MAGINE FOR A SECOND that you’re Jesus. A week and a half ago, you were brutally put to death. You spent last Saturday in a tomb, and then, last Sunday, you rose from the dead. Today, a full week later, you decide to make an appearance to your closest friends: Peter, James, John, Thomas, Philip, Bartholomew, and all the rest of the Apostles. They’re huddled in the Upper Room, and you walk in. What would you say to them? “What’s up?” “It’s nice to see you.” “Hey, guys, you left me hanging!”
What are Jesus’ actual first words to the Apostles in that Upper Room? “Peace be with you.” He even says it twice: “Peace be with you.” That was the perfect thing to say! Why?
We can only make sense of why that was such a perfect thing to say if we understand what Jesus means by “peace.” Sometimes, because of the news we hear, I think we get the idea that peace is related to world politics and military action and the balance of power. But, in its truest sense, peace has nothing to do with any of that. Peace is not the absence of conflict. Peace is not achieved by amassing nuclear weapons. Nor is peace achieved by ridding the world of nuclear weapons. Peace is not, in fact, primarily a state of conditions between nations or armies. Peace is a state of soul in individual persons.
Where does peace come from? It comes from the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. What do I mean? Were it not for our Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection, none of us would be able to sleep at night. Without His Passion, Death, and Resurrection, none of us would have any hope of eternal life. It is only by His triumph over the grave that there exists the possibility of our salvation. In His Resurrection is our peace! That’s the gift of peace, which Jesus imparts to His disciples.
Today, the Church universal observes Divine Mercy Sunday. What gives us peace in life is knowledge of God’s immense mercy. It is the mercy of God, for example, that we woke up this morning. It is the mercy of God that we are held in existence through every breath of our lives. And it is the ultimate demonstration of the mercy of God that He should sacrifice His only Son for us poor sinners.
Nowhere in life do we experience mercy more fully, more richly, more intimately than in the Sacrament of Penance. In the Gospel of John, chapter 20, Jesus breathes on the Apostles and says to them, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Granting the forgiveness of sins is one of the most awesome duties of the priest—one of the most humbling powers I possess. I daresay that the most beautiful words I have ever spoken are the words of absolution.
Meditate for a moment on the words the priest says as he forgives sinners in the confessional: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace.” When we go to confession and hear those words from the priest, it’s as if Jesus were appearing to us and saying, “Peace be with you.”
Without the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, we have no hope. With them, we have no fear.