From Section III: Mercy, Unconditional Love and Justice
The idea of unconditional love and the focus on God’s mercy raise the age-old question of the relation of justice and mercy. If all is forgiven and God loves us no matter what we do, what is the place of justice? Surely there is a difference between good and bad, right and wrong. Should not those who do wrong pay a price of some kind? Why not just do whatever we want,
confident that, like the prodigal, we will be welcomed home? Is not justice important to maintaining order in society and even in God’s universe?
The Holy Father addresses this directly in his letter on the Year of Mercy.
[J]ustice and mercy … are not contradictory realities but two dimensions of a single reality that unfolds progressively until it culminates in the fullness of love. Justice is a fundamental concept for civil society, which is meant to be governed by the rule of law. Justice is also understood as that which is rightly due to each individual” [MV, 20].
Justice is not the opposite of mercy. Rather, justice is part of the larger reality of mercy. It contributes to the work of mercy as a means to an end with the ultimate goal being a relationship of love. When this order is turned around, when justice becomes the end rather than a means, when justice rather than mercy is our primary message, we end up with the kind of legalism of which Jesus was so critical, which distorts “the original meaning of justice and [obscures] its profound value” [MV, 20].