2nd Sunday of Easter

During the Easter season our first readings come from the Acts of the Apostles and not from the Old Testament like they do the rest of the year.  That means that what we’re reading first actually happened after the Gospel.  The second reading comes from the Book of Revelation, which is the last book in the New Testament. To be perfectly clear, the first reading is actually second.  The second reading is actually third.  And the Gospel, the third reading, is really first.

In the Gospel, Jesus comes to the disciples after the resurrection.  They’re locked up in a room, “for fear of the Jews”.  This is a very important event for our faith because Jesus breathes on them and says “Receive the Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” He also tells them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

One of the issues our protestant brothers and sisters have with us Catholics is the sacrament of confession.  “I don’t need to confess my sins to a man.  I can go directly to God.”  That argument would make perfect sense if Jesus hadn’t spoken the words in today’s Gospel.  But He did speak them.  He didn’t stutter.  He didn’t beat around the bush.  There’s no question of what He said or what He meant.  He gave the twelve the power to forgive or to retain sins.  By extension, and by Apostolic succession, He gave that same power to every bishop and priest.

There’s obviously a difference of opinion when it comes to how often we should confess our sins.  Some folks visit the confessional every week, some every month, some a few times a year.  Most people think once a year is the minimum but I know Catholics who haven’t been to confession in years.  The point is, there is no “official” position of the Church on how often you should receive the sacrament.

You go to confession when you’re in a state of grave sin.  How often is that?  It’s up to you to decide.  But given the seriousness of the consequences if you die in a state of sin, then I would think that “How often can I go to confession?”  is a better question than “How often do I have to go?”  One thing is for sure, it’s impossible to go too often, but it’s easy to not go often enough.

In the first reading, Luke tells us that the apostles have done many signs and wonders.  He says, “The people esteemed” them.  “Great numbers” were joining the new Church.  Peter and the others were curing the sick.  In fact, people were bringing the sick out into the street hoping that Peter’s shadow might fall on them.  The Apostles were first century rock stars!

Of course most rock stars have a limited shelf life.  When we were in Cleveland a few years ago, we visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  They have a whole wing dedicated to “one hit wonders”, singers and bands who had one big hit and were never heard of again.  But even the big stars flame out sooner or later.

If we look at the second reading from the Book of Revelation, which is actually last, John is in prison.  He’s been sent to the Island of Patmos because he “proclaimed God’s word and gave testimony to Jesus.”  The former rock star is now a prisoner.  We know that other Apostles suffered similar fates.  How quickly we forget.

Obviously the Church compresses events so we can study Jesus’ life in just 52 Sundays, but look at what’s happened in just two weeks.  On Palm Sunday Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem..The people threw palm branches in his path and hailed Him as the Messiah.  Four days later, one of His own Apostles turned Him over to the chief priests and the scribes.  The same people who had cheered Him just four days ago were now screaming for His head.  “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!” The very next day He was crucified and died.

Last Sunday, Easter Sunday, He rose from the dead.  He had defeated Satan and saved us all.  Now, a week later, the Church is growing in leaps and bounds while one of His own Apostles doubts that He’s really risen from the dead.  And John is thrown in prison.

This is a lot for us to absorb in such a short span of time.   It’s no wonder people get confused.  That’s why I cringe when people tell me they don’t need to go to Church.  How can we possibly understand Jesus’ message if we don’t hear it over and over and over again?  This whole salvation thing could be a lot simpler, but that’s not the way God wants it to be.  For one thing, we have free will.  If everything were laid out for us, all nice and simple, we’d have no choice.  If Jesus had said, “I want you to go to confession once a month”, we’d have to do it if we want to enjoy eternal life in paradise.  But He didn’t say that.  He left it up to us.

Jesus didn’t say “Go to mass every Sunday.”  Again, if He’d said that, we’d really have no choice.  He instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper and said “Do this in memory of me.” He didn’t say to do it every day, or every Sunday.  Like Nike, He just said “Do it.”  In John’s Gospel He said, “You are my friends if you do what I tell you.” Wouldn’t it be so much easier if He’d left us better instructions?  “Love God.”  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  “Do this in memory of me.” Good stuff, but way too vague.

Here’s the thing.  We can’t buy our way into heaven.  We can’t earn it.  The price is too high.  Lucky for us, the price has already been paid.  Jesus paid for us with His life.   It’s up to us to decide how we want to show our thanks.

When a friend does something for us, we want to reciprocate, to show our thanks.  God, through His Son, has given us everything.  What are we going to do to repay His generosity?  Do we go to mass on Easter and Christmas and go to confession once a year?  Or do we go to mass every Sunday and go to confession when we need to, even if it’s every day?   Do we do the least for Him that we can get away with, or do we do the most for Him that we can?

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