Peace, Reconciliation, and the Wounds Go Together
Pic: The Return of the Prodigal Son – Pompeo Batoni, c. 1773.
This weekend is Divine Mercy Sunday, a feast established by Pope St. John Paul II 2001. It’s associated with the apparitions of St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun who lived and wrote in the 1930’s as Nazi Germany began its rise to power. Appearing to Faustina, Jesus requests a special feast be held on the Sunday after Easter, and there are great promises attached. Anyone who would go to sacramental confession and receive the Eucharist on that day would not only be free from sin but also punishment. In other words, if you died right after you’d go straight to heaven. The primary message of the Divine Mercy devotion–there’s an ocean of mercy waiting for you, go to confession and get it! That’s the way most of us experience God’s mercy…through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Gospel this week, John 20:19-31, ties into this theme. In fact, the Church sees in this event Jesus’ institution of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The thing that stands out for me in this Gospel is the wounds. Jesus appears to the apostles, wishes them peace, and then shows them the marks of the Crucifixion still visible on his body. Of course, that’s what proves it’s him, not an imposter or ghost. The text later says the apostles were glad when they saw (and felt) his wounds. It proved he was real. However, I think there’s a theological reason, as well. The peace, reconciliation, and the wounds go together.
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Father pours out his heart for us. Think of that wonderful illustration of this sacrament portrayed in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Did you know, “prodigal” means foolish and reckless? Think of everything the younger son puts his father through. He pretty much says he wishes his father was dead and then robs him as he’s walking out the door. That’s reckless…as he later finds out. But still the father waits for him to return so he can lavish gifts upon him. This is our story. Prodigal. Foolish and reckless. We continually spurn God the Father’s love and continually return to be received with open arms.
And, what’s his reward? What does the prodigal son get? A family–wealth, status, sonship, comfort…and peace. I always have a profound sense of peace after confession. Doesn’t it just feel good to go? Most people I talk to think so also. Even when I really dread going, and have to drag myself there, I always end up feeling glad I did…and at peace. It’s tangible.
The sacrifice of Cross is the power source for the sacraments. This is the atoning act that makes salvation work. From all eternity the Father had the plan of salvation in mind. However, the plan was made effective through the Son’s death on the Cross. Christ merited for us an inexhaustible treasury of mercy. It’s deeper, vaster than all the sins ever committed and that will ever be committed. We’ll never run out of it. How do we get it? Through the sacraments. The Mass and other sacramental celebrations, like Baptism, are the “distribution network” for grace. Through the sacramental liturgy, Christ gifts us with the grace of forgiveness and increases his life within us.
Peace, reconciliation, and the wounds to together. Have you ever really paid attention to the prayer of absolution? It’s beautiful…and instructive.
“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 the Holy Spirit” (emphasis added).
The priest, in his role as a sacramental minister of the Church, prays that you be forgiven your sins, pardoned, and that you are given peace. Notice, it’s “through the death and resurrection of his Son” that God “has reconciled the world to himself” for the forgiveness of sins. The Cross powers the reconciliation. The wounds, reconciliation, and peace go together.
Mercy is not justice. It’s not something owed. It’s gratuitous, a complete gift. God doesn’t have to extend his life to us. He doesn’t have to save us. We don’t deserve it. We all continually throw his gift of love back in his face. However, God in his love gives us what we don’t deserve. He forgives, shares his life, and makes it possible to live forever. He took on every aspect of human nature and endured the most horrible torture and death to reconcile us with God. Mercy and reconciliation are Christ’s whole mission. And, through the apostles this mission continues in the Church today. In this passage, Jesus gives the apostles his own power to forgive sins, a power passed down in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Peace, reconciliation, and the wounds go together.
This Divine Mercy Sunday, know that God desires to shower you with lavish gifts of mercy and forgiveness. So great is his love, he died so you could have it. Nothing should stop you from seeking it. No transgression is terrible enough to thwart his mercy. No shame, no guilt, no hesitation, no pride should keep you away. God lives to forgive you. Go.
Marc Cardaronella is Director of the Office of Catechesis and Faith Formation.