A remnant of the pagan view of God, this is an image of an all-powerful being who asserts control over individuals, with an emphasis on the impossibility of making reparation for the “transgression of his law,” he said. Such a perception causes “fear” and “resentment” toward God.
“It is a vestige of the pagan idea of God that has never been entirely eradicated, and perhaps cannot be eradicated, from the human heart,” he said: that “God is the one who intervenes with divine punishment to reestablish the order disrupted by evil.”
In contrast, God's mercy “has never been disregarded,” he said.
“The Year of Mercy is a golden opportunity to restore the true image of the biblical God who not only has mercy but is mercy.”
Reflecting on the Apostle John's statement “God is love,” Fr. Cantalamessa observed that God's love within the Trinity is without mercy. This is because the love of the Father and the Son is a “necessity even though it occurs with the utmost freedom; the Son needs to be loved and to love in order to be the Son.”
“The sin of human beings does not change the nature of this love but causes it to make a qualitative leap: mercy as a gift now becomes mercy as forgiveness.”
Fr. Cantalamessa turned his reflection to the relationship between justice and his mercy, citing Paul's letter to the Romans which speaks of all sinners being justified by God's grace through “redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”
“God shows his righteousness and justice by having mercy! This is the great revelation.”
“He is in fact love and mercy, so for that reason he is just to himself – he truly demonstrates who he is – when he has mercy.”
An incorrect notion of God's “righteousness” can cause fear rather than encouragement, he said.
However, “the righteousness of God is that by which God makes those who believe in his Son Jesus acceptable to him. It does not enact justice but makes people just,” Fr. Cantalamessa explained in reference to the writings of St. Augustine.
He went on to state that the 16th century figure Martin Luther is credited for reintroducing this understanding of God's righteousness, “at least in Christian preaching,” and cited the upcoming fifth centenary of the Protestant Reformation.
Although revisited by St. Augustine, and later Luther, the correct understanding of God's righteousness goes back to Scripture, he said.
“God’s justice not only does not contradict his mercy but consists precisely in mercy!”
Fr. Cantalamessa examined the “radical change in the fate of humanity” that was brought about by the Cross.
He quoted Benedict XVI's book Jesus of Nazareth, saying: “That which is wrong, the reality of evil, cannot simply be ignored; it cannot just be left to stand. It must be dealt with; it must be overcome. Only this counts as a true mercy.”
“And the fact that God now confronts evil himself because men are incapable of doing so – therein lies the ‘unconditional’ goodness of God.”
The papal preacher added that “God was not satisfied with merely forgiving people’s sins; he did infinitely more than that: he took those sins upon himself, he shouldered them himself.”
That the Son of God “became sin for us,” as St. Paul writes, is “a shocking statement,” Fr. Cantalamessa said.
However, “it was not death, then, but love that saved us!”
“The death of Christ needed to demonstrate to everyone the supreme proof of God’s mercy toward sinners,” he said.
He recalled the two thieves with whom Christ was crucified, which shows how God “wants to remain a friend to sinners right up to the end, so he dies like them and with them.”
Fr. Cantalamessa concluded his sermon, calling for the removal of “any desire for vengeance from the hearts of individuals, families, and nations, and make us fall in love with mercy.”
“Let the Holy Father’s intention in proclaiming this Year of Mercy be met with a concrete response in our lives, and let everyone experience the joy of being reconciled with you in the depth of the heart.”