A Thought from the Synod On Mercy and Justice

Nicholas Senz

From confusing interim reports to troubling cardinalatial quotes, the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family provided us with a truckload of interest and intrigue over the last two weeks. And after all the discussion and debate about polygamy and divorce and homosexual unions, after all the rancor and politicking and surprises and such, we are left with the realization that this was but a warm-up to the General Synod that is to take place a year from now, and that the apostolic exhortation, the Pope’s post-game wrap-up of the synod, will be released around a year after that.

So, since there’s a long road ahead and these issues aren’t going anywhere, we have time to reflect. I’d like to reflect on two words that have repeatedly bobbed to the surface in these debates, like fish trying to catch flies on the surface of a lake: mercy and justice. These terms, I fear, have been the victims of mistaken identity.

These terms are coming up in their relation to the treatment of certain categories of people who are engaged in sinful acts. Such people are presently denied Holy Communion–and by “denied” we usually mean “it is taught that they ought not receive,” as I doubt there are very few confrontations in the Communion line or refusals by clergy to distribute the Eucharist to these folks–because the Church teaches that, if people who are in a state of mortal sin should not receive the Eucharist, and these people (as most of us find ourselves to be at one time or another) are in a state of mortal sin, then these people should not receive the Eucharist.

This position of the Church is being called by some one as “justice without mercy”; some claim that instead we ought to temper this justice with a “mercy” that would allow certain people in certain situations under certain circumstances to receive Holy Communion. “How could the Church be so cold and callous as to deny Her sacraments to her poor children who only seek the nourishment of their Mater Ecclesia?” they lament, wringing their hands and furrowing their brows. “Ought we not have mercy on them and feed them from our spiritual table?”

Here is the hollow space at the heart of this argument: the term “mercy” does not apply in this case. To bring it in to the discussion is a category mistake. People are using the terms “mercy” and “justice,” but their usage suggests that the terms they really mean are “punishment” and “leniency.” They seem to think the Church is punishing those in sin by denying them the Eucharist, and they consider that punishment cruel and unusual. Can we not be lenient, and forgiving, and loving, and invite them in to the feast?

Punishment and leniency are not at issue. What is at issue here is a question of truth, and the consequences of certain truths. The following are truths, which even most of those in the “mercy” camp have not denied.

It is true that someone who knowingly and freely engages in sexual activity outside of marriage and does not repent of it is in a state of mortal sin. It is true that receiving the Eucharist while in a state of mortal sin is spiritually harmful, for offering the Eucharist to someone in mortal sin is like offering a glass of water to a drowning man: certainly he needs it to live, but right now it will only exacerbate the problem.. Thus, it is true that those who have engaged in such activity unrepentant and receive the Eucharist are only inflicting further spiritual damage on themselves.

When the Church urges people in a state of mortal sin not to receive Holy Communion, the Church is not being cold and callous. It is not exacting a punishment. It is acknowledging the truth of things and imploring others to act accordingly, for their own good. The Church, in doing this, is acting mercifully, with justice, out of love.

Ironically, those who have agitated for “balancing justice with mercy” will gain neither as a result. Using such loaded terms in a misleading way does not do good for anyone. Those who do so, whether intentionally or not, are putting souls at risk. Words have consequences. Speak carefully.

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74 thoughts on “A Thought from the Synod On Mercy and Justice”

  1. Thank you for the article. Nice job.

    Those commenting here that seem to think you are wrong are perfect examples of why the Kaspar position is evil. Not only does it violate Christ’s teaching, it violates the principle of non contradiction and it drives people off the road to salvation.

    A triple loser.

  2. It is true that someone who knowingly and freely engages in sexual activity outside of marriage and does not repent of it is in a state of mortal sin.

    How about: “It is the present position of the Church that someone who knowingly and freely engages in sexual activity outside of marriage and does not repent of it is in a state of mortal sin.”

    That can be changed because it is only the opinion of those running the Church that people who have sex outside of marriage or with a same sex spouse (whom they have legally married) are actually doing something immoral.

    1. No, not true.

      That is the position of Jesus.
      It was Jesus who said that if a man divorces his wife and marries another, he is committing adultery. Those words are crystal clear. There are sources in sacred scripture for all of the prohibitions against sex outside of marriage – we don’t just make this stuff up. This has all been carefully studied over centuries of debate. You may really, really, really want to have sex outside of marriage but it is clearly a sin, and not just because it is someone’s vague opinion.

