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The Lord our God is full of Mercy and compassion, that is, He very readily forgives our sins when we are sincerely sorry for them. This is called by spiritual writers the "greatest" of the attributes of God, for it was precisely to draw down the Mercy of God upon poor sinners that Our Blessed Redeemer endured His bitter Passion and ignominious Death upon the Cross.
That God should exact such a terrible price in order to purchase for sinners this prized opportunity to benefit by the Divine Mercy is a testimony to the infinite Holiness of God, Who loves good, and hates all evil, and to the Divine Justice which is likewise perfect. God must reward all good, as He must punish all evil. In order to truly understand what the Divine Mercy is, and to profit by it, we must never forget the delicate position it holds between the Divine Goodness, Holiness, and Justice.
Our Divine Lord gives a beautiful lesson of the Mercy of God in the story of the prodigal son. See how quickly God forgave the sin of David (2 Kings 12:13). It is the way of God to have mercy and to spare. His Mercy is infinite; like the sea, it has no bounds. It is especially shown in the way in which He seeks out the sinner, hoping to win him over both by benefits as well as by the sufferings He inflicts; and also in the love with which He receives again even the greatest sinner, and after his conversion, showing him a greater good will than before. God is like the good shepherd who goes after the lost sheep until he finds it (Luke 15:4). God sent the prophet Nathan to David; He Himself sought out the Samaritan woman (John 4).
Often He sends troubles, in order that through these trials the prodigal son may be brought to his senses; He is like a fisherman who tries every sort of device to entice fishes into his net. God is always ready to pardon even the greatest sinner; for He says, "If your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made white as snow; and if they be red like crimson, they shall be white as wool" (Isa. 1:18). In fact, the greater the sinner the more lovingly does God receive him if he is willing to amend. Hence David says to God, "Be merciful to my sin, for it is great" (Ps. 24:11). God is like a fisherman, who is more glad to catch big fish than small ones. No one is lost because he has committed great sins, but many are lost because they have committed one sin of which they will not repent. Even Judas would have received forgiveness if he had asked for it. God sometimes forgives the sinner in the last moment of life. He received the good thief on the cross.
Yet this is no reason for putting off repentance till the last. "God justified one man at the last moment that none might despair; but only one, that none might presume," says St. Augustine. A deathbed repentance is generally a very doubtful business; the dying sinner forsakes his sins rather because he cannot help it, than because from his heart he detests them. Witness how rarely a conversion made in peril of death proves lasting if the sick man recovers. "It is absurd," says St. Bernardine of Sienna, "that a man who would not fight when he was well and strong, should be moved to the combat when he is sick and weak."
God also receives the repentant sinner most lovingly. See how Christ received with tender compassion Magdalene, the woman taken in adultery, and the thief on the cross (Luke 7:47; John 8:11; Luke 23:43). How kindly the father of the prodigal son received him! God receives the sinner far more kindly than that. "Before he knocks at the door, it is opened to him; before he falls on his knees before Thee, Thou stretchest out Thy hand to him" (St. Ephrem). Our Lord says that. there is more joy in Heaven over one sinner doing penance, than over ninety-nine just men, who need not repentance (Luke 15:1). The reason of this is that the sinner who does penance generally serves God more zealously and faithfully.
God bestows upon the sinner after his conversion greater benefits than He did before he went astray. The father of the prodigal son killed the fatted calf, and made a great feast, with music and celebration. Sometimes the benefits God bestows on the converted sinner are external; more often they are inner consolations and graces. Witness St. Paul, raised to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2). The Good Shepherd has more joy over the return of the one wandering sheep, than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.
Our confidence is well founded, for it is an Article of Faith in the Creed, that Christ Our Lord has given power to the Church to remit sins. Furthermore, Our Lord has taught us how great is the goodness and bounty of God towards mankind, for if He were not truly eager to pardon the sins of the repentant, He would never have commanded this formula of prayer: Forgive us our trespasses. We ought be firmly convinced therefore, that since He commands us to implore His paternal Mercy, He will not fail to bestow it on us; for this prayer assuredly implies that God is so disposed towards us, as willingly to pardon those who are truly penitent.
