The "days are evil"; both minds and hearts are sorely troubled. Wellnigh two thousand years of Christianity have come and gone, yet Christian nations cannot, or will not, settle their differences without war. Scarcely had the "rumours of war" got abroad before the terrible reality was upon us — a war of the nations, under conditions far exceeding in horror all past wars. Why, men ask, should a few politicians and generals have power to plunge the world into such misery? And turning to the thought of God all-powerful they ask (some in sorrowing wonder, some in bitter distrust), "Why does He not prevent all this, if all power is in His hands? How can such suffering and sin be allowed by a God, just, merciful, loving ?"
The "evil" which belongs essentially to our finite condition, i.e. the thwarting and checking of our natural impulses towards self-development in various ways, necessitated by the fact that we are bound by our Creator's laws and must also take account of the rights of those around us — this we can see to be reconcilable with God's wisdom and goodness. But sin, which is the moral evil of rebellion against God, and suffering (both mental and physical, temporal and eternal), which in one way or another is the consequence of sin — how can the All Wise and the All Powerful tolerate these ?
Let us think this over. A difficulty, a problem, we know it to be. Can it, nevertheless, be explained? If not, why not? And if it cannot be fully understood, what reasons can a believing soul place before itself, to strengthen faith in God's goodness, to afford comfort in this hour of national peril and sorrow?
I. No Complete Solution of the Mystery
(a) Man's knowledge limited.
Genius and learning, nourished on the knowledge of all past ages, are still but at the gateways of the fields of science which time and further study will gradually open out. Men specialize to advance the more rapidly, they become master-minds in their chosen branch of study, only to realize more and more how little they know, how much is still unknown. Even the visible world, they confess, is a world of numberless mysteries. What the great powers of Nature can do we are steadily discovering; what these powers are we know as little about as did the wise men of ages past. We hide our ignorance under words and phrases which sometimes almost make us believe that we really know. Nevertheless, mysteries they remain, beyond the power of the human mind to penetrate. How, therefore, can it be that the infinite God, who made this world of mysteries, should Himself be other than a mystery — a "hidden God"? To pretend to judge Him exhaustively is to misjudge.
(b) Man's judgements of men impeded by passion
How seriously the elements of evil affect our minds, the judgements we pass on our fellow-men make manifest. The wisest and most prudent of men learn no more useful lesson than this — to distrust their own judgements of the lives and actions of their neighbour. Experience has brought home to them how exceeding difficult it is to understand others; how easy to misjudge — to see evil in good actions; to fancy evil actions good. Ignorance of facts or of motives, prejudice, pride, dislike, selfishness, every miserable human weakness can darken and pervert the mind, and make its decisions worthless. "Man" (Holy Scripture warns us) "is prone to evil from his youth." Nowhere is this proneness seen in a stronger light than in our tendency to judge others unfavourably. Let us ask ourselves, "How often have we thought too well of anybody?" The answer will humble our pride, and do much to save us from the temptation of judging our fellow-men, still more of misjudging our God.
(c) So too his judgements of God
These same vicious elements, in the minds of many men, distort their conceptions of God. Imagination, passion, the evil influences of sin, most strongly affect the mind, even when the most sacred interests are at stake. The three hundred (and more) existing Christian sects are an illustration of this. Multitudes believe what they wish to believe: their wish to believe is brought about by the conditions of early training and teaching, modified by personal temperament, inclination, prejudice.
Our Lord's desire, clearly, was for "one faith"; the multiplicity is not according to His will, but against it — the work of man, the unreliable results of the untrustworthy judgements of essentially unstable minds. Man has never been ready to acknowledge this. Our Lord came to His chosen people; they rejected Him: "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." They did not believe in Him; they thought Him an impostor, "one having a devil." They were not free from blame; theirs was not "invincible ignorance," even though they may really have thought Him an impostor. Their darkness of mind was blamable, for it was due to sin. As our Lord tells us: "men loved the darkness rather than the light, because their works were evil."
