Seeking wideness in Godís mercy

FATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA

The Holy Mass was offered for the soul of Dr. Marc Daniel at the HŰtel-Dieu Grace Hospital in Windsor, Ont. yesterday on the first anniversary of his death. It would not be at all remarkable save for the fact that Dr. Daniel had, three days before his self-inflicted death, murdered nurse Lori Dupont, his former lover, at the very same hospital.

It was clearly a rather delicate matter for the Catholic hospital, as both killer and victim were part of the same staff. But having the memorial Mass was the right thing to do; after all, the soul of Dr. Daniel is no doubt in need of the prayers. It is difficult to pray for those guilty of evil acts, but to borrow a line from the Gospels, it is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick.

Perhaps Dr. Daniel was sick — mentally ill. Perhaps he was just wicked. Had he lived, it would have been necessary for us to determine and punish his actions; it is beyond our scope, and not necessary, for us to judge his soul. We ought to be grateful that we need not judge, for no doubt the Lord’s judgment — upon Dr. Daniel, and one day, upon us — will be more merciful than ours would be.

November, the last month of the liturgical year, is devoted in Catholic practice to praying for the dead. The month begins with All Saints Day, in which all those in heaven are celebrated, and is followed immediately by All Souls Day, in which all the dead are prayed for. It is a month given over to consideration of the last things — death, judgment, heaven and hell. In facing judgment, none of us should plead for anything other than, in the words of the hymn, a wideness in God’s mercy.

We ought not put limits on the mercy of God, which was implored upon the soul of Dr. Daniel yesterday. Some years ago a priest was sent to visit Timothy McVeigh, the terrorist who took down the Oklahoma City federal buildings. He had been convicted and sentenced to die. McVeigh had long ago abandoned his Catholic faith, and greeted the priest, Fr. Charles Smith, by hurling expletives, racist comments, and indeed, his feces, at him. Remarkably, Fr. Smith returned, to a hostile reception. He returned. And returned again. And before his execution, Timothy McVeigh returned himself, receiving after a long time the sacraments of the Church, and confessing his sins. Indeed, there is a wideness in God’s mercy.


Like the angels, we too shall be surprised at those we meet in heaven; and no doubt that should we arrive there, it will be to the surprise of some others. Mercifully, the Lord is not fussy about the company He keeps.


We might think about criminals more often here in Kingston, the prison capital of Ontario. For the past few years, I have offered the Holy Mass at Christmas and Easter in the prisons, and consider it a special blessing. It is a visible reminder that no matter to what extent we forfeit our rights and privileges in society, we are never beyond the care of divine Providence. We cannot forfeit our status as children of God.

The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, a famous Good Friday preacher, loved to comment that the angels must have been astonished to see that, after the cosmic travail of the crucifixion, the first one to return home to paradise with Jesus was a lowly thief. It was not too late for the Good Thief crucified with Jesus; we should not presume that time ran out on Dr. Daniel. Like the angels, we too shall be surprised at those we meet in heaven; and no doubt that should we arrive there, it will be to the surprise of some others. Mercifully, the Lord is not fussy about the company He keeps.

It is only in God that the perfect balance of mercy and justice is achieved. There can be no mercy without justice being acknowledged first, and justice without mercy can be lethal. We only imperfectly achieve either, and too often our justice is degraded to vengeance, and our mercy is corrupted by indulgence.

We tend to do better with justice than mercy, but we need both. To contemplate the last things without the possibility of mercy would lead one, rightly, to despair. So it is meet and right to invoke the divine mercy upon us, and upon those who have died — including Dr. Daniel, that neither he, nor we, be denied it, either now, or at the hour of our death.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Seeking wideness in God’s mercy." National Post, (Canada) November 16, 2006.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

THE AUTHOR

Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Educator's Resource Center.

Copyright © 2006 National Post


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