      And it has been a sin for all religions from the beginning of time, until very recently, when some Protestant religions decided to start ignoring clear words of Jesus in an attempt to be cool. Well, they are now collapsing, because no one wants to follow a religion that someone just made up.

    2. No one has the right to judge the sexual relationships of consenting adults. Gay, divorced and remarried, unmarried, etc. Every relationship is unique. Whether it is good for them and those who it might affect or bad is complicated. There is no simple rule of thumb to follow.

    3. I Corinthians 5. You should read it sometime. Really, I dare you to read it.
      And of course, your position puts you in rebellion against the teaching of the Church for the past 2,000 years. That is not a position I would want to be in.

    4. You have come to believe that you cannot disagree with the Catholic Church; that is a position that you find to be precarious. I don’t feel that way. I feel that if the teachings of the Church are wrong, they should be ignored.

    5. When I say I don’t “feel”
      that way. Or I “feel” that…I am not talking about emotion. I am talking about reason. It is reasonable to ignore many of the teachings of the Catholic Church. They are too numerous to list.

    6. So if a man has ten wives and beats them all and if they say it is good for them it’s OK with you?

    7. I see nothing aburd about letting law enforcement authorities worry about these issues instead of me concerning myself about them. Same for you.

    8. That paragraph is nearly identical to the arguments used by NAMBLA. There simply has to be a principle of guiding truth in all matters, otherwise we end up (where we are today) with people legally raping children, or marrying themselves, or their pets and what not.

    9. I am not aware of any children being “legally” raped. And I don’t care who marries their same sex partner, dog or iPhone.

    10. Why do liberals always want to enable people to engage in sexual immorality like sodomy, abortion, contraception and divorce?

    11. We want people to be free to do what they want to do as long as what they do does no harm to others. Many sexual acts condemned by the Church meet that criterium.

    12. I’m glad you don’t make any laws that impact my freedom. You could use a little relativism in your life. Everything isn’t absolute. Some things are relative.

    13. And of course, you are “principled”. To say that nothing is relative and everything is either objectively right or objectively wrong is ridiculous and not a healthy way to look at the world.

    14. Bill….these sexual acts harm the people committing them, they harm society, and they send souls to hell.

    15. Bill….these sexual acts harm the people committing them, they harm society, and they send souls to hell.

      You are making broad generalizations about sex that is really a very specific and personal matter. Who are you to say what sex acts harm society and “send souls to hell”?

    16. Because following the moral law does not cause guilt, but it may cause unfulfilled desire. They cannot deny themselves orgasm. That is a type of god.

  3. Pingback: 11 Ways the Synod Failed Pope Francis’ Vision - BigPulpit.com

  4. Nicholas, I believe that you fail to grasp the Catholic and Christian meaning of justice and mercy. The goal of mercy is to DO what is right and that provides entry into the kingdom. In the kingdom of God, you will not find people who followed all the “don’t do” prescriptions. In the kingdom of heaven you will not find the people who followed the beads, prayers, ritual and pieties. You will find the people who DID the right thing…the corporal works of mercy. The Christ was clear in the parable of the Goats and the Sheep about who would have entry into the kingdom….He was very clear:

    n Matthew 25:34-46, Jesus insists upon the necessity of observing the first six corporal works of mercy:

    “Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’

    Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

    Does HE need to be clearer about what the entrance requirements are? Does He talk about rules, pieties, and things to avoid? He tells us what to do, what is necessary. We fail to look at this because it is something that most people shy away from. The corporal works of mercy are a daily mandate; nothing else gets you into the kingdom. That is justice and mercy.

    In JPII’s Dives in Misericorda: “The Pope places a special emphasis on Jesus’ teaching mission to the poor, the sick, the sinners and the outcast: “Especially through His lifestyle and through His actions, Jesus revealed that love is present in the world in which we live…. This love makes itself particularly noticed in contact with suffering.” Tying this with Jesus’ claim that “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” John Paul points out that this reveals a similar merciful love for all in the world, especially those who suffer.

    This, my friend, is justice and mercy….it’s the only definition. The followers of the rules already have their reward…..

    1. That is one thing Jesus said. You have to take the whole ball of wax, not just focus on Mathew 25 as some sort of trump card. Remember he also said that anyone who divorced their wife and remarried was living in adultery.

    2. He did not say that adultery would bar someone from the kingdom, did HE?,,,He was specific about what would bar someone and that is Matt 25. Always remember the goats and the sheep parable.

    3. Actually, yes he did. Right before he spoke of divorce and remarriage, in the Sermon on the Mount, in the Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 5.

