On April 30th, 2000 Pope John Paul II officially designated the second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. The designation was in celebration of the canonization of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska– the Polish nun who received the devotion from Jesus! My wife’s Confirmation saint is St. Maria Faustina and in recent years of our marriage I have been more familiar with her teaching by reading the Polish nun’s diary. While I could write for pages about the joys of this feast, I will limit myself to three reasons for why I am grateful for Divine Mercy Sunday.
Judgment + _____________= Love
I bet you can’t guess blank to fill out the equation. Let me give you a clue: the word is in the title of today’s post. You guessed it– mercy! The Church’s renewed focus on Divine Mercy to start the new millennium gave me a renewed focus as well. I grew up usually thinking about the power of God and His ability to judge us. For whatever reason I viewed God more as a judge and less like a merciful Father. Divine Mercy Sunday is a gift that helps remind me that God, though a judge, is a merciful judge and will give me many chances to correct the mistakes I make.
The reading associated with this Sunday’s Mercy Sunday comes from John 20:19-31. Jesus’ first words to his apostles are, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). That is one of the effects of divine mercy. In a world that is constantly pulling me each direction, it is nice to listen Christ’s words. A second major point from today’s gospel reading is the institution of the sacrament of Confession. Jesus confers this sacrament of healing to his apostles when he say, “”Peace be with you [a second time]. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained'” (John 20:21-23). Time and time again Jesus reminds us of God’s mercy. In the 20th century, Jesus gave St. Faustina this same message. She states in her diary,
“’Proclaim that mercy is the greatest attribute of God. All the works of My hands are crowned with mercy.’” (No. 301)
Along with the fruit of the sacrament of Confession, Divine Mercy Sunday infuses life into my marriage. As I stated before, my wife’s Confirmation saint is St. Faustina. It was through the graces received through praying the chaplet of Divine Mercy that quelled any doubt in her mind of joining the Catholic Church. Additionally, I am thankful for Divine Mercy Sunday because this feast day is a great reminder of the amazing mercy my wife shows to me on a daily basis! When I get short or angry at a home situation, my wife is always willing to bestow mercy by the end of the day. I would like to think that I too am making progress– due in large part to St. Faustina and my wife’s intercession– but I have great strides to go still.
If you have never heard of St. Maria Faustina, I urge you to check out her diary from a local library, a friend, or your parish. For those pinched for time, I recommend simply printing off a small list of quotes from her about Divine Mercy and read them a few minutes a day during this Easter Season. I close with Jesus’ words [revealed to St. Faustina], “The prayer of a humble and loving soul disarms the anger of My Father and draws down an ocean of blessings” (Diary of Maria Faustina No. 320). Thank God for the gift of Divine Mercy Sunday!
Call to Action— Learn the Chaplet of Divine Mercy!
Below is a simple diagram of how to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. My family and I prefer to pray it via singing check out this YouTube video on our favorite version!
Words cannot truly describe the evil passage of the New York State bill permitting abortion through the entirety of pregnancy. Pro-lifers and faithful Catholics across the nation call for the bishops to excommunicate Governor Andrew Cuomo–a Catholic!
My initial reaction to passage of this heinous bill was anger. Anger of the fact this bill could even possibly been drafted. Anger at the governor for promptly signing this legislation.
Several days have passed since news broke. As a result, I have had a chance to ponder and reflect on the situation. While I still harbor anger at the bill, the main feeling is that of sadness. I am saddened for the poor souls whose life will be ended before it hardly began. I am saddened by the woman who believe abortion would be their only option. Finally, I am saddened that the officials in government, in particular Governor Cuomo, committed such a heinous offense and thus endangering their souls.
A week ago I would have first and foremost called Andrew Cuomo a laundry list of adjectives: vile, evil, sinister, deplorable, despicable, etc. I even would need to go to a thesaurus as even those would not justly describe his actions. Although I still vehemently denounce his approval of the bill, I now believe a more apt description of Cuomo is that he is ill. No rational and healthy person would allow for third term abortions (really any abortion) to even come into discussion.
Just as with a physical sickness, the illness of sin causes separation from God which results in a distorted view on goodness, truth, and beauty. Andrew Cuomo signed an objective evil bill into state law. He may appear as a lost cause. But that cannot be further from the truth. According to St. Monica, “Nothing is far from God.” God’s mercy is infinite and mysterious. The parable of the lost sheep applies even in the 21st century. I used to only think of the spiritually lost in terms of people who commit the primary sin directly: prostitutes, murderers, robbers, and terrorists. What if God’s mercy could extend to corrupt politicians as well?! Politicians who may not directly ‘killed the unborn’, but whose ambition for power may have caused them to sell out their moral principles.
