Shared Homily Starter
1 Peter 1.3-9
During the Easter Season, people who went through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, commonly known as the RCIA program, enter the final stage of the RCIA process, called Mystagogy. Mystagogy is the period after Baptism meant to be one of spiritual growth where the newly baptized learn ways to strengthen their faith and apply it to their daily lives. But this time is also a special time for us; a time to recommit to metanoia, that is, to our ongoing transformation and conversion-- individually and communally.
The early Christians in the First Reading present the picture of practices that bring about mystagogy and metanoia. They faithfully continued in the Apostle's teaching, they socialized and shared everything with each other, practised neighbourly love, broke earthly and sacramental bread together and prayed together. We get the picture that they were a joyous people. They were confident in their Messiah's love and had each other for support in good times and bad. It appears also that their discipleship was magnetic and sustaining.
Even though the Church has fractured into denominations and factions within denominations, there still exists across the fragmentation, those who, whether they know it or not, are closely connected through their faithfulness in discipleship. From the distance of time, we can see this enduring faithful discipleship speaks to the truth of what Peter is saying in the Second Reading.
To put it in down-to-earth terms. Rome, which saw itself as the all-powerful ruler of the world, we know, as an empire, has indeed perished from the earth. Yet these two thousand plus years later, the name, words and works of the One they crucified lives on. Although we have not seen Him, we love Him and to the best of our abilities, try to follow him.
Following Jesus, for us means trying to understand the Scriptures and today's Gospel contains an element that has been used to exercise the type of religious tyranny that Jesus spoke out against. I'm talking specifically about this part, verse 20.23: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”
The Holy Spirit, breathed upon the disciples by Jesus, is given in turn through Baptism to all believers. Hence, the power to forgive sins is meant to affect all believers. Regarding this verse, the late Roman Catholic priest and biblical scholar, Raymond Brown, wrote
... we doubt that there is sufficient evidence to confine the power of forgiving and holding of sin, granted in John 20.23, to a specific exercise of power in the Christian community, whether that be admission to Baptism or forgiveness in Penance. These are but partial manifestation of a much larger power, namely, the power to isolate, repel, and negate evil and sin, a power given to Jesus in his mission by the Father and given in turn by Jesus through the Spirit to those whom he commissions. It is an effective, not merely a declaratory, power against sin, a power that touches new and old followers of Christ, a power that challenges those who refuse to believe.1
Brown is saying this power is not exercised by some incantation said by a priest. It is a power that should bring about a change of heart. Discipleship entails helping each other and our neighbours persevere in the ways of love, justice, and peace-- and forgiveness. Forgiveness has two aspects, inward and outward. We practice the inward aspect when we seek to reestablish right relationship because we have failed to act with love or when we have hurt or harmed someone in any way. When someone fails to act lovingly with us, hurts or harms us, we practice the outward aspect of forgiveness when we are willing to forgive and graciously accept attempts at reconciliation. When this outward aspect of forgiveness is too hard for us to do alone, we can pray for God to forgive them until we can do so ourselves.
Living a way of life according to the will of God is not exclusively Christian, just as Christianity is not devoid of those who love power, money and position. Those who are addicted to power, money, position, will misunderstand, ridicule or despise lovers of compassion, justice and peace. Therefore, the retaining of sin is not something God does, or a priest does or that we do, sin is self-retained by anyone who refuses to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God. This is not an “us and them” scenario because in varying degrees there are parts of “them” in “us.” We are called to love them as ourselves-- and the “them” in ourselves. We are called to pray for unity and oneness with the Creator's will, and just maybe by living lives of constant conversion, all “themness” will be transformed into Godliness. Alleluia Alleluia!
Please add your own thoughts/reflections
1 Brown, Raymond Edward. The Gospel According to John (XIII-XXI, Vol. II). New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2008, p. 1044.