Taken from PROVIDENCE, Fr. Reginald
Nihil Obstat, Imprimi Potest and Imprimatur, 1937
Providence and Mercy
. . God's mercy seems at first sight to differ so widely from His
justice as to be directly contrary to it; it appears to set itself up
in opposition to justice, intervening in order to restrict its rights.
Yet in reality there can never be any opposition between two Divine
perfections; however widely they may differ from each other, the one
cannot be the negation of the other. . . . they are so united . .
. in the intimate life of God, as to be completely identified.
Far from setting itself up in opposition to justice and putting
restrictions upon it, mercy unites with it, but in such a way as to
surpass it, as St. Thomas says. 
In Psalm 24:10, we read: "All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth
(i. e., justice)," but, adds St. James, "Mercy exalteth herself above
judgment [justice]."  In what sense is this
to be understood? Says St. Thomas: 
"In this sense, that every work of justice presupposes and
is founded upon a work of mercy, a work of pure loving kindness, wholly
gratuitous. If, in fact, there is anything due from God to the
creature, it is in virtue of some gift that has preceded it. . .
. If He owes it to Himself to grant us grace necessary for salvation,
it is because He has first given us the grace with which to merit.
Mercy (or pure goodness) is thus, as it were, the root and source of
all the works of God; its virtue pervades, dominates them all. As the
ultimate fount of every gift, it exercises the more powerful influence,
and for this reason it transcends justice, which follows upon mercy and
continues to be subordinate to it."
If justice is a branch springing from the tree of God's love, then the
tree itself is mercy, or pure goodness ever tending to communicate, to
radiate itself externally.
We shall best understand this by a consideration of our own lives. Our
best course will be to proceed, as we did with justice, by considering
the relations between providence and mercy first of all in this present
life, then at the moment of death, and lastly in the next life.
Providence and mercy in the course of
our present life
If in this present life Divine justice gives to each of us whatever is
required for us to live rightly and so attain our end, mercy, on the
other hand, gives far beyond what is strictly necessary, and it is in
this sense that it surpasses justice.
In creating us, for example, God might have established us in a purely
natural condition, endowing us with a spiritual, immortal soul, but not
with grace. Out of pure goodness from the very day of creation He has
granted us to participate supernaturally in His intimate life by
bestowing on us sanctifying grace, the principle of our supernatural
Again, after the fall, He might have left us in our fallen
condition so far as justice is concerned. Or He might have raised us up
from sin by a simple act of forgiveness conveyed through the mouth of a
prophet after we had fulfilled certain conditions. But He has done
something infinitely greater than this: out of pure mercy He gave us
His Only Son as a redeeming victim, and it is possible for us at all
times to appeal to the infinite merits of the Savior. Justice loses
none of its rights, but it is mercy that prevails.
Once Jesus had died for us, all we needed was to be guided by interior
graces as well as by the preaching of the Gospel; but Divine mercy has
given us far more than this: it has given us the Eucharist, in which
the sacrifice of the Cross is perpetuated in substance on our altars
and the fruits of that sacrifice are applied to our souls. 
Finally, those of us who have been born into Christian and Catholic
families have received incomparably more from the Divine mercy than the
bare essentials God has given to the savage of Central Africa. With
those essentials God has given to the savage, provided the first
prevenient graces are not resisted, the savage will receive whatever
further graces are required for salvation; but we have received much
more than this from our very childhood. When we consider the matter, we
realize that we have been led on by the invisible hands of Providence
and Mercy, preserving us from many a false step and raising up each one
of us individually when we have
Again, if Divine justice rewards the merits we have acquired even in
this life, the gifts of mercy go far
beyond anything we have deserved.
In the collect for the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost we pray:
"Almighty and eternal God, Who in the abundance of Thy goodness dost
surpass the merits and even the desires of Thy suppliants: pour out Thy
mercy upon us, forgive us the things our conscience must fear, and
grant us what we cannot presume to ask. Through our Lord Jesus Christ,
The grace of absolution from mortal sin is not something that can be
merited, it is a gratuitous gift. And how often has that grace been
Again, by no merit of ours could we obtain the grace of communion;
it is the fruit of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, which of itself
produces that grace within us, even daily if we wish. And how many
communions has not the Divine mercy granted us! Let us bear in mind
that if we are faithful in fighting against all attachment to venial
sin, each successive communion becomes substantially more fervent than
the last, since each successive communion must not only preserve but
increase charity within us, thus disposing us to receive our Lord on
the morrow with a substantial fervor, a readiness of desire not merely
the same but more intense.
