"…The Church testifies to her hope that human events are always accompanied by the merciful Providence of God, who knows how to touch even the most hardened of hearts and bring good fruits even from what seems utterly barren soil" (Pope John Paul II, World Day of Peace, Jan. 1, 2002). God touches us with His mercy and love where we need to be healed. He touches our hearts and moves each of us to face the reality of evil first and foremost in our own lives.
On Easter Sunday night, Jesus appears to the disciples and shows them his hands and his side. No mistaking it. This is Jesus who had been crucified. Jesus is bringing the very disciples who had abandoned him face to face with the evil of their infidelity. Their sins, together with the sins of each of us, fashioned his death on the cross.
Jesus’ first word dispels all anxiety and fear. “Peace,” he says to them and to us. He tells us that we are now at peace with God because of him. He is our peace and our reconciliation. His Cross is the price of our evil; his Resurrection, the cause of our joy.
Jesus breathes on the disciples and says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The Hebrew word for spirit (ruach). It also means "breath." When God fashions Adam from the earth and then breathes into his nostrils the breath of life, Adam became a living being (Gen 2:7). In Ezekiel’s vision of Israel as a valley of dry bones, the prophet speaks the Word of God and God’s Spirit brings life to those long dead. The Spirit brings life (cf. Ez 37:1-14).
As Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on his disciples, the Church comes to life. This is Pentecost in John’s Gospel. Jesus also mandates his Church to forgive sins. “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them” (Jn 20:23). The birth of the Church, therefore, is linked from the beginning with the forgiveness of sins.
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Christ made the Church “the sign and instrument of the forgiveness and reconciliation that he acquired for us at the price of his blood” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1442). Furthermore, he entrusted the exercise of the power of absolution to the apostles and those who share in their "ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:18). Thus, each time we go to confession, the absolution spoken by the priest is Christ’s word of divine forgiveness.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a grace-filled opportunity for us to confront the mysterium iniquitatis. When we humbly confess our own sins, the Holy Spirit removes the evil of those sins, breathes new life into us and enables us as followers of Jesus to move our world from hatred to love, from violence to peace and from death to life.
Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.