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제목 Merit(2022-07-24, 7th Sunday after Pentecost)
작성자 관리자 작성일 2022-07-24


Merit(2022-07-24, 7th Sunday after Pentecost)

My dear brethren,
The whole theme of the Liturgy of this Mass is the fruits required for salvation, that is, the merit.

The introit and the Alleluia both say: “O clap your hands, all ye nations: shout unto God with the voice of Joy,” (Ps. 46:2). Why such joy? Joy in God: that joy is the promised reward precisely for those who, like Abraham, “walk with God” (Gen. 17:1): “I am thy protector, and thy reward exceeding great” (Gen. 15:1). God himself is our exceeding great reward! To see God face to face, to rejoice with the very joy of God Himself. That reward is worth all the efforts we have to do on earth! That reward is worth even bearing with any sufferings, as St Paul says: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). It is our Lord himself who says that Heaven is the reward of those persecuted for justice sake: “Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven” (Mt. 5:11-12).

To the devout Hebrews of old, God said: “there shall be a reward for your work” (2 Chr. 15:7). And God consoles Jeremiah after he had so much pain: “Thus saith the Lord: Let thy voice cease from weeping, and thy eyes from tears: for there is a reward for thy work” (Jer. 31:16). The book of Wisdom says: “the just shall live for evermore: and their reward is with the Lord” (Wis. 5:16).

The protestants protest and say: but these are merely earthly rewards in the Old Testament; the happiness of Heaven in the New Testament is given as a mere gift. Their objections had been answered hundreds of years before by St Thomas Aquinas. He very clearly teaches that, since God is infinitely above man, there cannot be any “commutative justice” with God, that is, any justice as in between equal persons. Thus St Paul says: “what hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7). Thus, in the sense of a strict due in equality, man cannot merit heaven. It is a gift of the grace of God, as we heard in the epistle today: “For the wages of sin is death. But the grace of God, life everlasting, in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

However, St Thomas Aquinas continues and explains that there is a second kind of justice, the justice of a superior with regard to his inferiors, e.g. a king with regard to his subjects, or a father with regards to his children. And the King may very well establish a law, stating that for certain works certain rewards will be given. Take the example of Olympic games: the crown of laurels and other rewards for the winners are set by the organisers of the games; but once these rewards are set, they are due to those who win. Similarly, since God has set that Heaven will be given as a reward to works of charity, those who die in the state of grace, i.e. with charity and appropriate works, will receive Heaven as a reward.

if the crown of laurels were given to you without running, the one who receive it, would somehow feel crushed by a certain feeling of unworthiness that would spoil the joy; however, if he did run and did win, then receiving the crown as a reward is much more fulfilling. Similarly, after the Saints, like St Paul, “have fought a good fight, have finished [their] course, have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7), then truly they can say: “there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day: and not only to me, but to them also that love his coming” (2 Tim. 4:8). The just Judge renders that crown, because it is due in justice, not justice between equals, but the justice of a King towards his faithful subjects, as our Lord says twice in another passage: “Well done, good and faithful servant, because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Mt. 25:21,23). 
  teaches that God wants to give the happiness of Heaven not simply as a mere gift, but as a reward, a reward that ought to be merited.
 
The great truth to learn from all this is that,  if we want to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, we have to merit it by our good works. Now, in order to have good works we do need the grace of God; good works are precisely works done with charity under the influence of grace: the very ability to have good works is a gift of God, as St Paul says: “the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us” (Rom. 5:5). The Holy Ghost gives us charity, whereby we can merit, because “faith that worketh by charity” (Gal. 5:6) is what avails us much in Christ Jesus.

Good works cannot precede charity, which is given at Baptism and, if lost, can be recovered by a good confession. But by baptism “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus in good works, which God hath prepared that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). And St Paul says to Timothy that Christ “gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and might cleanse to himself a people acceptable, a pursuer of good works” (Tit. 2:14). So after we have been cleansed by Baptism, we must be pursuers of good works. This is simply a requirement of love: if we truly love God, we want to do something to please Him, and He is pleased by works of charity!

First of all, we must make sure we avoid displeasing God by sin, otherwise what we would build on one side by good works we would destroy on the other side by sin: this would be foolishness! Hence St Paul says clearly in today’s epistle: “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end life everlasting” (Rom. 6:22). Now that here again, there is a “fruit”, first sanctification, that is, the spiritual progress, growth in the spiritual life, growth in virtue and in the love of God and of the neighbour, and the end of that growth is the ultimate “fruit”, “life everlasting”.

At the end of the world, God will “render to every man according to his works” (Ps. 61:13). This very important truth is repeated many times in many ways in the Old and New Testament. Thus St Paul says that God “will render to every man according to his works. To them indeed, who according to patience in good work, seek glory and honour and incorruption, eternal life: But to them that are contentious, and who obey not the truth, but give credit to iniquity, wrath and indignation. Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that worketh evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek. But glory, and honour, and peace to every one that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 2:6-10).

Good works are not only obedience to the Commandments of God, but also eminently the works of Mercy: the works of corporal mercy are given by our Lord himself precisely when He taught about the judgement, promising reward for these good works: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, because I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in: Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me” (Mt. 25:34-36). 

The word “because” is essential: it clearly shows that the possession of heaven is given to the saints because of their good works, because of their merits. God has set all things in order, and this is the order of Divine Providence, that we should merit heaven by these good works. The last work of corporal mercy is the burying of the dead, as Tobias did.

But there are also works of spiritual mercy, so much the more important that they are elevated to providing higher good for those who need them: to admonish the sinner, to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to comfort the sorrowful, to bear patiently wrongs, to forgive all injuries and to pray for the living and the dead. Note for the first ones that these good works are not against the sinner, the ignorant and the doubtful but rather against sin, ignorance and doubt. In other words, it is for the very love of the person, who happens to be a sinner, that we should help them to get out of their sin, which is the greatest evil. It is for the very love of the person, who happens to be ignorant, that we want to help them to get to know the truth. It is for the very love of the persons who happen to be confused and doubtful that we want to help them to find the peace and certitudes that come from God. So in all of these, the motive is clearly charity: “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me” (Mt. 25:40).

May the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the Saints help us to understand this magnificent and very wise order of Divine Providence, and wholeheartedly enter into it, embracing the practice of the Commandments and of all the good works that lead us to heaven! Amen.

Father François Laisney