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IHS Third Sunday after Pentecost—30 June AD 2019 Within the Octave of the Sacred Heart Ave Maria!

“There shall be joy before the angels of God upon one sinner doing penance.” [1]

This mornings Gospel ought to be a great consolation to us. No one is without sin, and the penalty for unrepented sin is quite justly the punishment of Hell, for in sin a mere mortal has offended his infinite God. We don't like to think about Hell, but it is a reality, and something about which we should be very concerned. Hell is eternal—it will have no end. It is said to consist of at least two separate torments. First there is the pain of loss—the suffering of knowing that we could have had eternal happiness with God in Heaven, but through our own negligence we have forfeited that happiness.

Secondly, there is physical pain. Everyone will rise on the Last Day. The bodies of those in heaven will feel eternal pleasure, but the bodies of those in Hell will feel eternal fire. It is said that the fire produces heat but no light. The way Saint Thomas Aquinas describes it, Hell will be blindingly dark but God will somehow allow the damned to see only the things that torment them.[2] Perhaps they will see telepathically, with tormenting images placed directly into their minds.

The physical torment may be more than simply heat. The Psalmist lists “fire and brimstone and storms of winds.”[3] In Job we read that the soul will “pass from the snow waters to excessive heat” an repetitive alternation from freezing to burning and back again.[4]

But God loves all of His men and women—we were made in His image and likeness, and He knows that we are capable of loving Him. Indeed He loves us to the degree that He was willing to die for us on the Cross. He loves us far more than the shepherd loves his sheep or the woman values her missing drachma. He ate with us sinners because He wanted to communicate His love to us, and to urge us to make use of His mercy.

God’s justice is merciful—He wants to forgive us—but His mercy is also just. Mercy and justice are like the opposite sides of the same coin. It is a modernist error to assume that God will forgive every sin, just because the sinner deludes himself into thinking that great good will come from his sin. Sin is an objective reality that cannot be rationalized out of existence—not by the sinner, nor by his confessor. I remember, perhaps sixty years ago, the pastor of my parish church explaining that “the Church can forgive any kind of sin—but no one in the Church,” at any level,” can grant permission to sin.”

In the Gospel, our Lord is trying to make the Pharisees see the importance of making it possible for sinners to repent and be forgiven. They needed to understand the great value of evangelizing the sinful: For “there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner who does penance.”

In the Night Office today, in his comments on this Gospel, Pope Saint Gregory the Great told us that:

true righteousness is merciful, and false righteousness is contemptuous, even though the righteous often feel moved with just indignation at sinners. But it is one thing to feel indignant through pride, and another to feel so through love of law.[5]

If we have difficulty in “loving the law,” we should always remember that God’s laws are essentially the “manufacturer’s instructions” for human beings. Society cannot function if we deny our families and concentrate on stealing, beating, lying, killing, and cheating each other! God’s Law—known almost instinctively by the thinking person’s human conscience, and known explicitly in God’s revelation—is one of His greatest gifts to us. Our world cannot work without it.

God wants to forgive our sins, but one of His conditions—in addition to repentance and Confession—is a willingness to forgive the sins of our neighbors: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That should be a great incentive to forgive those who offend us. If we refuse forgiveness, we place ourselves in danger of not being forgiven by God. If we do forgive, we make our own salvation possible, as well as that of our contrite neighbor. And remember:

“There shall be joy before the angels of God upon one sinner doing penance.”

With the forgiveness of a neighbor we are quite likely to double the joy of the angels in Heaven!


[1] Gospel: Luke xv:1-5

[2] Summa Theologica. Supplement, Q.97 a.4

[3] Psalm x: 7

[4] Job xxiv: 19

[5] An Homily of Pope Saint Gregory the Great XXXIV on the Gospels

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