Men in every age are to be found who declare they do not believe in God, or in His goodness. Some, it may be, really mean this. More would disbelieve, if they could. The wish too often is father to such thoughts. Men still "love the darkness" and dread the light of truth. A vicious life, nay, even an ordinarily worldly life, can so darken the mind and deaden the heart that men almost wish there were no God to claim their love and service — no God of dread power, whose hand, in justice, is "stretched out still."
"Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God." The fulness and the clearness with which the soul can see God will be in proportion to the possession of such purity.
(d) God can be comprehended only by Himself.
The mind's innate weakness, darkened by sin and passion, is then a bar to the fuller knowing of God; but it may be added that anything approaching to fulness of knowledge is absolutely impossible to a created mind. The Infinite can be fully known only by the Infinite. A being who could be fully understood even by the highest created mind, would be, like that mind, limited, and thus himself a creature. Above that being would be his Creator unlimited, infinite in all good qualities, and therefore not completely knowable, a mystery both in His nature and in his actions, a "hidden God," "dwelling in light inaccessible."
Holy Writ tells us " No man hath seen God at any time" (1 John 10). The Son of God warned us against judging His actions by any human standard: "My ways are not as your ways." Our highest and best ideas, unless founded on His actual revelation, are folly in relation to Him. "The wisdom of this world is folly with God" (1 Corinthians 3:19). "How incomprehensible are His judgements, how unsearchable His ways" (Romans 11:33).
God has ever been misunderstood. Foolish and mad pride of intellect was the ruin of the fallen angels; it is the spiritual ruin of multitudes of men. The fundamental doctrine of the gospel redemption through the Cross "was to the Jews a stumbling block, to the Gentiles foolishness." Today, when war covers the world with the shadow of the Cross, many still find that doctrine a "stumbling-block"; some would think it "folly." That "God should so love the world as to send His only-begotten Son," men readily believe the love in that is manifest. But when God offers to them that which He gave to His "well-beloved Son" — the Cross — they see neither His justice, His mercy, nor His love. "Whom the Lord loveth, He chastiseth." "He spared not even His own Son" because of the greatness of the love with which He loved us. A mystery, indeed!
(e) The Confidence due from creature to Creator
God's greatest natural gifts to us are mind, heart, will. They are meant to be exercised in His service, to be used in submission to His holy will. Of all supernatural virtues three are pre-eminent — Faith, Hope, Charity. By means of these man pays to His Maker the allegiance due to Him and ennobles his own human faculties. By consent of the will the mind and heart exercise belief and trust and love, according to the devotion of each. At Baptism God infuses these three virtues into the soul; during life He strengthens them by actual graces, enabling us to exercise and develop them. His very love for us, therefore, would lead Him to veil His nature and operations in mystery, in order that faith and hope and charity may have the more scope for development. If virtue is not tried we cannot be sure of its quality. So God tries our faith, our confidence, our love, that He may reward the self-determination which moves us lovingly to believe and trust in Him.
There are men who say they will believe only what they understand. Such men know little of the limitations of human knowledge; they understand less about God's claims on their faith and trust; they are ignorant of the real nature of belief, whether human or divine. To believe is not to see a truth, but to consent to accept it, on the authority of a credible witness, although that truth in itself be not understood. All men do this in the most important human affairs. The world would be in a state of chaos if men did not believe and trust their fellow men.
Divine faith means that the mind consents to a truth which God teaches, because God teaches it, however mysterious that truth may remain. How and where His divine voice can be heard, God, by His holy light, will help men to discover; by humble, earnest prayer if, eager for truth, they crave for light. Man must believe if he would be saved: "he that will not believe shall be condemned." He must believe in God, believe in His goodness, His unfailing justice, His mercy, and His love. This obligation is final and absolute: neither human weakness nor pride nor selfishness must darken our mind, lest in the hour of trial doubt be allowed to become a danger.
God also demands that we trust, and place confidence in, His goodness even when His love is veiled in clouds. We must learn that the infliction of pain and sorrow is no evidence of want of love. Parents punish their children, yet no child, except perhaps in the heat of passion, doubts their affection. It is, in fact, the indulgent parent that fails in love, as spoiled children frequently realize in later life.