      27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
      28 But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
      29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

    4. And St. Paul said it too, in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 6:

      9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.

    5. He did not say that adultery would bar someone from the kingdom, did HE?,,,

      So I suppose according to your gospel, I can steal, murder and cheat so long as I feed the poor and clothe the naked and give water to the thirsty.

    6. Mar 12:31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” That is a positive DO!!! so stealing, murder, cheating, etc would certainly not be OK.

    7. Mar 12:31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” That is a positive DO!!! so stealing, murder, cheating, etc would certainly not be OK.

      Which is exactly my point when I said “is it not the case that if you do the DO prescriptions, then you DON’T DO, the DON’T DO prescriptions. .

      But you said : In the kingdom of God, you will not find people who followed all the “don’t do” prescriptions

      By following the “don’t do” prescriptions you are doing the do. When you don’t commit adultery, you are respecting and loving your spouse and the other woman or man. When you do commit adultery, not only are you being disobedient to God, you are also being unfaithful (being a cheat and a liar) to your wife and to the other woman/man.

    8. OK, ‘who ONLY do the DON’T DO prescriptions”?

      You tell me. You’re the one who brought it up when you said: In the kingdom of God, you will not find people who followed all the “don’t do” prescriptions.
      So you must have certain people in mind.

    9. Yes, he says to follow his commandments. And he says divorce is not permitted and that a man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery. The only way Kasper’s proposal can be justified is if one concludes that at some point (e.g. after the passage of enough time, true love, true contrition) the second union is no longer adulterous. The debate here is between two camps. The first camp says this contravenes Jesus’ words. The second camp says yes, but if Jesus were here in the flesh and could speak to us now, he would not consider this adultery. But how do we know that what he would say now is different than what he said then? It’s awfully presumptuous.

    10. “In the kingdom of God, you will not find people who followed all the “don’t do” prescriptions. In the kingdom of heaven you will not find the people who followed the beads, prayers, ritual and pieties.” There are plenty who pray in vain whom we will not see in heaven – that is true; but there will be plenty whose devotions such as the rosary, novena prayers, and other “pieties” who will be in heaven. These devotions will have served to foster those individuals’ self-discipline and love for God, which in turn will have enabled them to love others more. Such devotions do not negate proactive forms of love and social action.

    11. Obviously you didn’t read my comment thoroughly…I said that that the entrance to the kingdom MATT 25 was through the corporal works of mercy…a sine qua non. Many pieties assist in maintaining the fervor for doing those difficult works of mercy…but the works of mercy are THE TICKET….

    12. Nonsense. You canmot earn your salvation. You can lose it.

      When the young man asked Christ what he must do to enter eternal life the first thing Christ said was keep my commandments. Then the man this I have done since my youth. The Lord looked on him and loved him.

      Helping the poor is an obligation we cannot avoid, but never place that in opposition to the moral law.

    13. Never said it was in place of opposition to moral law….I simply said that there is no access to the Kingdom of God without the corporal works of mercy. Just where did I say that kill, fornicate, steal all you want as long as you help the marginalized. I say no corporal works of mercy, no Kingdom. I know many people just read in order to reply and not listen….so listen. Ya gotta do both things….it’s the works of mercy that most never do.

    14. Well, Phil, I’m glad you finally admitted that, “Ya gotta do both things…” Perhaps it was just your assumption that, “it’s the works of mercy that most never do,” that accounted for the confusing posts that, for all your good intentions, did read as if you believed that, “In the kingdom of heaven you will not find the people who followed the beads, prayers, ritual and pieties.”

      For what you seemed to negate with that last statement is that the spiritual works of mercy are not without merit. Quite the opposite is true as spiritual works of mercy are highly efficacious – for the one offering the work and the one receiving. So if you do go to Heaven, I hope you won’t be bowled over by those who paid close attention to the ‘Shall not’ in order to maintain a purity to better help, perhaps you, by way of beads, prayers, ritual and piety.

      That said, you can do all the corporal works of mercy, but without love, that is desiring the best for one’s neighbor (of which properly passing on Church doctrine/truth is a testament), the WORKS will mean nothing. And earn – nothing.

    15. Never said it was in place of opposition to moral law….I simply said that there is no access to the Kingdom of God without the corporal works of mercy

      Sorry but you’re lying there.
      You said earlier that Jesus never said that adultery would bar someone from the kingdom then you waffled on about Matt25. So you were clearly pitting the moral law against the corporal works of mercy.

