Today's liturgy is a familiar theme, yet one that cannot be stressed enough. We see two mentalities within Catholicism (and Christianity in general for that matter) in regards to our sins, and our salvation. We must avoid both.
The first treats our justification and salvation as something we can achieve on our own. We know the popular Protestant polemic "Catholics believe they can earn their salvation." While no Catholic worth his salt would ever make such a claim (since to make it, they would cease to be Catholic), this may exist on a more subtle level. They believe if they show up to Mass, do good works, there's really not much they have to worry about. When they struggle with sin, they simply believe that they can conquer it on their own power. Indeed, sometimes priests in the confessional will say "God will not take away sins, we must deal with them ourselves." They turn Catholicism into a naturalist religion.
Others treat God as a magician. God snaps his fingers, and all inclinations to sin are removed, and nobody needs to worry about anything from that point onward. If they somehow keep sinning, they can just go to the confessional, have a "morality car wash" and be free to do whatever. I believe throughout our examination of today's liturgy, we will find both concepts false.
We have received Thy mercy, O God, in the midst of Thy temple: according to Thy Name, O God, so also is Thy praise unto the ends of the earth; Thy right hand is full of justice., Ps 47:2 Great is the Lord, and exceedingly to be praised, in the city of our God, in His holy mountain. (Introit, Pslam 47:10-11, verse 2)
We see the Introit dealing with the first error that I mentioned. We have received God's mercy. Our salvation is solely due to the "work" of God's mercy. (Titus 3:4-7) If we could earn or merit our salvation, there would be no need of the mercy of God. Indeed, there would be no need of Christ's sacrifice. We Catholics must always remember that. As the Council of Trent says, both our faith and our works are insufficient to "earn" salvation.
Graciously grant to us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the spirit to think and do always such things as be rightful: that we, who cannot exist without Thee, may be enabled to live according to Thy will. (Collect)Having established the supremacy of God's mercy in saving us, the question could be asked "what now?" How are we to live our lives after receiving this mercy? We know already that relying primarily on our own wisdom gets us into trouble when dealing with things divine. The collect gives the answer to the second kind of individual I mentioned. God is always willing to cleanse us from our sins, if we approach Him, and trust in Him. Yet after that, we need to make sure we live in accordance with His will. The only way to do that is to ask God that we can follow His will. He enables us to do so with the power of the Holy Spirit which He grants to the Church. To the extent that one remains in a life of sin after forgiveness, they are not trusting in the power of the Cross. Accepting the Cross, we can be transformed towards a life of service in God's name.
Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live.For whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For you have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear: but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father). For the Spirit himself gives testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of God. And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him. (Epistle, Romans 8:12-17)Doubting the power of the cross is something that all Christians do. If we never for a second doubted the power of the Cross, we would never sin again. Human nature being what it is, we are weak. St. Paul strives to make us be courageous in trusting in God's mercy. He reminds us that those saved by God's mercy are no longer slaves to the flesh. As mentioned, they are freed from the dominion of sin. Yet this freedom can in a sense be scary. In our old selves, all we knew how to do was sin.
St. Paul teaches the remedy for this situation in the fact that God is our Father. What Father would not provide His children with the tools that are necessary for their survival? What father would ask a child to mow the lawn, yet never check that the lawn is in good working order? Finally, what father sits back while their child pleads for help when they are in danger? God, being the perfect Father, will give us all that we need, and protect and defend us if we find ourselves in trouble. Yet we be willing to turn to Him, putting to death (mortifying) the deeds of the flesh.
Let us pray that we may always have this confidence. With that confidence, let us then always turn to and accept God's mercy, which has the power to bring us unto our true heavenly home.