April 17, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

God’s mercy calls us to accept responsibility for our sins

The second Sunday of Easter is also called Divine Mercy Sunday.

The late Pope John Paul II designated it as such because of his deep conviction that God’s mercy is perhaps his most cherished gift.

The late pope considered the devotion of St. Faustina Kowalska to the Divine Mercy a timely message. It was certainly received as such by many people, and the devotion to the Divine Mercy has flourished.

It seems apparent that the Holy Father chose the second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday because of the Gospel for the day.

St. John, the beloved disciple, recorded that Jesus appeared to the 12 Apostles, who were behind closed doors for fear of the Jews.

He greeted them: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21). And then he breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:22-23).

Jesus, newly raised from the dead, gave us the sacrament of God’s mercy and provided the way in which we receive that mercy down through the ages.

He conferred on the 12 Apostles the authority to forgive sins in his name; that authority is received and exercised by the power of the Holy Spirit. The conferral of God’s mercy is not just a wonderful thought. It is a reality available to all of us baptized Catholics.

I forget where he said it, but St. Thomas Aquinas once asserted that mercy is the greatest attribute of God. Mercy is the most precious gift he has given us. It is the

pre-eminent expression of his love for us through the agency of his Divine Son. Divine mercy is the first fruit, the Easter gift won by the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.

The same Gospel for the second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, records the episode of the doubting St. Thomas, who had not been present for the first appearance of the resurrected Christ, and didn’t believe it really was him.

Jesus said to Thomas: “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it in my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe” (Jn 20:27). Jesus went on to say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (Jn 20:29).

The late Pope John Paul II had deep convictions about the unbelief that is part of contemporary culture. The same can be said about Pope Benedict XVI.

John Paul II was convinced that the loss of the sense of sin in our society was really an indication of the lack of faith in God. I have no doubt that his promotion of devotion to the Divine Mercy was yet another way to lead folks to faith in God, and to do so in helping to restore an honest sense of sin. The fact of God’s greatest gift of mercy should be a source of consolation and an invitation to conversion of heart.

The decline in receiving the great Easter gift of mercy in the sacrament of penance and reconciliation indicates that appreciation of the readiness of God’s forgiveness for all sins, and his desire to receive all sinners in the embrace of his love, has gotten lost for many folks.

Might not this be the reason for the Lord’s appearance to St. Faustina that resulted in her championing the cause of this greatest of divine gifts? The devotion of the chaplet of the Divine Mercy is a means of promoting an appreciation for God’s compassion and love for us sinners.

Of course, it is important that the devotion points us to the instrument by which his mercy is expressed and received, namely, the sacrament of reconciliation.

It is important to recall that the one who forgives our sins is Jesus Christ. The priest who confers the absolution and penance in confession does so in the person of Christ. The confession of sins is made to Christ through the priest who gives absolution.

It is so unfortunate that appreciation of the significance of the sacrament of penance has declined, and done so dramatically. This is due in part because of a lapse of sound catechesis about the gift of God’s mercy and the reality of sin.

Doesn’t it make sense that God’s forgiving mercy and compassion would not erase moral culpability without our participation in the means he has given us to receive his gift?

We treasure a merciful God but that doesn’t tell us that “anything goes,” morally speaking.

Possessing “a sense of sin” means that we accept our moral responsibility based on the truth of what is right and wrong. This moral sensitivity is engraved in our hearts. We call it our conscience. †

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