Year B: Divine Mercy Sunday Homily
Theme: What the Sacrament of Reconciliation means for us Catholics
By: Fr. Chibuike Uwakwe
Homily for Sunday April 11 2021
Today’s Gospel reading (John 20:19-31) presents us with the narrative of Jesus’ post-resurrection visit to his apostles. The apostles obviously lost their peace when they abandoned and even denied their master. Aware of their guilt and the possibility of their master’s executioners coming after them, they became terrified and locked themselves in the upper room. In the midst of their fears, Jesus appeared among them, gave them the gift of peace and of the Holy Spirit and entrusted them with the ministry of reconciliation through the forgiveness of sins when he said: “whose sins you forgive are forgiven and whose sins you retain are retained”. This narrative and empowerment became the take-off point for the Church’s celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The Catholic Church teaches that the Sacrament of Reconciliation which involves individual and integral confession of grave sins followed by absolution is the only ordinary means of obtaining reconciliation with God and the Church, which involves the forgiveness of sins committed after baptism (cf. CCC 1497). This Sacrament of Reconciliation, otherwise called the Sacrament of Confession was prefigured in the Old Testament, experienced in the New Testament and is being celebrated in the Church right from the apostolic era.
In Genesis 3:9-11, when God asked Adam “where are you?” he knew where Adam was but wanted him to confess his sins. In Genesis 4:9, when God also asked Cain “where is your brother?” he wanted him to confess his murder. In Leviticus 5:5, the Israelites were instructed, “if you realize your sins, confess”. In 2 Samuel 12:13, David confessed his guilt and was forgiven. These Old Testament passages prefigure that Sacrament through which people might confess their sins. In the healing of the Paralytic (Mt. 9:1-8, Mk. 2:1-12, Lk. 5:17-26), we experience Jesus forgiving sins. He is the face of God’s mercy and the principal minister of reconciliation because “God is reconciling the world to himself through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:19). What was prefigured in the Old Testament and experienced in the life of Christ in the New Testament is being celebrated today in the Church as a sacrament.
Take Home Lessons
1. The power to forgive sins is granted by Christ to all who believe in him because he encourages us to forgive one another so that our heavenly father will forgive us (cf. Mt. 6:14); we are also encouraged to confess our sins to one another (cf. James 5:16) but the power to grant sacramental absolution is strictly reserved for Catholic priests and we are encouraged to go to them for the celebration of this sacrament. Thus, the priest does not forgive sins in his capacity as a man of God because not all men of God can forgive sins, instead, he forgives sins in the name of Christ whose blood on the cross is the purifying agent for the forgiveness of sins and who directly grants this authority to forgive sins to Catholic priests through the apostolic succession.
2. To make a good confession, we have to repent of our sins sincerely, cut off from the sin with the genuine intention not to return to it, confess our sins in number and kind without any reservation and do the penance imposed by the priest, not as a punishment but as reparation for our sins. Confessing in number and kind implies mentioning the number of times or frequency we have committed a particular sin and the exact kind of sin we have committed, for example confessing fornication or adultery or homosexuality instead of just having sex.
3. The Sacrament of Confession is not a man-made innovation to spy into the consciences of people but a divine command to empty ourselves of our pride and confess our sins before God. Thus, we have to be confident that our confessions are protected by the seal of confession which is the absolute duty of priests or anyone who accidentally happened to hear a confession not to disclose anything or make use of any knowledge that they learnt from penitents during the course of confession.
4. Individual confession of sins to a priest is ordinarily an indispensable aspect of this sacrament unless in rare cases of physical or moral impossibility of having individual confession of sins, in which case a general absolution might be given. Confession helps to relive the penitent of the psychological burden of sin, reconcile the sinner with God and the Church whose beauty was distorted by sin and instruct the penitent in the way of virtue among other values.
5. At the confessional, we see in Jesus, the face of Divine Mercy, hence another name for this Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday, as declared by St. Pope John Paul II, on April 30, 2000 at the Canonization of St. Faustina. Those who fulfill the conditions for an indulgence today gain a plenary indulgence. Divine Mercy is not a neglect of Divine Justice, but it is God taking responsibility for our sins and granting us pardon. Today, we are invited to be both recipients and ministers of divine mercy in our relationship with others. May the peace of the risen Lord inspire us to be his true witnesses and to build channels of reconciliation in our broken world. God loves you.
Fr. Chibuike Uwakwe