This law of acceleration governing
the love of God
in the souls of the just must, if we are alive to it, arouse our
admiration. It will be seen that, just as the stone falls more rapidly
as it approaches the earth which is attracting it, so is it with the
souls of the just: the more nearly they approach to God and therefore
the greater the force of His attraction, the more rapid must their
progress be. We then grasp the meaning of these words of the Psalm
(32:5): "The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord." Even the sinner
say with the Psalmist: "Return, O Lord, . . . we are filled in the
morning with Thy mercy: and we have rejoiced, and are delighted all our
days" (Ps. 89:14).
If we could only see the whole span of our life as it is written down
in the book of life, how many instances should we find where providence
and mercy have intervened to piece together again the chain of our
merits which again and again perhaps we have broken by our sins! But at
the final moment mercy intervenes in a manner no less gracious.
Providence and mercy at the moment of
If at that moment justice alone were to enter in, all those who had led
a life of sin would die as they had lived. After so many warnings from
Providence had been neglected, the final warning would receive no
better response; remorse would not give place to a salutary repentance.
Thanks to the mercy of God, however, this last appeal is more
insistent. If His justice inflicts the punishment due to sin, here
again His mercy will outstrip it by pardoning. To pardon means to "give
beyond" what is due. The rights of justice are safeguarded, but mercy
outweighs it by constantly inspiring the sinner, as death approaches,
to make a great act of love for God, and of contrition, which will wipe
away sin and the eternal punishment mortal sin incurs. And so, through
the intervention of mercy, through the infinite merits of the Savior,
through the intercession of Mary, refuge of sinners, and of St. Joseph
patron of the dying, for many persons death is something very different
from the way they lived. These are the laborers of the eleventh hour
whom the Gospel parable speaks of (Matt. 20:9); they receive eternal
life, as do the rest, in proportion to the few meritorious acts they
have performed before death, when already in their agony. Such was the
death of the good thief who, touched by the loving kindness of Jesus
dying on the Cross, was converted, and he had the happiness of hearing
from the Savior's lips: "This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise"
These interventions of mercy at the moment of death are one of the
sublimest features of the true religion. This was often clearly enough
shown during the World War, when a man, dying a tragic death after
absolution, was saved, who in ordinary circumstances, in the midst of
his occupations and pleasures, would perhaps have been lost.
So, too, where there are Catholic hospitals, many a poor soul, heeding
the warning that the disease from which he is suffering is soon to
carry him off, there prepares himself for a happy death. He listens to
some sister speaking to him on this subject and then to the priest who
finally reconciles him to God after thirty or forty years of a life
spent practically in indifference, a life that has left much to be
The Divine mercy extends appealingly to every one of the dying. Jesus
said: "Come to Me, all you that labor and are burdened: and I will
refresh you" (Matt. 11:28). He dies for all men: as the beautiful
prayers for those in their agony remind us, He is the Lamb of God Who
takes away the sins of the world.
The death of the repentant sinner is one of the greatest manifestations
of Divine mercy. Some striking examples of it are given us in the life
of St. Catherine of Siena written by her confessor, Blessed Raymund of
Two condemned criminals, who were being tortured with hot pincers, were
blaspheming ceaselessly, and then through her prayers the unhappy
wretches received a vision of our Lord, Who appeared covered with
wounds, inviting them to repent and promising them forgiveness. At that
same moment they begged earnestly for a priest and with heartfelt
contrition confessed their sins. Thereupon their blasphemies were
turned to praise, and they went joyfully to their death as to the
gateway of Heaven. Those who witnessed the incident were struck with
amazement and could assign no reason for such a sudden change in their
On another occasion the Saint herself was present at the execution of
the young nobleman, Nicholas Tuldo, who had been condemned to death for
criticizing the government. When she saw how desperately he clung to
life, refusing to accept what seemed to him so unjust a punishment, she
herself prepared his soul to appear before God. Her account of the
death-scene is given in a letter to her confessor, Raymund of Capua:
Seeing me at the place of execution, he began to smile, and
wanted me to make the Sign of the Cross upon him. I did so and then I
said to him: "On your knees, sweetness my brother. You are going to the
marriage feast. You are about to enter into everlasting life." He
prostrated himself with great gentleness, and I stretched out his neck;
and bending over him, I reminded him of the blood of the Lamb. His lips
said nought save "Jesus" and "Catherine." And so saying, I received his
head in my hands, closing my eyes in the Divine goodness, and saying,
Then I saw, as might the clearness of the sun be seen, the God-Man, the
wound in His side being open. He was permitting a transfusion of that
blood with His blood, and adding the fire of holy desire given to that
soul by grace to the fire of His Divine charity. 