We as a pro-life movement need to not only speak out for the unborn and educate about the evils of abortion, but we need to pray just as fervently–perhaps even more, for the conversion of those politicians complicit in allowing abortion legislation to become legal! I will offer up daily sacrifices and increase my prayers for Divine Mercy to bring Andrew Cuomo back to the Catholic Church and realize that all life is sacred.
True beauty involves realizes the Ultimate Good if God and following the golden rule in our lives. Jesus proclaimed in Luke 15:7, I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” Pray ardently for Andrew Cuomo that he may realize his errors and ask for pardon and forgiveness. If that occurs it will be a beautiful sight and cause for jubilation!
Pope Benedict XVI’s Prayer for the Unborn
Lord Jesus, You who faithfully visit and fulfill with your Presence the Church and the history of men; You who in the miraculous Sacrament of your Body and Blood render us participants in divine Life and allow us a foretaste of the joy of eternal Life; We adore and bless you.
Prostrated before You, source and lover of Life, truly present and alive among us, we beg you.
Reawaken in us respect for every unborn life, make us capable of seeing in the fruit of the maternal womb the miraculous work of the Creator, open our hearts to generously welcoming every child that comes into life.
Bless all families, sanctify the union of spouses, render fruitful their love.
Accompany the choices of legislative assemblies with the light of your Spirit,so that peoples and nations may recognize and respect the sacred nature of life, of every human life.
Guide the work of scientists and doctors, so that all progress contributes to the integral well-being of the person, and no one endures suppression or injustice.
Give creative charity to administrators and economists, so they may realize and promote sufficient conditions so that young families can serenely embrace the birth of new children.
Console the married couples who suffer because they are unable to have children and in Your goodness provide for them.
Teach us all to care for orphaned or abandoned children, so they may experience the warmth of your Charity, the consolation of your divine Heart.
Together with Mary, Your Mother, the great believer, in whose womb you took on our human nature, we wait to receive from You, our Only True Good and Savior, the strength to love and serve life, in anticipation of living forever in You, in communion with the Blessed Trinity.
“Why are you purposefully making errors?” Should we not put the customer first instead of individual metrics? Why does she [my wife] refuse to help around the house? Do my children live to make life difficult? These questions bombarded my mind over the course of the past few weeks while at work and home. The roots of impatience and capricious thoughts grew in my heart.
Today, I made time during my breaks and after work to reflect on my anxieties, worries, and fears. Slowing down to ponder the effects of my actions [or inactions] allowed me to realize the message of Psalm 103 is not merely a pious saying, but rather it is essential to incorporate mercy into daily living! According to the Psalmist, “Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger, abounding in mercy” (Psalm 103:8). Rooted in compassion, mercy is what all Christians are compelled to show their fellow neighbors at all times.
Admittedly, I fail at this goal each and every day. I lash out in anger when my children do not listen to my directions, I am quick to judge my co-workers mistakes as failings, and I fail love my wife—each and every day—as Christ loved the Church! Below are three reasons why Christians need to display mercy daily!
Work Sanctifies: A turning point in my spiritual journey occurred upon my discovery of the richness of theological wisdom of St. Josemaria Escriva. Founding Opus Dei, the Spanish priest reminded the world that everyone is called to holiness and that ordinary life can sanctify us. An anonymous donor at my parish gifted various families during Christmastime. Serendipitously, my family was chosen to receive gifts. We only needed to complete a form with suggestions for items based on our needs and wants. Under the section marked “wants” I requested the book The Way by Fr. Escriva.
Along with being a treat to read, the saint’s wisdom is quite practical to living amidst the busyness of daily living. According to paragraph number 359 he wrote, “Add a supernatural motive to your ordinary professional work, and you will have sanctified it.” Working for the sake of breadwinning is an admirable goal. However, only when I begin my workday with the specific mentality that the joys, trials, and anything in between that I encounter in my labors will lead me to becoming the best version of myself do I truly thrive—not merely survive at work!
