When I was a Junior in High School, I went on what we called fall retreat with many other kids from St. Aloysius. I specifically remember going to confession while I was on this retreat. Instead of the normal both sit in the confessional or behind a screen the priest, and I walked and talked for confession. We had privacy, but I remember as I was opening up about my sins and my struggles; it was like a weight was being lifted off my shoulders. What I don’t think I understood at the time was that at that moment I was having an encounter with God’s divine mercy. The priest I was confessing to didn’t look any different than before, but at that moment he was in the person of Christ, and Christ was working through this priest to forgive my sins.
We just heard a story we are very familiar. Jesus appears to his disciples walking through walls, with the nails in his hands still present and the hole in his side present. However, Thomas wasn’t present when all of this happened. Who knows where he went, maybe he went grocery shopping or was out for a run. Whatever it was Thomas was absent and when the disciples told him “we have seen the Lord.” His initial response was of doubt saying, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Then Jesus goes to Thomas, and I believe at this moment has a profound encounter with God especially in his divine mercy. Jesus again appears to the apostles in a locked room and Thomas who had doubted put his fingers in his hands and his side. Thomas responds by saying “My Lord and my God.” This is a moment of faith and a confession of belief in Jesus Christ as God himself. Through the encounter with Jesus, Thomas doubt is removed, and he has faith.
Thomas response doesn’t stop there with his profession of Jesus as God. Not long after this Thomas would make his way to India and spread the Gospel to that part of the world, someone who has the unfortunate name of Doubt Thomas you would think likely wouldn’t do this. Instead, Thomas had faith in Christ and used that to spread the message of the Gospel in India.
Thomas also showed his faith in Jesus by suffering a martyr’s death. In this, he showed his great faith by dying for his faith. He was stabbed while he was praying. Thomas, as well as all of the apostles, had that encounter with Jesus and from it went out to proclaim the Gospel message. All of them were afraid and had doubts, but through Jesus appearing to them, they came to believe and did the work of the kingdom.
We are not the only ones who can have an encounter with our risen Lord. First, we can receive the lord and have an encounter with him in the Eucharist. However, the other sacraments as well can be an encounter with God. I especially think the sacrament of reconciliation or confession is an encounter not only with God but with God’s merciful love for us. Like Thomas God wants to heal us from our unbelief, those moments in our lives we don’t put our trust in God and put our trust instead in earthly things. He wants to forgive us of our sins and heal us from our sinful ways. In confession, we encounter God himself. We may see the priest or he may be behind the screen, but that priest is in the person of Christ. Christ is present in his priest and present to you as you confess your sins.
Our Challenge is to allow ourselves to be transformed by this encounter in our own lives. Thomas and the other disciples were given the courage to go out and proclaim the good news to all the nations after they saw the risen Lord. For us, confession and the Eucharist is not just about coming to receive a certain grace and move on with our lives. The challenge with confession is to have a change of heart. I usually say the act of contrition I was taught as a kid. Which ends I firmly resolve with the help of your grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. That is our promise to God that we will strive to sin no more. I know I fall short of that every time. However, we can still strive to move closer to this every time we go to confession.
We encounter God’s merciful love every time we go to confession. God doesn’t want us to have fear going before him. While you may see Fr. Paul in the confession or myself eventually, know that it is God working through his priest. You are having an encounter with God’s merciful love.