II. Why Suffering is Permitted
(a) Suffering — a punishment of sin
God has placed us here, with a purpose supremely good and wise. What is that purpose? It is that our good will may be tested, that we may prove that we prefer supernatural good, revealed to us by faith, to whatever natural goods the world has to offer us, and so show ourselves not unworthy of eternal companionship with Him.
Are we content to seek Him and His justice, or shall we persist in seeking self? If we live for Him here, hereafter we shall live with Him eternally, unutterably happy and blessed. If we live here, not for Him but for the narrow, temporal interests of self, we outrage His divine
majesty, we reject His just claims, we rebel against His law and commandment: all this by misusing, ungratefully, the good qualities of body and of soul with which He has endowed us.
It is only in the light of faith that we can realize what exactly is involved in our resisting the divine purpose. Faith, then, teaches us that the sinner, by rebellion, denies the temple of the Holy Spirit (his soul); he contemns and tramples under foot the Precious Blood of his Divine Redeemer. Such conduct surely merits punishment. Just as, if God did not reward good-living, it might be said that virtue was not encouraged, so, if God did not punish sin, the inference might be that evil was of no account. Even the pagan philosopher knew that the worst evil that could befall the wicked man would be to escape the penalty of his misdeeds.
Accordingly, it is in love and mercy that God strikes the sinner, who, by suffering, both makes some compensation to the outraged justice of God, and at the same time is excited to repentance and amendment. Divine retribution is thus made manifest, and deters others from the paths of sin.
It is illuminating to note how God chastizes sin. Sometimes He Himself directly punishes the sinner; but oftentimes He stands aside and allows the sinner to punish himself. Suffering is frequently the direct and natural consequence of sin. Drunkenness, immorality, avarice, ambition, pride, passionate temper, uncharitableness, hatred, and many other forms of sin, often injure more or less seriously the powers of body and the qualities of mind, heart, and will. They therefore not uncommonly bring upon the sinner a greater or lesser measure of bodily pain and weakness, weariness and depression, quite apart from their external consequences.
In regard to sins of sensuality, the hospitals, lunatic asylums, poor-law institutions, the many desolate homes illustrate, with terrible reality, the teaching of Holy Writ, "What things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap. For he that soweth in his flesh, of the flesh also shall reap corruption."
Yet the pain and misery which justly follow on sin are sent by God in mercy and in love, "Whom the Lord loveth He chastizeth." He strikes the sinner now or hereafter, on this or on the other side of the grave. He strikes here that in eternity He may spare. He gives here the Cross of suffering and sorrow, that there He may give the Crown, and "may wipe all tears from their eyes" when "death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more."
The carnal-minded souls steeped in merely natural, material, selfish ideas, neither understand nor value suffering. Spiritual men have eyes to see the love in their Father's face in the hour when, even in punishment, His hand is heavy upon them. Growth in knowledge of spiritual things almost insensibly leavens the soul, and enkindles a desire, not to shrink from suffering, but to welcome it as a "pearl beyond price." The prayer of the Saints, the wise men of God, has ever been that of St. Augustine, "Here cut, here burn so that in eternity Thou mayest spare."
(b) Life — a probation; suffering — God's way of "proving"
"As silver is tried by fire, and gold in the furnace, so the Lord trieth the hearts " (Proverbs 17:4). Life and the world are God's appointed time and place of our probation. No quality within us, no condition of life outside us, has any other purpose. We and they are the raw material out of which and in which God does His holy and blessed work. "We have not here a lasting city, but seek one which is to come." We are but strangers and pilgrims passing through this world to the home of our eternity. All that holds us back or draws us away from our onward path becomes to us an evil. Nothing is evil which God uses to help us along our way; all such things are blessings. But by want of thought, or wilfulness, we may turn His blessings into evils — render them hurtful to our souls. Nevertheless, in themselves they are meant to be, and are, blessings. Good food is not poison ... poison, nevertheless, kills fewer than good food, but the food is not to blame.
