A Meditation at Pentecost

The Holy Spirit is Himself the Remission of Sin, and the Peace of our Hearts

By Rev. Urban Snyder

 The Remnant, May 31, 1977


Some may wonder why our Blessed Lord, after reaching mature age as Man, trained His apostles, redeemed us on the Cross, rose triumphantly from the grave and then, instead of remaining visibly with us, ascended into Heaven.  The answer is in His own words:  “My kingdom is not of this world.”  “I go to prepare a place for you.”  “If I do not go, the Paraclete will not come to you.”

We must earn Heaven during the present life by believing in God’s word, and living according to His counsels and commandments.  The present life is, by God’s plan, a time of testing and of trial, or in other words, of faith, and the Gospel shows plainly that the visible sight of Jesus does not of itself confer the gift of faith.  The Scribes and Pharisees saw our Redeemer during three whole years, and witnessed many of the mighty miracles which He worked, yet never came to believe.  Nor would His resurrection convert them, even as He foretold:  “If they do not hearken to Moses and the Prophets, they will not believe even if someone rises from the dead.”  Faith is a supernatural gift of God, given only to the humble, and those who truly seek Him.

In a homily on the cure of the man born blind, St. Augustine says:  “Every man is born blind”.  He means that we are all born spiritually blind, blind to the things of God, by reason of Original Sin.  Not until Baptism do the children of Catholic parents receive the infused gifts of Faith, Hope and Charity, which provide them with what we might call spiritual organs.  With these the child receives the potential to hear, see, and understand the things of God.  Without the Holy Ghost, a man is as incapable of understanding the divine and supernatural as a donkey is of understanding the works of Aristotle.  Only through receiving the Holy Spirit, that Gift of all gifts flowing from the pierced Heart of Jesus, do we come alive to the supernatural by being born, as it were, into a wholly new world. St. Paul expressed it clearly: 

Eye has not seen or ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love him.  But to us God has revealed them through His Spirit.  For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.  For who among men knows the things of a man save the spirit of the man which is in him?  Even so, the things of God no one knows but the Spirit that is from God, that we may know the things that have been given us by God…But the sensual man does not perceive the things that are of the Spirit of God, for it is foolishness to him and he cannot understand, because it is examined spiritually.  But the spiritual man judges all things…

When the Holy Spirit descended upon the Mother of God and the nascent Church in the Cenacle, He manifested His presence visibly by tongues of fire.  Why fire?  Undoubtedly because it gives light and heat, not to mention the fact that it purifies, and unites all things of the human intellect, even on the natural level.  It is only with labor and difficulty that we acquire even natural knowledge.  But the Holy Spirit is the Master and source of all the knowledge and wisdom that exists.  “No man can receive anything,” said the Saviour, “unless it be given him from Heaven.”

An electric light can illumine the darkest cellar in an instant, at the touch of a button, and the Holy Ghost can enlighten the darkest and thickest of human minds in an instant if He chooses.  In last analysis, it is ideas which rule the world, and no armies, tanks, atomic weapons, or any other created thing can prevent the Holy Spirit from moving the minds and hearts and souls of men whenever, wherever, and in whatever manner or degree He chooses, although it remains true that He respects free will.  A soul filled with the Holy Spirit is stronger than all the devils of hell.

It was the Holy Spirit in the hearts of St. Agnes and St. Cecelia which enabled them to stand boldly and immovably before the judges who threatened them with every kind of torture.  Agnes was only thirteen.  It was the Holy Spirit who gave St. Joan of Arc, able neither to read nor write, the wisdom to confound the learned but wicked theologians who were trying to trap her by means of subtle questions.  It was the Holy Spirit who spoke through the mouths of the three little children of Fatima, when brought before the civil magistrates and threatened with death.  The Children were greatly frightened, yet adamant in their refusal to retract anything they had said, and they were ready to die for the truth.

The devil sows bad seeds among the good, and so heresies continually spring up in the course of human history.  They come and go, like squash in summer, and have neither harmony, beauty, nor continuity.  Truth, on the contrary, survives in season and out.  Like the giant Sequoia tree, it towers over all errors, serene and perpetually strong, because the Holy Spirit, who is Himself Truth, continually raises up saintly witnesses to speak out clearly and boldly. 

It was thus with the deacon Stephen, of whom we read in the Acts of the Apostles that he was “filled with the Holy Ghost”, and that the Jews “were not able to withstand the wisdom and the Spirit who spoke”.  The inspired writer tells us that when, like our Lord, Stephen was brought to trial before the Sanhedrin, “all who sat in the Sanhedrin...saw his face as though it were the face of an angel.”  Stephen, or rather the Holy Ghost speaking through him, said to the Jews: 

‘Stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ear, you always oppose the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so you do also…’.  Now as they heard these things, they were cut to the heart and gnashed their teeth at him.  But he, being filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up to Heaven, and saw the glory of God…and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’  But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed upon him…And they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.  And while they were stoning Stephen he prayed and said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit…Do not lay this sin against them’….And Saul approved of his death. 

