Gospel according to Saint John 20,19-23:
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, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them
p. Luis CASASUS, President of the Idente Missionaries
Rome, May 28, 2023 | Pentecost Sunday
True! —nervous —very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses —not destroyed —not dulled them.
So begins Edgar Allen Poe’s (1809-1849) famous The Tell-Tale Heart. It is the story of a murderer who becomes so overcome with his guilt that he hallucinates the sounds of his dead victim’s heart. Guilt becomes a powerful character in the story, ultimately leading the murderer to uncover the body and admit his wrongdoing. This story is a compelling description of the effects of guilt on human beings.
In the celebration of Pentecost, we see how Christ gives the Holy Spirit to his disciples, but immediately explains to them why and for what purpose: Receive the Holy Spirit. Those whose sins are forgiven will be forgiven, and those whose sins are not forgiven will remain unforgiven.
We must consider then that the first need that Jesus wants to meet is the forgiveness of sins, to immediately avoid the burden of guilt on all of us. Sometimes, believers and non-believers alike, interpret the complete forgiveness of sins as something that will happen at the end of our passage through this world. But Christ is even more generous. There were many people in whom he observed the unbearable weight of their guilt, and he wanted to resolve that suffering before anyone else, as happened explicitly in his encounter with the paralytic who was taken down from the roof (Mk 2: 1-12).
Guilt is an emotion, which involves self-criticism for a specific act and often a desire to “fix” the problem caused or to make amends with those affected.
There are people who deny guilt, trying to justify it to themselves or to others. They are capable of constructing a false story or memory, an interpretation of the facts, sometimes completely altered, to try to shift the blame onto someone else. Other people, however, are able to use the grace of feeling guilty and sinful to profoundly change their heart. This last possibility is the one that Christ wants to exploit to the full, which is why in the celebration of the Eucharist we emphatically declare at the beginning: Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.…
Most people do not recognize this, including those who seem intelligent, expert in the spiritual life or very active in the tasks of the Church, but guilt always leads to a state of slavery that is opposed to the freedom of one who lives in prayer. I would like to illustrate this with an old story:
James is a country boy who visits his grandparents and receives his first slingshot. He practices in the woods, but never hits the target. When he leaves his grandparents’ garden, he sees a pet duck. On impulse, he aims and shoots at the duckling. The stone hits the duck and it falls dead.
The boy panics. In desperation, he hides the duck under the woodpile, but when he looks up he discovers that his sister Mary has seen everything. That day, after lunch, Grandma says: Mary, let’s go wash the dishes. But Mary says: James told me you wanted to help in the kitchen today, didn’t you, James? And she whispers: Remember the duck! So James washed the dishes. Later, Grandpa asks if the children want to go fishing. Grandma says, I’m sorry, but I need Mary to help make dinner. Mary smiles and says: That’s taken care of by James, who wants to do it. Again, Mary leans over and whispers to James: Remember the duck. James stays while Mary goes fishing.
After several days of James doing both his and Mary’s chores, he finally can’t stand it. James confesses this to his grandmother. To his surprise, the grandmother says: I knew it, James, giving him a hug. I was by the window and I saw it all. Because I love you so much, I forgave you. I wondered how long you would let Mary keep you as a slave.
In this small example we see how guilt and shame usually manifest themselves together. If little James had decided to confess his action, everything would have gone differently. Contrary to what one may believe, shame is an important element for future aggressive, narcissistic and depressive behaviors. This is why it is important to keep in mind, in order to help many people, that shame can destroy the benefits of a noble repentance leading to confession, sacramental or otherwise.
On the other hand, there is already interesting research on the value of feeling guilty. Although some may argue that guilt is neither a productive nor a particularly useful emotion (“feeling bad about an action solves nothing and is not helpful to those affected by the action”), the ability to admit wrongdoing without succumbing to the belief that one is poisonously “bad at everything” demonstrates great emotional maturity and, in fact, allows further reparations to take place.
All the above should make us think how important it is to manifest our faults, with simplicity, without drama. Not only because of the psychological effects mentioned above, but especially because Christ today tells us that his desire to transmit peace to us materializes when we receive forgiveness for our sins, without going into whether they are big or small, the important thing is to learn to walk in this sincere and complete form of confession, as our Father and Founder has taught us in the Examination of Perfection.
When in the Sacrament of Confession or Reconciliation, the priest recites the formula of absolution, he reminds us that peace is linked to forgiveness and that forgiveness comes from the Father: God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace.
We can go further. Jesus teaches us that the possibility and the measure of loving fully is not given simply by having some experience of having been loved, but by having been forgiven with love. This was stated by Christ himself in referring to the woman who bathed his feet with expensive perfume: For this reason, I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but the one who is forgiven little, loves little (Lk 7: 47). We already see that the person who has not been forgiven, or has not accepted forgiveness, can love, we can all do that, but without having received and embraced forgiveness, our love will always be “little”.
We must not forget that Pentecost means another reality that the Holy Spirit makes possible and that coexistence, history and all news programs teach that it cannot be achieved in any other way: unity.
Where does unity begin to crack? Psychology and spiritual life give the same answer: we rush to react “as usual”, we are not able to name and classify our thoughts and desires. And that has immediate consequences, it robs us of peace and separates us from our neighbor, sometimes making him invisible and sometimes seeing him as an enemy. The advantage of those who walk with Christ is that He helps us to decide what is useless or dangerous and what can be valuable, which pearls we should abandon and which we should buy at every moment.
If Christ tells us that we will be recognized as his disciples by the love we have for one another, it is because this unity, persevering in the midst of difficulties and in spite of our mediocrity, is something literally from heaven.
It is normal for older people to envy younger people; it is normal for younger people to be impatient with older people; it is normal for the sensibilities of women and men to separate them; it is normal for different cultures to see Jesus with sharply different nuances… And it is normal, to put a label on a person in such a way that our mercy towards him/her is mutilated. But the Holy Spirit gives us a common vision, the same gaze. As Pope Francis said, he makes us contemplate a world of sisters and brothers starving for mercy.
This search, this hunger for mercy is used by the Holy Spirit to bring us closer to the Father, by means of what our Founder calls the Beatific Supplication, which manifests itself in the Beatific State we feel for His company and the Stigma, the mark He leaves on us by sharing His pain, His longing to have us always closer.
The problem is when we allow ourselves to be dragged by our instincts, which ask us to quench that hunger in any way, without looking at our neighbor or our future, without stopping for a moment to verify that Christ has not abandoned us and fulfills his promise to remain at our side until the end of time.
We well know that the first apostles were very different. But, in addition, as the First Reading relates, the people who listened to them had very different origins and languages. They were all surprised to see a firmly united community. Perhaps – beyond language – they did not understand much of what the disciples said, but their hearts were touched by the harmony they saw in them, some of whom were violent, others not very diplomatic, some timid and others more intrepid; but that, at that moment, thanks to the Holy Spirit, was not the most important thing.
Our Superior General, Fernando, put it beautifully a few days ago in Ecuador: We must allow ourselves to be healed by Christ. This healing means helping Him to lead everyone to the Father. Surprisingly, that form of ecstasy, that look outside ourselves, is the unsuspected medicine, the remedy capable of healing at the same time our inner division and the lack of unity among us.
In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,