Health, therefore prosperity, comfort, happiness, peace, become to us blessings only in the measure in which they are used to advance our eternal welfare. Sickness and pain, on the contrary — poverty, discomfort, troubles, sorrows, misery — are not evils unless we make them such. They can be, and by the spiritual-minded are, transformed, by God's help, into blessing beyond all price. All depends upon the point of view; whether or not we have the good will to recognize and value God's purpose in them.
We can, as many do, blind ourselves to this truth, resent or repine against God's benevolent designs, because the blessings are not at once seen to be such. It is weak, childish, unworthy — in its results often fatal — that man should turn away from God, through that by means of which He wills to draw them closely to Himself.
(c) Suffering detaches the heart from creatures
The constant refrain of our Lord's teaching is "what doth it profit?" — the worthlessness of all that life can give in comparison with the soul's eternal well-being. We shall live for ever, but where? under what conditions? No other thing matters: nevertheless multitudes live as if there were no eternity. Sin, men must acknowledge, is mad bartering of self, for pleasure so fleeting that it is hardly enjoyed before it has gone. How is it possible so to live? The mind can be so distracted and drawn away by all that the heart loves, that it has not time to think deeply of spiritual truths, and so make them a power.
Every bodily sense, every quality of our souls, has its own special kind of gratification. These respond spontaneously to the presence of their appropriate objects and thus concupiscence and curiosity are aroused. If an unceasing succession of things pleasing and desirable is presented to the mind and the heart, these are liable to be so engrossed as to be unable to attend to better things. An effort, sometimes a great one, is needed to realize strongly and so appreciate the value of spiritual things. It is so easy not to make effort, to float with the current, to see and enjoy the pleasant things of a pleasing world.
On the first Christmas night, we are told, there was "no room" for the world's Saviour. The Evangelist does not suggest that the people of Bethlehem would have refused Him entrance if there had been room, but so many people were there that there was none. Room could only have been made by turning others out. The world today lives under like conditions. Most of those who are not religious, and multitudes who are supposed to be religious, do not deliberately and in malice turn from God. They simply have "no room," or but little room, for Him in hearts so fully occupied, in days so fully employed. They live within the narrow circle of their own little world of pleasure or business. So many interests crowd the mind, so many desires strongly appeal to the heart, that there is truly "no room," or only the smallest and poorest corner for Him.
As age grows upon us, a change begins — why? The senses grow dull, the passions die down, the desires become weaker, the heart and the mind are made freer for God.
Suffering produces the same result far more rapidly, surely, and fully. It frees the heart for God in a degree that nothing else can. A child playing thoughtlessly is caught in the briers. Thorns hold her in every way. She must be set free with a gentle yet strong hand. One by one the thorns are drawn with pain from quivering flesh, until at last, bloodstained and wounded, she is released. So through suffering God sets free our hearts from the desires which hold us in bondage. Do we not see this in the lives of others; have we not experienced it in our own? — this strange manner in which the desires change, as the heart is bowed down under sickness, pain, or sorrow.
Men, who in health and strength feel as if they could not take interest in God and the unseen things, find under the shadow of the Cross new longings grow within them. Old pleasures become dead sea fruit, bitter to the taste, ashes in the mouth, unsatisfying, wearying. Eternity seems nearer, far more real a thing at first to dread for all that it may bring; later something to desire, even to long for and that for the same reason. Suffering is the alchemist, turning all things into gold. Only those who are brought in frequent contact with the suffering can form any adequate idea of the number who are drawn from sin by pain and sorrow. The unfailing love of suffering evidenced in the lives of God's saints is due not only to their desire to become like unto the Crucified One, but also to their strong realization of the power sorrow and suffering have to draw the heart from inordinate earthly desires, and so set it free for God.
(d) Suffering develops virtue.
