Monday, September 05, 2016

CHRIST AND THE PENITENT

Bishop Jacques-Benigne-BOSSUET (1627 -1704)
Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
“I came not to seek the Just”
 

In the whole teaching of the Gospels there is nothing more touching than God’s gentle and loving way of treating His reconciled enemies, that is, converted sinners.
 


He is not satisfied with blotting out our stains and washing away our filth; to His infinite goodness it is but a little thing that our sins should do us no harm. He would have them actually profit us. He draws out of them such benefits for our soul that we even feel constrained to bless our very transgressions, and to cry with the Church: “O Felix culpa!” [Blessing of the Paschal Candle, Easter Vigil]

His grace seems to struggle with our sins for the upper hand, and Saint Paul says that it even pleases Him to make grace abound more where sin has abounded. In fact, He receives penitent sinners back with so much love that innocence itself might almost be said to have cause for complaint or at least for some jealousy at the sight of it. The extreme gentleness with which He treats them, if their regret for sin be but real, appears to do away with all further need for regret. Let but one sheep stray from His side, and it seems to become dearer to Him than all the others who remained constant; like the father in the parable, His heart melts over His returned prodigal rather than over the elder,faithful brother. We seem, indeed, at first sight to have ground for saying that the penitent sinner has the advantage over the just who have not sinned; that restored virtue may triumph over innocence preserved. Nevertheless, it is not so. We may never doubt that innocence is a privileged state - and if there were no other reason for maintaining this it would be enough to remember that Jesus Christ chose that state for Himself.


Mercy is an integral part of Justice.
Observe the terms in which the great Apostle declares His Divine Master’s innocence: “Talis decebat ut esset nobis pontifex”: “It was fitting that we should have a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens, Who needeth not to offer sacrifices for His own sins” [Hebrews, vii, 26], but, being holiness itself, expiates sin. Must not the Son of God, then, have dearly loved the innocence that He took for His own lot? No, His tender feeling for converted sinners does not place them above holy souls that have never been stained by sin. Only, just as we feel the blessing of health most keenly on recovering from a long illness, though we
would far rather have been spared the illness and kept our strength unbroken; or,again, as a lovely mild day in the midst of a hard winter is peculiarly enjoyed from its unexpectedness, yet it is by no means so pleasurable as a long mild season would have been.So, humanly speaking, we may understand how Our Lord lavishes tenderness on freshly converted sinners, who are His latest conquest; yet, He nevertheless has a more ardent love for His early friends, the Just. ... Though Jesus Christ, as Son of God, may take pleasure in seeing at His feet a sinner who has returned to the right path, yet, being Himself essential Sanctity, He must love the innocence that has never strayed with a stronger love. For as it is nearer to His own infinite holiness and more perfectly imitates it, He cannot help honouring it by closer familiarity. Whatever favour the tears of a penitent may find in His eyes, they can never equal the pure charm of a holiness ever-faithful to Him.
 


But when God becomes man to save us from our sins He, as our Saviour, comes to seek the guilty: for them He lives, because to them He was sent. How does He Himself describe the object of His mission? “Non veni vocari iustos” (“I came not to seek the Just”), that is to say : “Though they may be the most noble and worthy of My friendship, My commission does not extend to them. As Saviour, I am to seek the lost; as Physician, the sick; as Redeemer, those who are captive.” Hence it is that He loves only the society of such as these because to them alone He was sent into the world.

The angels, who never fell, may approach Him as Son of God: that is the prerogative of innocence; but, in His quality of Saviour, He gives the preference to sinners.
 

Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
Premier Sermon pour la Fête de la Nativité de la Sainte Vierge
1659/1660 - Hôpital Géneral de Paris


No comments: