God is merciful! Yes; the mercy of God is infinite; but with all that mercy, how many are lost every day! I come to heal the contrite of heart! God heals those sinners who have a good will. He pardons their sins, but He cannot pardon their determination to go on sinning.
The sinner says: But God is merciful. I reply: Who denies it? The mercy of God is infinite; but with all that mercy, how many are lost every day! I come to heal the contrite of heart. (Is. lxi. 1). God heals those who have a good will. He pardons sin; but He cannot pardon the determination to sin. The sinner will reply: But I am young. You are young: but God does not count years, but sins. And this reckoning of sins is not the same for all. In one, God pardons a hundred sins, in another a thousand, another He casts into hell after the second sin. How many has the Lord sent there at the first sin! St. Gregory relates that a child of five years old was cast into hell for uttering a blasphemy. The Blessed Virgin revealed to that great servant of God, Benedicta of Florence, that a girl of twelve years old was condemned for her first sin. Another child of eight years sinned, and after his first sin, died and was lost. We are told in the Gospel of St. Matthew, that the Lord immediately cursed the fig-tree the first time that He found it without fruit, and it withered: May no fruit grow on thee forever! (Matt. xxi. 19). Another time God said: For three crimes of Damascus, and for four, I will not convert it. (Amos i. 3). Some presumptuous man may perhaps ask the reason of God why He pardons three and not four sins. In this we must adore the Divine judgments of God, and say with the Apostle: O the depth of the riches, of the wisdom, and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are his judgments, and how unsearchable his ways! (Rom. xi. 33). St. Augustine says: “He well knows whom He pardons and whom He does not pardon; when He shows mercy to any one, it is gratuitous on His part; and when He denies it, He denies it justly.”
The obstinate sinner will reply: But I have so often offended God, and He has pardoned me; I hope, therefore, He will pardon me this other sin. But I say: And because God has not hitherto punished you, is it always to be thus? The measure will be filled up, and the chastisement will come. Samson, continuing his wanton conduct with Dalila, hoped nevertheless to escape from the hands of the Philistines, as he had done before; I will go out as I did before and shake myself. (Jud. xvi. 20). But that last time he was taken, and lost his life. Say not, I have sinned, and what harm hath befallen me? Say not, says the Lord, I have committed so many sins, and God has never punished me: For the Most High is a patient rewarder. (Ecclus. v. 4). That is, the time will come when He will repay all; and the greater His mercy has been, so much the greater will be the punishment.
When I am tempted, O my merciful God, I will instantly and always have recourse to Thee. Hitherto I have trusted in my promises and my resolutions, and I have neglected to recommend myself to Thee in my temptations; and this has been my ruin. No; from this day henceforth Thou shalt be my hope and my strength; and thus shall I be able to accomplish all things. Give me the grace, then, through Thy merits, O my Jesus, to recommend myself always to Thee, and to implore Thy aid in my necessities. I love Thee, O my Sovereign Good, amiable above all that is amiable, and Thee only will I love; but Thou must help me. And thou also, O Mary my Mother, thou must help me by thy intercession; keep me under the mantle of thy protection, and grant that I may always call upon thee when I am tempted; thy name shall be my defence.
St. Chrysostom says, that we ought to fear more when God bears with the obstinate sinner than when He punishes him: “There is more cause to fear when He forbears than when He quickly punishes”; because, according to St. Gregory, God punishes more rigorously those whom He waits for with most patience, if they remain ungrateful: “Whom He waits for the longer He the more severely condemns.” Often, adds the Saint, do those whom He has borne with for a long time die suddenly at last, without having time to be converted: “Often those who have been borne with a long time are snatched away by sudden death, so that it is not permitted them to shed a tear before they die.” Especially, the greater the light which God has given you has been, the greater will be your blindness and obstinacy in sin: For it had been better for them (said St. Peter) not to have known the way of justice, than after they had known it, to turn back. (2 Peter ii. 21). And St. Paul said, that it is impossible (morally speaking) for a soul that sins after being enlightened to be again converted: For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift … and are fallen away, to be renewed again unto penance. (Heb. vi. 4, 6).
Terrible, indeed, is what the Lord says against those who are deaf to His calls: Because I have called and you have refused … I also will laugh in your destruction, and will mock when that shall come to you which you feared. (Prov. i. 24, 26). Take notice of those two words, I also; they signify that as the sinner has mocked God, confessing, promising, and yet always betraying Him, so the Lord will mock him at the hour of death. Moreover, the Wise Man says: As a dog that returneth to his vomit, so is the fool that repeateth his folly. (Prov. xxvi. 11). So he who relapses into the sins he has detested in Confession, becomes odious to God.
Behold me, O my God, at Thy feet. I am that loathsome sinner who so often returned to feed upon the forbidden fruit which I had before detested. I do not deserve mercy, O my Redeemer; but the Blood Thou hast shed for me encourages and compels me to hope for it. How often have I offended Thee, and Thou hast pardoned me! I have promised never again to offend Thee; and yet I have returned to the vomit, and Thou hast again pardoned me. Do I wait, then, for Thee to send me straight to hell–or to give me over to my sins which would be a greater punishment than hell? No, my God, I will amend; and that I may be faithful to Thee, I will place all my trust in Thee.
(Meditation for Monday, First Week of Lent – by St Alphonsus Liguori)