God’s meekness, patience and clemency are three divine perfections which are joined with mercy to form one and the same perfection, although their effects are different.
Mercy regards the misery of creatures in general, to relieve and to deliver them from its fetters. The first and greatest of miseries, the source of all wretchedness is sin. When man is so unhappy as to offend God mortally, he at once becomes the object of God’s wrath which would crush him the very instant he consents to sin, as he infinitely deserves to be. But divine meekness prevents the destruction and arrests the torrent of God’s just anger, ready to pour upon the sinner. If man perseveres in his crime, he deserves to be cast upon divine vengeance, but divine patience interposes and persuades God to suffer the sinner and await his repentance with admirable goodness.
These are the effects of divine meekness and patience. God’s clemency is manifested by remitting entirely or in part the punishment due to sin.
Whoever is in mortal sin deserves the eternal punishment of hell, but divine clemency often sends temporal affliction to those who are in that miserable state, to oblige them to struggle out of it, and thus become delivered from eternal suffering. If they will be converted at the very instant they feel sentiments of true remorse, divine mercy effaces the guilt of sin from their souls.
Although the actual guilt is thus effaced, it remains true that divine justice still pursues the sinner to exact the penalty his offences have deserved, but divine clemency commutes first of all the eternal penalty into a temporal punishment.
Furthermore, God’s marvelous clemency seeks to deliver the sinner from even this temporal punishment, or at least to diminish it, and sends further afflictions, by means of which sinful man may satisfy divine justice.
This sweetest clemency offers him still other means of paying his debt to the justice of God, for example, jubilees and indulgences. It induces the repentant sinner to assist with devotion at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the supreme means of satisfying all our obligations to God, and at the same time it urges him to receive the Blessed Eucharist frequently with holy dispositions and to perform various other good works.
If the sinner dies before he has rendered full satisfaction, his imperfectly purified soul is sent to Purgatory to complete its purification, which is yet another effect of divine mercy.
If it is true that the sufferings of Purgatory are greater than we can [describe or imagine, divine clemency has nevertheless found several means of mitigating and shortening them. It hastens the deliverance of suffering souls by the application of indulgences, and by the prayers, fasts, alms and sacrifices of the faithful on earth, as well as the suffrages of the Saints in heaven.
These are some of the effects of the meekness, patience and clemency of God.
Now these three divine perfections live and reign in the Heart of the Mother of Mercy, communicating their own divine inclinations most excellently. After the Heart of God Himself there never was and never shall be a heart so full of meekness, patience and clemency as the noble Heart of Mary.
While she dwelt on earth, she beheld the world filled with idols and idolaters. With the exception of a very small number, men generally were armed against God, trying, if possible, to dethrone Him, to put Him under their feet and annihilate Him. They would set His enemy in His place and sought to procure for the usurper the adoration and honor which belong to God alone. As the Most Blessed Virgin Mary loved God with a love so great that we cannot describe it, she experienced an indescribably great sorrow at the sight of the crimes committed against His Divine Majesty.
But who can appreciate her greater grief over the atrocious torments inflicted on her beloved Son by the perfidy of the Chosen People? She knew Him to be Innocence and Sanctity incarnate; yet she saw Him persecuted and tormented as though He were the greatest of criminals. She watched Him bound and tethered like a thief, dragged through the streets of Jerusalem like a scoundrel, beaten, bruised, mocked, spit upon, clothed in the white garment of a fool, given up to the mockery, insults and outrages of a band of insolent soldiers, reviled, spurned in favor of Barabbas, scourged and torn with whips from head to foot, crowned with thorns, exposed to the gaze of an enraged crowd crying: “Away with him; away with him: crucify him” (1). She saw her dear Son condemned to a cruel death, carrying the heavy Cross to be the instrument of His torture, stripped, nailed and fastened to the Cross with great nails that pierced His gentle hands and feet. She watched His adorable lips, in the torment of thirst, given gall and vinegar to drink, His sacred ears filled with curses and blasphemies, all the members of His body dislocated so that one could count His very bones: “They have numbered all my bones” (2). She beheld the body of the God-Man, her Son, covered with wounds, experiencing inconceivable pain, His blessed soul lacerated with anguish and torment. Finally, she watched Him die the crudest and most shameful death that ever happened.
Now what did she do, the Mother of Sorrows, as she beheld her treasure, her most innocent Lamb torn, flayed and slain? She loved Him with a peerless love. Did she cry out against His pitiless Murderers? Did she lament of the wrong and injustice wreaked upon Him? Did she implore the Eternal Father’s justice? No. She remained silent; not a word was heard from her lips; only her stifled sighs, her tears alone were seen. Her most gentle Heart fought against the entry of any sense of injury or movement of impatience, or aversion or bitterness towards her cruel tormentors. Her Heart abounded with meekness, patience and clemency, so that she imitated her son, Jesus, and sought to excuse the men who with such distorted rage were killing Him, repeating in her Heart the words He uttered with His lips: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (3). She offered for their salvation the very Blood they shed, the sufferings they inflicted upon Him, the cruel death they perpetrated. She was prepared, if necessary, to sacrifice herself together with her Son, to obtain mercy for those wicked men.
