ON OUR LORD’S MANIFESTING HIMSELF TO ALL THE APOSTLES. LUKE xxiv. JOHN xx.
Consider first, how on the evening of the same day of our Lord’s resurrection, when the doors were shut where the disciples were gathered together for fear of the Jews, our Saviour came in, and stood in the midst of them, and said to them: ‘Peace be to you!’ and then showed them the wounds of his hands, of his feet, and of his side. Admire the qualities of his glorious body now risen from the dead, which like a spirit passes through the doors, and is seen on a sudden in the midst of his disciples, and yet shows itself to be true and palpable flesh, by exhibiting those sacred wounds, to be felt by their hands. See how on this occasion, he at once both confirms their faith, and inflames their love, by bearing about him those marks of his passion, the most convincing testimonies of his love. My soul, thou hast this same glorious body, with all its endowments, in the blessed sacrament; and though thou neither seest it, nor feelest his wounds with thy bodily senses, thy faith assures thee that he is there, and discovers to the inward eye, both his whole passion endured for the love of thee, and the glory of his resurrection. Let this suffice to enkindle the fire of his love in thy heart: do not desire to see or to feel his wounds, like Thomas; nor lodge thy hand in his side, but thy heart: ‘Blessed are they that have not seen and have believed,’ John xx. 29.
Consider 2ndly, how our Lord said again to his disciples, ‘Peace be to you; as the Father hath sent me, I also send you.’ Then breathing upon them, he said: ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost whose sins ye shall forgive, they are forgiven them and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.’ See how ample this authority is which he here imparts to his apostles and to their lawful successors, that is, to the pastors of his true church, descending from the apostles; as his heavenly Father sent him, even so he sends them, furnished as he was with all spiritual power and jurisdiction for the rule of his Church, and the dispensation of his word, and of his sacraments; and commissioned by him, as he was by his Father. Give thanks, my soul, to thy Saviour, for having left, for thy benefit, this ample power and commission with the pastors of his church, and furnished thee by this means with guides divinely commissioned, and divinely assisted, and for having given to them the keys, that they might open heaven to thee. See thou despise not the ordinance of God, nor proudly resist his commissioners, to thy own condemnation.
Consider 3rdly, more in particular, the power of forgiving or retaining sins, here imparted by our Lord to the lawful pastors of his Catholic church. ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost, (said he); whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.’ In these words our Lord was pleased to communicate his divine Spirit, the Holy Ghost, to his disciples and their successors, in order to make them his delegates in the court of conscience, to sit as judges there, to take cognizance of all spiritual causes, and to pass sentence, either in favour of (penitent) sinners, to loose them from their sins by absolutions, or to bind them, as the case should require, by censures, penances, or delay of absolution. Give thanks for this sacred institution, sovereignly wholesome to Christian souls, in which poor sinners who desire to return to their God, may, by applying to the delegates of Christ, have the sentence of eternal damnation that stood against them reversed, and their absolution, pronounced on earth, ratified in heaven, upon the easy condition of an humble and secret confession, joined with a hearty repentance; and in consequence of such absolution, may be again received and admitted to the participation of all those goods from which their sins had excluded them.
Conclude to adore, praise, and give thanks to our Lord for all these blessings he brought with him at his resurrection, and not only imparted to his disciples then living, but entailed upon his church for ever. Particularly acknowledge and embrace that last legacy of his perpetual presence with his church, which he bequeathed on the same occasion, in the three last verses of the gospel of St. Matthew, when he said: ‘All power is given to me, in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, &c., and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.’