Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven."
Bishop Saint Hilary of Poitiers is remembered as a champion of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and ferocious opponent of the Arians. Somewhere in my reading -- and I've been unable to find the reference now -- he says that God cannot simply overlook sins. Justice of its very nature demands reparation when evil has been committed. To ignore an evil deed, to forget it or pretend it never happen is to let it stand for all eternity un-atoned as a defiant challenge against the mercy and justice of God.
When we read of, hear of, or personally encounter savage atrocities we shudder not only at the deed but at the consequences that must follow. A suicide leaves children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation wondering, "Why did he do this to us?" American soldiers who have witnessed or perpetrated crimes against innocents in war zones may suffer "moral injury" for the rest of their lives; they're often unable or unwilling to share these stories with their families.
Even casual disagreements, the kind that happen everyday in ordinary households, may fester for years along with innumerable other complaints until they explode in desertion, abandonment and divorce.
We know this; we often hope it's not true. Perhaps my parent, now deceased, has forgiven me. Perhaps that cruel remark was immediately forgotten; or not even heard. Perhaps that unfortunate incident has disappeared in the rushing torrent of events, it's consequences eroded and mitigated by other events.
Saint Hilary disagreed. Justice cannot simply overlook evil. The God who is present to every moment at every moment forgets nothing. Hilary might have pointed to today's gospel from Saint Matthew, "...whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven." That's not a very severe penalty for scofflaws, but neither is it an ideal outcome.
I see two complementary and necessary ways to resolve this, First is our practice of penance. With the publican in the temple, we pray daily, "O Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner." I must be ready to hear the truth about me, especially when it's unpleasant. In that regard, my enemies may be more reliable than my friends; they shout what I wish were not even whispered.
The Catholic doctrine of Purgatory addresses this issue as we know there is always unfinished business at the end of life. In the VA I often pray for the recently deceased, "Lord Jesus, holy and compassionate, forgive N. his/her sins. by dying you opened the gates of life for those who believe in you. Do not let our brother/sister be parted from you...."
Secondly, and more importantly, we believe in the redeeming blood of Jesus Christ. This is not a matter of God's nitpicking our peccadilloes as if he were eternally dissatisfied and implacable. By his passion and death Jesus atoned for every evil committed against God's justice, mercy, truth and beauty. Only the Son of God could do that! With that assurance we face the evil we have perpetrated and perpetuated; and then we allow ourselves to be purged. This pain becomes pleasure and this bitterness, delight as we see healing, restoration and reconciliation around us and within us.
God's plan for mercy and justice must be fulfilled in an integrated story when conflicts are resolved and misunderstandings, clarified. The barbaric killing of a man on Calvary will be revealed as beautiful and good.
We are often reminded of God's infinite mercies but we shortchange God's mercy if we suppose he might overlook, dismiss or forget the many evil deeds of human history. They seem to us too many and perhaps too overwhelming. They are like the stars in the sky which, as Abraham saw, are beyond counting. But our God does not fit our reckoning; even unspeakable evil is not beyond the sacrificial blood of Jesus. God's mercy and justice are the same thing, a mystery beyond human understanding or imagination, and infinitely more beautiful.
As Julian of Norwich wrote:
Our Lord God shewed that a deed shall be done, and Himself shall do it, and I shall do nothing but sin, and my sin shall not hinder His Goodness working. ... It behooved that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.