Mission of Mercy

“Millie had made an awful mistake, and she wanted to come home…  Married at age eighteen, Millie grew restless ten years later.  With three kids to care for, and all the weight of adulthood bearing down on her shoulders, she soon found excitement in the arms of another man” (Allen R. Hunt, Everybody Needs to Forgive Somebody, 9-10).  After four months of meeting her lover secretly, she left her family.  Her husband was devastated, but refused to give up on her, their vows, and their family.  He wrote notes, left messages, even brought her to see their pastor, but she rejected all his efforts.  For nearly a year, she reveled in her freedom: no kids, no responsibilities, just the passion of being in love with someone new.

One morning, however, she woke up, and reality set in.  She had made the biggest mistake of her life: She rejected the man who loved her unconditionally, and the children God had given them.  So, she decided to go home; she wanted to be where she belonged.

When she pulled into the driveway, she heard the kids playing in the back, and so she waited for a few minutes.  How would her family react?  What would her husband say?  She knocked on the door and was trembling when her husband opened it, but he lifted up her face, said, ‘Welcome home,’ hugged and held her.  They prayed, cried, and went to church that night.  Their pastor, whom Millie had rejected a few months before, said, “Welcome home, Millie.  I’m so glad you’re here.”

Some people asked how her husband could have forgiven her, and he replied, “With all that Christ did to forgive me, how could I look at my wife, the woman He gave me to love, and say, ‘You’ve done something so horrible that I can’t forgive you.’”

Millie experienced freedom the moment she went home, and she knew God forgave her when she asked Him (they’re not Catholic), because her husband’s actions were the perfect image of God the Father.  And, within a few years, she was able to forgive herself, too.

Does any part of this story remind us of our needs surrounding forgiveness?  Is it the need to forgive ourselves?  Is it the need to experience forgiveness from God or someone else?  Or do we feel an impulse to forgive someone who’s hurt us?

Today, in the Gospel, Jesus says to the apostles, “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” (Jn 20:23).  There are three reasons why the Holy Spirit is connected to the forgiveness of sins:

1) It’s because when God comes, forgiveness comes.  When we receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism, we receive the forgiveness of all our sins.  As we’ve mentioned before, St. John Paul II said mercy is love’s second name.  Mercy is God’s second name (Dives in Misericordia, 7,6).

John Paul also said that Jesus Himself experienced mercy when He was dead and the Father raised Him to life!  So, at this time of His Resurrection, He naturally extends mercy to all people, which includes forgiveness (8,6).

2) The Holy Spirit and forgiveness of sins are connected because only God can forgive sins. If you hurt me, only I can forgive you.  If we hurt God, that’s a sin, and only God can forgive it.  However, God wanted to give us an assurance of His forgiveness through Baptism and Confession.  This is like many things in life: If we have cancer, do we ask God for a cure or go to a doctor?  Both.  If we want to pass a test, do we study or pray to God for really easy questions?  Both.  If we want our sins forgiven, do we ask God for forgiveness or go to Confession?

3) The Holy Spirit is connected to forgiveness because, without Him, it’s impossible to forgive.  The Catechism says, “It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense [We all know what it’s like to be unable to forget what people did to us]; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession” (2843).  We can pray this way: ‘Holy Spirit, I can’t forget what happened.  I offer myself to You.  I choose to live in You.  You had mercy on me; please have mercy on them.  And, as you help them, please heal my memories.’

Today, as we celebrate the solemnity of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down upon the 120 disciples in the Upper Room, we see how forgiveness is part of their mission.  We all long for mercy in our lives because we’re all trapped in our sins.

I read a story about a woman in South Africa, whose son had been shot by a police officer named van de Broek, and then eight years later, the husband was murdered as well by the same man.  During his trial at the Truth and Reconciliation hearing, he confessed, and the judge asked the widow, “What do you want from Mr. van de Broek?”  She first asked that he come to the place of her husband’s murder, gather up his remains, and give him a decent burial.  And then she added, “Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give.  Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him.  And I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him too.  I would like to embrace him so he can know forgiveness is real” (Hunt, 51).  Apparently, Van de Broek fainted.  He must have entered the courtroom in a prison of sin, and the only key to release him was the forgiveness of Christ.

Jesus says today, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21).  What is the first step that we need to take in the mission of forgiveness?  Is it to pray for the Holy Spirit and ask His help?  Is it to approach someone with His strength?  Jesus is sending us.

A man who spent twenty years in prison for a crime he never committed said, “Having the faith I have in Jesus has taught me that I couldn’t walk around for twenty years with anger bottled up in me.  It would have killed me.  It would have done more damage to me than good” (Hunt, 57).

Let’s finish off with a question: Can every sin be forgiven?  Yes.  What then about these words of Jesus, “Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Mt 12:31).  One interpretation of ‘blasphemy against the Spirit’ means believing that God won’t forgive us when we ask Him.  It’s the sin of despair, giving up hope in God the Father.  When we say that we can’t be forgiven, that’s blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because we’re saying that our sins are more powerful than His mercy.  So, no matter what we’ve done, if we ask God for forgiveness, receive Baptism and Confession, we’ll be forgiven.

In the same way, when someone needs our forgiveness, it’s a sin when we choose in our hearts not to forgive them.  With the Holy Spirit’s grace, let’s receive His forgiveness and choose to give it to others.

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