Newness itself must be renewed

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley          April 3, 2016

“God of everlasting mercy,
who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast
kindle the faith of the people you have made your own,
increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed,
that all may grasp and rightly understand
in what font they have been washed, 
by whose Spirit they have been reborn,
by whose Blood they have been redeemed.”
(Collect of the Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday)

Throughout the Easter season, the Church’s newest members continue to reflect upon the meaning of their experience at the Easter Vigil when they were fully initiated into the mystery of Christ and His Church through baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist. The prayers of the Church’s liturgy during this paschal season express our praise and gratitude for the newness of life and redemption that we have celebrated during the Easter Triduum and that we renew constantly in the sacraments.

“See, I make all things new!” (Rev. 21:5) During the Easter season, we celebrate new life, the new covenant and the new law of love that we have received through Christ’s death and resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our hearts. We are a new creation!

“Nevertheless,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “the new life received in Christian initiation has not abolished the frailty and weakness of human nature, nor the inclination to sin” (CCC 1426). We carry this treasure of divine life in earthen vessels.

 “Do not think that the renewal of life that came about once for all at the beginning is enough; newness itself must be renewed.” These words of the ancient Christian writer, Origen, remind us that the struggle of conversion from sin continues throughout our lives.

By faith in the Gospel we are led by grace to baptism, the principal place for the first and fundamental conversion of life. In baptism we renounce evil and gain salvation through the forgiveness of sins and the gift of new life in the spirit.

But, Christ’s call to conversion continues to resound insistently in the hearts of Christians throughout our lives. The so-called second conversion is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church that, though holy, is always in need of purification as it travels constantly the path of penance and renewal.

For Christians, sin remains a possibility even after baptism. Continuing conversion remains a necessity. But, conversion is not primarily our work. It is, first of all, God’s work whose grace calls us to repentance and offers us His mercy.

Jesus Christ entrusted to the Church his ministry of reconciling repentant sinners. On the day of his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his apostles saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and those you retain are retained” (Jn.20:23).

In fulfilling this mandate the Church carries on Christ’s ministry of healing, forgiving and reconciling sinners through the Sacrament of Penance. As the divine physician, Christ acts through His ordained priest to offer mercy, to heal the wounds of sin and to restore our communion with God, the Church and one another that sin weakens or even destroys.

The Sacrament of Penance (reconciliation) is a precious gift that Christ has entrusted to the Church. The Jubilee Year of Mercy and this Easter season invite us to a renewed appreciation for this precious and indispensable sacrament of divine mercy.

The communal celebrations of the Sacrament of Penance in which many are accustomed to participate during Lent and Advent, though very beneficial, do not exhaust our need for this sacrament of mercy, nor the benefits we can derive from it. If we are struggling to overcome sin or devoutly seeking holiness and the fullness of the Christian life, we have to make good use of all of the means that God places at our disposal to assist us, including this sacrament.

The more we open our hearts to divine mercy through our encounter with Jesus Christ in this sacrament, the more sensitive we will become to His presence in our lives; the more we will become instruments of his mercy in our world.

Only the experience of God’s mercy will truly reveal the mystery of sin for what it is: not merely the breaking of an external precept, but the rupture of a very personal relationship with God who loves us beyond our imagining, even when we have turned our backs on him. Though we may grow weary of asking forgiveness, God never wearies of forgiving us!