The Second Vatican Council’s spoke of the value of human work as well. According to the Council Fathers,
Human activity, to be sure, takes its significance from its relationship to man. Just as it proceeds from man, so it is ordered toward man. For when a man works he not only alters things and society, he develops himself as well. He learns much, he cultivates his resources, and he goes outside of himself and beyond himself. Rightly understood this kind of growth is of greater value than any external riches which can be garnered. A man is more precious for what he is than for what he has (Gaudium Et Spes, 35).
The essential message is that personal development occurs through our daily work, it matters not what we are doing as long as we continue to strive for excellence in virtue and develop our love for God and fellow mankind.
Marriage Matters: K. Chesterton reparteed regarding the subject of marriage by saying, “Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honor should decline.” From my experience, the English essayist’s words ring true for my marriage.
This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1641,“This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they “help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children.”
Being a parent myself, I learned it is essential to err on the side of mercy when raising children. Repeating commands to my children is a frequent task. Recognizing that my son and daughter do not always intentionally refuse to listen is key to bettering me as a parent. Children learn new things daily, hourly, and sometimes each and every minute. Kid’s excitement of experiencing newness oftentimes gets perceived—at least I fall into this erroneous line of thought— as them acting out or being too rambunctious. Parents need to be slow to anger and rich in mercy like the Divine Father.
Just Don’t Judge, You are not the Just Judge: Jesus’ most famous teaching with regards to judging others comes from Matthew 7:1-5. Our Lord informed the crowds during his Sermon on the Mount with the following,
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
This ever relevant message seems always be applicable no matter the age or nation a person is from. Yesterday, I saw a thread on a Catholic-related Facebook group that I am a member where Christ’s words would have been wise to ponder. The original post discussed a recent quote about Pope Francis and his conversation with a man with same-sex attraction. People seemed quick to judge the bishop of Rome’s statements as being out of line with Catholic Church teaching. Judging from the peanut gallery does not solve the issues the Church faces on a daily basis.
Christians need to err on the side of mercy for it is the centerpiece of Jesus’ teaching. While the entirely of Catholic Church tradition emphasized God’s Mercy, the focus of Divine Mercy deepened with the saints of the 20th century. Perhaps the best encapsulation of Divine Mercy is St. Maria Faustina’s mystical experiences with Jesus Christ. “‘I am love and Mercy Itself. There is no misery that could be a match for My mercy, neither will misery exhaust it, because as it is being granted – it increases. The soul that trusts in My mercy is most fortunate, because I Myself take care of it.’” (Diary of a Soul 1273, page 459). Let us reflect God’s mercy in our daily life and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us away from an unhealthy judgmental mindset!
According to Luke 5:26, “Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God, and, struck with awe, they said, ‘We have seen incredible things today.’” From the onset of Jesus’ ministry the followers of Jesus become astonished at his works. As a perfectionist and control-freak, my natural inclination is to seek regularity and pattern in daily living. While I enjoy reading about sudden plot twists from the comfort of my armchair, I did not handle tons of surprises in my life well.
Most choices I make only occur after being carefully calculated and thought out. Today started no differently. Always planning ahead, I woke up quickly going over the list of my agenda for the day: get breakfast ready for the wife and kids, take my son to school, exercise, take younger kids to library, get more cereal—this perhaps was the most important as to avoid a meltdown from my 4 year old tomorrow morning— and finally drop the kids off at daycare before going to work. WHEW! If I was not already tired I am now after writing that sentence! Hopefully, you have not grown weary yet. My daily routine planted its grip on me which grants me stability, but the downside is I am not as open to wonder and awe as easily.
The paradox with seeking complete control of your life is that anxiety seems to follow close behind. Although I had a productive day errand-wise when it came to writing this article I initially hit a roadblock. Anxiety set in. What to write about? How would I be able to compose engaging material that without being forceful in my thought? The words of St. Paul came to assuage my concerns. He proclaimed, “”Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phillipians 4:6-7). Paul of Tarsus’ conversion story always appealed to me.
Throughout this week I thought a lot about the surprising [and questionable] reasoning of God to select a former mass murderer to serve as his primary evangelizer in the early Church. See the thing about God’s will and plan is that it goes above man’s mere superficial gaze. The God of Paul, the Divine Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is a being of great surprises. God surprised me today When I looked up the daily Mass reading for April 17th,[today!] I almost stood up from my desk in awe! The first reading for Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter comes from Acts 7:51-8:1A—the stoning of Stephen. Stephen’s murder represented the height of Saul’s sin. I truly do not believe my ponderings on St. Paul were mere coincidence. God planted a desire in my heart—the same day that the Mass readings were about his past failures!—to look to Paul’s journey toward conversion as a testament of Divine Mercy.
