Homily for the feast of Pentecost - Year C - Jn. 20:19-23
Father Daniel Meynen
"On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.' And 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; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.' "
"On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord."
Today, fifty days after Easter, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of the Lord. Today, we remember this absolutely unique event in the history of humanity: the coming of God the Spirit into the world! It was truly a unique event, one without equal; for, from that moment, the people of the world, the earth, the heavens, the stars, everything has become the home of God among men! Ever since the day of Pentecost, the world no longer belongs to itself: it belongs to God!
How is this possible? Is it true? Do we not see, on the contrary, that evil reigns everywhere around us? Is the world not filled with violence, lies, and impurity? How then can the world be at the service of God, who is Spirit? Precisely for the simple reason that God is Spirit. That which is spirit cannot be seen. Thus we do not see, with the eyes of the body, in what manner the world belongs to God, who is Spirit. What captures our attention is the evil that we do see.
We shall have to wait until the coming of the Lord, until his return at the end of time, for the beauty of new creation in the Holy Spirit to be finally revealed to all. Today, in the Spirit of God, the new creation already exists and praises the Lord, but all this is still but a beginning, an initial stage of the kingdom of God, a salvation in hope! Let us listen to Saint Paul: "The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God (...) We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now (...) We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved." (Rm. 8:19, 22-24)
Creation groans, and so do we, for the Spirit of God is here, and yet evil appears ceaselessly before our eyes... And so it will be until the end. From the evening of Easter, the evening of the Resurrection of Jesus, until the day when the Lord will resurrect the bodies of all the elect at the Parousia, the Holy Spirit works to combat evil and to drive it from the world, through the action of the Apostles and the Church to whom Christ gave the power to forgive sins on his behalf: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
"Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.' And 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; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.' "
We are the creatures of God, we are his creatures par excellence! We are thus the principal beneficiaries of the coming of the Spirit of God into the world: when he comes into us, the Holy Spirit drives out sin and draws our heart to the Love of God. The new creation is, first, that which the Holy Spirit effects in our heart in order to make us new men, men who live according to the spirit and not the flesh. According to the words of Jesus on the evening of Easter, all of this is realized through the intermediary of the Apostles and their successors, for it is to them alone that the Lord said: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
The power to forgive sins, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, is a power that Jesus gave to the Apostles alone, as well as to their successors, the bishops. The latter ordinarily entrust this same power to simple priests, although with some restrictions. For bishops cannot be everywhere at the same time. They thus ordain priests, in order for them to be their representatives wherever they themselves cannot be at any particular time. As the Eucharistic Sacrifice makes present, here and now, the unique Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross of Calvary, the primary function of priests is to celebrate the Eucharist wherever they are, doing so in the name of their bishop and in representing him.
In the Eucharistic celebration, the words of the Lord on the evening of Easter take on a universal meaning, a dimension which extends to all the People of God. For, while only bishops and priests can forgive sins in the name of the Lord, on the other hand, any Christian can take part in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and offer himself with Christ for the Church and for the Redemption of the world, according to the instruction of Saint Peter, who said: "Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God's sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:4-5)
There is no doubt about it: if the Holy Spirit is in the world to drive evil out of it, each one of us is called to collaborate in his divine action of regeneration and salvation! Let us not forget: each one of us is called by God to become a new creature in the Spirit. It will be possible to realize this only if we work to drive out the evil which is in the world, and which is therefore also in us. Let us turn our eyes to Mary, who is the new creation par excellence, the New Eve! For, through grace, and in order that she might come to our aid, Mary was already free from every sin from the very moment of her conception: She is the Immaculate Conception! Ever since the Incarnation of the Son of God, Mary collaborates in the action of the Holy Spirit: let us ask her to help us become - if only a little - like her!