By: Fr. Roy Cimagala
IT’S GOOD we constantly highlight God’s call for us to follow him, to be holy and perfect as he is, since we have been created in his image and likeness. It’s good we are always reminded to love, pray, make sacrifices, frequent the sacraments, develop virtues, wage a life-long ascetical struggle, etc.
But we should never forget that despite our best intentions and efforts, we somehow also fall short of what is expected of us and that in the end we need God’s mercy to attain the dignity God is giving us.
God is very demanding of us. He wants everything from us. He wants us to love him with all our heart and to love our neighbor, including our enemies, as we love ourselves and even as Christ himself has loved us by offering his life for us. But he is also very compassionate with the weak and sinners.
In all miracles he performed, Christ was more interested in forgiving the sins of those involved than in healing them of their infirmities and predicaments. His love and compassion went beyond the concern for their bodily health. He focused more on their spiritual recovery.
We shouldn’t forget that while God’s grace and mercy need to be merited, he also gives them to us gratuitously. Despite our best efforts, we really cannot deserve them. We may ask for them as we ought to do, but God gives them to us gratuitously. We have to be wary of the danger of Pelagianism, the erroneous belief that we don’t need divine grace to choose good or evil, and to attain holiness.
We must see to it that in proclaiming the gospel to others, we shouldn’t simply talk about the strictness of God’s demands and expectations, the high standard that he sets for us. This will scare people more than attract them to Christ. We should always include God’s mercy in all our preaching and counseling.
It will require an intimate relationship with God himself to be able to come out with the proper mixture of God’s demanding ways and his ever-ready mercy. Priests especially need to know when he is too strict and harsh and when he is too lenient. That’s why they need to be truly men of God, souls of prayer and solid formation.
It would be very helpful if priests examine themselves regularly as to whether they are presenting Christ fairly to people or whether they are highlighting one side of Christ to the detriment of the other side or angles or aspects in Christ’s life and teachings. It would be good if we, priests, find a way to assess whether the people are making progress in their spiritual life or not.
Some consultations may be advisable, and also a mechanism for getting feedback from the people. It may happen that what may be needed is just a very simple thing like changing the tone of the voice to make it more welcoming and understanding, etc.
Yes, priests should be a father, doctor, friend, lawyer to everyone especially in the sacrament of confession. In fact, as St. Paul once said, we should be “all things to all men to save some.” (1 Cor 9,22)