April 07, 2010

Second Sunday of Easter

By Brian Pizzalato *
First Reading – Acts 5:12-16
Responsorial Psalm – Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
Second Reading – Rev 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19
Gospel Reading – Jn 20:19-31
John’s Gospel on the Second Sunday of Easter, also known as Mercy Sunday, truly shows us the mercy of God.
On the evening of the very day of Jesus’ Resurrection, all of the Apostles except Thomas have locked themselves up because they fear the Jews (cf. Jn 20:19). They unquestionably think that what happened to Jesus might still happen to them.
However, Jesus comes into the locked room where they are and says, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19). The Hebrew words Jesus uses are the standard Hebrew greeting, “shalom aleichem.” However, “shalom” has a much deeper meaning than the English word “peace.”
In English, peace typically means an absence of war or conflict. Shalom, however, is more involved than that. One can have shalom even in the midst of conflict.
To gain a deeper understanding, we must recognize the meaning of what God says through the prophet Isaiah: “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my mercy shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord who has compassion on you” (54:10).
First, we see a confirmation of what has already been said. There can be peace in the midst of conflict. The language of mountains departing and hills being removed indicates conflict. Nevertheless, peace will not be removed.
Second, there is a connection between mercy and peace, racham and shalom. The word racham can be translated as mercy or compassion. As you may already know, compassion means “to suffer with another.” In the context of the Gospel reading, Jesus is having mercy, or compassion, on those who are locked up for fear, by greeting them with, and giving them, shalom
Third, in the quotation from Isaiah we hear the language of a “covenant of peace” which helps us understand more fully what shalom is. To be in a covenant with someone is to have a God-given familial bond with them. Covenant makes family. In this case, Jesus has established the new and everlasting covenant with the Apostles at the Last Supper. They are in a covenant of peace, so he says, “Peace be with you.”
Shalom also means “to be complete or fulfilled.” Jesus gives his apostles this peace or fulfillment by breathing the Holy Spirit upon them, thus giving them a taste of what is coming at Pentecost. Therefore, to have true peace is to be filled with the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity.
After repeating “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:21), Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn. 20:21). At that time, “he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘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 20:22-23).
Jesus has been sent by the Father to confer mercy, compassion, peace and fulfillment. So, too, Jesus sends the Apostles to confer mercy, compassion, peace and fulfillment. They are to do this through the forgiveness of sins by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is important to note that, implicit in all of this is Jesus’ forgiveness of his apostles for abandoning him during his time of suffering and death.
The Father sent the Son for the forgiveness of sins. The angel told Joseph, “He will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). Now, in precisely the same way the Father sent him, the Son sends the Apostles for the forgiveness of sins. The Holy Spirit, who overshadowed Mary at the Incarnation, is now breathed upon the Apostle as a foretaste of the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit that will come upon them at Pentecost.
Jesus conferred mercy and peace upon the Apostles as they are gathered together in fear. Thiers is to confer mercy and peace to all who come to them with humble and contrite hearts, confessing their sins.
Jesus’ actions, and the mandate of the Apostles brings to mind the prayer of absolution said by the priest in the sacrament of Confession, “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Truly, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a sacrament of mercy, compassion, peace and fulfillment: a ministry of the apostles and their successors as they live Jesus’ plan for salvation.
Brian Pizzalato is the Director of Catechesis, R.C.I.A. & Lay Apostolate, Diocese of Duluth and is a faculty member of the Philosophy department of the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham, England.

Brian writes a monthly column, “Veritatis Splendor,” for The Northern Cross of the Diocese of Duluth and his 33-part series on the sacraments for The Northern Cross have also been posted on Catholic News Agency's website, where he also authors a weekly column, “Road to Emmaus,” on the Sunday Readings, (which are translated into Romanian and posted on www.profamilia.ro).

Pizzalato is currently authoring the regular series, "Catechesis and Contemporary Culture," in The Sower, published by the Maryvale Institute. He is also author of the Philosophy of Religion course book for the B.A. in Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition at the Maryvale Institute.

Brian holds an M.A. in Theology and Christian Ministry with a Catechetics specialization and an M.A. in Philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. Brian currently pursuing an M.A. in Biblical Studies at the Augustine Institute in Denver, CO as well as being a Ph.D. candidate at the Maryvale Institute. Brian is married and has six children.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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