|The Incredulity of Thomas by Michelangelo Caravaggio|
Everything in the readings and prayers of this Mass is about mercy,
which is a big reason why Pope St. John Paul II
declared this to be Divine Mercy Sunday.
Above all, this is the Sunday when we hear Jesus
instituting the sacrament of confession,
which is the great sacrament of Divine Mercy.
A scholar named John Bergsma, who I’ve referred to before,
made a couple of points worth sharing.
First: the psalm we sang refers to God’s mercy enduring forever.
He explains that as good as mercy is, that word isn’t strong enough.
The Hebrew word, hesed, “is best translated ‘covenant fidelity’
or ‘covenant faithfulness’….” In other words, God sticks with us.
God won’t turn against us, even though we so often turn against him.
And the proof of that is the Cross.
The proof of that is the wounds he so readily shows to the Apostles,
and even to Thomas, who doubted.
Dr. Bergsma points out something else from the second reading.
Jesus is dressed like the “priests who served in the Temple,”
who “offered sacrifice on behalf of worshipers,
so that their sins could be forgiven”;
and they “were empowered to bless people with the Name of God.”
Think about that when you recall what happens in confession.
When the priest gives absolution, what does he say?
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”!
We are forgiven of sins, in the Name of God!
Last Sunday, Easter Sunday, I said a lot about baptism.
You and I renewed our baptism.
And during the Eucharistic Prayer, for this first week of Easter,
We add the following words; you’ll hear them in a few minutes:
“Accept this oblation…for those to whom you have been pleased
to give the new birth of water and the Holy Spirit,
granting them forgiveness of all their sins.”
Let me repeat that: forgiveness of all their sins!
Now, that is what happens in baptism;
how does that connect to confession?
Baptism is the sacrament of new birth, new life, in Jesus.
Confession is the sacrament of restoring that new birth.
Think of it this way.
If you’re God, and you know all about human weakness,
You know that human beings are going to stumble, again and again.
So you know that even after baptism, people are going to fail;
So what do you do? Do you really say, “one and done”?
Or do you say,
I want you to keep coming back to the fountain of mercy?
Do you give a way to get clean again?
Parents know their kids get dirty.
Are you telling me God doesn’t know this – or doesn’t have a plan for it?
This is a toothbrush. Why am I holding up a toothbrush?
The sacrament of confession is a lot like a toothbrush.
You actually have to use it for it to do you any good.
Parents, don’t tell me you haven’t seen this.
Your kid takes the toothbrush,
and kind of waves it in front of his face for a few seconds.
“OK, I’m finished!”
No, you have to get in there and do some work.
Maybe use some floss too. It’s not pleasant, but it gets the crud out.
And that’s the way it works with the sacrament of confession.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s possible to overdo it,
both with the toothbrush and with this sacrament.
And that is not what I’m recommending.
I’m sure some people rub their gums raw,
And I know some people get all knotted up in guilt and anxiety.
St. Thomas Aquinas said it best: “virtue stands in the middle.”
The middle-ground is where we actually go to confession frequently,
And dig in a bit to look for those habits and things we love too much.
I am always struck when movies and TV shows
depict heaven as pretty much like life on earth;
that we’re pretty much the same people there, as here.
And my response is, are you kidding me?
Spending eternity being just as I am? And everyone else the same?
That’s not heaven – that’s hell!
So as awesome as forgiveness is,
what’s even more important is conversion.
The goal is to be different people. To be healed, to be made whole.
The hard part is that this is a lifetime project.
But that is what teaches us true humility.
When Jesus shows his wounds to Thomas, he’s showing them to you.
He’s saying: Look how much I wanted you as my own!
Remember that, he says, whenever you wonder, if I will forgive you.
See what I was willing to endure because I want you.