Antonio Cardinal Bacci - The Five Tribunals
The Five Tribunals

1. We can distinguish five courts of justice, each of which passes sentence on us. (I) The first is the tribunal of public opinion, of which some people are so afraid. (2) Then there is our own conscience, which shows us what we are and what we ought to be. (3) The third is the tribunal of Penance and (4) the fourth is the civil court. (5) Lastly, there is the judgment seat of God before which we shall have to appear one day with all our sins and our few merits.

Public opinion can be deceived by subterfuge and hypocrisy. Conscience can be ignored, or it can become warped or deadened. The tribunal of Penance can be misused, and we can remain obdurate in our sins. Civil authority can sometimes be evaded; it is also open to deception and corruption. But the tribunal of God is different. We shall be alone before Him --- fraud and deceit will be useless. There will be no excuses, no defense. Everything will be clear, and His judgment will be just and unchangeable. Let us reflect on this while we have time. Let us adopt the necessary remedies, for soon there will be no more time.

2. The tribunal of God is the one for which we must be specially prepared, because our eternal happiness or unhappiness depends on it. Nevertheless, we should not ignore the existence of the others. We have to consider public opinion. It is not that we should be anxious to put up a good appearance before it, but we should try and give good example to our neighbours rather than become the cause of scandal.
Let your light shine before men, in order that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Mt. 5:16)

Conscience is a court of justice to which we must pay more attention. This is the medium God often uses when He exhorts us to change our lives or to strive towards perfection. The tribunal of Penance is the only sure way for the sinner to return to the friendship of God, although in case of necessity he could obtain pardon by an act of perfect contrition. Finally, we must respect civil authority. All authority comes from God, and for this reason we must obey the civil law in the manner of good citizens.

In regard to civil authority, however, one thing should be made quite clear. We are only obliged to obey it when it does not infringe on the rights of God or of the Church. If it should run counter to these we should answer in the words of St. Peter and the other Apostles when they were called before the Sanhedrin: We must obey God rather than men. (Acts. 5:29)

If we had to suffer anything as a result in the cause of God and of the Church, we should count that as our good fortune. Like the Apostles, we should be able to rejoice that we have been found worthy to suffer indignity and ill-treatment for the sake of Jesus' name. (Acts. 5:41)

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