We’ve finished the Octave of Easter and moved to the Second Sunday of Easter, or Divine Mercy Sunday. Liturgically, the Octave is treated as if it was all Easter. That’s why all last week was Easter [Day of the week], and this week we start with numbering the weeks, getting for example, Monday of the Second Week of Easter. If nothing else, we Catholics know how to stretch out a feast. (There is a point to this , I promise).
At Easter Sunday mass, I was struck by the idea that the last words on the cross (“It is finished.”) refer not just to the Passion and Jesus’ death, it also refers to the war against evil. OK, we still have to fight battles every day, but the war is finished, and Jesus won. We have the chance, if we take it, to enter heaven. Jesus’ death reopened the gates of Paradise for us. We spent all last week contemplating joyfully this fact. It might have been the coffee (after going all Lent without), but I was nearly giddy with the thought.
So we come to Divine Mercy Sunday. The first thing we do after coming down from the incredible joy of the Resurrection is celebrate God’s boundless mercy and all the opportunities we have to fight our battles against sin so we can be saved. Again, Jesus won, and one of the first things He did after His Resurrection is give the Apostles the authority to forgive sin. The idea behind Divine Mercy Sunday is to more closely link the Passion and Death of Jesus with the ongoing outflow of His mercy. We deserve God’s perfect justice, and instead we get His boundless mercy. A heady thought indeed.
At mass, our pastor used the occasion of Divine Mercy to discuss the sacrament of reconciliation. He talked about three common misperceptions to encourage more frequent reception of the sacrament.
First is that we shouldn’t have to confess to a priest, but ought to be able to go straight to God. He pointed out that the priest acts in Persona Christi, so we are confessing to God. It’s also how Jesus set up the sacrament when he gave the authority to forgive to the Apostles.
Second is that our sins are too embarrassing. He argued that the priest has probably heard it all before, and several times at that. While we should feel a sense of shame for having sinned, embarrassment should not keep one out of the confessional. The priest is not there to judge, but rather to dispense absolution and God’s grace.
The third is that we don’t need to go often. Yes, we must confess mortal sin immediately, but even absent mortal sin, confession is like your soul taking a bath. It’s like if you go a few days without bathing and you get accustomed to the built-up dirt and smell, and don’t notice it. Just so with confession: the sacrament cleans the accumulated small sins away so that you will notice when things are going off track.
The season of Easter continues for several more weeks. It’s a continuing opportunity to revel in the joy or Easter and receive God’s mercy.