THE SERVANT GENERAL
TRUE AND FALSE MERCY
What are the elements of false mercy? It is mercy without
repentance, it is being welcoming to the point of not speaking
about sin, it is being nice but not being truly charitable,
it is leaving someone in sin rather than working at transformation
False mercy is a great disservice to the sinner. What a sinner
needs is not comfort but conversion and commitment to Christ.
The first requirement of Church renewal in
Dr. Jeff Mirus | Mar 28, 2017
The Catholic Church has often been called “the Church
of here comes everybody”. The reason is simple: You
typically do not find the Church to be representative of just
one ethnic group, nationality or social class. Membership
in the Catholic Church is rarely based on encouraging people
“just like us” to join, and discouraging those
who are “different”. But what about distinguishing
between those who accept the Church’s teachings and
those who do not?
In the West, at least, we inhabit
a Church which is very reluctant to make anyone feel uncomfortable.
Indeed, St. Paul was adamant that her members
must never make anyone feel uncomfortable based on whether
they are male or female, slave or free, rich or poor, Jew
or Greek: For we “are all one in Christ Jesus”
(Gal 3:28). But in another letter Paul expressed a very different
view of spiritual and moral differentiators:
you are arrogant! ...I wrote to you in my letter not to
associate with immoral men; not at all meaning the immoral
of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters,
since then you would need to go out of the world. But rather
I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the
name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed,
or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber not
even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with
judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom
you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Drive
out the wicked person from among you.” [1 Cor 5]
Where is this spirit in our day? Even our
Catholic leaders seem more concerned with making everyone
feel comfortable in the Church than with insisting on a genuine
spiritual and moral commitment to Jesus Christ.
This is why we are constantly told not to judge, even though
we are enjoined by St. Paul to distinguish sharply between
good and evil. This is also why, in the vast majority of Catholic
dioceses and parishes, we seldom hear any warnings against
those kinds of immorality which, despite their condemnation
by Christ, are justified and even praised by the dominant
“All are welcome,”
goes the hymn. “All are welcome in this place.”
But in fact that is not true. Only repentant sinners are welcome.
Those who insist that the teachings of Christ’s Church
are wrong, those who call evil good and live accordingly,
are actually committing a variant of the “sin against
the Holy Spirit”. Our Lord Himself clearly
stated that this sin cannot be forgiven (see Mk 3:28-30; Mt
12:31-32). He said this because the Pharisees had accused
Him of working through the agency of an evil spirit; that
is, they called good evil, and evil good. The very same sin
is committed with astonishing regularity even by those within
the Church, who call what the Church teaches evil and what
the Church condemns good.
The reason this sin is unforgivable is extraordinarily simple:
It closes the sinner off from grace and renders it impossible
for him to repent and believe the Gospel (Mk 1:15). Without
repentance, there is no hope.
A dangerous game
There can be no question that the members of the Church tend
to show but a feeble opposition to the sins which are endemic
to, and honored within, the dominant culture from which they
are called. Culture-bound Catholics
are the primary reason the Church is always in need of reform.
So it was with the worldly wealth and temporal power of bishops
during the Middle Ages; and so it is with the overbearing
sexual distortions of the present day. To paraphrase Douglas
Farrow writing in First Things, at some point in
confronting a sinner who refuses correction, it is necessary
to say “to hell with accompaniment”. Or as St.
Paul put it in another portion of the chapter from which I
quoted above, “With the power of the Lord Jesus, you
are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the
flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord
Jesus” (1 Cor 5:4-5).
Instead, our modern Catholic practice - too frequently encouraged
even at the highest levels - is to "show mercy"
by refusing to state the truth in the hope that, if only we
can keep those who insist on rewriting God’s will around
long enough, one of two things will happen: Either a somewhat
greater understanding of Our Lord’s “ideals”
will somehow rub off on them, or the Church will eliminate
the problem by changing her teachings. Meanwhile, unfortunately,
the Church (in her members) consistently fails to bear witness,
and so continues to dwindledisintegrating rapidly through
repeatedly finding herself, as an old expression has it, “hoist
with her own petard” (blown up with her own bomb).
When all else fails
When all else fails (and all else has most definitely failed),
Catholics need to return to the way of Christ. This involves
three fundamental distinctions which the Church always neglects
at her peril. We must:
Distinguish sharply between
sinners who fall and sinners who refuse to stand.
The former, sinful though they remain, are the very stuff
of which the Church is made. They accept what the Church
teaches, try more or less continuously to grow in obedience
to God’s will, and can benefit enormously from membership
in the Church. The latter, however, fail to accept and
refuse to obey, and so cannot benefit at all.
the difference between welcoming the repentant and accommodating
the non-repentant. Offering redemption
by welcoming the repentant is the very mission of Christ
and His Church. Accommodating those who refuse to admit
their need of forgiveness invariably undermines that mission,
for it makes a mockery of the Word of God.
Fathom the gulf which separates
charity from “niceness”. To
be charitable that is, to love is to desire
the good of another; it demands that we know the truth
so that we can help others to abandon all the heavily
discounted counterfeit goods, enabling them to become
repentant sinners. To be “nice” is merely
to make others comfortable, which is so often, for all
of us, the direct opposite of what we need.
Charity is rooted in courage;
“niceness” in cowardice. Charity offers the sublime
gift yet daunting challenge of mercy, the acceptance of which
demands contrition. But “niceness” destroys mercy
by confusing it with worldly comfort. It erodes
our love of Christ by redefining Him to be more like us
and trust me, we are far less loveable. We must let our yes
be yes and our no be no (Jas 5:12). It is only the lukewarm
who make their yes to be no and their no to be yes, as convenience
dictates. This is the reform the Church needs in our time;
and she needs it desperately.
It is as St. Peter warned concerning “false prophets”,
at the end of the climactic second chapter of his second letter.
“They promise freedom,” he wrote, “but they
themselves are slaves of corruption”. Then he said:
“It has happened to them according to the true proverb,
‘The dog turns back to his vomit, and the sow is washed
only to wallow in the mire’.” This
refusal to demand a desire for transformation in Christ cannot
continue to be the way of the Church in our time. Her members
must learn again to exclude those who refuse mercy,
lest they make a mire of the Gospel, polluting the work of
God at its source.
Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton
University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered
Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications
and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.