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Misapprehension of God's Mercy

(Excerpts from The Sinner's Return to God
by Father Michael Mueller.)

All say: "God is merciful. I shall do penance some day, and God will forgive me." True. God is merciful. If He were not merciful, who would be living today? And He has even sworn an oath that He will forgive us, no matter how numerous, no matter how enormous, our sins may be, provided that we turn to Him with our whole heart; but without any real change of heart, without true, earnest contrition, God will not, God cannot pardon us -- no, not even for a single venial sin. By putting off our conversion from day to day, we deliberately declare in the face of Heaven and earth, and renew the declaration every day, that we will not do penance, even though we have the power and the time to do so. Of our own free will, therefore, we exclude ourselves from God's mercy and compel God to condemn us. By putting off our conversion we wilfully abuse God's mercy and make of it a motive for sinning. We remain in sin and refuse to do penance because God is patient and merciful. Does not this partake of the malice of the devil? Because God is good, we will be wicked; because God is merciful, we will remain hardened; we will persevere in sin and remain impenitent just because God is patient and long-suffering. We continue to sin on from day to day, and from year to year, because God does not punish us instantly and cast us into Hell in the very act of sin.

Suppose a man were condemned to quit the country within thirty days at the penalty of losing his life if found within the realm after that time. What would be thought of him if, instead of making every preparation for his departure, and eagerly seizing the first opportunity to depart, he were to spend his time in drinking, gambling and amusing himself to the last moment? It would be thought that he had lost his senses. A very similar case is that of one who has committed mortal sin, and who knows that the sentence of eternal death is pronounced against him the moment after the commission of that sin. Death may overtake him at any moment, and if he dies in such a state he will surely be lost forever. Is it not utter folly to continue so? Sooner or later that sinful life must be given up if a man has any hope or desire for salvation.

He who does penance only in his old age or on a deathbed, when he can sin no longer, when the world rejects and despises him -- such a one has every reason to fear that his penance is insincere and worthless, because his penance is not free; it is only prompted by natural, slavish fear. On the contrary, if we do penance while we have the power to commit sin, while the world, with its sinful pleasures, invites us, we show clearly that we are in earnest; we have every reason to hope for pardon; and the thought of so noble a deed will be our greatest consolation at the dread hour of death. Is it so very agreeable, so very honorable, to be a slave of the devil, to be bound by the chains of the most shameful sins, the most degrading passions? Is it prudent, is it reasonable, to live thus longer in mortal sin, when we know that every moment may be our last, and that, if we die as we stand, we shall infallibly be lost? Let us show that we are not cowards; that we can trample human respect under foot; that we are humble and honest enough to go to confession, no matter what others may think or say about us. And even if we cannot make our confession at once, it is well to make at least a beginning. We shall find that it is not so difficult a thing as we imagine. Arise! then; delay no longer. "Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation."

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