It is God against Whom, having cast off obedience, we have sinned, Whom we have offended, Whom we have outraged by words and deeds. But it is also God, our most Merciful Father, Who, having it in His power to pardon all transgressions, has not only declared His willingness to do so, but has also obliged men to ask Him for pardon, and has taught in what words they are to do so. To no one, therefore, can it be a matter of doubt, that through His infinite Mercy, it is in our power to be reconciled to God.
Wherefore, we must fly to the Mercy of God; and as Justice is an equal and corresponding attribute to Mercy, we must make use of prayer, and the intercession of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, without which no one ever obtained the pardon of his sins, and from which, as from its source, have flown all the efficacy and virtue of satisfaction. For of such value is that price paid by Christ Our Lord on the Cross, and communicated to us through the Sacraments, that it obtains and accomplishes for us the pardon of all our sins.
In order to confidently obtain the mercy of God, the sinner must first acknowledge his sins, and then evoke sentiments of sincere sorrow and compunction for his sins. He must also be firmly convinced that to sinners, thus disposed and prepared, God is willing to grant pardon. This confidence is necessary to sinners, lest perhaps the bitter remembrance and acknowledgment of their sins should be followed by that despair of pardon, which seized the minds of Cain and of Judas, both of whom looked on God only as an avenger and punisher, forgetting that He is also patient and merciful.
This acknowledgement of our sins is what Our Divine Lord intended when teaching us to pray in the Our Father, "forgive us our trespasses." Thus acknowledging our transgressions in the bitterness of our souls, we may fly to God as to a loving Father, not as to a Judge, imploring Him to deal with us not according to His Justice, but according to His Mercy.
We shall be easily able to acknowledge our sins if we listen to God Himself admonishing us through the Sacred Scriptures. Holy King David declares: "They are all gone aside; they are become unprofitable together; there is none that doeth good, no, not even one." Wisdom also speaks thus: "There is no just man upon earth, that doth good, and sinneth not." Who indeed can say: "my heart is clean, I am pure from sin?" In order to deter men from arrogance, St. John wrote: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." The prophet Jeremias also says: :"Thou hast said: 'I am without sin, and am innocent'; and therefore, let thy anger be turned away from me. Behold, I will contend with thee in judgment, because thou hast said: "I have not sinned.
In making this necessary acknowledgment of our sins, it is not enough to call them to mind lightly; for it is necessary that the recollection of them be bitter, that it touch our hearts, pierce our souls, and imprint sorrow deeply therein. It is only thus that with true interior contrition we may turn to the Eternal Father, humbly imploring Him to mercifully pluck from our souls the piercing stings of sin. It was only when King David was pierced by these tormenting thoughts, that he was moved to seek the pardon of his sins, as he himself tells us in his fiftieth Psalm, the Miserere. They who lack this necessary sense of acknowledgment and sorrow, are said by the Prophets Isaias, Ezechiel, and Zacharias to have a hard heart, a stony heart, for like stone, they are softened by no sorrow, having no sense of life, that is, of the salutary realization of their sinfulness.
Is it only when we are penetrated with a holy fear at the gravity of our sins, that we can truly realize the great need we have of God's Mercy, and can profitably cast ourselves upon it, without fear of abusing it through an indifference to sin and repentance.
In order that we may not squander the priceless gift of the Divine Mercy, we should often seriously reflect that we are suppliants before God, soliciting from Him pardon, which is not granted but to truly penitent souls. We should therefore, be animated by that charity and piety which are proper to penitent sinners, who should always keep before their eyes, as it were, their own crimes and enormities and to expiate them with tears.
