06 June 2014

'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.' Sunday Reflections, Pentecost, Year A

Pentecost Juan de Flandes
Museo del Prado [Web Gallery of Art]


Pentecost Sunday, at the Vigil Mass (Saturday evening)

NB: The Vigil Mass has its own prayers and readings. Those for the Mass During the Day on Sunday should not be used – though many priests seem to be unaware of this. It is incorrect to refer to the Vigil Mass as an ‘anticipated Mass’. It is a celebration proper to the evening before Pentecost Sunday. The Vigil Mass also fulfills the Sunday obligation.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) [This link is to the readings for the Vigil Mass and for the Mass on Sunday]

Pentecost Sunday, Mass During the Day

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)  [This link is to the readings for the Vigil Mass and for the Mass on Sunday]



When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then 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.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”




Sequence: Veni, Sancte Spiritus
Sung by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos, Spain

The Sequence may be said or sung, after the Second Reading.

Thirty-two years ago I did a number of short supplies in parishes in a diocese in the western USA. In one parish where I spent only a weekend I found a note that had been shoved under the front door on Monday morning and addressed to me. There was no signature but it was written in the style of a teenage girl.

Very often anonymous letters are negative and condemnatory of the receiver. This was the very opposite. I don’t remember what the gospel reading of the Sunday was but it highlighted the mercy of God and that is what I had preached about. Whatever I said touched the writer of the note profoundly. She wrote that for years she had hated God. I’ve no idea why or of what had been troubling her. She might well have been the victim of some awful act of another. But when at that Sunday Mas she heard the Good News that God is a forgiving God and that he loves each of us individually and unconditionally she was able to let go of the hatred, if that is what it really was, and of the anger in her heart and accept God’s love. She wrote that for the first time in years she went to Holy Communion.

As we celebrate the Descent of the Holy Spirit the gospel today tells us that the Risen Lord, appearing to the Apostles, breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

One of the greatest gifts of the Holy Spirit to the Church is the power to forgive in God’s name, to enable us to hear Jesus say to us what he said to the Apostles twice in today’s short reading, Peace be with you. This is the gift he offered at the Last Supper.


This is the gift God gives us most especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, what many of us still call Confession or Penance.   It is the way in which God, through the Church and specifically through the sacrament of Holy Orders, brings back into communion with him those who have turned away from him through mortal sin, that is a sin involving grave matter, a clear awareness that it is such and full and deliberate consent to the act. To go to confession in that situation is a matter of urgency, to be done before we go to Holy Communion again. Then Holy Communion becomes a true celebration of the full communion that God wants each of us to have with him.

But the sacrament is also a great help to those who are faithfully following Jesus but who sometimes take to byways down which God is not calling them, byways that lead into sin. Though the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not essential for the forgiveness of such sins it is the special way given by God through the Holy Spirit for that. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.

I left that parish on Monday morning and did not know who had shoved the note under the door. I’ve no idea what became of the writer. Perhaps she went to confession shortly after. Very likely she hadn’t committed any grave sin but had suffered greatly because of the actions of another; But whatever the situation was she had a profound experience of God’s mercy that Sunday, something like that of Zacchaeus, like that of the woman caught in adultery, like that of the Prodigal Son.

The gospels don’t tell us what subsequently became of Zacchaues or of the woman caught in adultery. But we know that the Holy Spirit profoundly touched their hearts, healed their wounds and changed their lives as Jesus passed by. And I know that the Holy Spirit profoundly touched the heart and healed the wounds of that young woman in the western USA parish as Jesus ‘passed by’ that Sunday morning through a priest who spent only two nights there.

The Sequence in today’s Mass, Veni Sancte Spiritus, ‘Come, Holy Spirit’, expresses something of that in the seventh stanza:

Lava quod est sordidum, Heal our wounds, our strength renew,
Riga quod est aridum, On our dryness pour your dew,
Sana quod est saucium. Wash the stains of guilt away.

English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ captures something of the presence of the Holy Spirit in every aspect of life in the closing lines of his poem God’s Grandeur:

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm heart and with ah! Bright wings.


3 comments:

Strahlen Smith said...

Thank you for posting this, Father. Perhaps like the girl who slid the note under your door, I experienced some abuse and some tough situations growing up which affected later decisions I made and so on, but I thought I loved and knew God and my Catholic faith.

It wasn't until my husband suddenly left me 5 months pregnant with our 5th little boy that I realized just how shallow my faith was and I really thought I...I wouldn't say I hated God even in those dark moments, but I sure thought He must hate me! Why else would things have gone so wrong when I had tried so hard??? One terrible afternoon, I even took every Cross off every wall in my house and threw them across the backyard. I was so hurt and so angry and so sure God didn't care!

Later that night, I was literally on my hands and knees in the dark searching for God and the Crosses I had thrown. I was tearfully longing for forgiveness but afraid to ask or hope.

It wasn't much later that I began to realize the strength of the Holy Spirit and how little I had been doing to learn about and practice my faith. There is so much more I am learning and so much more I need to know.

Anyway, like the girl who left the note, I too left notes as a young woman when I didn't want anyone to know what I was going through, but I did want to let them know that they had made an impact for the better. I had plenty of backslides over the years (I still backslide!), but I now know I am a work in progress and am just beginning to see the plans and the power of the Trinity working together. I don't know whether the girl in the story turned to God permanently or not, but I do know you and God made a difference.

Thank You and God Bless...

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Thank you, Strahlen. May God bless you and your five handsome sons abundantly. And may he bless their father.

Strahlen Smith said...

Thank you Father. We can all use the Lord's blessing. :)