Sunday, 12 April 2015

Year of Mercy, 2nd Sunday of Easter

Jn 20:19-31
Today, in Rome, Pope Francis is promulgating a Bull inaugurating a Year of Mercy, a year that will formally commence on the 8th of December. The purpose of this year is (1) to call us to the Lord’s mercy, (2) through the ministry of the Church. He's promulgating the Bull TODAY because today is Divine Mercy Sunday, and today’s Gospel is about the institution of the sacrament of mercy, namely, confession. So let me make a few comments about this in the light of today’s Gospel text.

First, let me note that mercy is EXPENSIVE, it costs Jesus a lot. Pope Francis made this point in a sermon (2013) two years ago today when he noted how today’s Gospel text has the Lord show His wounds to His disciples. He shows them His wounds in the context of entrusting the sacrament of forgiveness to His apostles, telling them, “Those whose sins you forgive they are forgiven them; those whose sins you retain they are retained”(Jn 20:23). Pope Francis said that “these wounds represent the PRICE of our salvation”.

Pope Francis further stressed the manner in which the Lord linked the gift of the Holy Spirit with the power to forgive sins. He said that, “The Holy Spirit brings us the forgiveness of God that ‘passes through’ the wounds of Jesus”.

The Pope went on to link INDIVIDUALISM with some mistaken approaches to sin and forgiveness.
We might note that there is a popular phrase by which people often speak of “forgiving themselves”, but the forgiveness that the Pope is talking about, the forgiveness that Jesus is offering, is not something we give ourselves, rather, it is from a power beyond us: it is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
Sin is a weighty business.
Forgiveness is a powerful cure.
But its power is such that I don't have the power WITHIN myself to give it to myself. Like all the sacraments it comes from a power BEYOND us: it comes from the power of the Holy Spirit. That Spirit works through a priest such that I am offered something that I can't give myself:
the forgiveness of God for my offences against Him and against my neighbour.

Pope Francis directly addressed a different thing that people sometimes say: people sometimes say that they confess their sins directly to Jesus in prayer. Such an attitude readily fits the private individualism of our modern society, BUT it does not fit into what Jesus said:
Jesus established His apostles to be the “INSTRUMENTS” of His forgiveness.
We are SOCIAL beings, not just private beings, and forgiveness comes through the mediation of another. Thus the Pope said we have “to humbly pass through the ecclesial ministry”.
And, referring to those who say they are too EMBARRASSED to confess their sins to a priest, the Pope said that it is “better to be red for one day than yellow for a thousand days” –better to blush today in embarrassment than to burn forever.
The sacrament is thus an “instrument” of forgiveness. As our Faith teaches, it “CONTAINS” grace (Council of Trent; St Thomas ST III q62 a3) –it does not just declare that you are ALREADY forgiven, rather, it actually “CAUSES” grace, causes the forgiveness of your sins (Council of Trent; St Thomas, ST III q62 a1).
We NEED this human mediation of forgiveness. Thus the Pope pointed out that he too goes to confession, at least once a fortnight.

To bring that together:
The Pope is declaring a “Year of Mercy”, a year for us to use the instruments Christ has established in His Church.
Forgiveness cost Jesus a lot, as His wounded hands show.
Forgiveness costs us only a little, the awkwardness of repentance and confession. Let's resolve to make better use of this sacramental means this coming Year.

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