April 10, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

Jesus’ resurrection frees us from the corruption of sin, death

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinPope Francis makes a clear distinction between sin, which we’re all guilty of, and corruption, which is a form of grave, spiritual death that the Holy Father says is “unforgivable.” Does it surprise you to hear that the pope, who constantly emphasizes God’s mercy, believes that there is such a thing as an unforgivable offense against God?

In St. Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says, “All sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin” (Mk 3:28-29). Do you suppose that Pope Francis considers corruption to be a form of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?

Like Jesus himself, Pope Francis is comfortable with sinners (which is not the same thing as condoning our sins), but he draws the line at hypocrisy, which he calls the language of corruption. “They were sinners, like all of us, but they took a step further,” the pope says. “As if they had become consolidated in sin: they don’t need God! But this is only an illusion, because in their genetic code this relation with God exists. And since they can’t deny this, they create a special god: they themselves are god, they are the corrupt!”

For Pope Francis, corruption means the death of the soul, the total perversion of our relationship to God. We are all sinners. We all turn away from God—sometimes in ways that are gravely serious or mortal.

But the corrupt take human sinfulness “a step further.” According to Pope Francis, they have allowed the corrosion of evil, hypocritical attitudes and sinful actions to transform them into “the anti-Christ.”

These are very strong words for the pope, who consistently proclaims God’s mercy. As we prepare for the Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, let’s look more closely at our freedom to totally reject God (thereby allowing ourselves to be corrupted by sin and death) and God’s never-ending mercy. God always forgives us. We don’t always accept his mercy.

St John Paul II, in his encyclical “Dives in Misericordia” (“Rich in Mercy”), reminds us that mercy is a distinguishing characteristic of the Jewish and Christian understanding of who God is, how God relates to his people, and what he expects from us.

“Slow to anger and rich in mercy” is a phrase that is repeated over and over again in the Scriptures. The parables, teaching and example of Jesus consistently emphasize God’s mercy (and his demand that we also show mercy.) There is something reciprocal about divine mercy. One who is loved and forgiven is expected to show compassion and forgiveness toward others. In the Lord’s prayer, we implore God our Father to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The passion, death and resurrection of Jesus represent the ultimate outpouring of divine mercy. “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy,” St. Paul tells us (Ti 3:5). But unless we acknowledge our own sinfulness and the mercy of God, which alone can set us free, we remain stuck in our sins, weighed down by the corruption of our minds and hearts, miserable people who cannot know Easter joy.

The resurrection of Jesus frees us from the corruption of sin and death. The Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter shows us the disciples who are gathered in fear behind locked doors. The Lord calms their fears and entrusts them with a mission. He shows them his hands and his side, which bear the marks of the passion, and tells them: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:21–23). Jesus entrusted to them the gift of “forgiving sins,” a gift that flows from the wounds in his hands, his feet, and especially from his pierced side. From there, a wave of mercy is poured out over all humanity.

Those who are so corrupt that they cannot accept, or share with others, the redemptive gift of God’s mercy are in the throws of spiritual death. They have aligned themselves with liars, deceivers and hypocrites (“the anti-Christ”).

The resurrection of Jesus frees us from the corruption of sin and death. God’s mercy is extended to everyone—no matter how sinful or corrupt. The question is: Can we open ourselves to the liberation of God’s grace? Can we say “yes” to God’s merciful love and then be merciful to others? †

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