The Holy Spirit, the Reconciler

I celebrated Mass this morning for the Sisters of St. Francis at Clare Hall today. Here is my homily:

In today’s gospel (John 20: 19-23), Jesus confronts the fear of the apostles on the evening of his resurrection. They had huddled together behind locked doors, afraid that they would be crucified next. And, no doubt, they were afraid when Jesus suddenly appeared before their eyes. Is he a ghost? Has he returned to condemn them for abandoning him in his hour of need? Jesus said, “Peace be with you,” and showed them his wounds, the signs of his everlasting love. He repeated, “Peace be with you.”

Fear divides people and leads to conflict and war. The Original Sin had its roots in fear. Our ancestral parents were afraid that God had not told them the truth about the trees in their garden. Could they really trust God? Wouldn’t it be better to get control, to have power, so that they would not have to depend on God?

Fear led to mistrust which led to rebellion. The result was immediate: separation and alienation from God and each other. Division.

Jesus came to take away sin and division. He came to reconcile humanity to God and to one another, to bring unity amidst diversity instead of division. He sent the Holy Spirit to continue this work of reconciliation and peace-making.

As a result, there are many different tongues or languages but one message. There are many parts but one body. There are many different gifts, forms of service, and workings but “the same Spirit,” “the same Lord,” “the same God” (see the second reading, 1 Corinthians 12: 3-7, 12-13).  Notice the Trinitarian formula: Spirit, Lord, God, or Holy Spirit, Lord Jesus, God the Father.  The Holy Trinity is the source of unity in diversity because this is God’s very nature—a Communion of Divine Persons.  Three and One, as we will celebrate next Sunday on the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity.

Humanity is made in the image and likeness of God who is diverse and one.  Human beings are not isolated individuals.  Fear and sin isolate and divide.  The Holy Spirit renews the image of God in humanity and brings about the communion of persons, making the many parts into one body. 

Jesus commissions the apostles in the gospel to continue his work of reconciliation and peace-making: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  He empowers the Church to overcome sin that divides, breathing on the apostles and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” 

What does this retention of sin mean?  Reconciliation is a two-way street. One who has been hurt badly may extend forgiveness to the offending party, but if the other does not admit the wrong, accept responsibility for it, recognize the need for forgiveness and receive it from the one extending it, then reconciliation has not occurred. The sin is retained.  Forgiveness was extended but not accepted.

We must, like God, be always ready to forgive. And when the forgiveness we extend is not received, we must continue to pray, sacrifice, and make reparation, as Jesus did. We must do all we can to repair the damage that sin has caused, the division.

This is what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is what it means to carry on Jesus’ work of reconciliation and peace-making.