    16. but the works of mercy are THE TICKET.

      So the Mafiosi who is an adulterer and murderer who donated to charity have the right ticket to heaven.

    17. The goal of mercy is to DO what is right

      Okay. But what is right?

      In the kingdom of God, you will not find people who followed all the “don’t do” prescriptions.

      How do you know that for a fact? And is it not the case that if you do the DO prescriptions, then you DON’T DO, the DON’T DO prescriptions.
      Besides, if it is God who said don’t do, then we should “don’t do”. How is disobedience to “don’t do” by God supposed to lead you to His kingdom?
      Is it not the case that Adam and Eve were banished because they did a “don’t do”?

    18. In the kingdom of heaven you will not find the people who followed the beads, prayers, ritual and pieties

      So basically you are saying that very many saints are in hell? So many of them have followed the beads and prayers and ritual and pieties.
      How does get to the kingdom of heaven then? By following a cuckoo energy God?

  5. ” The Church, in doing this, is acting mercifully, with justice, out of love. ”

    1. Well, the pope and other high clergy types do not necessarily agree with this.
    2. The real issue as the magesterium sees it has more to do with a very precipitous drop in
    attendance ( income esp. ) and lost generations of Catholics – who by the way have clear
    consciences without guilt and say good luck to the leaner, meaner CC.
    3. Know in their hearts that ie: the word ‘divorce’ had a very different denotation in Jesus’ day
    and the magesterium’s position is no better than those of the apostles who tried to shoo all
    manner of folk – children even – away from Jesus only to be overridden by Himself.
    You are right on one count, It is not about Justice and mercy: it is about rules that do not bring
    people to Christ, as the pope so recently implied.

    1. What you are arguing is that we should ignore the clear words of Christ – because they will not “bring people to Christ”. Hmmm.

      Being flabby and “welcoming” like this is precisely what the Episcopal church has done. Their church is collapsing because they no longer believe in anything and don’t honor the clear words of Christ. So why go?

      You are correct, in that the German Bishops, who are seeing massive drop outs from their church, are the ones pushing this, and many suspect it has more to do with money than religion in their case.

      In fact, most Catholics who leave the church have left it because it too became flabby in many places.Studies show that at least half of those leaving went to stricter Evangelical churches where they took Jesus seriously.

      First of all, there are tons of things that the church could do for the divorced and remarried to support them on their journey. Getting communion is not the only thing the church does for people.

      The Pope has not spoken out what he thinks on the matter. All he has done has brought the issue to the fore and asked that it be studied. – this is something that Pope Benedict did as well, albeit in a smaller way. Most people who have reflected carefully on this understand that a change in the practice, except maybe for certain people in highly unusual situations, would be tantamount to completely ignoring Jesus words, and would inevitably lead to a sort of approval of divorce. People watch what you do, and if nothing happens to people that clearly disobey the words of Jesus, then people will say “The Catholic church is OK with divorce,. They don’t really do anything about it if you do get divorced. They just talk a good game, but they don’t really mean it.”

      And No, the word divorce did not have a different meaning in Jesus day.

    2. Your flabby analysis is way off base. Why would most catholics leave to go to
      a church where they don’t have communion ? And duh, the word divorce did
      have a different meaning in Jesus’ day just as the word marriage meant polygamy.

    3. Your flabby analysis is way off base. Why would most catholics leave to go to a church where they don’t have communion ?

      Let’s turn that around. Why would Catholics insist on living in sin and demand to have communion? Is that not the height of arrogance? That the Church must dance to their tune or else they are out of here?

      And duh, the word divorce did have a different meaning in Jesus’ day just as the word marriage meant polygamy.

      Well do enlighten us what these different meanings are.
      We wait with bated breath.

    4. Why would Catholics insist on living in sin
      Why would the church insist it is a mortal sin – like murder or 9/11 or rape or grand theft auto or lying on a witness stand or real adultry where two people
      sneak off to copulate as there families live unaware. Get real Marc.
      Jesus was talking about MEN who got tired of one or more wives and traded them in like used cars because they wanted a newer model. MEN who questioned who would be married to whom in heaven since they had so many obligations to keep taking on the business of sireing. Get a life Marc

    5. Why would the church insist it is a mortal sin – like murder or 9/11 or rape or grand theft auto or lying on a witness stand or real adultry where two people sneak off to copulate as there families live unaware.

