Divine Mercy Sunday 2020

     Because I know that I am a sinner and I want to spend as little time in purgatory is possible, 3 days a week, I teach a theology course to seniors at a local high school. In the fall semester, those lucky seniors get me for biomedical ethics, which I thoroughly enjoy, but most of my students find it unfair that as seniors in high school they have to take a bioethics class from a professional bioethicist. For surviving the torture of biomedical ethics, they get to enjoy apologetics in the spring semester. In that class, we take all that they have learned in their prior theology classes to investigate disagreements people have with the Catholic Church and learn how to argue to defend the Church. One of the common disagreements between Catholics and Christians and really all other people of goodwill is the question of confession. After all, why do we have to confess our sins to a priest? Why can’t we just tell them to God directly.

     Well, I think today’s Gospel answers that question for us. In today’s Gospel, Jesus greets His apostles in the upper room on Easter Sunday evening. Just a few hours after rising from the dead, Jesus showed Himself to His apostles, “breathed on them and said to them ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained.”[1] I don’t know about you, but I tend to take Jesus at His word. One of His first tasks after rising from the dead was to give His apostles the power to forgive sins because He died and rose that we might be set free. While “guilt without hope in Christ is despair and suicide. Guilt with hope in Christ is mercy and joy.”[2] “Guilt must not be allowed to fester in the silence of the soul, poisoning it from within. It needs to be confessed. Through confession, we bring it into the light, we place it within God’s purifying love.”[3]

     Jesus gave the apostles the power to forgive sins, because He knows all of us are sinners and He wants to come into our lives to bring the light of His love into the darkness of sin that can consume our lives. You see, when we go to the Sacrament of Confession, we go face to face with Jesus. While, yes, the priest is sitting across from us, he is acting in the person of Christ. While it may appear that we are simply telling the human priest our sins, we cannot forget that Jesus established the priesthood and the sacraments so that He could enter into our lives. Every time we encounter the priest in the sacrament of confession, he is acting in the person of Christ, just as He does at Mass. When, at the Mass, the priest says “this is my body … this is my blood” the priest, as an individual man, is not offering us his body and blood. No God is speaking through the priest to offer us His body. Likewise, when the priest says “I absolve you from your sins” it is not another human absolving you of your sins, it is Christ, for after all only God has the power to forgive sins.

     Personally, I go to confession every two weeks. I like to think of myself as an average person. I’m certainly no Mother Theresa, nor am I like the famous mobster Al Capone, yet every time I go to confession I have plenty of things to confess. Sure, every night before I go to bed, I kneel down and think back on my day. First, I give thanks to God for the blessings He has given me in that day and then I ask forgiveness for those sins I committed that day, but it is not until I make it to confession and hear Jesus tell me “I absolve you from your sins” that peace is truly restored in my life. After all, its not enough just to call someone when we offend them. No, we must go and personally apologize. So, while I tell God I’m sorry as soon as I recognize my sins, I then have to take it the next step and plan a time to personally visit him to apologize in person in the sacrament of Confession.

     I think the coronavirus has also shown how interconnected all of us are in this world. Look how fast it moved across the world and why the experts continue to tell us that we have to isolate so as not to transmit this virus. The COVID-19 pandemic is definitive proof that our actions have consequences not just for us, but also for those around us. So too with sin. There is no sin that is just between me and God. All sin harms others. Thus, to simply tell Jesus we are sorry is not enough. We also need to go to the community and express our sorrow and ask for forgiveness. Since the priest is a representative of the community, every time we go to confession, we not only tell God that we are sorry, but we also express that sorrow to the community that we have harmed.

     Look, the coronavirus has taught us allot in the past month, but I think one of its greatest lessons has been that there are very few certainties in this life. In fact, I think about the only things we can truly be certain of is that we were born, that we will die and that Jesus came to save us. Amidst everything else, all of the uncertainties, all we can do is utter those famous words “Jesus I trust in you” and that trust brings peace. For Christ has come to bring us peace. Afterall, “Christian holiness does not mean being sinless, but rather it means struggling not to give in and always getting up after every fall.”[4] “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.”[5] Jesus offers us His peace. It’s up to us to trust Him and come to the sacrament of confession to receive it.

     So, what do you have to lose. The sacrament of confession is the one place we can go where we can be certain that what we say is never going to be repeated. Not only will I be removed from the priesthood if I reveal someone’s sins to another, US law prohibits anyone, even the courts from compelling me to testify about a confession and honestly there is nothing you are going to say that is going to shock me. Yes, I have heard murder and I have to say I was more in awe by the courage of that person to confess the sin and of God’s amazing grace of forgiveness then I was by the sin that was confessed. The sacrament of confession takes no more then a few minutes, and while it requires humility (Mother Theresa said “confession is nothing but humility in action.” [6]) it requires no real skill. If you have no idea how to go to confession, simply ask the priest to guide you; he will be more than happy to do so. While the sacrament can be an emotional experience, if we approach the sacrament in a spirit of love and humility it should be a painless experience. So, I ask you what do you really have to lose by placing your trust in Christ and frequenting the sacrament of confession.

[1] John 20:21-23

[2] Archbishop Fulton Sheen. The Priest is not his own. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. (2004). Pg. 173.

[3] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth Part III. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. (2011). Pg. 74.

[4] Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, The Meaning of Vocation. United States: Scepter Publishing, (1997). Pg. 10.

[5] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium. Washington DC: USCCB (2014). Pg. 2.

[6] Mother Teresa, Total Surrender. Cincinnati: Servant Books, (1985). Pg. 100.

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