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Another kind of justice

· At the General Audience the Pope recalls that God does not want our condemnation but our salvation ·

“God does not want our condemnation, but our salvation”; the “Lord of mercy” was the heart of the Pope’s reflection during the General Audience on Wednesday, 3 February. The following is a translation of the Pope’s catechesis, which he delivered in Italian.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning,

Sacred Scripture presents God to us as infinite mercy as well as perfect justice. How do we reconcile the two? How does one reconcile the reality of mercy with the demands of justice? It might appear that the two are a contradiction; but in fact they are not, for it is the very mercy of God that brings true justice to fulfilment. But what kind of justice are we talking about?

If we think of the legal administration of justice, we see that those who consider themselves victims of an injustice turn to a judge in a court tribunal and ask for justice. It is a retributive justice, which inflicts a penalty on the guilty party, according to the principle that each person must be given his or her due. As the Book of Proverbs says: “He who is steadfast in righteousness will live, but he who pursues evil will die” (11:19). Jesus also speaks about it in the parable of the widow who went repeatedly to the judge and asked him: “Vindicate me against my adversary” (Lk 18:3).

This path however does not lead to true justice because it does not conquer evil, it merely checks it. Only by responding to it with goodness can evil be truly overcome.

There is then another way of doing justice, which the Bible presents to us as the high road to take. It is a process that avoids recourse to the courts and allows the victim to face the culprit directly and invite him or her to conversion, helping the person to understand that they do evil, appealing to their conscience. In this way, finally repenting and acknowledging their wrong, they can open themselves to the forgiveness that the injured party is offering them. And this is beautiful: following the admission that was done was wrong, the heart opens to the forgiveness being offered to it. And this is the way to resolve conflicts in the family, in the relationship between spouses or between parents and children, where the offended party loves the guilty one and wishes to save the bond that unites them. Do not sever that bond, that relationship.

Certainly, this is a difficult journey. It requires that those who have suffered wrong be ready to forgive and desirous of their offender’s good and salvation. Only in this way can justice triumph, because thus, if the culprit recognizes the evil done and ceases to do it, the evil is no more; and he who was unjust has become just, because he is forgiven and helped to rediscover the good. And this is where forgiveness, mercy, comes in.

This is how God acts towards us sinners. The Lord continually offers us his pardon and ask us to accept it and to be aware of our wrong-doing so as to free us of it. For God does not want our condemnation, but our salvation. God does not want to condemn anyone! One of you might ask me the question: “But Father, did Pilate not merit condemnation? Did God want that?” No! God wanted to save Pilate as well as Judas, everyone! He, the Lord of Mercy, wants to save us all! The problem is letting him into our hearts. Every word from the prophets is a passionate appeal full of love which seeks our conversion. This is what the Lord says through the Prophet Ezekiel: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked.... and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (18:23; cf. 33:11), that’s what pleases God!

And this is the heart of God, the heart of a Father who loves and desires that his children might live in goodness and in justice, and thus that they might live to the fullest and be happy. His is the heart of a Father who goes beyond our little concept of justice to open us to the limitless horizons of his mercy. His is the heart of a Father who does not treat us according to our sins nor repays us according to our faults, as the Psalm says (103[102]: 9-10). And his is precisely the heart of the father we want to encounter when we go to the confessional. Perhaps he will say something to help us better understand our sin, but we all go to the confessional to find a father who will help us to change our lives, a father who gives us the strength to go on, a father who forgives us in the name of God. And that is why being a father is such an important responsibility, because that son, that daughter who comes to you is only looking for a father. And you, priest in the confessional, you are there in place of the Father who delivers justice with his mercy.

Special greetings:

I offer an affectionate greeting to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from the United States of America. May you open your lives to the Lord’s gift of mercy, and share this gift with all whom you know. May you be children of the Good Father, missionaries of his merciful love. May God bless you all!

A warm welcome to Italian-speaking pilgrims! I delighted to welcome faithful from the Diocese of Livorno, with Bishop Simone Giusti; participants of the seminar hosted by the University of Santa Croce; students of the Swiss School of Rome and artists of the American Circus. And I thank you! I would like to repeat what I said one week ago, when there was a show like this. You create beauty and beauty brings us ever closer to God. Thank you for this. But there is another thing that I would like to stress: this is not improvised; behind this spectacle of beauty, there are hours and hours of training that is exhausting. Training is exhausting! The Apostle Paul tells us that in order to arrive at an end and in order to overcome we must train; and this is an example for us all, that the seduction of the easy life, finding a good end without making any effort, is a temptation. With what you did today, and with all the training behind it, you bear witness to us that life without continuous effort is a mediocre life. Thank you so much for your example.

I address an affectionate thought to young people, to the sick and to newly weds. Today let us remember St Blaise, the martyr of Armenia. This holy bishop reminds us of the commitment to proclaiming the Gospel even in difficult conditions. Dear young people, become courageous witnesses of your faith; dear sick people offer up your cross every day for conversion of those far from the light of Christ; and you, dear newlyweds, be proclaimers of his love beginning in your family.

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