Bottom line: By his wounds Jesus wants us to throw our sins into the ocean of divine mercy.
Mother Angelica - the Poor Clare Nun who founded an international television network - tells a lovely story about Divine Mercy. Once she was at a beach in California, standing near the surf. A big wave came in and the water washed over her shoes. A drop of water hit her hand and she looked at it. Then she looked out to the vast sea. She heard the Lord's voice speaking inside her, "Angelica, that drop represents all your sins, all your imperfections and all your frailties. Throw it in the ocean." She threw it back. Then she heard the Lord say, "The ocean is My mercy. Now if you looked for that drop, would you ever find it?"
"No, Lord," she replied. Mother Angelica then told the people in her audience that their sins are like that drop in the ocean. "Every day, every minute of the day, throw your drop in the ocean of his His mercy. Then, don't worry, just try harder."*
We spend too much time focusing on our failings - and not enough on God's Mercy. This Sunday Jesus wants to give us the right perspective. Today's Gospel takes place about forty-eight hours after the disciples had let Jesus down in his moment of greatest need. They had all made confident declarations of loyalty. But, when trouble came, they ran away like frightened kittens. One even said he had no idea who "the man" was. Jesus, however, did not say to them, "you cowards." No. He said, "Peace be with you." At that moment their failings became a drop of water in the ocean of divine mercy.
After showing those men the divine mercy, Jesus immediately gave them a job. He empowered the apostles to forgive sins. He breathed the Holy Spirit upon them. The Holy Spirit is the mercy of God. "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them."
I have to admit that as a priest I have been unsure what to make of the second part: "Whose sins you retain are retained." In my thirty-five years as a priest, I have never refused absolution. Sure, there have been instances where more work was required - like getting an invalid marriage rectified - but the outcome would always be absolution, complete forgiveness.** I desire the divine mercy for myself - and, as a priest, I want to extend that mercy to every penitent.
The expectation of mercy does not mean presumption - a casual attitude toward God. In today's second reading, John fell down at the Lord's feet, as if dead. John clearly had a pure heart - but he fell at the Lord's feet. How much more should you and I tremble before the Lord? But, hopefully, like John we will hear those beautiful words: "Do not be afraid." The Lord is an ocean of mercy, ready to take our sins - like the ocean disperses the impurities in a tiny drop of water.
In his Easter message Pope Benedict spoke powerfully about the divine mercy. He admitted that in the face of so much pain, evil and injustice, it is sometimes difficult to believe in God. Especially when we see children suffering as victims of war and terrorism, sickness and hunger - it puts our faith to the test. Because we are sometimes tempted by unbelief, the pope said, we should be grateful for the disbelief of Thomas. Jesus answered his unbelief by showing the wounds in his hands and his side: "Christ has taken upon himself the wounds of injured humanity." The Holy Father concluded with these words: "The Lord...has countered the arrogance of evil with the supremacy of his love."
God's love - his Divine Mercy - places the limit on human evil. It is his response to the enigma of innocent suffering. The Divine Mercy image, which we have today in our sanctuary, has rays of light coming from the wounds. The rays have two colors: red and white. The white refers to baptism and the red to the Eucharist - the great sacraments by which we receive the divine mercy. Between them we might see another sacrament: Reconciliation, which is a "second baptism" enabling us to approach the Eucharist - if we have committed a grave sin.
Today's responsorial psalm repeats the words, "His mercy endures forever." Jesus invites us to the ocean of mercy - to throw into that ocean our sins, so they can never be found again. "Let those who fear the Lord say, 'His mercy endures forever.'"
*From Mother Angelica's Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality by Ramond Arroyo.
**Even to non-Catholics I have not refused absolution. I have said a prayer with them, given them a blessing and explained what they need to do to become members of Christ's Church, eligible for sacramental absolution.
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (37 baptized, school dad picked up by Immigration, how to respond to those asking for a handout, pictures of Good Friday vigil)