Nor is that all. The glorious Virgin now reigning in heaven can see much more clearly the numberless multitude and frightful enormity of the sins committed against God. She sees this earth of ours which should be a paradise since the God of Heaven honored it with His presence and made it His dwelling place; yet it is filled with sinners and enemies of God, who blaspheme and dishonor Him without ceasing, even more than the devils and the damned in hell. For the devils, being deprived of liberty, cannot add to their sins, whereas living sinners heap crime on crime, impiety on impiety, murder upon murder, abomination upon abomination: “Blood hath touched blood” (4).
Our Lady knows that her Son, the Son of God, came into the world to save all men; that salvation cost Him infinite labor, ignominies, tears and blood to deliver mankind from the bondage of the devil and hell, and reconcile them to His Father. And yet she sees men turning their back on God, denying and forsaking Him, to side with Satan and cast themselves headlong into hell. She sees innumerable atheists and blasphemers making every effort to exterminate the Holy Church founded by her Jesus Christ through the shedding of the last drop of His Blood, and to render His sacred name despicable, abominable and odious to the entire world: “They have set me an abomination to themselves” (5). Our heavenly Mother perceives all these crimes and all the wickedness most clearly, and her inconceivably great love for God and for her Son is wounded beyond anything we can imagine, even though she is glorious and incapable of suffering. She is Queen of Heaven and earth, and God has given her sovereign power over all created things; therefore she would not lack the power, if such were her will, to avenge most justly the many atrocious insults offered by men to their God and Savior. But far from doing this, she permits herself to be induced by her very patient and gentle Heart to use the power of her merits and intercession in order to halt the just fury of divine vengeance, and to arrest the torrent of God’s wrath ready to burst on the hapless heads of sinners. She obtains from His divine Majesty that He punish them not as enemies but as children, not like a severe judge but as a merciful father, not to exterminate them but to correct and convert them.
True the Blessed Virgin Mary does not entertain the same sentiments for all sinners, nor does she treat them all alike. She distinguishes between those in Hell, whom she knows to be irreconcilable enemies of God, and those on earth, whom she considers still capable of being reconciled to His divine Majesty. Hence her Heart is filled with very great and just indignation towards the wretched creatures in hell, for she is most perfectly united to God, and therefore shares in all His adorable inclinations. She loves what God loves and hates what He hates, approves what He approves, and condemns what He condemns. As the damned will forever be the object of God’s wrath: “They shall be called the people with whom the Lord is angry forever” (6), so shall they forever be the object of the anger of God’s Mother. Her love and charity for God and the friends of God are greater than the ardor of all angels and saints together, so also is her hatred of God’s irreconcilable enemies greater than that of all the denizens of heaven.
But towards sinners who are still in this world, which is a place of mercy where our all-bountiful Mother has established the throne and empire of her mercy and clemency, her Heart is so filled with sweetness and benignity that the venerable and holy Abbot Blosius declares: “The world does not hold any sinner so detestable that this pious Virgin should not be disposed to open to him the arms of her clemency and her most merciful Heart. Provided he seek her assistance, she will always have the power and the will to reconcile him to her Son” (7). Blosius says further: “As long as the time of grace endures, this merciful Mother cannot avert her eyes from miserable sinners who invoke her with a sincere desire of conversion. With the Heart of a Mother and a sister, she continually offers up her prayers to God on behalf of men, and takes special care of their salvation. No one who shall invoke this Mother of grace with devotion and perseverance, can possibly perish forever” (8).
“O sweetest and most holy Virgin, look down with the eyes of thy mercy on all the afflictions and all the afflicted that fill the earth. Behold the many poor people, the many widows and orphans, the sick troubled with so many diseases, the captives and prisoners, the thousands who are cursed and persecuted by the malice of men, the defenseless persons oppressed by the strong and the mighty, the seafarers and pilgrims struggling against perils on sea and land, the missionaries exposed to countless dangers in their task of saving endangered souls. Look down upon the number of afflicted minds, of anguished hearts, of souls tormented by manifold temptations, and of souls suffering the frightful penalties of Purgatory. But above all, have pity on the countless souls that are in the state of sin and perdition and are groaning under the tyranny and the bondage of hell.
“Finally, O gentlest of Virgins, take pity on the great number of wretches who people the universe, whose innumerable miseries are so many voices crying to thee: O Mother of Mercy, comforter of the afflicted, refuge of sinners, open the eyes of thy clemency to see our desolation, the ears of thy bounty to hear our supplications. ‘To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.’ Yes, Eve’s miserable children, banished from the house of their heavenly Father, groaning and weeping in this valley of tears, have recourse to thine incomparable benignity. Hear our sighs and our cries; behold our weeping and our tears. Turn then, O gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us, and after this our exile show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.’”
This article was excerpted from St. John Eudes, The Admirable Heart of Mary, Part Five, Chapter II. St. John Eudes is a spiritual father of the Order of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a contemplative community of lay and religious dedicated to serving the Hearts of Jesus and Mary through Eucharistic Adoration, contemplation, and corporal works of mercy. For more information on the order, visit www.heartsofjesusandmary.org.
(1) Jn 19:15
(2) Ps 21:18
(3) Lk 23:34
(4) Hos 4:2
(5) Ps 87:9
(6) Mal 1:4
(7) In Sacell. anlm. cap. 51.
(8) Blosius, loc. cit.