In stoning Stephen the Jews made the same mistake as when they crucified Jesus: they thought they were gaining a victory, but the contrary was true.  Stephen’s prayers and martyrdom purchased the conversion of the fiery persecutor Saul, turning him into the incredible Paul, glorious apostle of the Gentiles.

There is no sinner in the world who is so hard of heart, so far gone in sin, that he could not be converted by the Holy Spirit, as Saul was, provided only that someone like Stephen were found to suffer and pray for him with sufficient faith and generosity.  God has willed that the distribution of His grace, in this valley of faith, should in some wise depend on the cooperation of souls who have already received the Holy Spirit. 

As fire is passed from match to candle, and from one candle to another, so is the divine economy for giving the Holy Spirit.  The bishops and priests are intended to be the master lights through whom the Spirit is given, by means first, of the Holy Sacraments, but also by sound preaching and teaching; yet every Christian is obliged, in some sense, to be an alter-Christus, a light-bearer to his fellow men, at least by good example, by confessing his faith when necessary, by prayer, penance, and zeal for souls.

If someone you love in danger of being lost, you are obliged in charity to pray and make sacrifices for him or her.  Do you have other worries, problems, fears, anxieties, scruples, doubts, weaknesses, sinful habits, physical or material needs?  The Holy Ghost has the answer, or rather, He is the answer to all.  And in the measure that we possess Him we also possess true peace, as our Lord promised: 

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your mind whatever I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Do not let your heart be troubled, or be afraid…If you loved me, you would indeed rejoice that I am going to the Father.

The Christian life is progressive, it is meant to be a steady growth and increase in interior peace, love of God, detachment from passing things, and longing for Heaven.  All this the Holy Spirit works in those who cooperate with His grace and with His precious gifts of which we can never receive too large a measure.  Many souls, unfortunately, do not realize the very high priority they should set on the cultivation and preservation of interior peace. 

St. John of the Cross says that even merely natural peace is a great blessing to the soul; and St. Francis de Sales says that, after sin, nothing is so harmful as anxiety.  The Holy Spirit urges us to seek first the kingdom of God and His justice (which includes, obviously, the duties of our state of life) and leave anxiety about the future to Him: 

You cannot serve God and mammon.  Therefore I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, what you shall eat; nor yet for your body, what you shall put on…Which of you by being  anxious about it can add to his stature a single cubit!  And as for clothing, why are you anxious…O you of little faith!  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we put on?’ for your Father  knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be given you besides.  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow; for tomorrow will have anxieties of its own. 

See how emphatic Jesus is on the subject of anxiety.  In the Postcommunion of the Mass for Tuesday after Pentecost, the unmutilated Missal says of the Holy Spirit: ipse est remissio omnium peccatorum  -- He  is Himself the remission of all sins.  Just as truly one could say that He is the remission of all anxiety and vain fears, for He is Himself Peace.  In the measure that we possess Him, He casts out sin*, darkness, and anxiety, although it remains true, paradoxically, that His presence is compatible with certain types of mental and physical suffering.  We see this in the Saviour, dying on the Cross.  We see it in Stephen who, already gashed  and bleeding, found the composure to pray for his assassin:  “Lord, do not lay this sin against them.’ And with these words he fell asleep” (in the Lord).

Christians bleed, suffer and weep, as all men do, but if they are “filled with the Holy Ghost”, like Stephen, they do not gnash their teeth in frustration, or have hearts full of violence and hatred.  Normally, the unbeliever suffers immeasurably more in mind and heart, for he carries about within himself a foretaste of hell, in contrast with the Christian  who – when in the state of grace – carries about with him a pledge and foretaste of Heaven. 

For the believer, St. John of the Cross says that all suffering bears and carries in its train the greatest fruits: deliverance from habits of sin, detachment from passing things, purification of the heart, growth in the knowledge of God, confidence in His mercy, and, amidst all things, interior peace and longing for Heaven – all these the fire of the Holy Spirit, operating interiorly by grace and exteriorly by His Providence, works in those who let Him have his way.

A wise Christian lives in constant union with Mary, Mediatrix of all graces, and begs daily, with great longing and insistence, to be taught, purified, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit; and he asks this with unshakeable confidence, because he remembers the promise of our Redeemer: 

If one of you asks his father for a loaf, will he hand him a stone? Or for a fish, hand him a serpent? Or if he asks for an egg, will he hand him a scorpion?  Therefore  if you, evil as you are, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Good Spirit to those who ask him!


(*) A well-informed Catholic knows that the presence of the Holy Spirit (always accompanied by the Father and the Son) is incompatible with the state of mortal sin.  But His Presence is not incompatible with venial sins and imperfections.  Willful attachments, however, and still more, willed habits of venial sin, hinder the development and operation in us of the Gifts of the Holy Ghost.  The latter, infused dispositions meant to make us promptly docile to divine inspirations, are present in every soul in the state of grace and are necessary for salvation, but their function is hindered in proportion as a person is willful and unmortified. (Author’s note)