1. There are two ways by which the devil endeavors to deceive men to their eternal ruin: after they have committed sin he tempts them to despair on account of the severity of divine justice; but before they have sinned he encourages them to do so by the hope of obtaining the divine mercy. And he effects the ruin of numberless souls as well by the second as by the first artifice. “God is merciful,” says the obstinate sinner to him who would convert him from the iniquity of his ways. “God is merciful.” But as the Mother of God expresses it in her canticle, His mercy is to them that fear Him. Yes, the Lord deals mercifully with him that fears to offend him, but not so with the man who presumes upon his mercy to offend him still more.
2. God is merciful; but he is also just. Sinners are desirous that he should be merciful only, without being just; but that is impossible, because were he only to forgive and never to chastise, he would be wanting in justice. . . . He is bound to chastise the ungrateful. He bears with them for a certain time, but after that abandons them.
Such a punishment, O God! has not as yet overtaken me, or else I had now dwelt in hell, or had been obstinate in my sins. But no: I desire to amend my life; I desire to offend Thee no more. Though I have hitherto displeased Thee, I am sorry for it with my whole soul; I desire henceforth to love Thee, and I desire to love Thee more than others do, because Thou hast not shown the same patience towards others as towards me.
3. God is not mocked [Gal 6:7]. Yet he would be mocked, if the sinner could go on continually offending him, and yet afterwards enjoy him in heaven. What things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap [Gal 6:8]. He who sows good works shall reap rewards; but he who sows iniquities shall reap chastisements. The hope of those who commit sin because God is forgiving, is an abomination in his sight: their hope, says holy Job, is an abomination [Job 11:20]. Hence the sinner, by such hope, provokes God to chastise him the sooner, as that servant would provoke his master, who, because his master was good, took advantage of his goodness to behave ill.
I confess that I have done wickedly; and I detest all the offences I have committed against Thee. Now do I love Thee more than myself, and I desire never more to displease Thee.
Text from St. Alphonsus de Liguori, The Way of Salvation and Perfection, ed. Eugene Grimm, 2d ed. (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1886).