The Spirit’s Power to Forgive
by Rev. Paul Grankauskas
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Rece3ive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."
When we think of Pentecost, what immediately comes to mind?
Hopefully we think of the event recalled in this Sunday’s first reading. The Apostles, along with Mary, the mother of Jesus, are gathered in the Upper Room. The Scriptures tell us that “suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind. . . . Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in different tongues.” We are also told that folks from different nations heard the Apostles speaking in their own language, proclaiming the “might acts of God.”
This is obviously a significant moment. The Holy Spirit, the promised gift of the Father and Son, is seen as the one who will gather together and unite men and women of every race and tongue in one body and one faith. The Apostles, empowered by the Spirit, are beginning their work as fishers of men. In short, Pentecost is the celebration of the universal Church’s birth.
It is no mere coincidence that these things happened during the Jewish feast of Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks. It was a time for offering to God the first fruits of the harvest (see Ex 34:22 and Dt 16:10). With the coming of the Holy Spirit and the gathering of the nations in one faith, we have the fulfillment of an ancient type from the Old Testament. God does not do things by accident.
Still, as significant as the celebration of Pentecost is, this week’s Gospel recalls another moment when Christ conferred the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. John speaks of the first Easter, when the risen Jesus made His first appearance to the Apostles. We are told, “He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
The Greek word used to describe Jesus’ “breathing” on the Apostles is the same word used in the book of Genesis, when God breathed His life into Adam, formed from the clay of the earth. Here we have Jesus, anointed by the Spirit at the beginning of His public ministry, conferring that same Spirit upon the Apostles. He is breathing a new, spiritual life into them.
Our Lord’s words indicate that what He Himself could do, the Apostles, empowered by the Spirit, will also be able to do: forgive sins. The same Jesus who forgave the woman caught in the act of adultery and the sins of the paralyzed man now tells the Apostles, ‘Whose sins you for give are forgiven them.”
Like the birth of the universal Church on the day of Pentecost, this too, is a moment of great significance. In the words of Fulton Sheen, “The same law of the Incarnation would now hold; God would continue to forgive sins through man. . . . To be humble on one’s knees confessing to one whom Christ gave the power to forgive – that was one of the greatest joys given to the burdened soul of man.”
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