“Jesus said to them again, Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
The council of Trent (1545 – 1563) defined that this power to forgive sins is exercised in the Sacrament of Penance (or as we call it today; the Sacrament of Reconciliation).
This does not say, or mean, that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the only way the Church (the Christian Community) exercises the power to forgive sins.
For instance the Christian Community exercises the power to forgive sins in the Sacrament of Baptism.
The Christian Community exercises the power to forgive sins in the Sacrament of The Anointing of the Sick.
The sinner oneself, who is genuinely sorry for and regrets any harm, hurt or damage caused and sincerely try’s to repair any such harm, damage or hurt, receives forgiveness of sin.
There is no compelling reason to believe that when the events described in today’s Gospel reading took place there were only the ten Apostles present (The next verse tells us that the Apostle Thomas was not present). The people in the room are described as the Disciples. This would include a very mixed group of Jesu’s followers including Apostles and disciples, both men and women.
It is this group or gathering or family of Jesus’ followers who were given His (Jesu’s ) power to forgive sin.
Naturally in a endemically patriarchal culture as existed at that time ( and is still to be found today) an important ability such as that to forgive sin (as well as leadership roles generally within the Christian Community) would be cornered by the male gender and particularly by those in leadership positions.
(The latter is just common sense, and how things generally pan out in all aspects of human society.)
Having said all the above I now want to look at the essential role played by both the sinner and the victim in the process of repentance, reconciliation and forgiveness. It is very difficult, if not impossible for the sinner to obtain healing and repentance if the victim refuses to forgive. This refusal only increases the hurt and bitterness in both parties. But if the victim welcomes any movement towards reconciliation on the part of the sinner then the floodgates of healing and reconciliation begin to open for both parties. The above examples illustrate the words of todays Gospel reading “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Events occurring during the truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa graphically demonstrated those words of Jesus.
To my way of thinking this way of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of healing, fits in nicely with the example and actions of Jesus of Nazareth, rather than the more mechanical and impersonal ‘secret confession to a priest’ who has no involvement in the whole affair.
Therefore I, as a Christian, must face up to my ability and responsibility to facilitate forgiveness for those who sin against me, in any way, by my attitude and willingness to go at least half way.
The attitude of the father of the prodigal son must be my guiding star.