By Canon Gerry Conroy
Everyone is looking for happiness, the question everyone is asking is how do you find it. We all want a life that is full and rich, the question is does one size fit all or is it different for everyone.
In the Gospel on Sunday, I think we found the beginnings of an answer to those questions. The greeting of Christ to his disciples: ‘Peace be with you’, is a greeting the risen Christ gives and it’s not just to settle the nerves of those who might be frightened by his appearance. The meaning of the word shalom – the Hebrew word for peace – is that fullness of life we need for happiness, a life that is full and rich. It’s as if he is saying to them this is what all of this has been about – it’s about you having such a life.
But that message isn’t just contained in the greeting. It’s also there in the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles. That Spirit Christ had earlier described as living water flowing from his side. The Church came to understand that water as the life giving Sacraments, the principal way that the Holy Spirit is given to us. The Spirit who gives us life and leads us into freedom and truth. All things we need if our life is to be full and rich.
And then Christ speaks of the forgiveness of sins, the text on which the Church has come to base its understanding of the Sacrament of Confession. I think for most of us the forgiveness of sins is about rubbing something out, removing something we have done wrong. Like so much in our faith, for some reason it is presented in a negative light, whereas it should be presented as something positive, since the word itself originally meant to give completely, and without reservation. Forgiveness isn’t about looking back at the wrong we have done, but about looking forward to a new life. It is about creating the possibility of something new in us, releasing us from the chains of the past and freeing us for that full and rich life we are looking for.
So often in our modern world people misunderstand faith and look at it as something that inhibits them, but faith is really about recognising that Christ has set us free; now because of the resurrection, we do not live a mere shadow, an echo of life that is doomed to fade away.
Pope John Paul named this Divine Mercy Sunday, because the resurrection is about setting us free. It is an opening out of ourselves to God once again, to the redeeming grace that lifts us out of that place where we are oppressed and trapped so that we know again the power and freedom of his merciful love. Those first disciples after Calvary knew crushing failure, a helplessness before their own failures, wishing they could take back what they had done and undo what had happened and knowing that it couldn’t be undone. They knew that blackness of despair at life. But with the Holy Spirit, with the forgiveness of sins comes a light into the dark places such as that in our own lives, because we too have met the merciful love of God. In him we find the possibility of that full and rich life we long for.
Canon Gerry Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton
Finding happiness for some is swimming in the icy waters of Loch Lomond. Or (above) for pupils who are delighted at the news of going back to school.