Recently, Pope Francis published a book-length interview which is being distributed in six languages in more than 80 countries with the title: The Name of God Is Mercy. This publication and its wide distribution manifests how divine mercy is a central subject of discussion in the Church today.
The centrality of divine mercy is certainly not new in the Church’s teaching and pastoral practice, even though some today would give the impression that it is so. At the same time, the current widespread discussion of mercy risks making it a slogan lacking a profound understanding of its meaning in the Church’s constant teaching. Sadly, for example, one hears of various difficult situations in the Church today rather easily dismissed by invoking God’s mercy.
It is therefore important that we take up a serious consideration of the nature of God’s mercy as He has revealed it to us and as it has been taught in the Magisterium. To assist such reflection, I will concentrate my attention on the teaching in the Sacred Scripture as it has been interpreted by Saint Thomas Aquinas and Pope Saint John Paul II. Then, I will relate that teaching to the natural moral law.
It is my hope that my reflection, offered during the extraordinary year of Divine Mercy will confirm you in your faith and in your service to the Church.
Divine Mercy and Justice in the Sacred Scriptures
In our time, divine mercy is presented in many different, and sometimes contradictory, ways. Not infrequently, it is seen as opposed to divine justice. But God reveals that mercy and justice are not in conflict with each other but instead are essentially related one to the other. We read in the Book of Psalms, for example: “Mercy and truth have met together; justice and peace have kissed.” We see the relationship, too, in the penitential prayer of the Prophet Jeremiah:
We recognize, O LORD, our wickedness, the guilt of our fathers; that we have sinned against you. For your name’s sake spurn us not, disgrace not the throne of your glory; remember your covenant with us, and break it not.
Psalm 50, known popularly by the first word of its Latin translation, Miserere, “Have mercy,” expresses in a most beautiful way how God’s justice makes us conscious of our sins and inspires in us sorrow for them and the firm purpose of amendment, and how God’s mercy gives us confidence to confess our sins, to beg His forgiveness, and to begin again on the just way of obedience to God’s will in all things. We cannot understand mercy without justice; we find their inseparable relation expressed most perfectly in Christ, in the great mystery of the Redemptive Incarnation of God the Son.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est, described the whole of the Sacred Scriptures as a love story in which God “comes towards us, He seeks to win our hearts, all the way to the Last Supper, to the piercing of His Heart on the Cross, to His appearances after the Resurrection and to the great deeds by which, through the activity of the Apostles, He guided the nascent Church along its path.” In His justice, God recognizes our sin and the need of its reparation, while, in His mercy, He showers upon us the grace to repent and make reparation. In this light, one understands how Our Lord wept over Jerusalem just after His entrance into the city on Palm Sunday, as He was preparing to undergo His cruel Passion and Death within a matter of days.
At Our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem, the people rejoiced at His coming to them, crying out: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” But our Lord knew the superficiality of their welcome; he knew that it would not endure. He wept, saying: “If this day [you] only knew what makes for peace ....” He recognized that they were lacking in turning over their hearts to God, in returning love to Him Who first loved them without measure. He knew of the injustices in which they were engaged to the harm of one another. They indeed failed to recognize what makes for peace, namely obedience to God and His commandments, a just and loving relationship with God and neighbor, in accord with God’s law.
Through the mystery of the Redemptive Incarnation, we see in flesh and blood the unconditional love of God for us, which, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “is so great that it turns God against Himself, His love against His justice.” God’s justice, with its demands, remains always, but He chooses to meet those demands with His superabundant mercy. God never turns His back on us; He will never break His covenant with us, even though we are so frequently indifferent, cold and unfaithful.
We face, in our time, many questions regarding justice, including questions about human rights, “just war,” and economic inequality. What becomes clear is that the issue of justice is present in all human interactions. In that sense, we speak of justice as a social virtue. Justice is fundamentally the virtue by which we give others something, namely, the good that is owed to them. It is the virtue which establishes the right relationships necessary for happiness and peace. In Sacred Scripture, God frequently exhorts us to be just toward others: “Love justice, you that are judges of the earth”; “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless.” This is because God Himself is just, as all the saints in heaven proclaim: “Great and wonderful are thy deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are thy ways, O King of the ages!”
 Ps 85, 10.
 Jer 14, 20-21.
 “… nobis obviam venit, nos acquirere studet – usque ad Novissimam Cenam, usque ad Cor in cruce perforatum, usque ad Resuscitati visus magnaque opera, quibus ipse per actus Apostolorum Ecclesiae nascentis iter direxit.” Benedictus PP. XVI, Litterae Encyclicae Deus Caritas Est, “De christiano amore,” 25 Decembris 2005, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 98 (2006) 230-231, n. 17. [DC]. English translation: Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est, “On Christian Love,” 25 December 2005 (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2006), p. 28, no. 17. [DCEng].
 Cf. Lk 19, 41-44.
 Lk 19, 38.
 Lk 19, 42.
 “Sic est is magnus ut contra se ipsum vertat Deum, eius amorem contra eius iustitiam.” DC, 226, n. 10. English translation: DCEng, p. 20, no. 10.
 Wis 1, 1.
 Ps 82, 3.
 Rev 15, 3.