One thread that runs through today’s readings is vitality. After His resurrection Jesus appears to the Church as one who, despite all appearances, has all power over sin, suffering, and death. In Revelation, He claims to “hold the keys to death and the netherworld.” That is authority! While death seems all around us, and threatens to take us in time, Jesus has co-opted the end of earthly life into His victory. Physical death thus becomes the gateway to everlasting life. As a venerable Christmas hymn declares, “Now ye need not fear the grave: Jesus Christ is born to save!”
When Saint John first witnessed the Lord’s bold proclamation, he says that he “fell at his feet as though dead.” Jesus stretches out His right hand and picks him up. As material and spiritual beings, we hear today about other examples of how spiritual vitality is conveyed in ways accessible to the senses. Jesus conveys the Holy Spirit of forgiveness and healing by breathing on the apostles as they gather in the upper room. Later, the sick congregate around the apostles in the hopes that Peter would pass by them—that, maybe, just being in his presence would do something for them. All of this supports the Church’s sacraments as tangible vehicles of the divine life, powered by His Word and operated by His ministers.
Today we advert to Reconciliation, to Sacramental Penance, as the ordinary means of forgiving serious sin and remitting its due punishment for the next world. Jesus told the apostles, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” He wouldn’t have said that unless He thereby invested the apostles with that sacred power. To this day people approach the precious court of divine mercy in order to unburden themselves of whatever inhibits their growth in holiness, whatever cuts them off from God and others.
As an authorized agent of the Holy Trinity, the priest forgives sins and liberates souls for sacrificial, Christian love. He takes them, as it were, by the right—absolving— hand and raises them up. By coming to meet the Lord with genuine contrition and deliberate intention, the forgiven penitent comes to share in the vitality of the Lord’s Resurrection in a way that transcends our frail and deceptive senses. Like Saint John we can stand up and resolutely return to life with a new approach, although it requires our prayerful vigilance.
The abiding offer of divine mercy exhorts us to place our sins with humble confidence in the Lord’s open side, to let them there, and to life the new life of grace. Don’t let any fears hold you back from a good Confession, whether weeks, months, or years have passed since the last one. Second only to the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Reconciliation is the reason for my existence. And that’s not just because I’m a priest. Are you not all partakers in the priesthood by virtue of your Baptism? Then you, too, live to offer yourselves to the Father in union with the Son; you, too, live to repent of your sins and to embark upon a daily voyage of prayer and sacrifice. Through this belief, may you have life in His Name!