BY: Fr. Gerald M. Musa



My friend Fr. Cyril Ibeh of Sokoto Diocese calls the Sacrament of Confession a “Tribunal of Mercy.” He sees the spiritual exercise commonly known as confession as a sacred space in which to express spiritual deficiency in the presence of an authorized Minister. The Second Sunday of Easter is set aside as Divine Mercy Sunday. The readings prescribed for the Sunday focus more on the post-resurrection encounters (The community life of the early Christians -Acts 4:32-35 and Jesus’ meeting with ‘doubting’ Thomas – John 20:19-31). Where then is the connection between this Gospel and Divine Mercy? The connection lies in the words of Jesus to his Apostles: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). By these words Jesus confers authority on his apostles to be intermediaries and ambassadors of God’s infinite mercy.

Jesus breathed on the Apostles when he was transmitting these special powers to them. The first Divine breath in Genesis 2:7 transmitted life to the human person and this second Divine breath transmitted spiritual power and authority on the apostles. “He breathed on them, and said unto them, receive the Holy Ghost” (John 20:22). Through this breath he passed on to them the privilege of sharing in his mission of transmitting God’s mercy and peace.

Even though the Apostles were given the power of forgiving or retaining sins, the incontrovertible fact is that only God can forgive sins. The priest who listens to confessions only does so, not in his name, but only as a Minister of God and representative of the Church. Confession is only one among the many functions he performs in God’s name. He baptizes in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; He heals in the name of Jesus; he prays consecrates bread and wine in the name of Jesus and it is still in his capacity as representative of Jesus, that he transmits God’s mercy to all those who sincerely seek for God’s mercy.

We go to the psychotherapist to discuss our mental and emotional challenges. On a deeper level, at the confessional we voice out the guilt that weighs down on our conscience, the habits of sin that make us unhappy, and the thoughts, words and actions that deprive us of inner peace. An Italian proverb says, Al confessore, medico e avvocato non tenere (From your confessor, your doctor and your lawyer, hide nothing). No wonder the Psalmist says: “When I kept my sin secret, my body wasted away, suffering all day long…then I made known to you my failings and uncovered before you my iniquity…and you forgave my sin, you removed my guilt” (Psalm 32:3, 5).

At the end of confession, the words of absolution that the priest uses for the penitent show clearly that the priest does not grant pardon in his personal capacity because no one takes this honour upon himself (Hebrews 5:4). At the confessional the priest prays for the penitent in the following words:

God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

There is no doubt, the sacrament of confession is one of the most difficult one for many people to comprehend or practice. It involves saying the following words: “I am sorry;” “I have sinned;” “I am a sinner” and “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” To say these words require honest humility. However, we have to accept our human limitations and this is why John the Evangelist tells us: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Anyone who comes in contact with the brightness of God’s holiness will immediately spot the darkness in him/herself. This is the reason why Mother Theresa says, “Some saints described themselves as terrible criminals because they saw God, they saw themselves and they saw the difference.”

As we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, we are also called to be ambassadors of God’s mercy. In the classic play, Merchant of Venice, the Duke questioned Shylock, “How shall thou hope for mercy, rendering none?” This implies that in order to receive the mercy of God, we ought to show mercy to our brothers and sisters. In the Lord’s Prayer we say: “Forgive us, as we forgive those who trespass against us and in the beatitudes Jesus asserts: “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.”

Mercy is not only about forgiving those who do us harm or those who offend. Mercy also has to do with self-sacrifice and charity to neighbours. In short, the concept of mercy is better understood on two levels: corporal level and spiritual level. Consequently, the corporal works of mercy are as follows: To feed the hungry; To give drink to the thirsty; To clothe the naked; To provide shelter for the homeless; To visit the sick; To ransom the captive; To bury the dead. The spiritual works of mercy are: To instruct the ignorant; To counsel the doubtful; To admonish sinners; To bear wrongs patiently; To forgive offences willingly; To comfort the afflicted; To pray for the living and the dead.

2nd Sunday of Easter/Divine Mercy Sunday/Acts of the Apostles 4:32-35; 1 John 5:1-7; John 20:19-31

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