The Final Word
The Solemnity of Pentecost completes our celebration of the joy of Easter. In the images contained in the marvellous Sequence of Pentecost, ‘Veni, Sancte Spiritus’, we call on the third person of the Blessed Trinity to come into our hearts, bringing light for our darkness, comfort for our distress, healing for our soul’s sickness, warmth for our frozen hearts, and joys that will never end. On the Solemnity of Pentecost this year, let’s especially recall the deep connection between the power of the Holy Spirit and the great gift of God’s forgiveness.
When we have the privilege of witnessing another person living out this mystery of forgiveness and reconciliation, we know intuitively that only the Holy Spirit can make this happen! When the risen Lord appeared to his disciples who were hiding behind locked doors in fear, he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and those sins you retain are retained’ (Jn 20:19–23).
Without this forgiveness, given to us by the Holy Spirit, we are stuck in our sins. Our lives can be so easily filled with sorrow and disappointment. And we all know that sometimes we get so hurt we feel paralysed and find forgiveness almost impossible. But we Christians can never despair because the Holy Spirit wants to renew us even in our darkest failures. Our God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
When the Holy Spirit is breathed into our minds and hearts, especially in the Sacrament of Penance, we are truly free to live as Jesus did with love and compassion for all. And when we extend that same loving forgiveness to others, we become instruments of the Holy Spirit and, as Pope Francis would say, missionaries of mercy to all God’s people.
With this gift comes the power to exercise mercy and forgive sins. This is something no Christian should take for granted. Not only does our merciful God forgive us, he shares with us the divine power of forgiving the sins of others. If you think about it, this gift of the Holy Spirit is truly amazing. To err is human, and so is the tendency to seek vengeance and retribution for the sins committed against us. But to show mercy—no matter how grievous the wrongs done to us—is divine.
But make no mistake—opening our hearts to receive the Holy Spirit of forgiveness and living mercifully will make great demands on us as disciples. Pentecost calls us to change our hearts and that means constantly praying to the Holy Spirit for openness and courage.
That’s why Pope Benedict XVI once said in an Easter message ‘Urbi et orbi’ (to the city and the world): ‘Easter does not work magic. Just as the Israelites found the desert awaiting them on the far side of the Red Sea, so the Church after the Resurrection always finds history filled with joy and hope, grief and anguish.’
Forgiveness does not eliminate our grief and anguish. It transforms them, making them like the Lord’s Passion and death: a participation in the painful pilgrimage of human suffering to the abundant joy of eternal life. It demands we make reparation and reach out and bring healing to those we have hurt.
May the Holy Spirit of the risen Jesus come into our minds and hearts once again this Pentecost. May the gift of God’s love and mercy empower us to confess our own sins, seek God’s mercy and then forgive the sins of others. May we never be so obstinate that we refuse to acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s power to forgive sins. May we never hesitate to seek God’s forgiveness or to ask for the grace to pardon those who have sinned against us.
When dark days come—in our personal lives and in our common life as disciples—let’s invoke the Holy Spirit in prayerful song:
Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine! …
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray …
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end.
† Denis J Hart
Archbishop of Melbourne