March 26, 2007

Mercy & Punishment

The homilist at a recent mass said that to the extent we equate the justice system with revenge and punishment rather than healing then we are harboring profoundly unChristian thoughts. No surprise there; I think most people (other than perhaps the victim's family) see the purpose of our justice system as protecting the safety of society and/or a deterent rather than as revenge or punishment. On the other hand, our society's will to work towards healing and rehabilitation of criminals would admittedly be much weaker of course.

I bring up that part about justice mostly by virtue of its juxtaposition with part of a talk I heard by EWTN's Fr. Corapi, who mentioned purgatory and how our transgressions must be paid to the last penny (quoting Luke 12:59). It seems here that Purgatory is depicted more as punishment than as healing, although the paying back of a debt can be seen as distinct from punishment for punishment's sake.

A day or two earlier I'd read one of the Lenten devotions by Fr. Henri Nouwen given out to the parish. He writes: "It is so important that you really try to understand the heart of God. God does not condemn you, does not judge you, does not want to punish you. Those images exist in the Old Testament and even in the New Testament, but they are images that say more about the limitations of our expression than about the heart of God. From some of those readings and from our teachers we have come to think that God is only full of love for those who are good, but not for those who are bad…and yet 'God makes the rain to fall on the wicked as well as on the righteous.'"

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