In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples three times, “Peace be with you.” And this makes sense when we hear it. These are His friends, and they think He is dead. He wants to give them peace. But it’s sometimes hard to hear it as Jesus speaking to us personally. With all the ways that we fall short, it’s hard to accept that Jesus wants to give us the same peace He offered to the disciples.
But recently on St. Joseph’s Workshop, Fr. Matthew Spencer, OSJ reflected on this Gospel reading, and how if we look at it we can actually identify quite closely with the disciples – and that we are being offered the same peace that Jesus offered to those in the Upper Room. He said:
“If there was any group of people that could have received a good sound reprimand, that could have been chastised very justly, it would have been the majority of men in that room. Almost down to a man, with the exception of St. John who remained at the foot of the Cross, these other apostles had abandoned Jesus. In the hour of His greatest need, they left Him.
Peter denied Him three times. Peter took it to a whole new level, going out directly, verbally and in spirit, intentionally separating himself and denying his relationship with Jesus – which he would weep bitterly over later on.
But if any group would have deserved a good chastisement, it would have been that group. Jesus comes to them, and His first words could have been, ‘Shame on you. You abandoned me when I needed you most.’ They could have been words of condemnation, words of judgement. At least just a clear putting them in their place.
But what are Jesus’ first words to them on that day of His Resurrection? Peace be with you. He didn’t worry about calling them out on their sins. He doesn’t worry, at that moment, about telling them they really messed up, and they’ll have to work their way out of it.
He didn’t do that. Why? Because He can see through all of their selfishness, all of their sinfulness. He can see through, down to the very fact that they are made in His image and likeness. He can cut through all of the messiness of their lives and He can love them. And realize that what they really need to persevere, what they really need to continue, is not a chastisement.
What they really needed was not judgement and condemnation. To activate that goodness, to draw out the potential they had to be great saints, He desires peace with them, sends His Holy Spirit upon them, and gives them the authority to forgive sins.
That’s all fine and good. Except that one week later they’re in the Upper Room again. And the doors are locked again. Apparently, they’re still afraid. And apparently they’re still holing themselves up, hiding from being in the world. Again.
This time, Thomas is with them. And again, what are His first words? Peace be with you. Even though He could have said, ‘What are you doing? Come on! I told you things were OK. I told you you have authority here.’ Instead, He desires peace again for them.
I’ve been thinking about this. Why is it that you and I are so afraid of Confession? Even though we’ve kept going back over and over, there’s still that twinge inside of your heart (or at the pit of your stomach) when you’re in line.
You’re going to go in there and you’re going to be fine. But you still wonder. And I think deep down you’re wondering if the priest will actually forgive you this time, like he has countless times before? Or this time is he going to run you off? Is he going to say nothing but words of condemnation?
We have that fear in our hearts, because you and I have been hurt by others. Because of original sin, that wound goes all the way back – where Adam and Eve both wondered if God was going to have words of condemnation for them. And so what did they do? They hid themselves from God. They tried to hide anyway, but of course we can never hide from God.
You and I are doing the same thing these days. Untold years later, you and I hide in our sinfulness. We think that the priest is going to tell us off. We think that patience will run out for us, and we think that God Himself, through the priest, will not be that instrument of mercy. But instead, be an instrument of judgement and condemnation.
I hope that has never happened to you inside of Confession. I hope you have always had good experiences. But sadly I know, from people who have shared it with me, that it is not always the case. Sometimes priests have not been instruments of mercy for you. And that to me is sad.
I’m sharing this with you because maybe you’ve been struggling. Maybe as Easter came and went you still haven’t gone to Confession. Maybe with Divine Mercy Sunday having passed, you’re still struggling to accept God’s mercy in your life.
He’ll keep coming back to you. Because He loves you, because you’re loveable, because He made you in His image and likeness. I mean, you’re made in the image and likeness of love itself. That’s amazing! God loves you more than you can even know. He cares for you, He wants your healing, and He wants peace for you, as He wanted for His disciples.
Yes, you have abandoned Him sometimes. You’ve even denied Him, like Peter denied Him. You’ve hurt Him through many sins in your life, but still, even through all that, He wants nothing but peace and reconciliation and eternal life for you.
So don’t miss the opportunity. We have a limited amount of time to turn back to Him. Only until our death. And you and I have to use well the time that is given to us, so that we can receive God’s mercy, His peace, His love into our hearts. And then be instruments of peace, love, and mercy to those around us.”
Listen to the full reflection below: