Sunday, April 11, 2010

Divine Mercy Sunday

“No soul will be justified until it turns with confidence to my mercy, and that is why the first Sunday after Easter is to be the Feast of Mercy. On that day, priests are to tell everyone about my great and unfathomable mercy…Tell the confessor that the Image is to be on view in the Church…By means of this image I will be granting many graces to souls; so let every soul have access to it.” (Diary.570)

These words of the Lord to St. Faustina become especially significant today because the Mercy Sunday which we celebrate is in the middle of the Year for Priests. Indeed, the Lord has bestowed upon the priests that special task to proclaim his Mercy. And not only does He give the priests this task. He also bestows power to their words: “Tell my priests that hardened sinners will repent upon hearing their words, when they will speak about my unfathomable mercy, about the compassion I have for them in my Heart. To priests who will proclaim and extol my mercy, I will give wondrous power, and I will anoint their words and touch the hearts of those to whom they will speak.” (Diary 1521)

The Gospel today tells us that it has been the intention of Christ that his priests would be powerful proclaimers of his mercy. On the evening of his Resurrection, the Lord Jesus appeared to his apostles and bestowed upon them two gifts. The first would be the gift of his peace: “Peace be with you,” he said to them. The second would be the power to forgive sins: “He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whatever sins you forgive are forgiven. Whatever sins you do not forgive are not forgiven.’” By these words, priests have become proclaimers of Christ’s “great and unfathomable mercy.” But not only that, the Lord Jesus gives wondrous power to the words of the priests: “To priests who will proclaim my mercy, I will give wondrous power, and I will anoint their words…” When the priest declares the absolution at the confessional, his words are truly anointed words…his words of absolution are truly anointed by the Holy Spirit whom Christ bestowed on his apostles on that blessed evening. In this way, Christ has made his priests even greater than the prophets of the Old Testament. For the ancient prophets, while proclaiming that God is a merciful God, slow to anger, rich in kindness, whose forgiveness is unto the thousandth generation, cannot declare absolution. “Only God can forgive sins.” But on that night of the resurrection, Christ bestows upon the apostles that power which only God can exercise: the power to forgive sins. “Whatever sins you forgive, they are forgiven…” Thus, St. John Chrysostom said: “Let us treat with reverence those to whose hands the work of the Spirit has been entrusted. For great is the dignity of the priesthood. Whose sins you shall forgive, He says, they are forgiven; and because of this, Paul says: Obey your prelates and be subjects to them (Heb. xii, 7), and hold them in great reverence.” The greatness of the dignity of the priesthood lies in the fact that he exercises the power which exclusively belongs to God: the forgiveness of sins.

Thus, the priest sits at the confessional as judge. As Pontius Pilate sat at the judgment seat, “at a place called Lithostrotos, but in Hebrew called Gabbatha” (Jn. 19:13) in order to sentence Jesus to death, so the priest sits at the confessional in order to free a penitent from his sins. Thus, it is important to confess everything to the priest for he cannot absolve what he does not know. And remember Jesus said: “Whatever sins you do not forgive, they are not forgiven.”

On this Mercy Sunday, let us truly mean what we say: “Jesus, I trust in you.” I know that oftentimes, we find difficulty believing in the priest’s absolution. The priest’s personal sinfulness oftentimes is the hindrance to his credibility as instrument of Divine Absolution. We may find reason to doubt a priest’s credibility but never should we doubt the authority of our Lord’s words: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whatever sins you forgive, they are forgiven.” Let us receive the absolution from the priest. “Lord, it may be difficult to believe in this absolution bestowed by a sinner but you anointed the words of this sinner priest. And so, I say, ‘Jesus, I trust in you!’”

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