Receive the Holy Spirit. Who sins you forgive are forgiven them…

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked …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, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Jn 20:19 -23

Recall the setting for this Gospel account. The first day of the week, is the Sunday after Jesus’ crucifixion. It is the evening and the Apostles are hiding in the Upper Room, where the Last Supper took place. Having seen their Leader, in whom they trusted, and from whom they expected victory and freedom, falsely accused, beaten, and publicly executed by crucifixion, they are afraid.

The Risen Jesus passes through the locked door and stands in their midst. He encourages them, “Peace be with you.” But He is not just coming to calm their fears. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” This is John’s version of the “Great Commission.” Jesus shares His mission with the Apostles. So that they might carry on Jesus’ work, He breathes on them and sends forth His Holy Spirit. “Receive the Holy Spirit…”

And what is Jesus’ work or mission, which they now must continue? “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and who sins you retain are retained.” Jesus was sent by the Father to liberate mankind from bondage to sin. Because sin is an offense against God, only God can forgive sin. So Jesus empowers the Apostles with the Holy Spirit. Commanded by Jesus Christ, and filled with the Spirit, the Apostles will carry on this mission of freeing the world from the horrors of sin.

Reflection

The Church, established by Christ, and built on the Apostles, continues this mission until the end of the world. Before returning to the Father, Jesus promised that He would remain with His followers forever. (Matt 28:20, Jn 14:18) He does this in and through the Church by the mystery and power of the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, we celebrate the birthday of the Church.

Activity

The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.

John 14:15-18

This gospel passage is taken again from the Last Supper discourse. Jesus is speaking with the 12 before His arrest and crucifixion. Jesus uses this discourse to encourage His Apostles. He promises them, that although He is leaving, the Spirit, who is sent by the Father, will never leave them. Not only will the Holy Spirit be with them, the Spirit will dwell within them. Jesus does not explain how this will occur, but He does make one thing clear. This Spirit, whom He calls “the Spirit of truth,” is rejected by the world.

Throughout John’s gospel the evangelist makes a contrast between “the world” and Jesus Christ. In the opening prologue John writes, “The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not…and his own people received him not.”(Jn 1:9-11). Later in the Last Supper discourse, John recounts Jesus saying,”If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”(Jn 15:18)

John is not speaking here of the world that God originally made and declared “good”(see Genesis 1). Rather, the evangelist is acknowledging that with the first sin, creation “fell” from grace, and ever since, humanity has been in rebellion against God. Jesus came to quash the rebellion and redeem humanity and all of creation. The forces of sin are strong and it was not easy mission, in fact, Jesus suffered terrible betrayal, torture and death to vanquish the enemy. The Resurrection is the sign of His victory. “The world” will come to an end, but He lives forever.

Reflection

“The world” which rejects Jesus and rejects the Spirit also rejects the followers of Jesus who are inspired by the Spirit. Though this might sound unsettling, Jesus exhorts us, “In the world you will have trouble, but have courage, I have over come the world” (John 16:33).

Activity

It is important to realize that being a Christian requires fortitude, which is strength, perseverance, and courage. This is a virtue that we can practice, and that God will help us to grow in. This week, read about a courageous Christian. There are many, but two you might enjoy reading about are Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Irena Sendler.

Sin speaks to the sinner…

Matt 5:21-24

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment,
and whoever says to his brother, Raqa,
will be answerable to the Sanhedrin,
and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.”

“Sin speaks to the sinner in the depths of his heart.” Psalm 36:1

Sin does not begin with our angry actions. By bearing a grudge, or harboring anger we have already committed sin. Jesus’s disciples knew that they must not kill. He wants them to understand that to follow him, it is not enough not to commit grave sin, our hearts must be pure. We must not think evil thoughts or use evil words or speak unkindness.

It is not easy to be a follower of Christ. We are accountable not only for our deeds, but for our thoughts and intentions as well. When we examine our consciences, we must look deeper than what we have done. We must look also at why we have done something. What are the inclinations of our heart. What are our deepest desires and thoughts, for these too must be pure, good and holy.