Today’s readings remind us why today, Divine Mercy Sunday, we’re celebrating the gift of Divine mercy. The Gospel takes us back to the evening of that first Easter Sunday. The disciples have gathered back together, but more out of fear than of faith: they had all abandoned Our Lord on the Cross. How could they expect mercy after what they’d done?
In today’s First Reading we see the first heady days of a Christian community redeemed and reconciled through the grace of Christ. Long before apostasies, heresies, or schisms we see the first believers sharing their lives, their bread, and their prayers. We also see that the Apostles have a special role in the community: believers are devoted to their teaching. The faith, handed down by Christ to the Apostles, and then handed on through the centuries to us, continues to unite us. Those first believers didn’t believe in a vacuum: the Apostles showed many signs and wonders to bolster their faith. Even today when Christians live in harmony, not only with fellow believers, but with their fellow man, they are a sign and a wonder of the reconciling power of Christ. Lumen Gentium teaches that the Church is called to be a sign and instrument of “both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (n.1). The believers didn’t do it alone, and neither do we. Our Lord has given us sacred ministers to help us live in harmony, and one way they do so is through the sacrament of Reconciliation.
In today’s Second Reading St. Peter reminds us that the great mercy of God is what gives birth to a new hope in us. The Resurrection itself is a sign of the mercy of God. Our hope is alive because Christ was raised from the dead. Before his Resurrection the sins of mankind, from Adam on down, lead to one dire conclusion: death and eternal separation from God. In Christ’s Resurrection we have a living hope that through his mercy death will not have the last word in our lives. We too will inherit the eternal life that he won for us on the Cross. However, this “inheritance” is not automatic. Through trials and our efforts at purification we show that we truly desire the gift of his mercy. Despite Our Lord’s victory we stumble or fall repeatedly, which is why we need his mercy repeatedly.
In today’s Gospel Our Lord shows that he has a special mission for his Apostles: to be the instruments and channels of that mercy for the whole world, through the sacrament of Confession. The Apostles need to be reconciled with the Lord they’d abandoned when he needed them most. Jesus tells them twice, “Peace be with you.” He shows them his hands and feet so that they can see the wounds and know it’s not a dream or an illusion, and the fact that they abandoned him for was not a dream or illusion either: The sin really happened, the price really had to be paid for that sin, He paid the price in full. With the words “Peace be with you,” He says what’s past is past. This reconciliation is meant to be maintained and to spread. Our Lord breathes on the apostles and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” This power comes from Christ through the Apostles, and through the bishops and priests that came after them, through the Sacrament of Confession. When Jesus says “Peace be with you” twice in this passage he is showing us that forgiveness is not a one shot deal, or else Baptism would be enough: we’re always in need of his mercy, because we continue to battle with our sins. When we examine our lives, we always see moments where we could have done more and better, and Confession gives us the peace and grace to keep trying to do more and better.
We spend so much time getting check-ups, watching what we eat, trying to get some exercise, because we’re concerned for our health. All those things are important, but our spiritual health is important as well. Sin is something we struggle with throughout our earthly lives. You should be worried if you think you don’t have any faults or failings that you should work on. Take some time to do a spiritual “check-up”: read Part 3 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Don’t just skim it; read it, and see whether your life and the life in Christ that it presents matches. Confessors are standing by.
Readings: Acts 2:42–47; Psalm 118:2–4, 13–15, 22–24; 1 Peter 1:3–9; John 20:19–31.