“Nothing of what a repentant sinner places before God’s mercy can be excluded from the embrace of his forgiveness,” Pope Francis affirms (Misericordia et Misera, 2). The Lord is always there desiring our reconciliation when we have estranged ourselves from him and squandered our status as adopted sons and daughters of God.
We can and should trust in this saving compassion of the Lord. But it would be wrong to take that tender mercy for granted as if divine pardon and reconciliation with God were automatic in every circumstance and without any action on our part. While the grace of redemption is wholly unmerited gift and all salvation is by and through Christ, that does not mean that we ourselves do not play a role in our own salvation.
For one thing, the nature of forgiveness and reconciliation require that we affirmatively open our hearts to love of the Lord and his grace. To be renewed, we must actively admit our self-inflicted spiritual wounds and turn to him for healing (CCC 1847). Saint Augustine put it this way: “He who made you without your participation, does not justify you without your participation. He has made you without your knowledge; He justifies you if you will it” (Sermon 169).
Furthermore, Jesus says that “all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them,” but then he warns, “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin” (Mark 3:28-29). This seeming contradiction – that there is no wrong our Savior is not willing to forgive, yet some sin is not forgiven – can perhaps be understood simply this way: Those sins we do not let go of, that we hang on to instead of giving up to God, will remain with us.
As Saint John Paul II taught, blasphemy against the Spirit is essentially denying or resisting God’s grace of forgiveness – and because the heart is thus hardened, pardon and reconciliation are not possible by our own action (Dominum et Vivificantem, 46). “Mercy exists,” adds Pope Francis, but “if you don’t recognize yourself as a sinner, it means you don’t want to receive it.” (The Name of God is Mercy, 57).
Jesus also warns that we will be judged on how we treat others: “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:15). If we do not care for others, then it is as if we do not care for Christ and we will thus not have eternal life in his kingdom (Matthew 25:41-46).
Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus – except ourselves. Taking the words of Jesus to heart, we have every good reason to dread that we might keep ourselves from his loving grace. This realization should jar us from any complacency and spur us to open our hearts to love of God and neighbor, to turn to the Lord in Confession, and to seek the good in all things and for all people.