Among the most sinister characters in the New Testament, Saul led the assault against Christians. However, at the end of the Acts of the Apostles the same individual goes by the name Paul, became a household name in the early Church, and preaches through the ancient world the Good News of Jesus Christ. How is that possible? Answer: The God of the Universe loves to surprise. The plot twist involving the former persecutor of Christians is just one example of God’s mysterious, yet amazing plan of salvation.
The pride and self-righteousness of Saul prior to his conversion speaks directly to my own struggles with hubris and judgmental attitude towards others of different backgrounds. Acts 9 contains the conversion story of Saul. Traveling to Damascus, a bright light from the sky blinds him and Saul falls to the ground. Receiving temporary blindness for three days, the Lord moves in the heart of Saul during his period of darkness. After being healed from his blindness, Saul is baptized and takes the new Christian name of Paul—and the rest of the story is history.
Does your own pride cause myopia in your spiritual life? Are you in a place in your life where it would not be a bad thing to be knocked off the high horse of hubris? Have past actions caused innocent people to suffer? These are questions I reflect on today— and need to regularly ponder—as I sojourn through life. Am I currently Paul? Or have I acted like a Saul lately?
St. Maria Faustina detailed this truth about God’s mercy in Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul, “A soul does not benefit as it should from the sacrament of confession if it is not humble. Pride keeps it in darkness. The soul neither knows how, nor is it willing, to probe with precision the depths of its own misery. It puts on a mask and avoids everything that might bring it recovery” (113, page 63). I would not be surprised if the memory of St. Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 acted as a seed planted by the Holy Spirit as the Polish saint wrote these words. God’s write a perfect story with imperfect story. St. Paul is a testament to this fact. I am given hope by learning to trust in God’s surprising and unexpected details in his plan of salvation!
G.K. Chesterton stated in Christmas and Salesmanship, “Gratitude, being nearly the greatest of human duties, is also nearly the most difficult.” As a father I know all too well how difficult it is sometimes for my children to express gratitude to me. On the other hand, as a husband I struggle to tell my wife how thankful for all that she does. Not only do I need to improve on my attitude of gratitude within my marriage, I need to focus on having a thankful mindset in my spiritual life and relationship with God. In celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday, I came on my top ten reasons for why I am thankful for Catholicism!
Eucharist: The Bread of Life Discourse in John 6 has Jesus preaching the most profound truth in the history of the universe. Jesus said, I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). The Catechism of the Catechism Church calls the Eucharist the “source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). Every Sunday I experience the miracle of being able to receive the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ!
Holy Trinity: God is love. Love entails relationship. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the Mystery that God is a Communion of Three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am grateful for the revelation of this truth. I am able to ponder the depth of its truth without it growing stale, it always remains fresh and profound!
Incarnation: The most solemn moment of the Nicene Creed occurs when we profess: “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” At this point, we bow to recognize the amazing fact that God became a mere human. St. Athanasius had this to say about the Incarnation, “God became man that man might become God” (On the Incarnation). I am thankful that God sent his only Son-Jesus Christ—to become a bridge for humanity to access God.
Confession: I have experienced real, tangible, and concrete healing when I receive God’s healing grace’s in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through frequent reception of Penance, I have been able to overcome sins that dominated me in my youth. I have also been able to recognize sins that hid in the background previously. As a result, Confession provides me with graces to root out sinful tendencies and to grow in holiness.
Divine Mercy: While I experience Divine Mercy in the Sacrament of Confession, I want to treat this topic as a separate point. I used to view God as a wrathful Judge. My scrupulosity leads to a judgmental mentality—that I struggle with still today. However, through the intercession of the Divine Mercy saints of the 20th century such as St. Maria Faustina, John Paul II, Maximilian Koble, and Mother Teresa my awareness that God is a Merciful and Just Judge has increased!
Mary: My relationship with our Blessed Mother has improved over this past year. In celebration of the centenary anniversary of the Apparitions at Fatima, my wife and I consecrated ourselves to Jesus through St. Louis de Montfort stated, “[Mary] is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus and will surrender themselves to her, body and soul, without reserve in order to belong entirely to Jesus” (True Devotion to Mary). I learned that Mary is the greatest witness and advocate for God. Her desire is to lead ll her children to Jesus Christ.
