St Alphonsus Mary Liguori begins his sermon On the number of sins beyond which God pardons no more commenting on the well known account of the Temptation of Christ found in Matthew 4:7.
“In this day’s Gospel we read that having gone into the desert, Jesus Christ permitted the Devil to set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and say to Him: “If Thou be the Son of God, cast thyself;” for the angels shall preserve Thee from all injury. But the Lord answered that in the Sacred Scriptures “it is written: Thou shall not tempt the Lord thy God.” The sinner who abandons himself to sin without striving to resist temptations, or without at least asking God’s help to conquer them, and hopes that the Lord will one day draw him from the precipice, tempts God to work miracles, or rather to show to him an extraordinary mercy not extended to the generality of Christians.”
I chose this passage because of two remarkable phrases contained in it. One is “the pinnacle of the temple,” and the other is “extraordinary mercy.”
You see, St Alphonsus Mary Liguori lived in an age of the Church when there was a certainty of the mercy of God, and also a conviction that said mercy was not endless. The saint reminds us of a few occasions when God acted swiftly to punish sinners in the harshest way: “All the men that have tempted Me now ten times … shall not see the [promised] land.” Numbers 14:22, 23. Friends, I am very fortunate not to have been among that group; my tenth sin being so ancient that it is already buried under a big rotten pile of new and improved sins. God has been patient with me! Yet the Lord said to king Saul through the prophet Samuel: “I will not return with you [Saul,] because you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you.” 1Kings 15:25.
I think I am not far from the truth when I say that God’s patience is infinite with those who struggle with weakness but when the offense is simply due to an obstinate willful desire to continue sinning … the greater His patience has been, the more severe His vengeance will be. Contrary to the known opinion of certain EWTN “personality,” and the homosexual lobby at work in the Church, God indeed punishes. It is therefore salutary to tremble and fear before Him who can cast our soul in the fiery Hell. We do not want to test the boundaries of His mercy, in fact Christ advises us not to test Him at all.
At least since the days of the last Synod on the Family many of us Catholics are puzzled by a few things included the Documentum Laboris and then by other confusing, even reproachable signals, that appear to be advancing the subversion of the Catholic faith. A statue of Martin Luther in the Vatican Gardens; a well known monsignor who introduces his boyfriend to the press in the days before the Synod; a eulogy to a rock star known for his profession of anything but the Catholic faith; a New Age style slide show projected on the front of St Peter’s Basilica; etc. I honestly believe there are certain sectors of the Church who are tempting God dangerously close to the limit of what He can bear.
The words “the pinnacle of the temple” caught my attention in the Gospel account of the temptation. Why should the devil take Jesus there and not to some other high place? The location is suggestive. I think those who are at the top of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, “at the pinnacle of the temple” so to speak, are more likely to be attacked by the enemy of God. Satan entered into Judas during the Last Supper when the disciple, an apostle and a trusted member of Jesus’ inner circle, decided to commit treason, his actions guided by unchecked avarice. He was so close … and yet he fell. Perhaps his intimacy with Jesus gave him the false impression that there was nothing Christ would not forgive, hence the hypocritical kiss at the Garden.
The words “extraordinary mercy” are also suggestive. One of my favorite scriptures is Sirach 2:18 which I like to render like this:
“We place our destiny in the hands of the Lord, not in human hands, because His mercy is as deep as great is His majesty.”
From this verse we understand that the mercy of the Lord is connected to His great majesty, that is to His divine dignity. It would be undignified of the majesty of God to allow an obstinate offender to abuse God’s patience by taking it for granted. Today we hear a lot of talk about having mercy on those who practice abominable things that we know God hates. Those distorted ideas on God’s mercy seem to come from some circle in the upper echelons of the Church, and now they have reached the Catholic flock causing much unnecessary confusion.
This unprecedented situation seems to coincide with the promotion of anti-Christian ideas by governments, political movements, and others around the world. For example, recently the Empire State Building was illuminated by yet another light show depicting Kali the Hindu goddess of destruction. Those ideas in various forms seem to be penetrating the Church like a blinding fog.
“For, talking empty bombast, they seduce with licentious desires of the flesh those who have barely escaped from people who live in error. They promise them freedom, though they themselves are slaves of corruption, for a man is a slave of whatever overcomes him. For if they, having escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, again become entangled and overcome by them, their last condition is worse than their first.” (2Peter 2: 18-20)
At this Year of Mercy it is very important that we do not have a wrong idea of what God’s mercy is. It is most important that we meditate deeply and ask for divine help to understand correctly what His mercy means for us, and how we can reflect it in our lives to attract souls to Christ, and to save our own souls. St Alphonsus Mary Liguori counsels:
“Listen to the words of St. Gregory: “He who has promised pardon to penitents, has not promised tomorrow to sinners.” God has promised pardon to all who repent; but He has not promised to wait until tomorrow for those who insult Him. Perhaps God will give you time for repentance, perhaps He will not. But, should He not give it, what shall become of your soul? In the meantime, for the sake of a miserable pleasure, you lose the grace of God and expose yourself to the danger of being lost forever [ … ] You have sinned, trusting rashly in the divine mercy: the punishment of your guilt shall fall suddenly upon you, and you shall not know from whence it comes. What do you say? What resolution do you make? If, after this sermon, you do not firmly resolve to give yourself to God, I weep over you and regard you as lost.”
When the whole world bends a knee to the abomination, do not allow that to desolate your soul by trusting in the wrong idea of mercy, do not go to the darkness outside for this time you may not find your way back.
“I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of Me in their hearts, that they may not turn from Me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.” Jeremiah 31:40-41.
 A sermon by St. Alphonsus Mary De Liguori (1696-1787), Bishop and Doctor of the Church. St. Francis Jerome, when he visited the parents of St. Alphonsus shortly after his birth, made this prophecy: “This child will be blessed with length of days; he shall not see death before his ninetieth year; he will be a bishop and will do great things for Jesus Christ.” This prophecy certainly came true. One of the most accomplished of all the saints is Alphonsus Liguori. He was a lawyer in both civil and Church law before he dedicated his whole life to serving God. He was founder of a religious order, author of more than a hundred books, originator of modern moral theology, renowned preacher and confessor, bishop, musical composer and painter. For all of his 91 years on earth, he was also a man of prayer and deep personal holiness. He gives an example of true Christian living that all of us would do well to follow.