What did Jesus do when He first met with His apostles after His resurrection? He bestowed His peace on them, sent them out into the world, and gave them the power to forgive sins. These blessings were given to men who ran away when the going got tough, who locked themselves in a room because they were afraid, and who did not believe when Mary Magdalene brought them the great news that Jesus had risen from the dead.
These frightened but overjoyed men were asked to walk the way of Jesus; to proclaim His name throughout the world. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21) They were sent out into the world to bring the peace of Jesus to all. This mission continues to our day and is not just the responsibility of bishops and priests, but all Catholics. We need to receive the peace of Jesus and not only hold onto it, but freely share it with others as it has been given to us.
In today’s world it seems when giving that everything has a price or must be negotiated: I did this for you, you need to do that for me or I gave you this, so you owe me that. Instead Jesus gives without expecting to receive it back. “Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” (John 14:27) He gives His peace willingly, without obligation. It is only by our own free will to receive and respond to His peace that we oblige ourselves to follow His commandments. He sets the example to give of ourselves without expecting anything in return.
“Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:22-23) In sending them out with His peace, Jesus expected the apostles to help heal the variously fractured bonds that each person has with God. He just doesn’t want people to know about Him, He wants them to know Him. He wants a relationship with them; one that cannot be achieved unless they willingly turn to Him and ask for the damage that sin has caused to be repaired. By giving the apostles the Holy Spirit, He provided His authorization to these men to do what, up until then, only God could do. So by going to the bishops and priests for the sacrament of reconciliation, we are receiving the peace and forgiveness He bestowed on the apostles. While individual members of the Church may not forgive sins on behalf of God, we can forgive the injuries others inflict on us, just as God has forgiven us.
The purpose of the Church is to go out and meet people where they are, share the peace of Christ with them, and when people willingly want to turn back to God, to forgive them their sins so they can start afresh with their relationship with God.The Church didn’t begin with perfect men, but by fulfilling her purpose, she perfects them.