Of this the effects of war afford a striking illustration. What heroic patience, endurance, indomitable courage, magnificent self-sacrifice are we not witnessing? Hundreds of thousands are moved by the sight to offer themselves to like trials; young men, most of them, from comfortable homes; accustomed to a life of few bodily hardships and of no great stress or strain. Their trials begin before the foe is faced. For long periods they have to be content with inadequate preparations for their new life and work, crowded together into roughly provided quarters; thousands under canvas during autumn storms.
Then in the actual fighting line — on sea or land — which of us can realize the mental strain, the bodily endurance needed for daily life at such a season, in such a crisis, by the men and boys on our submarines and warships? The daily life in the trenches, in the cold and stormy season of the year; the carnage and horrors of the battlefield we, in comfortable homes, cannot fully realize the manly and even heroic qualities needed for such a life. Yet month after month passes, and every day witnesses the same unconquerable bravery, untiring endurance, grand self-sacrifice. Suffering, then, nobly borne, stirs others to emulation. The one question is, "How can we be of use, how share in the common danger, how help to bear the Empire's burden?"
Who can say that in the minds of untold millions the thought of duty, which implicitly at least connotes the thought of God, is not one of the great mainsprings of this stupendous energy and sacrifice that natural motives alone are at work, that the supernatural is lost sight of? It is in such crises of the world's history that the supernatural reasserts its claim, and more universally exercises its influence. Even if some, through fault of early training, or through later weakness and sin, forget or neglect God and do noble deeds from less noble because merely human motives, He is both the God of nature and the God of grace, and will not be outdone in generosity by those who use His natural gifts well. May we not confidently trust that He will bless the men who sacrifice for King and country all that life holds dear, with graces even supernatural out of His own most generous love that in mercy He will open their eyes to see and to know their God; to realize that love of country is a duty both human and divine, and a following of His law ?
(e) Suffering especially calls forth charity.
The horrors and atrocities of the war! Of these numberless rumours are flying around, told by word of mouth, recorded by the press. From the very nature of the war, the kind of weapons, the size of contending forces, never before has there been known such ruin, such suffering, such widespread misery; and never in the world's history has there been such an outburst of compassion, and of charity so generous, so universal, so magnificently practical.
"Love ye one another and so you shall fulfil the law of Christ"; "Bear ye one another's burdens." It is the voice of the eternal God, the God of charity; a voice at ordinary times "of one crying in the wilderness," by few even heard, by fewer obeyed. God, in love and pity for the human race, allows one nation to be stricken — its cities, towns, villages are in ruins, its people in poverty and desolation exiled from their homes, and dispersed amongst the nations.
What happens? The world awakes from sleep, springs to its feet, and a great cry of compassion and sorrow is heard above the noisy din of war. Families who have lost one home are offered a thousand; people deprived of all worldly goods have every kind of gift necessary, useful and even useless, lavished upon them. Men find some comfort if only they can be allowed to give. "Do what we will, we can never make up to them for all they have done, for all they have suffered, for all they have lost."
True, indeed; the world with all its generosity cannot; God can, and will: a hundredfold, a thousandfold shall be given to them. He has led them, as He led the Son of His love, along the rugged way of the Cross to their Calvary. He will lead them, as He led His Son, to Thabor the mount of joy and glory. And the charity which has helped them, God will not forget. Many of us may live to see how He has waited and watched as the good work was done, waited for the hour appointed to shower His precious gifts upon all who in Christian love have helped His suffering children. "As long as you did it to one of these My least brethren, you did it to Me." The world's kind treatment of the Belgian refugees, although the repayment of a debt, is written as an eternal record in the loving heart of God, so generously has it been paid.
III. The Mystery of Sin.
The value of suffering, the blessings which flow from it, can be in large measure understood. Why God tolerates sin is a mystery — a matter to exercise faith rather than to satisfy knowledge. Yet there are reasons which strengthen faith in God's goodness, and console us now when sinful pride and the jealousy of nations have plunged the world in ruin, death, and sorrow.