Saints: Along with Mary, the saints in Heaven provide a model for me to follow to help me grow in holiness. Reading about the lives of my favorite saints [St. Athanasius, John Paul II, St. Amelia, St. Bernadette, St. Pius IX, St. Maria Faustina, and St. Maximilian Koble—to name a few] helps provide concrete examples of what holiness looks like and how I am able to emulate their trust in God in my own life.
Hope: I am thankful for the hope that the Catholic Church teaches and provides me daily. Attending Sunday Mass, going to Eucharistic Adoration, meeting with my monthly Catholic men’s group, and teaching Religious Education at my parish are ways that I receive [and pass on] hope. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1843, “By hope we desire, and with steadfast trust await from God, eternal life and the graces to merit it.”
Sacred Tradition: I am a history buff. In fact, I earned my undergraduate degree in history. The Catholic Church is a storehouse and guardian of 2,000+ years of history and tradition. While lesser important traditions pass away and give way to more appropriate devotional practices that fits the needs of the faithful, Jesus Christ knew that stability and consistency of truth is essential in mankind’s relationship with God. The Catechism tells us in paragraph number 96-97, “What Christ entrusted to the apostles, they in turn handed on by their preaching and writing, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to all generations, until Christ returns in glory. ‘Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God’ (DV 10) in which, as in a mirror, the pilgrim Church contemplates God, the source of all her riches.” I am thankful that Jesus instituted the priesthood and office of the papacy to have truth passed on through the ages.
Beauty: The final fact about Catholicism in my top ten list that I am grateful for is the beauty I experience. Catholic cathedrals and basilicas are places where I have experienced beauty in an ineffable way. During the celebration of the Liturgy, I experience the beauty of God in both song and sight. The icons in my local church allow my prayers to be better united to God. I am pointed toward higher realities when I meditate with the aid of sacred song and holy images.
Lord, we thank you for the goodness of our people and for the spirit of justice that fills this nation. We thank you for the beauty and fullness of the land and the challenge of the cities.
We thank you for our work and our rest, for one another, and for our homes. We thank you, Lord: accept our thanksgiving on this day. We pray and give thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord.
I normally do not write on current events or celebrity/infamous figures, however, this week I will make an exception. The notorious serial killer Charles Manson died at the age of 83. I read a few threads on social media speculating the state of his soul. One conversation on Facebook had a poll question had the following choices for viewers to vote on the status of his soul:
a. who am I to judge?
b. yes, he is in hell, not sure, but there is a high probability he is in hell
c. he is in purgatory
d. Miscellaneous options
According to the official teaching of the Catholic Church, I opt for the first answer—who am I to judge? Honestly, I cannot definitively know the status of his soul in the afterlife. Now, this stance is likely to be unpopular, especially from those impacted by his evil actions. I am not condoning Manson’s actions. Murder is against the 5th Commandment. All life has dignity. To end it is grave and serious! However, at the end of the day, I am not the judge and jury of the eternal state of a human’s soul once they pass from this world. Anyone who dons the role of judge, jury, and executioner of another human being toes a dangerous and prideful line.
Hell– Population Unknown: A theological census on the residents in hell does not exist–at least for humans. According to Bishop Robert Barron, “Catholic doctrine is that Hell exists, but yet the Church has never claimed to know if any human being is actually in Hell. When the Church says that Hell exists, it means that the definitive rejection of God’s love is a real possibility” (Is Hell Crowded or Empty? A Catholic Perspective, 2011). However, hell is populated with spiritual beings like the fallen angels and Satan. The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 391 and 393 tells us,
Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”.267 The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing…It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable. There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.
While Charles Manson’s horrific actions were severe and constituted justice to be served, we do not know whether or not he asked God for mercy during his four decades in prison. God is ultimately a merciful judge. He provides multiple opportunities for individuals to ask for forgiveness and to amend their sinful life. I will again look to the Catechism of the Catholic Church for guidance. Paragraph 1037 states, “God predestines no one to go to hell; 620 for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.”
2. Death Penalty: Genesis 4 describes the first murder—Cain’s fratricide of Abel. As a cradle Catholic I heard stories from the bible so many times that sometimes I overlook the details of the account. The story of Cain and Abel is definitely a passage that I need to be reminded of, especially, when anger, jealousy, and pride creep up on me.
