In Psalm 116 we read: "Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God
is merciful" (v. 5). At first sight judgement and mercy would seem
to be two irreconcilable realities, or at least, the second seems to
be connected with the first only if it mitigates its own inexorable
power. It is necessary instead to understand the logic of Sacred
Scripture, which links them and indeed presents them in a way that
one cannot exist without the other.
In the Old Testament the sense of divine justice is perceived
gradually, beginning with the situation of one who has acted well
and feels unjustly threatened. He then finds refuge and defence in
God. This experience is expessed several times in the Psalms which,
for example, state: "I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the
afflicted, and executes justice for the needy. Surely the righteous
shall give thanks to your name; the upright shall dwell in your
presence" (Ps 140:13-14).
Scripture conceives of intervention on behalf of the oppressed
primarily as justice, that is, as God's fidelity to the saving
promises made to Israel. God's justice is therefore one which stems
from the gratuitous and merciful initiative by which he bound
himself to his people in an eternal covenant. God is just because he
saves, thus fulfilling his promises, while the judgement of sin and
the wicked is only a secondary aspect of his mercy. The sinner who
has sincerely repented can always trust in this merciful justice
(cf. Ps 51:6, 16).
Regarding the difficulty of finding justice in human beings and
their institutions, there is a growing awareness in the Bible that
justice will only be fully realized in the future, through the
action of a mysterious figure who will gradually assume more precise
"messianic" features: a king or a king's son (cf. Ps 72:1), a shoot
that "will come forth from the stump of Jesse" (Is 11:1), a
"righteous branch", a descendant of David (Jer 23:5).
2. The figure of the Messiah, foreshadowed in many passages,
especially in the prophetic books, assumes in the perspective of
salvation the functions of governance and judge ment for the
prosperity and growth of the community and its individual members.
The judicial function will be exercised over the good and the
wicked, who will appear together for judgement, where the triumph of
the just will become fear and amazement for the wicked (cf. Wis
4:20-5:23; cf. also Dn 12:1-3). The effect of the judgement
entrusted to the "Son of man", in the apocalyptic vision of the book
of Daniel, will be the triumph of the holy people of the Most High
over the downfall of earthly kingdoms (cf. Dn 7, especially vv. 18
On the other hand, even those who can expect a favourable judgement
are aware of their own limits. Thus there is a growing sense that it
is impossible to be just without divine grace, as the Psalmist
recalls: "O Lord ... in your justice answer me. Enter not into
judgement with your servant, for before you no living man is just"
3. We find the same basic logic again in the New Testament, where
divine judgement is linked to Christ's saving work.
Jesus is the Son of man to whom the Father has given the power to
judge. He will pass judgement on all who will come forth from their
tombs, separating those destined for the resurrection of life from
those who will experience the resurrection of judgement (cf. Jn
5:26- 30). However, as the Evangelist John stresses: "God sent the
Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world
might be saved through him" (3:17). Only those who will have
rejected the salvation offered by God in his boundless mercy will be
condemned, because they will have condemned themselves.
4. St Paul delves into the salvific meaning of this concept of "the
justice of God" which is accomplished "through faith in Jesus Christ
for all who believe" (Rom 3:22). The justice of God is closely
connected with the gift of reconciliation; if we are reconciled with
the Father through Christ, we too, through him, can become the
justice of God (cf. 2 Cor 5:18-21).
Judgement and mercy can thus be understood as two dimensions of the
same mystery of love: "For God has consigned all men to
disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all" (Rom 11:32). Love,
which is the basis of the divine attitude and must become a
fundamental virtue for the believer, thus prompts us to have trust
in the day of judgement, casting out all fear (cf. 1 Jn 4:18). In
imitation of this divine judgement, human judgement must also be
exercised according to a law of freedom, in which it is precisely
mercy that must prevail: "Always speak and act as those destined for
judgement under the law of freedom. Merciless is the judgement on
the one who has not shown mercy; but mercy triumphs over judgement"
5. God is the Father of mercy and of all consolation. For this
reason in the fifth request of the prayer par excellence, the Our
Father, "our petition begins with a "confession" of our wretchedness
and his mercy" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2839). In
revealing the fullness of the Father's mercy to us, Jesus also
taught us that we only have access to this Father, so just and
merciful, through the experience of that mercy which must mark our
relations with our neighbour. "This outpouring of mercy cannot
penetrate our hearts as long as we have not forgiven those who have
trespassed against us.... In refusing to forgive our brothers and
sisters, our hearts are closed and their hardness makes them
impervious to the Father's merciful love" (CCC, n. 2840).
I extend a particular welcome to the various groups of Religious
Sisters and Brothers engaged in renewal courses. May you be
strengthened in your distinctive witness to the pre-eminence of God
in all things and to his love for every creature. Upon all the
English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from
England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada and the United States, I invoke
the joy and peace of the Risen Lord.