But if the death of the sinner is a manifestation of the Divine mercy,
far more beautiful is the death of the Saint who has always remained
faithful. His last moments are, as a rule, peaceful because he has
vanquished his enemies during life and his soul is now prepared for the
passage to eternity. Uniting himself with all the Masses then being
celebrated, he makes of his death a last sacrifice of reparation,
adoration, thanksgiving, and supplication to obtain thereby that last
grace of final perseverance which carries with it the assurance of
Providence and mercy after death
Mercy and justice, the Scripture tells us (Ps. 24:10), combine in
everyone of God's works; but whereas mercy is the more prominent in
some, as in the conversion of the sinner, in others justice
predominates, as in the case of punishment due to sin.
Thus it is that, as St. Thomas says, 
after death "mercy intervenes on behalf of the reprobate, in the sense
that the punishment they receive is less than they deserve." Were
justice alone to enter in, they would suffer still more. St. Catherine
of Siena is of the same mind. 
Mercy is there to temper justice even for those who have fomented
hatred among others, between class and class, nation and nation, even
for the most perverse, for monsters like Nero, who have shown a
refinement of malice, an obstinacy of will that spurned all advice.
Obviously, with the Souls in
Divine mercy is still more active, inspiring them with the loving
desire to make reparation, which tempers a little that keen purifying
pain they are undergoing and confirms them in their assurance of
In Heaven Divine mercy shines
forth in the Saints according to the intensity of their love for God.
Our Lord will greet them with the words recorded in St. Matthew (25:
Come, ye blessed of My Father, possess you the kingdom prepared
for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you
gave Me to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave Me to drink: I was a
stranger, and you took Me in: naked, and you covered Me: sick, and you
visited Me: I was in prison, and you came to Me. Then shall the just .
. . answer Him saying: Lord, when did we see Thee hungry . . .
thirsty . . . and came to Thee? And the King answering shall say to
them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these My least
brethren, you did it to Me.
What joy will be ours in that first instant of our entering into glory,
when we shall receive the light of glory in order to see God face to
face, in a vision that will know no end, whose measure will be the
unique instant of changeless eternity.
How consoling is the thought of this infinite mercy, which transcends
all wickedness and is inexhaustible. For this reason no relapse into
sin, however shameful, however criminal, should cause a sinner to
despair. There can be no greater outrage against God than to consider
His loving kindness inadequate to forgive. As St. Catherine of Siena
tells us, "His mercy is greater without any comparison than all the
sins which any creature can commit." 
In this matter we should keep before our minds these words from the
Psalms, words that the liturgy is constantly putting before us:
The mercies of the Lord I will sing forever. . . . For
Thou hast said: Mercy shall be built up forever in the heavens. Thy
truth shall be prepared in them. . . . Thou art mighty, O Lord,
and Thy truth is round about Thee, Thou rulest the power of the
sea. . . . Thou hast humbled the proud one. . . .
The Lord is compassionate and merciful: long-suffering and plenteous in
mercy. He will not always be angry: nor will He threaten forever.
. . . For according to the height of the heaven above the earth, He
hath strengthened His mercy toward them that fear Him. . . . As a
father hath compassion on his children, so hath the Lord compassion on
them that fear Him: for He knoweth our frame. He remembereth that we
Man's days are as grass: as the flower of the field so shall he
flourish. For the spirit shall pass in him, and he shall not be.