But, first, let us recognize that God, at every moment of every hour, is preventing endless sin, guarding the weak from numberless strong temptations, strengthening their hearts by His light and graces. We are prone to evil; we little realize how strongly every human faculty would be dragged downwards, did not God in mercy save us from ourselves. The sins men commit can be known! The sins of which they would have been guilty, had not God helped them, we cannot discover.
Do we realize the full significance of our Lord's teaching "No man can come to Me, unless the Father draw him"; ''Without Me, you can do nothing"? St. Paul expresses the complementary truth: "I can do all things in Him who strengthened me"; also he further shows that even our good will is a divine gift. "It is God who worketh in us to will, and to accomplish according to His will." All this is little understood — otherwise in God's service both self-complacent pride, and its contrary, discouragement, lack of confidence, would be rare.
But now, let us take some of the reasons why God does not go farther, and make all sin impossible.
(a) No test unless possibility of failing.
Our will is free, in the full sense of that word. God has left man in the hands of his own counsel. Action is often barred, but man can choose, or not choose, as he wills. It is this which gives to human nature its essential greatness and dignity. If God had withheld from us this, our highest privilege, we should have been at best a superior kind of animal — superior, however, only in certain respects, for in strength, beauty, grace, and many other qualities some animals are superior to man. We, however, possess free will. All creatures must render to their Creator submission and service according to their order of nature.
Animals carry out their Maker's will by instinct, their guiding power; man and angels endowed with free will must freely serve Him. His dignity and ours both make this an absolute necessity. Without free will there could be no virtue, no holiness on earth. What gives its merit to well-doing is that it might have been replaced by evil-doing. The creature freely chooses good rather than evil. The Church praises the Saint because "he could have transgressed, and did not transgress; could have done evil, and did it not."
Supernatural virtue and holiness gives men facility, from motives of God's fear or love, in controlling their passions and evil inclinations, and bending their will in submission to the will of God. Yet at the same time they are free, if they will, to gratify their passions, and resist God's law. God gives grace; we can and oftentimes do refuse it, or only half use it. Our lives, then, are holy or not, because we use our freedom to do good or evil. We are not mere machines; mere registers of God's power and will. In love, He made us thus — only "a little lower than the angels," to serve Him, as in the hour of trial the good angels did freely. In our freedom, He, by His graces, helps us to live holily. If we fail He helps us to amendment. In our worst sins we never find Mercy deaf to our repentant cry.
Note, however, that freedom to think or do wrong is not an essential quality of perfect liberty. If that were so God Himself would not be free. Doing wrong is doing something which is against reason and against our real interests. Liability to do wrong is, therefore, a weakness, an imperfection, making for the ruin of our nature and indicating that we are in bondage to irrational impulses. We do not become really free till we have by virtuous habits strengthened our minds and wills against evil and delusion.
(b) Sins which hurt others — why are not they prevented?
The horrors and atrocities of war suggest this question. But the occasion of it dates from Paradise. What sinners have been a source of greater misery and of sin to others than were our first parents? If to prevent their sin God had cut them off before they fell, the question would have recurred with each of their descendants. God would thus have been placed unwarrantably in bondage to His creatures — bound, that is, to remove them from life whenever they showed any signs of intending to transgress.
The Divine Wisdom found a higher and nobler way. He would let evil work out its full consequences and yet fail to defeat His purposes. He Himself would meet and conquer sin by suffering. Thus the Fall brought the Redeemer1 — the record of that gracious life which so wonderfully reveals God's wonderful love. If Divine Wisdom had not chosen this plan, how immense would have been our loss! The endless chain of divine mercies and graces drawing sinners out of the depths of their iniquity would have never been used. We should not have known the Man of Sorrows. Mary, the immaculate mother of our Lord, and all those Saints who have striven best to imitate His virtues, would have had no opportunity of exhibiting the creature's perfection. Who can think of all this, and wish that God should have prevented all sin in the only way sin can be prevented, i.e., by a constant miraculous interference with the working out of His own laws in response to His creatures' perversity ?
