The Judge Alone Can Be Merciful

The Judge Alone Can Be Merciful

Funny how sometimes the penny just drops and you get it. Popular rhetoric calls it the ‘Ah-ha moment’. I once heard it attributed to Bernard Lonergan – the Canadian Jesuit philosopher-theologian. Whatever it’s provence the term seems to catch what is meant by ‘the penny dropping’ or ‘enlightenment’. Suddenly one sees the reason for something.

Basically, we all go from ignorance to understanding. There’s no shame in it; the shame would be in satisfaction with ignorance.

It may takes years of pondering something – just having it there as a little thought milling around in ones head. Most often it can be the nagging doubt about something not sounding quite right. Maybe some of us have more of these doubts than others due to ones temperament, or the suspicious attitude one carries toward a whole lot of things. Today people are often suspicious of any kind of authority – I susceptible to this – but I’ve wondered about it for long enough.  Then pieces start to fall into place.

If you want a revolution you’ve got to undermine the reigning authority – whether they are just or not. The original revolutionary was an angel, far more intelligent and gifted than any mere human person. His cry was, “Non serviam!” And ever since he has rebelled – not in a well thought out plan – against any legitimate authority whatsoever. He is the hater of all that is good, and he spins lie after lie after lie in order to try and entice fallen man to willing take part in his efforts to kill and kill, and kill and kill. What a pitiful creature. What a deadly enemy of every human being.

Now, I say this because often the Evil One is given more credit than God. Faith in God’s goodness, and His infallible plan, is often surplanted by the blind belief that the Devil has it all thought out – a master plan that God’s faithful ones will never be able to stop. A plan has God on the run. What a lot of rubbish! Here’s why.

The fallen angels are powerful spirits – they have immense intellects and wills – but since they have fallen from such a great height (being the creatures most like God) they have suffered the greatest damage in their fall. Satan is unable to construct ‘a plan’ due to the damage done to his intellect; all he can do – and all God permitts him to do – is to frighten us. He does this by seducing people into acting in such a way that destruction, despair, and death seem to be all that there is. He co-opts (through fear) as many souls as possible into his hatred for God and the just. The mistake? The mistake is giving him the credit for having some master plan. He hasn’t and is the most to be pitied. Imagine having lost so much.

What’s the evidence? St. John Vianney told him one evening to stop being childish – he was calling the holy priest, “Potato eater!” When pitied by Ars’s saint the Evil One screamed in annoyance and left.

Back to the point. Undermining authority – it’s the work ultimately of our mortal enemy. Hatred and destruction is what he is permitted to incite, but he has no idea where it will go. He simply smashes things (inside and outside of us) to drive us to fear. Once we are afraid then he has us in his grip. This is why the words, “Jesus I trust in You!” are extremely powerful when tempted. As he smashes he blames God – subtley suggesting that God is the cause of all our suffering; and that God does not care about us; and that God has no power to save us. And so man panics and tries to rationalise the irrational influences in his life. This leads to half-truths being raised up as the Gospel.

By God’s grace we are protected from this if we cooperate with this grace. We are able to see, even after long days of darkness, through the lie. One such lie is that surrounding the question of mercy and judging others but I recently had an eye-opener concerning this question.

Firstly, notice how everyone agrees that no-one can see into the soul of another and know where they stand before God. So, “Who am I to judge?” seems like a fair question.

Secondly, notice also how everyone agrees that mercy is what sinners have profound need for. So a Year of Mercy seems like a total gift to us all.

Problem? Yes. Well, not so much a problem as a difficulty. Authorities need to make judgements all the time. But if you want to undermine them you simply pull out the “Who am I to judge?” card, and that cripples the unknowing legitimate authority.

Secondly, every sinner needs mercy but to give mercy one has to make a judgemnt. So to smash mercy one has to fighten souls away from making hte necessary judgements.

Yes, to give mercy one has to make a judgement. How is this so? Well, the act of administering mercy is that of a superior who makes a judgement before going beyond justice to give that  gift which ‘raises man above his weaknesses.’ If one looks at the spiritual or corporal works of mercy one sees that the giver of mercy gives it from the vantage point of passing a just judgement and effectively saying, “Ah, this one needs this!” For example, to give counsel to those with doubts involves judging this to be the case. Instructing the ignorant involves judging that someone is unaware of something. While admonishing the sinner requires the giver of mercy to pass a judgement as to the serious nature of a sinners past actions or potential actions. To grant mercy one has to pass a judgemnt.

The same is true for the more popular corporal works of mercy. Indeed, maybe it is because it is so obvious that a judgement is involved here that it is easy to run straight to mercy and ignore the crucial step of judging that is involved in being merciful. This is what leads to a pseudo-mercy. Mercy, afterall, has both an affective and effective dimension: the first, is the feeling of sympathy for the person suffering from some misery; while the second is the actual going toward the miserable one in order to relieve the cause of the misery. Mercy flows from a heart touched by someones misery and into an action that seeks to relieve this misery. The move from feeling to action involves looking at the person and asking, “What does this person need?” And there again is the act of judging.

Seeing who is hungry and in need of food involves passing a judgement that comes to the conclusion, “This person is hungry….” Giving someone a drink follows on from judging that the person is thirsty. It would not be merciful to give an alcholic a bottle of whiskey satiate his thirst. Similarly, clothing the naked or harboring the harborless – these acts, too, involve judging the person’s need for something more than strict justice.

Without passing a judgement how would one be able to bury the dead? One would be in a Monty Python skit where the dialogue of madness would be something like:

“This man’s dead. We need to bury him.”

“What? How do you know?”

“He’s stiff. He smells. He’s off-colour. He’s got a bullet hole in his head. He’s not breathing. He’s been like this for days. He’s dead, ain’t he?”

“No he’s not. He’s having a nap. And anyway, don’t be so judgemntal. Who are you to judge? I’m in charge around here!”

Do you get the point? Mercy stands with judgement (and of course the judgement should be just). The two stand or fall together. I have to judge before I can be merciful. In a similar way, the poor priest who is called on to absolve sinners can only do so when he has judged that a sin has been committed, confessed, and repented of with firm purpose of ammendment having been promised. He doesn’t have magic powers that allow him to see a conscience truly at peace with God. He has to deal with the facts presented to him and make a judgement based on those facts as to whether or not absolution may be granted. The judge must make a judgement before he grants mercy. Indeed, the act of refusing to give absolution may be a greater act of mercy than the sinner may realise. The priest cannot be expected to act without exercising his faculty of reasoning.

So the “Ah-ha moment” I’ve come to see is that to be merciful one has to judge the situation, one has to be guided by the facts at one’s disposal. A judgement has to be made before that which is more than justice can be given. The Guards of the Revolution push either one side or the other of the justice-mercy reality. Depending on the age they will try to destroy by splitting them from each other. The penny has dropped.

Lord have mercy on us all.


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