2nd Sunday of Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday (April 27, 2014)
1 Peter 1:3-9
It only seems fitting that as we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday today, we focus on the significance of what happened in today’s Gospel reading from John. I’m not talking about Thomas, the poor guy makes one mistake and he is labeled for eternity as “Doubting Thomas.”
No, I’m talking about the significance of Jesus breathing on the disciples and how that relates to God’s never-ending mercy. Where else in the bible did God’s breath do something truly incredible? When He breathed life into Adam, the first human. And now God again breathes His Spirit onto the disciples. This should be a clue for us to pay attention here! Right before Jesus breathed on them he said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” How did the Father send Jesus? With all divine authority including the ability to forgive sins (cf Mark 2:5-12). Now in John’s Gospel, Jesus is giving this authority to the disciples (cf John 20:21-23).
But let’s be specific as to what authority Jesus is giving to the disciples at this moment. It’s in the very next line, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” The only way for the disciples to have known which sins to forgive and which to retain is if the sins were orally spoken. This is why from the early church, confession was said out loud. Now why in the world would Jesus entrust the ability to forgive sins to His disciples? It is out of mercy! While Christ walked the earth, only He could forgive sins. But His time to ascend to His Father was near and He wanted us to be able to still receive His divine mercy though His forgiveness via one of His priests (cf James 5:14-16).
This is of the utmost importance because mortal sin kills the soul just like poison kills the body. You can have perfect physical health while your spiritual health is on the verge of death. Confession is spiritual medicine for us. It cleanses us. And if you’ve ever tried to convince yourself that your sins “aren’t that bad,” take some time meditating on a crucifix. God’s love put Christ on the cross for even the smallest sin we commit. Pope Francis said in his Easter homily that in the cross we see, “The immensity of God’s mercy that does not treat us as our sins deserve, but according to His mercy.”
Why then are we so afraid and embarrassed of going to confession if our souls can be restored to a state of grace through it? Think about it for a second. A priest is ordained to help bring the love of God to the people. He is bound by the seal of confession to never be able to speak a word of what is said in the confessional to anyone….ever. And if he does, he will lose his ability to be a priest. He will be permanently fired from the priesthood. Furthermore, he’s heard it all before and probably worse. So get over yourself! Your sins aren’t so bad that he’s willing to lose his job by posting them on Facebook!
Plus, the words of absolution are so extremely powerful. For those that don’t know this terminology, this is the prayer the priest says at the end of the confession. It is probably the most beautiful Catholic prayer I’ve ever heard – “God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of your son, you have reconciled the world to yourself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the church, may God grant you pardon and peace. And I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Don’t let pride keep you from hearing these words. Hearing these words on a regular basis will change your life because your soul will be constantly filled with God’s grace and love. Beg for His mercy in the confessional. We should all strive to be beggars before the Lord.
I want to close with a true story I heard from the well known Catholic author Scott Hahn. A priest was over in Rome attending a conference at the Vatican. He was walking to a local church for his evening prayers. There were many beggars on the church steps, which is common in Rome.
He thought he recognized one of them and asked him, “Do I know you?” “Yes, we went to seminary together,” was the reply. “What happened?” asked the priest. “I crashed and burned, leave me alone.” The priest realized he was running late to the last conference and simply said, “I’ll pray for you” as he walked away from the beggar. At the very end of the conference, each person in attendance got to go up and briefly meet the pope; at that time it was John Paul II. This priest went up and told the pope about what had happened with the beggar he just met. After the meeting the priest went back to try and locate the beggar. Thankfully he was still on the church steps where the priest last spoke with him. “I’m so glad I found you. I spoke to the pope about you and he has invited us to dinner!” The beggar was in disbelief and said, “I can’t go. I don’t have nice clothes and I’m dirty.” “You don’t understand, you are my ticket to dinner. If I don’t bring you, I’m not getting in! You can shower at my hotel and I have clothes you can wear.” So they got cleaned up and together they went to St. Peter’s. They were led to the dining hall by the Swiss Guards where John Paul II was already seated at the table.
Towards the end of the meal, John Paul made a motion with his hands and suddenly one of the other men asked everyone to leave the room except the priest’s beggar friend. The priest stood in the hallway with everyone else for about 10 minutes wondering what in the world was going on inside between John Paul II and his friend. Then the doors opened, everyone sat down and finished with dessert. They all said their good byes and left St. Peter’s. “What happened in there?” the priest asked. “You’ll never believe me if I told you.” “Try me.” “When everyone left, the Holy Father asked me to hear his confession.” “Well, what did you say?” asked the priest. “I told him that I’m just a beggar.” “So am I,” replied John Paul II. So as the Bishop of Rome, he reinstated the beggar so that he was back in good standings with the church. After John Paul confessed to the priest, the former beggar then asked the Pope to hear his confession as well. John Paul then gave the reinstated priest his first assignment…to go back to the streets and minister to the other beggars. This man’s life was restored, physically and spiritually, through the sacrament of reconciliation.
We are all beggars that have been adopted by God’s love. He wants to heal our souls through the sacrament of reconciliation. We just need to be humble enough to walk into that confessional. Remember, it’s not an interrogation. It’s God trying to pour His love and mercy into us.
In the words of Pope John XXIII, “Consult not your fears but your hopes and dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.”
The sacrament of reconciliation can and will do this. It can take your fears, your frustrations and your failures and turn them into new hope. So for the sake of your eternal salvation, go to confession often. Be a beggar before the Lord and allow God’s loving mercy to bathe new life into your soul!
(Much of this homily was inspired by a talk I heard on a CD by Scott Hahn titled, “The Healing Power of Confession” published by Lighthouse Catholic Media.)