Wednesday, March 20, 2013

God's Mercy Drives Out Fear

The other morning during our team Friday brekky, it came up again that I and some others do not eat meat on Fridays during Lent. One of the fellas present was raised Catholic, and someone asked him why he still eats meat. He said something like, "I gave all that stuff up a long time ago." Then he said something like, "Ambrose, maybe you can cover me?" At which my raised-Catholic-turned-atheist colleague laughed and muttered some kind of agreement.

"Noo.. sorry, it doesn't work that way, guys," I said.

Then my nominally-Catholic friend said, "my plan is to just wait until the end and then take care of things." To which my atheist colleague added, "yeah, that doesn't really make much sense that you can just do whatever and then make it all okay by confessing at the end."

"But it does make sense--that's what God's mercy is all about." I replied, which somehow ended the conversation. I think everyone wasn't ready for any kind of involved discussion on it. It was just Friday brekky at work after all.

In any case, it got me thinking about it. You know, it can seem like hell is a convenient religious stick to beat people into submission, but the problem with that idea is that through Christ's triumph on the Cross, hell has lost its sting. We do not rely on our own goodness, our own merits, to save us but rather Christ's. This is Good News--it ain't called that for no reason.

As our Holy Father recently said--God never tires of forgiving; it is we who tire of asking. It is also we who get it in our heads sometimes that it is we who save us, but it is not we--it is God. It doesn't matter if we wait until the last moment, God is still merciful. It doesn't matter if we have committed the worst of crimes, God is still merciful. God offers his grace to us freely, regardless of our own merits, because it is the infinite merits of Christ that justifies us, not our own goodness.

People need to get a handle on this, because as long as they think they are the ones who save themselves, they can and should live in fear--because such justification is impossible, even for the goodliest person. But once we realize that we are wholly dependent upon God for our justification, due to his infinite love and mercy, we no longer need to live in fear. God's mercy drives out fear.

Should we then live profligately and wait until the end? Hell no! Not just because it is a gamble--because we could die in our sin without a chance to repent. It is also because sin has consequences here and now. It binds us and makes us slaves, slaves to our flesh, slaves to our habits, slaves to the opinions of others, slaves to our own opinions of ourselves. It also has a tendency to hurt others in very real and serious ways.

No, those who are baptized have died to sin and been born into newness of life. It is a freedom, a freedom through that grace to begin our journey to reform our fallen selves, reliant upon his sanctifying grace freely offered in the Sacraments, to develop the virtues, to offer joyful penance, and to develop authentic human freedom. There is no fear here. We are assured of God's mercy. All we have to do is acknowledge our sins and ask for his mercy, availing ourselves of the infinite merit of Christ.

An interesting corollary is that this illustrates how Christianity is decidedly not just an ethical system dressed up in religious robes (nor an ethical system used by a priestly caste to control people). Without an understanding of God's mercy and why his infinite merit satisfies justice, one can make no sense of how the Christian ethical system is just. In fact, without God's infinite merit offered on our behalves, it would be terribly unjust. It is the Cross, or it is nonsense.