GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
Let’s stop there.
Why does the Church pick this Gospel for the Second Sunday after Easter and what is John saying to us in this Gospel?
What is the significance of this event?
Well the first thing I would highlight here is that there are really two appearances being described on the second Sunday of Easter and they both are tied to this particular day.
That's why the Church actually uses the same gospel every year; Year A, B and C for the second Sunday of Easter.
And the two reasons are this.
First, if you look there, the appearance to Thomas, it says it was “eight days later.”
So that would be basically the second Sunday after the resurrection.
So, in a sense, the reason we are celebrating this particular appearance to Thomas is because it happens the week after Easter, just like we are in now.
So it's an attempt in a sense to correlate Jesus’ appearance to Thomas with our own experience of the Church coming together to encounter the risen Lord in the Mass.
The second reason this is important though is because the first appearance of Jesus, although it would have been on Easter Sunday itself, is significant as the origin and the institution of the power of the Sacrament of Confession.
And so this second Sunday of Easter is also Divine Mercy Sunday.
So as you are going to see in a minute as we walk through this, Confession is very much the Sacrament of Divine Mercy.
So it's fitting that on this day we will both recall the appearance to Thomas that took place eight days after the resurrection and the institution of Confession which is the Sacrament of Divine Mercy.
So with those two thoughts in mind let’s look at the passage here and just break down a couple of points.
First and foremost, with regard to Jesus’ first appearance to the Apostles and giving them the power to forgive sins, a couple of elements stand out.
Number one, notice how Jesus appears to the disciples and how he greets them.
When he comes to them he is able to walk through the walls and the doors which are shut for the fear the Jews and he says “peace be with you.”
This is a standard Jewish greeting, shalom.
And you can imagine that Jesus would need to say this to the Apostles because they all have just abandoned him in the passion narrative.
During the passion just a few days before, they all betrayed him, they all fled.
And you can imagine that the first emotion they might have in seeing him would be fear, would be guilt, would be shame.
Whatever it might be,
Jesus speaks a word of peace into that.
“Peace be with you.”
Secondly, then notice he takes the Apostles and he commissions them.
He says “as the Father sent me, so do I send you.”
And that's really what the word apostle means. Apostolos
means one who is sent.
So Jesus here is commissioning the disciples to go out into the world and to continue his ministry.
And then number three, and most important of all, notice what Jesus does here.
He does something very strange.
He breathes on the disciples and says “receive the Holy Spirit.”
Just put yourself in that position for just a minute and imagine you're one of the eleven.
Jesus comes up to each one of you —well in this case it would actually be ten because Judas has just committed suicide and Thomas is gone.
Imagine you are one of the ten, one of the disciples, and Jesus comes up to each one of you and breathes on you after appearing to you in his risen body.
That's a memorable act and it is a deliberate act on his part.
It's kind of like him making mud out of spit with the man born blind.
When Jesus does this it recalls the book of Genesis when it says that “God breathed into the clay,”
“breathed into the nostrils of Adam and he became a living being.”
So what Jesus is doing here is, in a sense, inaugurating once again the new creation.
But in this case the power that is being revealed through that action is not the Sacrament of Baptism as with the man born blind, but here it is the power to forgive and retain sin that will be passed down in the Church through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, through the Sacrament of Confession.
So this is a powerful, powerful act on Jesus’ part and you might be thinking “wait, it doesn't say the word confession there, what makes you think that this is tied to the sacrament?”
Well look at that line.
He says “whoever’s sins you forgive are forgiven, and whoever’s sins you retain are retained.”
Now some at the time of the Protestant Reformation, like John Calvin, said that all Jesus was doing here was giving the Apostles the power to preach so that when people would hear their words they would repent and be forgiven.
But that's clearly not what Jesus means here because he doesn't just give the disciples the power to preach, he gives them the power to forgive and to retain someone’s sins, which presupposes that somehow a confession of sins would take place so that the apostle would know the sins of the person.
And if they are repentant they can forgive them, they can dispense forgiveness, and if they're not penitent, if they're not repentant, the disciples have the power to bind them in their sins, to retain those sins.
So this is in essence the power of the Sacrament of Confession.
I can't stress enough how significant this particular episode is, especially since one of the most common questions that people get today is “why do I have to go to a priest to confess my sins?
Why can't I just confess my sins directly to God?”
I am sure you have probably heard this.
Maybe you have wondered it yourself.
And the answer is simple.
It is because Jesus willed it to be so.
He wanted to make his apostles and their successors personal representatives of himself because he knew that we need to hear the words of absolution.
We need to receive that special grace of knowing that when we confess our sins to one of his authorized representatives, that they have the power to forgive and to retain, so that we can know our sins are forgiven or it can call us to repentance if we are not penitent and we need further time to ponder and to reflect and to come to that repentance.
So this text is extremely important.
It's one of the few passages in which the Church in her living tradition has actually defined the meaning of the text.
At the Council of Trent, session 14 — this was in the year 1551 — the Catholic Church had a Council.
It was right around the time of the Protestant Reformation, where some of the Protestant groups were denying that there was any Sacrament of Confession.
