For the Forgiveness of Sins

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

In today's reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter explains why he visited the home of uncircumcised people and ate with them. The very fact that he had to explain his actions informs us of the attitude which the Jewish Christians had toward Gentiles. The enmity between them was akin to the many instances of racial prejudice that have been part of human history. Peter's description of how he came to understand that this history of enmity was foreign to God tells us that it took an altered state of consciousness to "knock some sense" into him.

Peter recognized certain signs of the Holy Spirit falling upon the Gentile converts. He was able to recognize these signs because they were the same signs he had himself experienced when the Holy Spirit came upon him and those gathered in the upper room. No mention is made of what those signs were. We are left to draw our own conclusions. Peter reasons that if they had been so blessed by God, he could not reject them. His fellow Jewish Christians agree.

This experience validates the notion that the Holy Spirit is given to the human community "for the forgiveness of sins." We hear these words each and every time we are absolved in the Sacrament of Penance. "God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled us to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins."

Sin destroys relationships. It destroys the relationship each of us has with God as well as relationships which we have with others. In order to reestablish those relationships, reconciliation is necessary. That is the function of the Holy Spirit. The sin of prejudice had destroyed any hope of a relationship between Jew and Gentile. Their history is filled with sin against one another. Only the gift of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for Peter to step beyond the narrow confines of his former relationship with the Gentile community and to embrace them as brothers and sisters, fellow believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.

We have reached the half way point in the time between Easter and Pentecost. More and more, our daily readings will focus our attention on the person of the Holy Spirit as we draw near to the Feast of the Holy Spirit. This time gives us an opportunity to dwell with the Spirit and to discover where we need the soothing balm of forgiveness in our lives. As we contemplate the destruction that sin has wrought in our own lives, we pray that the Holy Spirit will come with rays of healing and forgiveness to make us whole again. As Eucharistic Prayer relates, we pray that we may become one body, one spirit in Christ.

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