To our dispositions of sincere contrition, we must join great care in guarding for the future against every occasion of sin, and against whatever may expose us to the danger of offending God, our Merciful Father. It was with this solicitude that holy King David was occupied when he said: "My sin is always before me"; and: "Every night I will wash my bed; I will water my couch with my tears". We can also observe an ardent love of prayer in those who obtained from God, through their pious entreaties, the pardon of their sins. Such was the publican, who, standing afar off through shame and grief, and with eyes fixed on the ground, only smote his breast, crying: "O God, be merciful to me, a sinner". Such was also Mary Magdelene, a sinner, who standing behind Christ Our Lord, washed His feet, wiped them with her hair, and kissed them. And we cannot forget the example of St. Peter, the Prince of the Apostles who, going forth, wept bitterly.
Finally, it is in the holy Sacraments that we find the pouring forth of the Mercy of God. For us poor sinners, the chief remedies given to our sickly souls by a merciful Redeemer are Penance -- in which our sins are directly remitted -- and the Blessed Eucharist, which mercifully preserves our souls from the contagion of sin.
Not only is forgiveness of sins to be found in the Catholic Church, as Isaias had foretold in these words: The people that dwell therein shall have their iniquity taken away from them; but also that in Her resides the power of forgiving sins; and furthermore that we are bound to believe that this power, if exercised duly, and according to the laws prescribed by our Lord, is such as truly to pardon and remit sins.
Nor is the exercise of this power restricted to particular sins. No crime, however heinous, can be committed or even conceived which the Church has not power to forgive, just as there is no sinner, however abandoned, however depraved, who should not confidently hope for pardon, provided he sincerely repent of his past transgressions.
Furthermore, the exercise of this power is not restricted to particular times. Whenever the sinner turns from his evil ways he is not to be rejected, as we learn from the reply of our Savior to the Prince of the Apostles. When St. Peter asked how often we should pardon an offending brother, whether seven times, Not only seven times, said the Redeemer, but till seventy times seven.
But here the faithful are to be admonished to guard against the danger of becoming more prone to sin, or slow to repentance, from a presumption that they can have recourse to this power of forgiving sins which is so complete and unrestricted. For, as such a propensity to sin would manifestly convict them of acting disrespectfully towards this Divine power, and would therefore render them unworthy of the Divine Mercy; so this slowness to repentance gives great reason to fear that, overtaken by death, they may in vain confess their belief in the remission of sins, which by their tardiness and procrastination they deservedly forfeited.
If we desire that God should grant us the pardon of our offences, we ourselves must pardon those from whom we have received injury; for so rigorously does God exact from us forgetfulness of injuries and mutual affection and love, that He rejects and despises the gifts and sacrifices of those who are not reconciled to one another.
Even the law of nature requires that we conduct ourselves towards others as we would have them conduct themselves towards us; hence he would be most impudent who would ask of God the pardon of his own offences while he continued to cherish enmity against his neighbor.
Those, therefore, on whom injuries have been inflicted, should be ready and willing to pardon, urged to it as they are by the God's command in St. Luke: "If thy brother sin against thee, reprove him; and if he repent, forgive him; and if he sin against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, "I repent," forgive him." In the Gospel of St. Matthew we read: "Love your enemies"; and St. Paul writes: "If thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat; if he thirst, give him to drink"; finally, we read in the Gospel of St. Mark: "When you shall stand to pray, forgive if you have anything against any man; that your Father also Who is in Heaven may forgive you your sins."
Thus, one of the surest signs that men are children of God is their willingness to forgive injuries and to sincerely love their enemies; for in loving our enemies there shines forth in us some likeness to God our Father, Who, by the Death of His Son, ransomed from everlasting perdition and reconciled to Himself the human race, which had been alienated from Him. And there is the command of Christ which, without utter disgrace and ruin, we cannot refuse to obey: "Pray for them that persecute and calumniate you; that you may be the children of your Father Who is in Heaven."
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