By Susanna Bolle
“Sing joyfully … exult with all your heart.”
This is the message to us in today’s first reading from Zephaniah 3:14-18. In verse 17 we hear:
“The Lord, your God, is in your midst, A mighty savior, Who will rejoice over you with gladness, And renew you in his love, Who will sing joyfully because of you.”
With such poetic beauty, it may come as a surprise that the short book of Zephaniah was written as a warning to Judah and Jerusalem of their impending judgment and was meant to encourage the people to repent. The first two chapters emphasize judgment, while the third and final chapter offers hope in God’s promise of mercy. In fact, in the Summa Theologica even St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of the close relation between judgment and mercy:
“Mercy does not destroy justice, but in a sense is the fullness thereof.”
Mercy fulfills justice? How can this make sense? What is Aquinas trying to teach us?
Maybe the confusion is a result of our misguided human understanding of justice. We tend to think that justice is to punishment what apples are to apples. When we think of justice, we often think of God’s wrath.
A wise professor of mine recently said, “When we talk about the wrath of God, we do not mean a violent emotion. We are talking about St. Thomas’ analogy that the wrath of one who loves is just punishment. Wrath is what infinite love looks like when we are not rightly ordered to it.”
This means that punishment can indeed be a result of justice, but it is important to learn from Aquinas how justice is to be rightly understood.
The word “justice” comes from the Latin word “iustus,” meaning “righteousness,” and it relates to the right ordering of things. It may sound like a paradox, but he writes on how justice is evident through the love God shows to the sinner by bestowing his mercy on them.
This can be seen in the great mercy that Jesus showed to Mary Magdalen when Aquinas writes how: “in the justification of the ungodly, justice is seen, when God remits sins on account of love.” Jesus Christ has fulfilled the righteousness of God, which allows us to be “renewed in his love” and receive His gift of mercy.
In the words that Jesus spoke to St. Faustina, “My daughter, write about My mercy … souls that make an appeal to My mercy delight Me. To such souls I grant even more graces than they ask. I cannot punish even the greatest sinner if he makes an appeal to My compassion, but on the contrary, I justify him in My unfathomable and inscrutable mercy” (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalksa).
With this in mind, let us be renewed by His love and encounter His boundless love and mercy! You can do this by participating in the WINE: Catholic Women’s Conference. It will take place Saturday, Feb. 6, and the theme is Mercy: Encountering Boundless Love. Register today by clicking HERE!
About the Author:
Susanna Bolle is the administrative assistant to Jeff Cavins in the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis. She is currently enrolled in the Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry program with the School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas. If she isn’t at home brewing coffee or tasting wine with friends you can follow her travels at Fiat and a Lilly.