“Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (Jn 20:22-23)
“Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (Jn 20:29)
A Sunday catechist, teaching his class how on Easter evening Jesus appeared to his Apostles granting them the power to forgive sins, would probably not incorporate into his lesson the story of the Doubting Thomas. The incredulity of the Apostle Thomas is of course an excellent subject for catechesis; however the subject would not typically arise in a religious instruction about the forgiveness of sins and the institution of the Sacrament of Confession – although it should. It should, because according to St. John and the Church, it does.
St. John was not just a chronicler of the Good News; he was its first mystic. That is to say, more than the writers of the Synoptic Gospels, John related not only the activities and lessons of Jesus, but also the deep “spiritual sense” of those activities and lessons.
St. John utilizes the disbelief of Thomas to explain the apostolic authority of the forgiveness of sins in this way: Jesus mysteriously appears to his Apostles on the evening of his Resurrection. Jesus endows them with the ministry to forgive sins. The absent Thomas rejects the appearance. Therefore Thomas also rejects the ministry. Jesus appears again, welcoming Thomas to investigate the wounds of His crucifixion. Once Thomas believes in the appearance of Jesus, Thomas can believe in the ministry of the forgiveness of sins. The lesson here is this: blessed are those who have not seen and have believed – in the Resurrection and the forgiveness of sins!
To assist us in our Sacred Scripture meditation for the 2nd Sunday in Easter (or Divine Mercy Sunday) we have placed on our bulletin cover an image by the Russian realist painter Ilya Repin, Refusal of Confession. It is said that Repin was the first Russian artist to popularize Russian painting in Europe. Repin had a peasant upbringing and this endeared to him the common laborer who was often the subject of his painting. His direct and gritty understanding of “lower class” existence enabled him to produce realistic and endearing portraitures of everyday life and labor.
In Refusal of Confession, a man sits on his bed in stubborn posture – legs crossed, and hands folded over knee, looking away and repositioning himself away from a visiting priest. In truth, he has turned away from redemption symbolized by the Crucifix held delicately before him by the caring priest who, dressed in stole and offering confession, appears sad at the refusal.
This would have been the final confession: the man, fully dressed in boots and coat, sits on his prison bed awaiting execution. He is like the impenitent thief who also refused forgiveness before he died (Lk 23: 39-40).This work of Repin is unlike many of his other paintings of indoor images – which are full of walls and windows and curtains and accessories. This is so we may understand that the man has nothing left but his conscience and his pride and the offer of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Unlike the Apostles, he has not seen. However, with grace, he might still believe.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services