. . . But the mercy of the Lord is from eternity and unto eternity,
upon them that fear Him. 
May the Lord deign that these words be revealed in us also, that we may
glorify Him forever.
Rarely have the relations between mercy, justice, and providence been
better expressed than in the Dies
irae, dies illa
Day of wrath and doom impending,
David's word with Sibyl's blending,
Heaven and earth in ashes ending!
O what fear man's bosom rendeth,
When from Heaven the Judge descendeth,
On whose sentence all dependeth!
Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth,
Through earth's sepulchres it ringeth,
All before the throne it bringeth.
Death is struck, and nature quaking,
All creation is awaking,
To its Judge an answer making.
Lo! the book exactly worded,
Wherein all hath been recorded;
Thence shall judgment be awarded.
When the Judge His seat attaineth,
And each hidden deed arraigneth,
Nothing unavenged remaineth.
What shall I, frail man, be pleading?
Who for me be interceding,
When the just are mercy needing?
King of majesty tremendous,
Who dost free salvation send us,
Fount of pity, then befriend us!
Think, kind Jesu!-----my salvation
Caused Thy wondrous Incarnation;
Leave me not to reprobation.
Faint and weary Thou hast sought me,
On the Cross of suffering bought me;
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?
Righteous Judge! for sin's pollution
Grant Thy gift of absolution,
Ere that day of retribution.
Guilty, now I pour my moaning,
All my shame with anguish owning;
Spare, O God, thy suppliant groaning!
the sinful woman shriven,
Through the dying thief forgiven,
Thou to me a hope hast given.
Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
Rescue me from fires undying.
With Thy sheep a place provide me,
From the goats afar divide me,
To Thy right hand do thou guide me.
When the wicked are confounded,
Doomed to shame and woe unbounded,
Call me, with Thy Saints surrounded.
Low I kneel, with heart's submission,
See, like ashes my contrition!
Help me in my last condition!
Ah! that day of tears and mourning!
From the dust of earth returning,
Man for judgment must prepare him:
Spare, O God, in mercy spare him!
Lord, all-pitying, Jesu blest,
Grant them Thine eternal rest. Amen.
us acquire the habit of praying for those in their last agony, that the
Divine mercy may incline to them. Then others will assist us when the
moment of our own death arrives. Where or how we shall die, we know
not; it may be quite alone; but if we have prayed frequently for the
dying, if again and again we have said with attention and from our
hearts: "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the
hour of our death," then at the supreme moment mercy will incline to us
1. Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 21, a. 4.
2. James 2: 13.
3. Loc. cit.
4. Cf. St. Catherine of Siena, Dialogue, chap. 30.
sempiterne Deus, qui abundantia pietatis tuae et menta supplicum exedis
et vota; effunde super nos misericordiam tuam: ut dimittas quae
conscientia metuit, et adjicias quod orationem praesumit. Per Dominum
nostrum Jesum Christum Filium, etc.
6. Life, chap.
7 (Bollandists, April 30, p. 918).
7. Letters of
St. Catherine of Siena, tr. by Scudder, p. 113.
8. See St. Thomas, Ia, q. 21, a. 4 ad Ium.
11. Ps. 88: 2 ff.; Ps. 102: 8-17.
12. Tr. by Irons; cf. The Hymns of the Breviary and Missal.
POSTSCRIPT BY THE WEB MASTER:
An easy way to practice devotion on behalf of the dying,
especially those who may be in danger of Hell, is to dedicate at least
one decade of the Rosary, to ask for the mercy of final repentance,
more especially on behalf of those who have no one else to pray with or
for them. If we acknowledge our own unworthiness to ask for this grace
for these poor ones, and ask Our Lady to intercede in our stead with
her Divine Son, Whose mercy is above all His works, will she not
consent to do so as the Mother of Mercy, and could her Son refuse her
loves us to trust Him enough to ask for His mercy, provided our hearts
are remorseful and desiring to atone for our own sins. For those who
have no one to help them to die as they ought, can we not at least be
inspired by the example of dear Catherine of Siena, and beg the Divine
Mercy for souls:
Jesus and Mary, we love Thee, save souls;
Jesus and Mary, convert the dying, save the dying.
There is also the daily devotion of the Adoption of
One Unknown Dying Soul, online HERE.