Cain and Abel present offerings to God. Genesis 4 tells us that God is pleased with Abel’s gift because he sacrifices the best of his flock, whereas Cain’s sacrifice is mediocre. Jealousy grows inside of Cain and instead of striving to be better with his offering next time he kills his brother in hopes to eliminate his perceived competition. God eventually interrogates Cain. Cain tries to make up an excuse, but he is found guilty. Here is where the story takes a turn, instead of killing Cain God spares him. In fact, he even pledges to protect Cain. Listen to Genesis 4:11-15,
Now you are banned from the ground* that opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.d12If you till the ground, it shall no longer give you its produce. You shall become a constant wanderer on the earth.13Cain said to the LORD: “My punishment is too great to bear.14Look; you have now banished me from the ground. I must avoid you and be a constant wanderer on the earth. Anyone may kill me at sight.”15Not so! the LORD said to him. If anyone kills Cain, Cain shall be avenged seven times. So the LORD put a mark* on Cain, so that no one would kill him at sight.
People can debate whether the Cain and Abel story is meant to be taken literally or figuratively. Nonetheless, the key message of the passage is the reality of God’s mercy. God does not seek vengeance as a first act, instead he allows for the consequences of sinful actions to occur and then he provides time for humans to seek forgiveness.
In terms of the whether the capital punishment is morally permissible or not, Genesis 4 provides a precedent for the avoidance of using the death penalty. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2267,
Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.68
Through the increase in rehabilitation programs for criminals to participate in and improvement of prisons to section them off from the rest of the populace, the need for the death penalty in civilized nations is not as common as it was in the past. I want to make sure I am quite clear: Charles Manson’ heinous actions as a cult leader and murderer are deplorable. As a Catholic I am often challenged to demonstrate love individuals who committed such atrocities. If any of my loved ones ever suffered from the hands of someone similar in evil I would greatly struggle to forgive—but God calls us to a difficult task.
The death of Charles Manson reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:43-44, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’c44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” I am not the judge, jury, and executioner of humanity. Thank goodness! If that would be the case we might all fall short of the glory of God.
As a Middle-earth aficionado, I have read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. Currently, I am navigating the land of Beleriand as I am reading The Children of Húrin. While these books are creative and profound, my personal favorite Tolkien work [so far this may be subject to change!] does not take place in a mythic land or through the medium of an epic adventure tale. Instead, a short story published in 1945 wins my personal Pulitzer. Leaf by Niggle does not follow hobbits, elves, dwarves, or contain any sinister evil such as Sauron or Morgoth. Instead, the plots details of a simple painter’s journey in the afterlife.
The short story begins by depicting Niggle, an artist, living in a society with little esteem for art. Niggle’s neighbor Parish, who is lame and has an ill wife, continually interrupts his work. Although Niggle views such disruptions as annoying, he still helps his neighbor due to his politeness.
Niggle is forced to take a trip that he is not ready for and spends time at a hospital. Daily work as a gardener is the task that he is entrusted with during his time at the health institution. Throughout this process, the reader hears two unseen voices discuss the progress of Niggle.
It is determined that the artist made advancements and is sent to a new country—the Land of the Tree and Forest of his great painting. Niggle becomes re-united with Parish and together they work the land. Their work brings beauty to the Tree and the Forest. Finally, Niggle bids farewell to Parish as he continues his journey with the shepherd to learn more about the sheep and journey toward the high pastures in the Mountains.
The main reason I enjoy Leaf by Niggle is due to the clear catholicity contained within the characters, plot, and symbols. Niggle represents everyman—humanity as an individual and as a collective. When I looked up the word niggle in the thesaurus, I learned that the name has synonyms which included: annoy, bother, discomfort, and anxiety. According to Lumen Gentium [Dogmatic Constitution of the Church] 7, “On earth, still as pilgrims in a strange land, tracing in trial and in oppression the paths He trod, we are made one with His sufferings like the body is one with the Head, suffering with Him, that with Him we may be glorified.” Niggle also suffered various disturbances of his artwork while he was on a pilgrim journey.
Another example of how Tolkien clearly infused Catholic thought into his short story is the hospital being an allegory for the cleansing process of purgatory. Next, the Voices represent the judgment and mercy of God. The English writer conveys the balanced Catholic approach to Divine Mercy and Judgment through the dialogue between the voices on Niggle’s progress:
“Now the Niggle case,” said a Voice, a severe voice, more severe than the doctor’s.
“What was the matter with him?” said a Second Voice, a voice that you might have called gentle, though it was not soft-it was a voice of authority, and sounded at once hopeful and sad. “What was the matter with Niggle? His heart was in the right place.”
