The Divine Mercy Sunday
It is the Divine Mercy Sunday because the Gospel for today reveals the steadfast love and mercy of Jesus and the institution of the sacrament of reconciliation.
First, he reveals his mercy to the disciples living in fear behind locked doors. Specifically, we are informed that they were afraid of the Jews who had put Jesus to death. Perhaps their reason for fear changed when Jesus stood in their midst. Just imagine what they must have thought! After all, here’s their master whom they had abandoned and denied and left to die alone on the cross.
Now the disciples were probably more nervous than ever and wondered if Jesus would be angry with them. Rather than being vindictive towards the disciples, Jesus assures them that He seeks only their good and wishes them peace. Our Lord does not want them, or us, to live in fear of condemnation because of our failures but in restored relationship. Jesus sought them out like the Good Shepherd going after the lost sheep. The disciples were embarrassed, afraid, isolated, and sorrowful. Jesus came to let them know that He still loved them despite their sin.
There are times in our lives when we can feel like the disciples in that upper room. These are times when we hide from the Lord and others out of our fear, shame, sorrow, and sin. Jesus wants to break into those locked rooms of our hearts and bring His peace and healing reconciliation to us as well. For this, he instituted the sacrament of reconciliation, one of the first acts soon after his Resurrection.
Yes, the Lord instituted the sacrament of penance, principally when after his Resurrection he breathed upon his disciples and said: “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 20:22).
Although it is the foundational text for the power of the sacrament of reconciliation, people sometimes say Jesus did not tell us that we must confess all our sins to a priest. Yes, indeed, Jesus does not say the rite of the confession explicitly. i.e. how to confess. But what he does give is the power in the sacrament because he says to them, “if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven,” and conversely, “if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”. So, it’s very crucial here to stress that in order for them to both forgive and retain someone’s sins, first of all, they would somehow know what those sins are. So, although the act of confessing sin isn’t explicit in the text, it’s implied by the very command given by Jesus to the Apostles, because otherwise, how are they going to know what sins to bind or what sins to forgive?
In a Jewish setting, this is a staggering bestowal of authority, and we see elsewhere when Jesus forgives the sins of the paralytic, people say, “This man speaks blasphemy. Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Indeed it’s divine power. It’s a divine prerogative to forgive sins. And amazingly, now Jesus gives that divine authority and the divine power to the Apostles.
This gives us hope and joy. So we must thank our Lord for his great mercy. As we sing in the psalms for today, we must say loudly: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is kind, give thanks to the Lord for he is merciful. Give thanks to the Lord for his steadfast love endures forever.”
Now let us see the mercy towards the one who has no fear. St Thomas was not with them when he appeared for the first time. He was not ready to believe what others said to him. It’s important to note that Thomas chose to remain with the other disciples even though he did not have the same experience of the risen Jesus as they had. Thomas’ lack of experience was the cause of his disbelief. He stayed with the other disciples not because he shared the same belief as they did but because he saw that their lives were authentically changed and that attracted him. Thomas wanted what they had—joy, peace, and faith—but he didn’t have it. Nonetheless, he persevered in their company and because he remained with the other disciples, he did eventually come to share their experience of the Risen Christ for himself and come to faith.
This is a great reflection for us as disciples because sometimes we don’t fully understand the truths of faith that others do. Rather than walking away in disbelief, Thomas gives us an example of faithful perseverance when we struggle with matters of belief. Sometimes we only come to believe because we choose to remain a part of a community that believes.
Thomas acknowledged that his failure to believe was his issue. He did not try to convince the other disciples that they were mistaken. Rather, Thomas just acknowledged his own limitation and remained in their company, praying that one day he, too, would experience Jesus as they had. When he decided to be in the communion of the other apostles on the very next Sunday, he gets the same experience of Jesus. So that is another sparking hind that we need to be in the Sunday communion. If you like to get the peace that Jesus brings or to be reconciled with Jesus first, we need to be in the communion precisely on Sunday, the day of the Lord.
The exchange of peace at Mass, then, is more than just a casual greeting or even wishing people to be free of violence and distress. It is even more than wishing them right relationship. Our exchange of peace is our willing response as members of the Body of Christ to become ministers to one another of the reconciliation Jesus won for us on the cross. We are literally being Christ to Christ. It is also a time when we encourage one another to know and trust God’s presence, love, and mercy while encouraging them to persevere in doing the Lord’s will.
So as we celebrate this holy mass let us thank God for his stead fast unending mercy, ask his grace to persevere in the faith and moreover to receive greater blessings for those who believe in spite of not having seen.
May God bless you!