(c) To prevent evil means to prevent greater good
Amongst the ancestors of our Lord Himself are two women whom Holy Writ describes as "sinners." Thus from unholy parents may spring holy children; to destroy the sinful would mean to deny existence to the good. Thus, to cut off the sinner and so prevent his sin would deprive the world of all the blessings natural and supernatural which divine Wisdom knows how to draw from evil, and diminish the glory such providential dealing procures for the divine majesty.
If, for instance, God had slain those responsible for this war before they effected their evil purpose, God and the human race would have been deprived of all the good the war has done and will do. The revival of religion, the universal self-sacrifice, the glorious outpouring of sympathy on suffering Belgium, would never have been; and countless sinners, great and small, would be without the graces war has brought within their reach. Many might have been lost in peace, who in the trenches, on the field of battle, under the battered walls of their ruined homes have been chastened, purified, sanctified. All the sin which now is receiving its due punishment by such sufferings, would, perhaps, have to be reserved for punishment, more vigorous, beyond the grave.
War is a time of horror, a period of awful sin — we know it. It causes untold evil, and so no human mind should dogmatize about its advantages. God alone knows on which side the balance lies. But even our feeble vision can see some of its benefits. One supreme advantage it has — it makes even the giddy serious, even the thoughtless thoughtful. Very many today, as always, are vicious, or irreligious, or cold in God's service, because at ordinary times they will not think, will not face the eternal truths. Great calamities force multitudes to consider these truths — and so become occasions of salvation to thousands who otherwise might be lost.
(d) Sin as well as suffering an occasion of sanctity,
Of truths which give us comfort this is by no means the least consoling — that God, through our very sins, draws us to Himself. The Magdalen at the feet of Christ was a sinner, a type of the sinners who have received God's mercies, not only in the hour of their degradation, but (understood in a true sense) on occasion of their sins, "Many sins are forgiven her because she has loved much." She "loved much" because her excessive sinfulness brought into greater prominence the wonder of God's pitying love for her.
St. Peter, the first of the Apostles, was generous and simple-hearted; yet cowardice and its seeming contrary, self-confidence, were curiously combined in his character. What more beautiful than to read in the pages of the Scriptures, how by occasion of these very faults God raised him to sanctity. Through them, step by step, He humbled the Apostle, until by his last serious fall (the denying of his Master) he was made fully to understand his own worthlessness, and so became a lit subject for sanctification.
St. Paul was of a very different character. Strong, forceful, hard, even cruel, fanatical pride, his besetting passion, made him "a Pharisee of the Pharisees." He stood by to see Stephen, the first Christian martyr, die; later, he pushed his way into power and became the most bitter enemy of the newly born Church. Yet of this man God made an Apostle, who "laboured more than all the Apostles," a saint, a mystic, whose example and inspired writings have been a source of consolation and strength to saint and sinner in every age, and to sinners in a most special manner. They see a man who all but ruins his life by indulgence in a perverted zeal and disregard for the rights of conscience, an inveterate bigot, suddenly changed by a miracle of divine mercy, and all his energy of character made the instrument of his purification and sanctification.
All can produce good fruit from good seed. God alone in loving mercy creates good out of evil; can take occasion, out of the very sins of the wicked, to call forth more wonderful exhibitions of repentant love.
It is an instinct of the human mind to hold that all wrong will be righted; all sin have to make full compensation. Justice must be finally triumphant. In God, justice, mercy, love are united in the unity of the Divine Nature. One is never found save where the others are also present — even though they be hidden. God has given to the world the Cross, which He gave to His Son. In the Cross is justice — yet is it the pledge of mercy and love. Our Lord goes before us carrying His cross. "If any man will be My disciple, let him take up his cross and follow Me." "If you suffer with Me, you shall also reign with Me." Have we the good will which makes it possible to understand that truth? Have we the spiritual wisdom which makes it easy to appreciate it? If so — thanks be to God. It is a grace beyond price. Many are the sad things in this sinful world. Is anything more sad than this, that the world does not, because it will not see in their true light the lessons taught by the Crucified and the Gospel of His Cross ?