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.” (John 22:23)
The unmistakable message that John is conveying to us here is that the Risen Lord celebrates his victory over sin and death by creating humankind anew through the Holy Spirit, his breath of life.
The LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
It can be said that the first creation was “effortless” for lack of a better adjective. God spoke his word and one creature after another came into being until creation was complete and God declared it all good, very good.
In striking contrast, the setting in which the new creation took place indicates clearly that it was anything but effortless. The Risen Lord had a scary gash on his chest near his heart and the cruel marks of crucifixion on his glorified body. Those destined to be created anew were paralyzed by fear, in hiding behind firmly locked doors.
I imagine that if John the Baptist were still alive and present in that upper room he would have introduced the Risen Lord exactly with the same words he used to introduce him to bystanders the first time by the banks of the Jordan River: The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)
The Lamb had to shed all his blood and breathe his Holy Spirit to make peace possible.
The peace that Jesus gives to his fledgling, frightened, wounded Church is not the mere absence of conflict and strife; it is the reestablishment of the beauty, harmony, order, rejoicing, freedom, creativity, reconciliation, cooperation, solidarity, friendship that had made our Creator God exclaim that his first creation was good, very good. Peace, as THE gift of the Risen Lord, can be established only by giving to all those who had witnessed his victory over sin and death, the power in the Holy Spirit to forgive and to retain sin.
As the strife continues down the centuries of the Church, priests and bishops receive, in the Holy Spirit, this awesome power so that the prayers of countless generations may be heeded and the Holy Spirit may renew the face of the earth.
When you send forth your breath, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth. (Psalm 104:30)
In order to benefit a great deal from this solemnity of Pentecost, we should place in the back of our minds the nexus between the power of the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sin and the establishment of Jesus’ peace in the hearts of people of goodwill.
The name itself that Jesus gives to the Holy Spirit: Paraclete in Greek, Advocatus in Latin, holds within a subtle invitation to invoke him to come to our aid in the effort to uproot sin from ourselves and from everything around us so that we can all live enjoying the gift of Jesus’ peace.
Advocatus comes from the Latin verb ad vocare: to summon to one’s side. To summon the Holy Spirit to be at our side is the prayer that should be always on our lips because we must be thoroughly convinced that without the Holy Spirit we are defenseless against the attacks of Satan who is emboldened by our “coziness” with our “favorite sin” and by our tepid love of Jesus.
Assuredly, all sins keep Jesus’ peace from being the setting in which our life should unfold according to the Father’s loving plan; but I would like to concentrate on two sins that wreak havoc with our Christian community: pornography and self-righteousness.
I grant you readily that, given the nature of the original wound of humankind, the sin of self-righteousness will claim its unsuspecting victims until the end of time. Unless the Holy Spirit sheds his light on them, they will be dying from a habitual downplaying of their sins combined with the urge to compare themselves favorably with most people and an inflated reliance on their good conduct that prevents them from loving Jesus passionately, intensely (cf. Luke 7:47).
Before the Internet reshaped the lives of so many, my priestly experience of 45 years would tell me that the most confessed sin was the one of losing one’s temper and getting upset. Nowadays it is the sin of watching pornographic material on smart phones and/or on computers of all sizes for self-stimulation.
The devastation is enormous psychologically, emotionally, spiritually and socially too. The heart of the one engaging in this behavior spoils slowly but surely as natural feelings of want for companionship, empathy, closeness and intimacy are replaced by the heartless urge to rob others of their innate dignity and turn them into sex-toys for self-gratification. As this urge turns into a most powerful addiction, the stimuli have to increase to attain the same fix for which the poor victim longs irresistibly. Alas, being approached superficially, in most cases the Sacrament of Reconciliation by itself seems insufficient to help one snap out of this most cruel enslavement. Hence, this should be a quite persuasive case in which the Holy Spirit must be summoned quickly and in earnest with a superhuman groan erupting from the recesses of one’s heart.
The same must be true for those who desire to be set free from self-righteousness. This must be true, of course, of all of us in the struggle with our most stubborn sins.
For this reason, I think that our prayer summoning the Holy Spirit to be at our side should burst off with genuine pain caused by our lack of the love that is due Jesus even in our human weakness and miseries. Our prayer should be framed by the images of a strong, driving wind sweeping away our sins with a decisive, violent blow and fire to stoke the weak flame of our love for Jesus. But our prayer ought to continue until Jesus’ peace shapes our lives fully and fruitfully.
- We beg the Holy Spirit to make us generous once again with the gifts that he has given each one of us for the good of the whole Body of Christ.
- We beg the Holy Spirit to spark our creativity to work with all our brothers and sisters of goodwill and with him in renewing the face of the earth
- We beg the Holy Spirit to work with us in healing the wounds that our sins have inflicted on the Body of Christ.
- We beg the Holy Spirit to help us do all we can and be fully, generously engaged in extending Jesus’ peace everywhere until the whole world speaks the only language everyone understands, the language of love.