I think we should jump into God’s mercy, so to speak, as if it is a bottomless sea. It is not necessarily unpainful, because there is a mercy there, which I don’t even try to fathom, but it comes to me every time, because I am a Russian and his mercy means so much to me. But at the same time, every time I plunge into that mercy, somehow, somewhere, someplace, I find justice.
The mercy always unbinds the hands of the justice, but the justice is there, and you kind of realize without realizing the depth of this mercy because it can untie the hands of his justice. It comes from the depths of his heart! Because if we were judged by his justice, we wouldn’t have a chance, let’s face it! But he unbinds the hands of his justice, like Peguy says, and opens the hands of his mercy, and you go deeper and deeper and it is bottomless, and somewhere the justice is going to show his mercy and the two will show his infinite love.
And you kind of go into both and you stand there and thus know... a hope springs into you like a sort of - or from you, or passes through you, or gets at you - with such a power that you almost begin to sense what it is, because hope is a very elusive virtue. It might be a theological one, but it is awfully difficult... But when you’re touched by it, you kind of see that this mercy is bottomless, that there is no bottom to it, and that always it binds the hands of his justice and things fall into the rhythm of love.
And as years go by, God’s love overwhelms you, and that is what seems to call forth from you the most incredible hope that you can be a saint. I think that is the biggest hope for us to really think about... anyhow for me it is.
Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Unpublished talk, March 3, 1970
Reflection – I thought I would put a little something from Catherine in today, in the spirit of ‘and now for something completely different!’ that I try to have on this blog. The past couple weeks, as I went through Heretics by Chesterton, of course the great theme has been truth and falsehood, controversy and debate.
And, of course, all that is necessary and vital. But, of course, it doesn’t take too much of that before we come up against our need for mercy, for God’s mercy, for our own mercy which only has any strength to it if we are immersed in this beautiful sea of God’s mercy.
The question of the interplay of mercy and justice is a very deep one. In our world today we are big on justice, at least in theory (I’m not sure the realization of justice is too hot these days). And justice is of God, is a virtue both human and divine. To render to each that which is their due is a good and gracious thing. Truth matters, and justice is always a question of truth.
But it is not sufficient. And furthermore, it is not attainable, unless it is married to mercy, so to speak. Mercy unties the hands of justice, in the poetic phrase of Peguy that Catherine loved to quote. We live in a world that is so fallen, so broken, so hurting, and in which everyone has something wrong with them on some deep level—that justice alone is not only going to fail to meet the actual need of any given situation, but justice alone will prove to be elusive and unattainable.
It is the choice to be merciful in which we are able to find the path of justice. And the choice to be merciful is first a choice—a very deep choice indeed—to know one’s own need for mercy and to seek it from the Most High.
Because of course this is truth, isn’t it? Truth matters—but the deeper truth that enfolds all the truths that enter into questions of justice, is the truth that God’s love and God’s mercy is the source and substance of our lives. In a sense, justice is mercy, as there is no way you can truly be giving someone what is their due absent the choice to love that person—and love of any person in a fallen broken world will always include to a greater or lesser degree the need to be merciful to that person.
For Catherine, all of this was utterly self-evident, due to some combination of her Russian upbringing, the faith lessons of her parents, and the almost unbearable sufferings she endured in her early adult life as a war nurse, a refugee, an abused wife, an impoverished immigrant in a strange land.
For us of North American stock, this does still seem to be a struggle – the easy frank admission of our own sinfulness, the humility of knowing oneself as a saved sinner, the total faith in God’s mercy to rescue us in our wretchedness, and the realization of the constant call to extend that mercy to our troublesome brother, our demanding sister, our difficult neighbor. We do seem to get tripped up somewhere or other along that path, quite often.