      Why? How about because Jesus said so? But then perhaps you don’t believe in Jesus in which case it boggles the mind why you are complaining. And no, your definition of adultery is not acceptable because you do not get to define morality. That rest squarely on God’s court alone.

      Jesus was talking about MEN who got tired of one or more wives and traded them in like used cars because they wanted a newer model.

      No He wasn’t. He said what He said. There is no wiggle room.
      Besides, if you don’t agree with what the Church says, then why in the world don’t you just join a Church that agrees with you. There’s thousands of them out there. Take your pick.

      Get a life Marc

      I think the appropriate come back is “when you get a brain”.
      Or more appropriately, just get yourself a Church that suits you. There’s plenty out there.

    6. Paul was a hard man, made that way from ( most likely his latter day perspective) murdering Christians. I don’t think he ever forgave himself. He liked the idea of
      throwing people out of church. Francis doesn’t.

    7. We certainly hope he does. Paul was ok but he would have never made it in this age, relishing the thought of doomed sinners. Nice chatting with you but this is
      going nowhere as you may have surmised.

    8. Oh, one other thing. It really is important to do a post life psyche eval on the
      early church fathers. As stated above, not only Paul but Peter too suffered
      from extrreme guilt and was unable to forgive himself even as Jesus did for
      his denial. He took it to the grave, requesting an upside down death as the
      shame never abated. If you have leaders who live with natural and unnatural
      forms of mental illness, the administration of their establishment will be rife with acute rules and fanciful strictures. Look at Limbo, who in their right mind would pick on an infant ? Concrete thinkers might and today be diagnosed with forms of autism. Some of these saints might not even be Catholic could they be brought into the 21st century to see what kind of structure was built on the cornerstone. All in all however our church is the WAY and as time marches on more enlightened souls will take it to the full Truth.

    9. My point is: not one Word of what Jesus said is untrue – as opposed to how these grizzled, gritty men reasoned with that Truth. Take Peter and Paul debating the
      necessity of circumcision on gentiles. I detect jealousy at having to allow them
      in and cruelty in suggesting that adults have genital mutilation administered in
      order to be saved. Fast forward this to the 21st century and we can see how a
      church imposed all kinds of hoops that must be jumped in order to be taken as
      a serious soul longing for what every other serious soul is striving – release.

    10. My goodness, you are a nut.
      You are passing on your own neuroses on these holy men, not to mention highly ignorant of what Scripture is all about.

      You are imposing your own corrupt 21st century mindset on Scripture.

    11. Oh, one other thing. It really is important to do a post life psyche eval on the early church fathers.

      No, we need to do that to you. You are in deep denial and lying badly to yourself so that you can justify the wrong that you are doing and in the process be able to get rid of healthy guilt by smothering the truth that keeps rising in you every time you tell yourself these lies.
      I think I am spot in in that psyche eval 🙂

    12. Paul was a hard man, made that way from ( most likely his latter day perspective) murdering Christians.

      Sorry but that is a stupid comment. You are therefore saying that Christ was unable to reform this murderous man despite having chosen him personally to proclaim his Gospel? So you are saying that Christ made the wrong choice?

      I don’t think he ever forgave himself.

      And of course you have proof of that? Aaah the 21st century man thinking he is wise enough to psychoanalyse a saint. Are you familiar with the word “hubris”?

    13. Of course Christ reformed Paul but the human psyche goes on with its own plans
      to torment the host. If you read his letters you’ll see that the very very early
      church had a lot of problems and Paul was worried and sick over undefined
      problems … theological problems, just like you are today. Grow up Marc

    14. Of course Christ reformed Paul but the human psyche goes on with its own plans
      to torment the host

      So therefore you are saying that the Healer of All is incapable of healing the human psyche?

      If you read his letters you’ll see that the very very early church had a lot of problems and Paul was worried and sick over undefined problems .

      Pray tell what these may be and how these stem from Paul’s mental problems.

      theological problems, just like you are today

      “I” am a theological problem? Pray tell what theological problem would I be?

      Grow up Marc

      Like you’d be able to tell what grown up would look like. You’d have to be one to know one.

    15. the word ‘divorce’ had a very different denotation in Jesus’ day

      Pray tell what that different denotation be?

      it is about rules that do not bring people to Christ, as the pope so recently implied.

      And again, pray tell what are these rules that do not bring people to Christ?
      Also, would telling people to keep sinning bring them to Christ? I thought Christ’s last words were “Go and Sin No More”

    16. And again, pray tell what are these rules that do not bring people to Christ?

      Ask Francis, it’s his quote.

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