Summary: The first gift of the Risen Christ was the power to forgive sins.
Second Sunday of Easter
April 11, 2010
Two revolutionary phrases punctuate today’s Gospel. The one that commands the attention of most preachers is the one proclaimed by Thomas, who had doubted the Resurrection. The one who had said “I will not believe” unless his own vision of what ought to be was confirmed fell to his knees and professed “My Lord and my God.” We too, especially on this Sunday of the Divine Mercy, should be overwhelmed by the love of God for us. Overwhelmed that God in effect acted against His own best interests by sending His Son to suffer and to die so that we could be in eternal union with Him. And especially overwhelmed by that other revolutionary phrase that begins Jesus’s post-Resurrection conversation with us.
Just 3 months after Jesus was conceived in Our Lady’s womb, the priest Zechariah prophesied that John the Baptist would preach knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins. In the tender compassion of our God, this Rising Sun from on high has visited us to guide our feet into the ways of peace. And so the first words to the apostles were and are Shalom aleichem–peace to you. Whose sins you shall forgive are forgiven; whose sins you hold back are held back. With the breath of the Holy Spirit He then gives them the power to forgive sins. This is my theme today, as I begin a series of monthly homilies on the sacraments and the Liturgy. Today we should focus on the enormity of sin and the overwhelming love of God to forgive and repair our sins.
Perhaps the greatest error of modernism is a refusal to admit that we are all sinners. David confessed that he was conceived in sin. That means there is a fundamental weakness inside each of us. We are children of the first humans, and the children of that first human rebellion. We dishonor God, we take His name in vain, we profane Sunday and the holy days, we disrespect our parents, we contracept and abort and use pornography and cheat on our taxes and cut corners in our work. We sin. The first step at becoming fully human, the first glimmer of hope of our own resurrection, is to admit it. “Hi, my name is Pat, and I am a sinner.”
God could have, after that first rebellion, written us all off as a failed experiment. But He loved us so much that He gave us His own Son, who assumed our human nature, our human weakness. Jesus worked twin miracles during his three year ministry. He healed bodies, but He claimed also to forgive sins. “Only God can forgive sins,” the Pharisees pouted. That’s right. And to prove that He had divine power to forgive sins, he used divine power to heal the paralytics, give sight to the blind and speech to the mute, and He even resuscitated the dead. And when we–you and I–by our sins nailed Him to the cross, in his last moments He gave us His mother to be our mother, and breathed His spirit out as the twin founts of mercy, blood and water, poured from His pierced heart.
Peter, John and the rest of the apostles continued the mighty works of Christ, and we do so today as well. The priests of the Church continue to accomplish that most special work, the forgiveness of sins, through the sacraments of baptism and reconciliation. And for the daily sins we are all guilty of, we have this most wonderful sacrament of the Eucharist. If we approach the altar in a spirit of repentance, as we take the Body and Blood of Christ our sins are obliterated, and grace and mercy are poured out on our souls. Christ really forgives our sins, and gives us the grace to hate our sins and love doing good. The grace of Christ is enough to make us sinful members of the Church truly holy. The mission of the Church is to fill the world with saints.
It would be logical to believe that with that kind of objective, the Church would be loved by the world. But the world hates us just as much now as it did when it murdered Christ and almost every one of the twelve who saw Him in that upper room. Why? Because many humans believe that if they gave up their favorite sins, they would be miserable. Let’s face it: there’s a certain satisfaction in contemplating the comeuppance of our enemies. Adultery must bring some satisfaction, or there wouldn’t be so much of it. Sin is the embrace of something that is bad for us because we perceive some good in it. It is the rejection of Ultimate Goodness for temporary enjoyment. And the Church consistently has told the world that what is wrong is wrong, and we don’t try to pretend otherwise. That’s why the world hates us, and why the New York Times and other papers are going after our Holy Father. So let’s look at the truth: