God's Mercy and Forgiveness

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In Jesus' time, some of the religious leaders of the Jews seemed to forget the loving forgivenss that God had shown their ancestors.  Instead, they kept reminding the people only about God's justice, especially that he punishes every sin that we commit.  They spoke of God as if he were a merciless judge who found joy in condemning everyone - except the most learned and religious of people!

But when Jesus preached to these people he told them that God is full of mercy and forgiveness.  Mercy means that God has love and tenderness toward weak mankind.  Our Lord, God-become-man, showed this mercy in his dealings with sinners.

When sinners came to Jesus he never ignored them or treated them as outcasts.  He made them feel wanted and loved; he made friends with them.  He even called one of them, Matthew, to be an apostle; and another, Mary Magdalen, to be one of his closest disciples!  Jesus' kind attitude toward sinners made the leaders of the Jews very upset.  One day they complained to his disciples:  "What reason can the Teacher have for eating with tax collectors and those who disregard the law!" (Mt 9:11).

Jesus overheard this remark and said to them:  "People who are in good health do not need a doctor; sick people do. . . . I have come to call, not the self-righteous, but sinners" (Mt 9:12-13).

What Jesus meant was that he was like a doctor who is concerned with the health of people.  He is the Divine Physician who has come to heal the sickness of sin in our souls.  He has come to offer forgiveness and freedom from sin to each one of us.

God Loves the Sinner but Hates the Sin

Some people think that the friendships which Jesus made with sinners mean that he approved of their sinful desires and actions.  This is far from the truth!  He loved each person because he was created by God, who commands us to love all men.  But he hated each sin and never told anyone that he approved of his sinfulness.  Do you remember the story in the Gospel about the woman caught in the act of adultery?  Some of the Scribes and Pharisees were about to kill this woman.  But Jesus reminded them that they, too, were guilty of sins.  Then he said to her,  "Go, and sin no more" (Jn 8:11).

We All Need a Change of Heart

Like the woman mentioned above, all of us stand before Jesus as sinners who come to him for forgiveness.  We go to him in Confession and leave the sacrament freed from sin.  How can we "go and sin no more"?  By having a change of heart.  This means that we honestly try to do good and avoid sin, even when it is difficult.  It means that we try to see things as Jesus would: giving first place in life to God, second to our neighbor, and last to ourselves.

One of the ways to have a change of heart is to spend a few minutes every night in thinking about the way we spent our day.  We briefly review the Commandments of God and see if we have obeyed them.  By doing this, we get to know which sins we commit most often.  This will help us to avoid these sins in the future.  There is a very good Christian practice called the examination of conscience that helps us to discover our sins and work on a change of heart. 

Another way of growing in this change of heart is to remember that at death we will have to stand before God to be judged.  Then there will be no more time for us to change our way of living.  We will go to one of three places: Heaven, Purgatory, or Hell.  Heaven is for those who have tried to know, love, and serve God with all their heart and all their strength; it is never-ending happiness in God's presence.  Purgatory is for those who wanted to love God and serve him on earth, but who did not really try as hard as they could.  It purifies them of their selfishness and prepares them to enter Heaven.  Hell is for those who died without any love for God.  In life they tried only to satisfy their selfish desires and gave little thought to loving God or obeying his commandments.  Hell is never-ending punishment for sin; those in Hell are separated from God forever.

The best way to change our hears is to go to Confession often, at least once a month.  In this way we will have our sins forgiven, and we will receive the strength we need to avoid them in the future.  Although Confession is necessary only when we have committed mortal sin, confessing our venial sins gives us the sacramental grace which helps us particularly in avoiding the sins we have confessed, even venial sins.  The priest will also give us good advice on how to live a better Christian life.

Take up Your Cross and Follow Me

One day, Jesus said to his disciples:  "If a man wishes to come after me, he must deny his very self, take up his cross, and begin to follow me" (Mt 1:6:24).

He calls us to do the same thing.  This means that we must learn to deny our selfish desires by doing little acts of penance.  Some examples of penance are not eating between meals or volunteering to do help others when it is not expected of us.  By doing little things that are not appealing to us, for the love of God, we strengthen our wills.  Then, when temptations to sin come along, we will be better prepared to say "no" to them.

Saint Dominic Savio, the popular teenager saint, was able to accomplish a change of heart in this way.  He learned to hate sin and love God by examining his conscience nightly, by going to Confession weekly, by receiving the Eucharist often, and by denying his selfish desires through acts of penance.  You can have a change of heart too!

Used with the permission of The Ignatius Press 800-799-5534

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