“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (John 20:21-23).
Today, all our readings at mass as well as our prayers are pointed at just one word: Mercy. Today is the day that Our Lord Jesus Christ revealed to St. Maria Faustina as the day we should celebrate the Divine Mercy of God. In truth, thousands of years before Jesus revealed this day as Divine Mercy Sunday, our Gospel passage narrates how Jesus on this very day performed the greatest act of Mercy when He appeared to the Eleven disciples and gave them the power to forgive sins; thereby establishing the Sacrament of Confession. There are so many lessons for us today.
Peace and Forgiveness Go Together.
One great lesson Jesus teaches us today is that there is an intrinsic connection between peace and forgiveness. Do you notice how restless you are when you cannot forgive? Can you sincerely wish peace to those who hurt you deeply? By saying “Peace be with you” and repeating it again, Jesus was essentially saying “I forgive you and I forgive you completely.” Are you finding it difficult to sleep at night? Do you seriously lack peace of mind? Then please examine your heart thoroughly to find out if there are persons you are yet to forgive, find out what are those negative memories and feelings you have refused to let go. Jesus is teaching us today that without complete forgiveness, we can never find inner peace.
In Confession, God Forgives Our Sins in the Person of the Priest.
Just after declaring peace upon the disciples, Jesus breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit,” then He proceeded to give them the power to absolve or retain sins. It is very important to remember that the disciples did not have power on their own to forgive sins except by the Power of the Holy Spirit. Just as God breathed on Adam at creation thereby giving him life, Jesus breathed on the disciples thereby giving them extraordinary power to do something only God can do. For me, this is the greatest act of the mercy of God upon mankind as a whole.
Dear brothers and sisters, when we go for confession, the priest who has been empowered by the grace of this breath is able to absolve us completely from every single stain of sin. By creating the sacrament of confession, Jesus made the mercy of God cheap; such that it is now possible for anyone to walk up to a priest and receive forgiveness of his or her sins not minding the weight of what he or she has done. Trust me, when the priest says: “I absolve you from all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” God himself wipes every stain of your sins completely. It is as though, you never committed any sin. You become a completely new creature, white and spotless and God remembers your past no more.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit; it is the mercy of God at work in our lives. We should never miss an opportunity to confess our sins because by so doing, we also receive strength from on high not to go back to those sins anymore. This sacrament is our Easter Gift; it is God’s own way of practising what He teaches us to do; to forgive not just seven times but seventy-seven times seven times. If you believe in God at all, then you should believe in the power of confession to wipe away your sins. Do not be like Thomas who wanted to see before believing.
If we Receive Mercy, We Too Must Give Mercy.
In the mind of the world, justice is only served when we retaliate a wrong done. In fact, pick any movie you know, you are almost going to find the same storyline; someone is offended, treated badly and almost killed only for that person to return with full force to retaliate, then the movie ends. Just as the world does not know God, it does not know Forgiveness. In truth, a huge part of spreading the Gospel today is teaching the world how to forgive. Forgiving others is our unique mark as Christians following the footsteps of Christ who prayed for forgiveness right on the cross for those who killed Him.
In today’s first reading, we see how great signs and wonders were worked among the people at the hands of the apostles such that even the very shadow of Peter cured the sick and even those who came from outside Jerusalem were all cured. This is again the mercy of God at work. Like Peter and the other disciples, we are called today to be agents of God’s mercy by praying for others, caring for them in times of sickness and bringing God’s word especially to those in the hospital.
Great things always happen whenever we dispose ourselves to be used by God. It only takes faith on our part not to look down on ourselves, but believe that for God nothing is impossible. Just as God revealed great things to John as we see in our second reading today, God continues to reveal Himself to all those who create space for God in their hearts.
On this Divine Mercy Sunday, our worship will not be complete if we do not go out today to practically forgive those who may still be held prisoners in our hearts. As Jesus brought Peace to his disciples who fled during his arrest, we too are to bring peace today to all those we meet by first letting go of all our hurts and pains. Above all, we must approach the confessional regularly with faith as a fount of mercy knowing that it is not the priest, but God Himself who forgives our sins. Remember God is mercy and mercy is God.