it was only a few years ago that Pope Saint John Paul II gave it that name,
inspired as he was by the message of Divine Mercy
which Saint Faustina Kawalska received from Jesus himself in the 1920s and 30s.
And the thing that stands out from the Gospel, which connects to Divine Mercy,
is what the Lord Jesus said to the Apostles about forgiving sins.
This is an opportunity to go back and look at something
in the Gospel we heard on Holy Thursday, that ties into this.
On Holy Thursday, the Gospel reading describes
Jesus washing the feet of the apostles.
And we know that on the same evening, he instituted the Holy Eucharist,
and said to the Apostles, “Do this in memory of me.”
What you may not realize is the deeper meaning of Jesus washing their feet.
And I want to say that some of the details I will share
come from two Biblical scholars, John Bergsma and Brant Pitre.
The foot washing is an echo of the ordination ritual
which the priests of the Old Testament took part in;
they were washed before they became priests,
and they washed their hands and feet before they entered the sanctuary.
Also on that same occasion, when Peter resisted having his feet washed,
Jesus said, “you will have no part” or portion with me.
This too harks back to what God said of the Levites,
the priests of the Old Testament –
that their “portion,” or inheritance, was the Lord himself.
So, understand that when Jesus was with the Apostles on Holy Thursday,
this was – to use a modern term – their “ordination.”
On that occasion, they became priests of Jesus Christ, his new priesthood.
Now we come back to today’s Gospel, which happens only three days later,
in the same place, with all the same people, except for Judas the betrayer,
and Thomas, who is absent.
And Jesus “breathes on them,”
and gives them the authority and power to forgive sins in his name.
In other words, what we call the sacrament of reconciliation, or confession.
Now, the image of Jesus “breathing” on them is very vivid.
And, honestly, it might seem a little odd.
It may well have seemed so when it happened.
It makes me think of when the Archbishop consecrates the sacred chrism
during Holy Week, which is used for baptisms, confirmations and ordinations.
There is a point when the bishop leans over the container of oil, and breathes on it.
It also recalls another moment, which happens at every Mass.
When the priest is at the altar, and he takes the bread and the wine,
what does he do?
He leans over, and speaks the words of Christ “to” the bread and the wine.
All this recalls the Book of Genesis,
when God created the world through the Spirit,
by “speaking” it into existence: “Let there be light,” God said, and there was.
But when Jesus breathes on the Apostles, this is not the beginning of Creation,
but the beginning of the redemption of all Creation.
So let’s not underestimate the power at work in the sacrament of confession.
When the priest is at the altar,
and he speaks the words of Christ over the bread and wine, what happens?
It becomes Jesus’ own Body and Blood. We kneel and we adore.
We are filled with wonder and love, and we push all doubt out of our minds:
yes, that truly is Jesus!
So what about when we hear the words of absolution, in confession?
Sometimes people wonder, oh, were all my sins forgiven?
Does God really forgive?
You just heard the priest say it: ALL your sins are forgiven.* All of them!
Why doubt that is true?
To doubt that you are forgiven is like doubting that the Eucharist really is Jesus.
It’s the same power, the same Lord.
Just as Jesus said to Thomas, he says to us: do not be unbelieving, but believe!
Now, what makes the sacrament of confession most effective is two things:
First, we have to make frequent use of it. I think monthly is a good rule of thumb;
but that’s a “rule of thumb.” It’s not my place to say anyone “must” go that often.
That said, if you don’t see much fruit of the sacrament in your life,
maybe take advantage of it more often.
And the second thing that makes this sacrament fruitful is a good follow up.
I often say in the confessional that the best thing to do, after leaving,
is to ask the Holy Spirit’s help in writing a spiritual to-do list. It’s not that hard.
If we have been treating our family badly, or neglecting our spouse,
or been lazy at work,
or spending too much time with the wrong sorts of things on the Internet,
or drinking too much—whatever it is, there’s your spiritual to-do list.
But when we have a very general resolution,
have you noticed, nothing much comes of that?
“Someday I’ll start getting up earlier.” It’ll never happen!
We have to make very specific resolutions. “Tomorrow,” or,
“Today, I’m going to stop cursing.”
In addition to a resolution, make a plan. If you’re going to go on a diet,
you make a plan. If you’re going to learn Spanish, you make a plan.
If it’s too hard to get started – I know what that feels like! –
then do what I’ve done many times over the years.
Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the motivation.
Just say, “Holy Spirit, help me to…” and fill in whatever it is.
Pray that prayer every day, even several times a day.
The Apostles needed Jesus to breathe the Holy Spirit on them, and so do we!
* OK, this is embarrassing...After the third time I delivered this homily, I realized I'd made a mistake. The words of absolution do not, actually, include the word "all," as in, "all your sins"! How could I make such a mistake? Because the "all" is clearly implied; and I have many, many times in confession made this very point. That said, in the last time I gave this homily, I had to clarify this, and I will do so in the parish bulletin.