Every time I confess my sins, the feeling of being forgiven, renewed, and loved overwhelms me. I feel like a prisoner who is granted unconditional pardon, a debtor whose debts are written off, and a prodigal son welcomed and embraced by a merciful and loving father.
The late, Karl Menninger, a famous psychiatrist who had treated hundreds of patients with mental disorder once wrote: “Disturbed people pay me for advice and comfort, but after many years of doing my work, I realized that many physical and psychological diseases are the result of habitual sins that people refuse to confess. Absolution is still the best solution. And it is FREE!”
He wondered why few people go to confession. He says with a sigh: “One of my patients said: ‘Why should I confess my sins to a human being like me? For all I know, he is a worse sinner than I am. I confess directly to God.’ I told him: ‘If you ask forgiveness from someone, you have no right to demand that it be given on your own terms. Jesus has determined how we are to be forgiven.”
He was referring to the passage in our Gospel reading today wherein Jesus gave His apostles a new commission: “Jesus said to them: ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ Then He breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; whose sins you retain are retained'” (John 20:21-23).
The experience of being absolved of our sins shows the kind of God who we worship. He is a God of second chances. He never gets tired of giving us another opportunity to begin again. We see this in our gospel reading today.
After Jesus died, the disciples are huddled inside a room, gripped with fear and chained together by guilt, shame, and fear: Guilt, for having done nothing to save Jesus from his persecutors; shame, for having betrayed and deserted Him when He needed them most; and fear, for the persecution that await them in the hands of the Romans and Jewish leaders.
But lo and behold! To their utter surprise, Jesus appears and stands before them, not dead but very much alive.
The disciples have locked themselves in, only to realize that they cannot lock Jesus out. For, Jesus is never outside. He does not come from without. He appears from within. The Christ who they saw crucified, whose death shattered their hopes and dreams, appears to them wounded but glorious, and imparting to them two precious gifts: forgiveness and peace.
Jesus appears to us too as the fulfillment of what we hope for—a new life and a new beginning. This is wonderful for us whose lives are often filled with guilt, shame, and fear: Guilt, because of what we could have done but never did, due to laziness, pride, and callous indifference; shame, because we bartered our conscience and our dignity for cheap and momentary pleasures; and fear, because the pandemic has shattered our fragile sense of security.
No matter what a big mess we have made of our lives, we still cannot lock Jesus out. Even in our gloomiest and darkest nights, He is with us as the Spirit that comforts us. Comfort comes from the Latin word “fortis” which means strong, or brave. The Spirit of the risen Jesus strengthens and enables us to cope with every failure and sins of our past. He transforms us into a new creation. Today, Mercy Sunday, let us welcome the Holy Spirit in our hearts and experience joy and peace.