We are called to extend mercy, not just receive it

By: By Father Tom Kelly

Second Sunday of Easter (Sunday of Divine Mercy)/April 12

Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 118:2-4,13-15,22-24; 1 John 5:1-6; Sequence: Victimae Paschali Laudes; John 20:19-31

The words from the Gospel passage that jump off the page in my view are, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

In this post-resurrection appearance in John’s Gospel, Jesus addresses the words to the disciples. One interpretation is that these words are the foundation for the sacrament of reconciliation, in which the priest grants absolution to the repentant sinner. Another interpretation is that the power to “bind or to loose” is connected to baptism and is addressed to all the baptized and not just to priests. Those who are baptized receive forgiveness for their sins.

This interpretation is reflected in the following story, taken from “A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers: And All Who Love Stories that Move and Challenge,” written by William J. Bausch:

“When I was in the seminary there was a student there named Eddie. One day, while shooting the breeze, Eddie told us about a part of his life that I still remember.

“Eddie was 6 years old when his mother, a very confused young women, left him at an orphanage. Standing on the steps of the building, he watched his tearful mother wave goodbye through the back window of the taxi. Eddie was stricken by fear and anger — and rejection. Suddenly he wrestled free from the stern-looking woman gripping his hand, and he ran after the cab shouting at the top of his lungs, ‘Mommy, Mommy, I hate you! I hate you! I’ll never forgive you!’

“He wasn’t to see his mother again for years. Despite the lack of close family ties, he never adopted a defeatist attitude. Eddie became one of those remarkable human beings who waltz through stumbling blocks as if they were stepping stones. He became a professional ice skater at an early age. Later, he became a competent public accountant, ultimately owning his own firm. After several highly productive years, he became aware of a need within himself to serve others in a different capacity. This need led him to the seminary and to the priesthood — a very wonderful priesthood.

“Immediately before he was ordained, Eddie performed an act that was for many of us fellow seminarians the greatest lesson in preparation for his ministry. Eddie picked up the telephone one afternoon, called his mother long distance and said, ‘Mom, I love you and I forgive you.’ After a long, sobbing telephone conversation, the longest chase in years was ended. For 40 years, Eddie had been chasing that taxi in his mind. Now it was over.”

Eddie had retained the sin of his mother. For 40 years Eddie had been chasing that taxi and shouting, “I’ll never forgive you!” But then the day came when he reversed his position and declared, “Mom, I love you and I forgive you.” All this by the grace of God. Amazing grace indeed!

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FATHER TOM Kelly, a former pastor in Ottawa and Bartonville and chaplain at the Newman Foundations at the University of Illinois in Champaign and Bradley University in Peoria, is a senior priest of the Diocese of Peoria. He resides in Peoria.

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