By Father John P. Cush, STD
On this Divine Mercy Sunday, perhaps we might wish to reflect on what mercy is and what it is not. The late John Cardinal O’Connor of New York chose as his episcopal motto, “There can be no love without justice.” Justice might be considered by some as an interesting choice for an article that is supposed to address the concept of mercy in the sacred scripture.
To them, I would repeat those words from Cardinal O’Connor — “there can be no love without justice.” If mercy is to be understood as the concrete application of love, which is God’s purest name, then I would contend the application of mercy is justice.
Among the image for YHWH in the Old Testament is the God of Justice. We must understand first what justice is. Justice is not the minimum that a person is due, nor is it a form of vengeance. The late Jesuit theologian, John O’Donnell of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, contends that there are two primary ideas for us to understand if we are to view YHWH as the God of justice.
First, he states that we need to view God as the liberator. It is He, with his strong and fatherly arm, who carries his children out of Egypt. Second, O’Donnell tells us that we must see YHWH as the God of ‘hesed,’ God’s tender and faithful, covenant love. Justice is fidelity to the relationship.
In the Old Testament, ‘hesed,’ merciful love, goes hand in hand with justice, and justice is such a comprehensive term that it is equivalent to salvation. God’s mercy is seen, concretely manifested in his saving justice. God will al- ways vindicate his people. It is He who cares for the poor and the afflicted. It is He who establishes right relationships in the order of creation: between God and man, with God as creator and man as a creature, between man and man, and within man himself. It is original sin, which is, as we know, hubris, that causes one to undergo a threefold alienation from God, others, and himself.
It is the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets that leads to the threefold reconciliation between man and God, man and man, and a man and himself. There is no contradiction at all between God’s mercy and God’s justice.
The theologian Jose Miguez Bonino expresses it thus: “God acts in righteousness when he establishes and reestablishes right relationships, restoring those who have been wronged in their legitimate claims as members of the covenant. Such action is the equivalent of ‘salvation.’
When God liberates Israel, when he protects the unprotected, when he delivers the captive or vindicates the right of the poor, he is exhibiting his justice.”
Do we live out these values of peace, justice, and joy daily? Are we bearers of grudges against some in our lives? It is perhaps the most difficult thing that we might be called to do, but have we tried, in all the situations of our lives, to be instruments of the Lord’s peace?
Are we people of justice? This means. establishing true and real equity once again in the world, not revenge. To avenge means to attempt to get even. That is not justice, which is giving every person his or her due. Are we people of joy? Remember that joy is the certain knowledge that we are loved by God, that we are redeemed by the blood of the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We are called to rejoice in the truth that is Jesus, even in times when we despair in the world.
Being a person of joy is ultimately realizing the truth of the words of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called.”
Readings for the Sunday of Divine Mercy
Acts 2: 42-47
Psalm 118: 2-4, 13-15, 22-24
1 Peter 1: 3-9
John 20: 19-31
Father Cush, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, serves as Academic Dean of the Pontifical North American College, Rome.