to fully understand that they have acted unjustly by sinning against Him. The more they deny God the honor due Him by sinning, the more they will suffer. Only by fully understanding that they have sinned against the just honor of God can they receive the contrition that will prepare them for the Sacrament of Confession. This contrition will certainly move them to confess their sins in this Sacrament, eventually. In this good act that honors God, their confession, they merit to receive a participation in the grace that Jesus Christ merited for them by His satisfactory passion and death. This grace includes God’s forgiveness and reconciliation. For this reason, as a fruit of divine mercy, the justice of God, including His just punishments for sin, move or inspire human beings, particularly Roman Catholics, to open their hearts to receive the mercy of God in the Sacrament of Confession. In doing so, they are spiritually raised up to the life of grace, after the image of the Crucified and Risen Christ, to fully participate in God’s plan of salvation. In this spiritual state of grace, they can merit a greater conformity to Christ daily by their voluntary, meritorious penances and sufferings for others, by virtue of the infinite merits of Christ’s sacrifice.
In conclusion, in this article, I have, first of all, argued that the Church’s celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday includes fully commemorating the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as the Church does during the Holy Triduum. For this reason, this celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday cannot be reduced merely to the passion, or to the death, or to the resurrection of Christ. Secondly, I have argued that mercy requires justice against the false claim that only mercy is required. Only by fulfilling the requirements of God’s divine justice in His passion and death does Jesus Christ merit God’s divine mercy for all human beings. Indeed, He satisfies for sin as required by the divine justice of God, but because He offers this satisfaction by an act of divine love, far above the requirements of justice, He acts especially merciful. Consequently, if there is no justice, there is no mercy. Thirdly, I argue against the false claims by people that God fails as a Father to Jesus by abandoning Him mercilessly on the cross. In doing so, I offer a proper understanding of Psalm 22 and Isaiah to help people understand the meaning of Jesus’ question to His Father from the cross. Finally, I also address the false argument by people in society that God punishes human beings mercilessly for their sins. I hope and pray you had a fruitful time learning about the divine justice and mercy of God.
In Christ with Blessed Mary,
Friar Mariano D. Veliz, O.P.