“Yes, but it did not function properly,” said the First Voice. “And his head was not screwed on tight enough: he hardly ever thought at all. Look at the time he wasted, not even amusing himself! He never got ready for his journey. He was moderately well-off, and yet he arrived here almost destitute, and had to be put in the paupers’ wing. A bad case, I am afraid. I think he should stay some time yet.”
“It would not do him any harm, perhaps,” said the Second Voice. “But, of course, he is only a little man. He was never meant to be anything very much; and he was never very strong. Let us look at the Records. Yes. There are some favourable points, you know.”
“Perhaps,” said the First Voice; “but very few that will really bear examination.”
“Well,” said the Second Voice, “there are these. He was a painter by nature. In a minor way, of course; still, a Leaf by Niggle has a charm of its own. He took a great deal of pains with leaves, just for their own sake. But he never thought that that made him important. There is no note in the Records of his pretending, even to himself, that it excused his neglect of things ordered by the law.”
“Then he should not have neglected so many,” said the First Voice.
“All the same, he did answer a good many Calls.”
I am Niggle
Probably the biggest takeaway I received from Leaf by Niggle this that the titular character mirrors traits found within myself. While Niggle engrossed himself in artwork, I often find myself absorbed in my hobbies of reading and writing. Daily disturbances—such as assisting neighbors in need—annoy Niggle, but he ultimately does the right thing, just not always out of love. In a similar fashion, I struggle to carry out my familial and employee duties without ever lamenting or finding these tasks bothersome. At the end of the day, I will complete my duty because it is right and moral. What I sometimes lack is serving my family and co-workers with love all the time!
Tolkien’s ability to depict the rawness and realness of Niggle urged me to re-read this short story almost immediately upon completing it the first time. As an idealist, I am often color-blind to the real-life situations and toils of daily living. Leaf by Niggle provides clarity into how God judges a person’s life. I am hopeful, yet realistic about God’s mercy and realize I have a purgative road ahead of me in this life [and likely the next life!].
Purgatory is a Real Process
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1030, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” Niggle’s trip to the hospital and the Land of the Tree and Forest represent the Christian doctrine of purgatory—a state of existence whereby souls are purified. Purgatory is an ephemeral existence, it is not permanent. It is a stage toward Heaven. However, the process of purgation is not ethereal, it involves a REAL PROCESS of perfection.
Tolkien utilizes allegory to capture this truth. He details concrete examples to describe the purgative experience. Death is the doorway that leads mankind toward purgation [this is assuming they led an imperfect life, but ultimately choose to follow God!]. In Leaf by Niggle, Tolkien represents Death via two character’s the Inspector of Homes and the Driver—brings Niggle to the hospital [i.e. Purgatory]. Listen to the conversation between Death and Niggle:
“Next day he felt a good deal better. He climbed the ladder, and began to paint. He had just begun to get into it again, when there came a knock on the door.
“Damn!” said Niggle. But he might just as well have said “Come in!” politely, for the door opened all the same. This time a very tall man came in, a total stranger.
“This is a private studio,” said Niggle. “I am busy. Go away!”
“I am an Inspector of Houses,” said the man, holding up his appointment-card, so that Niggle on his ladder could see it. “Oh!” he said.
“Your neighbour’s house is not satisfactory at all,” said the Inspector.
“I know,” said Niggle. “I took a note to the builders a long time ago, but they have never come. Then I have been ill.”
“I see,” said the Inspector. “But you are not ill now.”
“But I’m not a builder. Parish ought to make a complaint to the Town Council, and get help from the Emergency Service.”
“They are busy with worse damage than any up here,” said the Inspector. “There has been a flood in the valley, and many families are homeless. You should have helped your neighbour to make temporary repairs and prevent the damage from getting more costly to mend than necessary. That is the law. There is plenty of material here: canvas, wood, waterproof paint.”
“Where?” asked Niggle indignantly.
“There!” said the Inspector, pointing to the picture.
“My picture!” exclaimed Niggle.
“I dare say it is,” said the Inspector. “But houses come first. That is the law.”
St. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:2, “For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.” We do not know the hour of our death. Just how Niggle failed to be fully prepared to meet death, we might be surprised at the end of this earthly existence. Thankfully, due to the mercy of God, a process/period of purgation exists. Any lover of Tolkien and Christian allegory will find enjoyment while reading Leaf by Niggle.