This is a reflection on the readings of April 11, 2021, the Second Sunday of Easter, the Sunday of Divine Mercy
Who are the freest people in the world?
If you are an American, your first thought might be that it’s the people of the United States, the “land of the free.” Freedom is a hallmark of this country, especially when compared to brutal regimes that we’ve often heard about, regimes whose citizen have no freedom at all. However, that’s not the type of freedom to which I’m referring. There is something much more important than political freedom: interior, spiritual freedom. In theology, this has been called freedom for excellence—the freedom to live a truly happy and virtuous life, free from the slavery to sin and darkness.
By this measure, the freest people in the world—the freest people in history—are the saints. Why? Saints are truly free because, while still imperfect, they live lives that are more virtuous than sinful. People whose lives are habitually sinful life become enslaved to sin. One extreme example of this is addiction. On the other hand, saints live in the freedom of God because their lives are governed by virtuous behavior. This is why they are not only the most free, but also the happiest of all people.
On this Divine Mercy Sunday, we once again contemplate a post-Resurrection Gospel story. The disciples, still in fear and doubt after Christ’s passion and death, lock themselves inside the upper room. The fact that they have enclosed themselves—literally locked themselves in—is symbolic because they have not yet been freed by fully embracing the truth that Christ has risen from the dead, that he is alive, and that he has conquered sin and death.
Notice that when Jesus appears to the disciples, the first thing he does is give them the gift of peace. Next, he breathes on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” With these words he gives them the mission to forgive sins. And we know from our reading of the Acts of the Apostles that the disciples did not remain locked in. After they encountered the risen Christ, they went out and proclaimed him everywhere. They started the very first community of early Christians, and from that community we have the Church today. They were set free from fear and doubt by their encounter with the risen Christ.
Our encounter with the risen Christ, especially the Divine Mercy he gives to us, sets us free to live a holy life. If we are bound by sin, we are like the disciples, locked inside, living in fear and darkness. We cannot live truly free, truly happy lives when we are enslaved to sin.
True freedom is not the choice to do whatever I want. It is not allowing my passions and emotions to dictate every decision, including my very identity. True freedom is freedom for excellence, freedom to live a life of virtue. Tree freedom is the ability to say no to temptation and sin and yes to Christ and virtue.
This is what Divine Mercy does for us. Divine Mercy sets us free. The encounter with the risen Christ sets us free from sin and darkness. True, we will continue to struggle with sin and temptation; but living in a relationship with the risen Christ empowers us to grow in virtue. And the only way to live a truly free life, a truly happy life, is to live free from the grip that sin can have on us.
How do we get there? How do we live lives that are truly free and truly happy? We must open ourselves to Christ’s Divine Mercy. The best way to do this, of course, is by receiving God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we go to confession and receive absolution, the Lord cleanses us of our sins and gives us the grace we need to live in freedom for excellence, to lead a virtuous life, and to live in union with him. After we receive his mercy, we can commit to living a faithful Christian life.
If you’re struggling with sin and darkness—and we all are to some extent—or if you feel enslaved, then on this Divine Mercy Sunday open your heart to the Lord’s mercy by going to confession and receiving the Lord’s liberating forgiveness. The freest people in the world are the saints, and this way of freedom is open to each of us.
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Fr. Michael Najim was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Providence in 2001. He currently serves as the pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Westerly, RI.