It’s, of course, good that 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 that we are always reminded to love, to pray, to make sacrifices, to frequent the sacraments, to develop virtues, to wage a life-long ascetical struggle, etc.
But we should never forget that in spite of 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 enable us to attain the dignity God is giving us.
Yes, God is indeed 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 the sinners. As shown by Christ, God gives special attention to them.
“As surely as I live,” God said in the Book of Ezekiel, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” (33,11) And as shown by Christ, God does not wait for man to turn back to him. He takes the initiative to reach out to us, sinners.
In all the miracles that 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 the bodily health of those characters. He focused more on their spiritual recovery.
We should not forget that while God’s grace and mercy need to be merited, he also gives them to us gratuitously. In spite of 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 do not need divine grace to choose good or evil, and to attain holiness.
We have to see to it that in proclaiming the gospel to the others, in our effort to present Christ to the others, we should not simply talk about the strictness of God’s demands and expectations from us, the high standard that he is setting 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.
This will always 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 is, of course, very helpful if priests, for example, would examine themselves regularly as to whether they are presenting Christ fairly to the 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, can find a way of assessing whether the people are making progress in their spiritual life or not.
Some consultations may be advisable, and also a mechanism for getting feedbacks 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.” (1Cor 9,22)/WDJ