‘Someone might ask me the question: “But Father, Pilate merited his condemnation? Did God will it? – No! God wanted to save Pilate and also Judas, all! He, the Lord of Mercy, wants to save all! The problem is letting Him enter the heart.’
Sacred Scripture presents God to us as infinite mercy, but also as perfect justice. How to conciliate the two? How is the reality of mercy articulated with the exigencies of justice? It might seem that they are two realities that contradict one another; in reality it is not so, because it is in fact the mercy of God that brings true justice to fulfillment. But what sort of justice is it?
If we think of the legal administration of justice, we see that one who is a victim of an abuse addresses the Judge in the court and asks that justice be done. It is a retributive justice that inflicts a punishment on the culpable one, in keeping with the principle that each one must be given what is due to him. As the Book of Proverbs states: “He who is steadfast in righteousness will live, but he who pursues evil will die” (11:19). Jesus also speaks about it in the parable of the widow who went repeatedly to the Judge and asked him: “Render a just decision for me against my adversary (Luke 18:3).”
This way, however, does not lead to true justice because, in reality, evil is not defeated, but is simply checked. Instead, it is only by responding to it with goodness that evil can be truly defeated. Here, then, is another way of doing justice, which the Bible presents to us as the masterful way to follow. It is a procedure that avoids recourse to the court and foresees the victim turning directly to the guilty one to invite him to conversion, helping him to understand that he is doing evil, appealing to his conscience. Thus, finally repentant and acknowledging his fault, he can open himself to the forgiveness that the injured party is offering him. And this persuasion is good; thus the heart opens to the forgiveness that is offered to it. This is the way to resolve disputes within families, in relations between spouses and between parents and children, where the offended one loves the guilty one and desires to save the relation that links him to the other. Do not cut that relationship, that relation.
This is certainly a difficult way. It requires that the one who has suffered the wrong be ready to forgive and desire the salvation and the good of the one who has offended him. However, only in this way can justice triumph, because, if the guilty one recognizes the evil done and stops doing it, then the evil exists no longer, and he who was unjust becomes just, because he is forgiven and helped to rediscover the way of goodness. And here. in fact, forgiveness and mercy come in.
It is thus that God acts in his dealing with us sinners. The Lord offers us His forgiveness constantly and He helps us to receive it and to become aware of our wrongdoing to be able to be free of it, because God’s does not want our condemnation, but our salvation. God does not want anyone’s condemnation. Someone might ask me the question: “But Father, Pilate merited his condemnation? Did God will it? – No! God wanted to save Pilate and also Judas, all! He, the Lord of Mercy, wants to save all! The problem is to let Him enter the heart.
All the prophets’ words are an impassioned appeal full of love that seeks our conversion. See what the Lord says through the prophet Ezekiel: “Do I find pleasure in the death of the wicked […] Do I not rejoice when they turn away from their evil way and live?” (18:23, Cf. 33:11), [This is] what pleases God!
And this is God’s heart, the heart of a Father who loves and wants His children to live in goodness and in justice, and thus live in fullness and be happy; the heart of a Father that goes beyond our little concept of justice to open us to the limitless horizons of His mercy. The heart of a Father that does not treat us according to our sins and does not repay us according to our faults, as the Psalm says (103:9-10). And it is precisely the heart of a Father that we want to find when we go to the confessional. Perhaps he will say something to make us understand evil better, but in the confessional we all go to find a Father that helps us change our life, a Father that gives us the strength to go forward; a Father that forgives us in the name of God. And you, priest, who are there in the confessional, you are there in the place of the Father who does justice with His mercy.