They were basically abolishing that and saying “there wasn't a ministerial priesthood and there was no need for sacramental confession, you could just go directly to God.”
And the Catholic Church formally taught as follows:[T]he Lord instituted the sacrament of penance, principally when after his Resurrection he breathed upon his disciples
and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” [John 20:22f.].
More recent Church teaching has affirmed the same thing.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1441-1442, makes clear that God alone can forgive sin.
However, Jesus as the God man, as God incarnate, gave that power, he delegated that power to forgive and retain sins to the Apostles after the resurrection.
So this is an extremely important passage because it shows us that one of Jesus’s, in a sense one of his deepest desires, one of his most urgent missions after the resurrection, the first thing he wants to do on Easter Sunday, is give the Apostles the power to begin reconciling people to himself in the Sacrament of Confession.
Because before that point during his public ministry, Jesus could forgive sins.
Like he told the paralytic, “my son, your sins are forgiven.”
But now the Apostles are going to have that same power and they are going to be able to bring that reconciliation and bring that forgiveness to the whole world.
I just think that for us as Catholics, it is very significant that the Church wants us to hear this passage every year on the first Sunday after Easter, because this is the good news of the resurrection that leads to reconciliation.
That Christ, through the power of his passion, death and resurrection, has reconciled the world to himself and his given men, given human beings, the power to bring that reconciliation to others through this particular sacrament.
So it's very, very significant.
Also I would just highlight quickly here that you will notice that when it comes to non-Catholic interpretations of this particular passage, if you ask most non-Catholic ministers “do you have the power to forgive people sins?”
They might say “well of course I can forgive my brother.
Like Jesus said to Peter, ‘if your brother sins against you don't just forgive him seven times, forgive him 70 x 7 times.’”
But it is only really in the Catholic Church that we would say that the minister, that the priest, the ordained priest, not only has the power to forgive sins, but also the power to retain.
In other words, if the person is not repentant then they are not forgiven.
That is a divine power that Christ alone has and Christ alone can give.
And so only one someone authorized to exercise that power, like in this case the Apostles and then their successors, can engage in that kind of an act, what we call the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
Happy Easter, everyone. Today the Church celebrates the second Sunday of Easter. And as I’m sure you all know, but it’s important to keep in mind, that within the Catholic Church, Easter isn’t just a single day. It isn’t even just the Octave of the great eight days of celebrating the resurrection. It’s a whole season, where we have 7 weeks, the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost, leading up to the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit. And during the Easter season, the Church alters (on Sundays) the way She selects the readings and which readings she selects. So before we turn to the second reading for the second Sunday of Easter, I just want to make a couple of quick points.
The first thing you’re going to notice during the Easter season is that the Old Testament reading (the first reading) is going to be replaced by selections from the Acts of the Apostles—the account of the birth of the Church and the spread of the Gospel. But the second thing that changes, which not everyone catches, is that although during the bulk of the year the second reading is going to be from one of the letters of St. Paul—with the exception of St. James on one brief occasion during Ordinary Time. During the Easter season, we take a break from looking at the letters of Paul, and we read from the letters of two other apostles—Peter and John.
So let me give you the Church’s explanation of this. This is the official explanation of why we do this on the Sundays of Easter, and I want to read to you. This is from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, a document on the order of the lectionary. And it says in paragraph 100 about Sundays in Easter, and I quote:
The first reading is from Acts, in a three-year cycle of parallel and progressive selections: material is presented on the life of the primitive Church, its witness, and its growth. For the reading from the apostles, 1 Peter is in Year A, 1 John in Year B, Revelation in Year C. These are the texts that seem to fit in especially well with the spirit of joyous faith and sure hope proper to this season.
So notice, what the Church does here is it continues to give us apostolic testimony in the second reading. But instead of giving us the letters of Paul (which are the ordinary readings), it gives us the letter of Peter—1 Peter in particular—in year A, and then 1 John in year B and then Revelation, which is also attributed to John, in year C. So for the rest of the Easter season, for the next five Sundays, what the Church is going to do is read semi-continuously through the first letter of Peter. So I just want you to keep that in mind as we’re journeying through this Easter season.
The other thing I would bring up, and this is just my own suggestion, but I found it helpful. I think it’s fascinating that in the Easter season, the Church reads from the letter of Peter and the letter or the Apocalypse of John and the Acts of the Apostles...because if you look at the Acts of the Apostles, what happens after the resurrection in the early chapters of Acts, the two prominent apostles that are preaching and teaching in Jerusalem are precisely Peter and John. For the first eight chapters of the Acs of the Apostles, Peter is the primary expositor of the Gospel, and John is often right there at his side. So in a sense, if this is helpful to you, you can kind of see the Easter season as the time when the Church recapitulates in the lectionary the experience of the spread of the Gospel in the early Church after the resurrection. Not only by reading the account of how the Gospel spread from Acts, but by listening to the apostolic preaching of the two prominent apostles of those first weeks and months after the resurrection...the apostle Peter and John, the son of Zebedee.
So let’s begin. With year A, we’re going to hear first from the prince of the apostles, Peter, and from his first letter, the first letter of Peter.
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