Divine Mercy, 1st of 2 parts. 21 March 2021. 5th Sunday Lent. Cycle B-2021. Jer 31:31-34 + Heb 5:7-9 + Jn 12:20-33

“It is I, I, who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses; your sins I remember no more” (Isaiah 43:25; cf. Jeremiah 31:34d). This is Divine Mercy.

Divine Mercy forgives and forgets. It gives sinners a chance to change, a fresh start to live righteously. A requisite for forgiveness, though, is remorse, repentance and a resolve to convert (cf. Acts 3:19; 1John 1:9-10). “Produce good fruit as evidence of repentance” (cf. Luke 3:8).

Divine Mercy is initiated in Confession, the Sacrament that forgives and seals every sin, no matter how grave (cf. Matthew 16:19; 18:18). “Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they may become white as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

Imagine if God did not give a second chance to the following sinners.

Moses, an idolater and a murderer in Egypt, was chosen to lead the Chosen People from Egyptian slavery to freedom in the Promised Land. God handed to him the Ten Commandments, and ordered him to write the statutes of the Law. No other prophet spoke to God face to face. God gave him great might and awesome power witnessed before Egypt and Israel (cf. Deuteronomy 34:10-12).

King David, even as king, a man after God’s heart, expected to fulfill His will (cf. 1Samuel 13:14), committed adultery and murder. Deeply remorseful and repentant (cf. Psalm 51) he was spared from a death penalty. He, however, was deposed in a coup by his son Absalom. He recovered his throne, but only after his loyalists killed Absalom (cf. 2Samuel 12:13f). His subsequent passion for the LORD is seen in the Book of Psalms that he wrote, some of which prophesied the Suffering Christ.

Mary Magdalene, a sinner of whom Jesus cast out seven demons (cf. Mark 16:9; Lk 8:2), became the most loyal and most fearless follower of Jesus. While Jesus’ male followers fled in fright, she, with Jesus’ mother, followed Jesus all the way to His crucifixion and burial. She dared to visit the heavily guarded tomb, risking imprisonment, even death, while Jesus’ other followers hid for their lives. The evangelists reported that she was the first to witness Jesus’ resurrection.

Simon Peter, although he was the most avowed believer of the divinity of Jesus, denied Jesus when his association to the condemned Jesus put his own life in danger. Even while he was one of the three whom Jesus trusted most, he was nowhere when Jesus needed him most. He deeply repented his disloyalty, sought Jesus’ forgiveness, and resolved anew to follow Him, even to death. Jesus entrusted His disciples to him (cf. Matthew 16:18-19; John 21:15-19), becoming the first pope of the Church. He led the early Church at the crucial period of persecution, even himself submitting to the Jesus-like crucifixion he earlier fled from.

Levi Matthew was a notorious tax collector. The Jews hated tax collectors because not only they considered them Roman collaborators, but also they accused them of levying taxes more than was due. They perceived tax collectors then to be levying extra to enrich themselves (cf. Matthew 9:9-13). Knowing he would have to give up his pleasures and wealth to follow Jesus, he still accepted Jesus’ invitation. He recounted the life, works, and teachings of his Master in the Gospel bearing his name.

Saul Paul in a murderous rampage persecuted the early Christians. He was blinded after Jesus appeared to him along his way to arrest more of Jesus’ disciples. Right after recovering his sight and converting, he embarked with the same zeal he persecuted the early Church to spread this Church over to the Gentile world. He bragged that despite being the lowliest of the apostles, he outperformed the original apostles. He braved death more often than they did, and he endured more danger than they did. He made converts many times more than he killed (cf. 1Corinthians 15:9; 2Corinthians 11:22-28). The many letters that he wrote to guide and encourage the new churches formed part of the New Testament.

Augustine of Hippo lived a sexually immoral teenager life, even fathering a son out of wedlock. He studied and propagated pagan philosophies. Succumbing to the incessant prayers of his mother, Helena, he converted, even becoming a priest and then a bishop. His major writings, Confessions, and The City of God, laid the foundation for much of medieval and modern Christian thought. Perhaps the most significant teacher after Saint Paul, the Church honored him as one of her doctors.

According to Saint Augustine of Hippo, “There are no saints without a past. There are no sinners without a future.” The list of sinners turned saints included also Saint Olga of Kiev who committed genocide to revenge the assassination of her husband. Her grandson, Saint Vladimir the Great, murdered his half-brother to ascend to the throne. He was known for his immorality, and a barbarism much like his grandmother was known for. After their conversion, they became devoted to Christianity and both were instrumental in the Christianization of Russia.

Civil law, likewise, grants second chances to sinners, even if in just a shadow of Divine Mercy. Expungement, in civil law, seals a felon’s record of arrest and conviction. A criminal record blocks an ex-convict’s applications for employment, or for a lease. Expunged crimes do not show in a criminal background check. When his criminal record is expunged, he may deny arrest or conviction for such offenses, as if he did not commit these.

Divine Mercy, in order to seal a sinfulness record, merely requires remorse, repentance, and a resolve to live righteously. Civil Law, on the other hand, may expunge a criminal record only after the felon had served his sentence or probation.

Divine Mercy covers every sin, no matter how grave. Civil Law expungement, on the other hand, does not seal convictions for murder, sexual battery, corruption of a minor, sexual imposition, obscenity or pornography involving a minor, and a serious weapon charge.

Divine Mercy totally seals sins confessed to God through His priests. Confession seals a sinful record totally and permanently. Even with threat of incarceration or death, no civil or ecclesial authority may force a priest to reveal sins confessed to him. Civil Law, on the other hand, may grant some institutions exceptions to access a record sealed in expungement.

“Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come” (Matthew 18:7). “All have sinned and fall[en] short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “Blessed is the man to whom the LORD imputes no guilt” (cf. Psalm 32:1-5). VSS

Picture credit: Top illustration — Expungement clearance, from expungemyrecord.com. Middle illustration — Confession to Jesus through a priest, from michaeljournal.org