Far off country

We considered the action of the Holy Spirit within the context of our return journey to God the Father. John Paul II’s encyclical on the Holy Spirit is important because it addresses another reality we must face and enter into with all our hearts – personal conversion. All of us can wear the badge of the prodigal son as we are all in a far off country, caught up in many things which distanced us from the Father’s Heart. Most of us are not aware of such distancing and the action of the Holy Spirit is needed, to bring us back into a right relationship with God. This has to begin with a certain conviction about our present distance, including sin. The point here, however, is not to focus only on our separation but on the remedy granted to us.

To quote from the encyclical Dominum et vivificantem, “Beginning from this initial witness at Pentecost and for all future time the action of the Spirit of truth who ‘convinces the world concerning the sin of the rejection of Christ is linked inseparably with the witness to be borne to the Paschal Mystery: the mystery of the Crucified and Risen One. And in this link the same convincing concerning sin reveals its own salvific dimension. For it is a convincing that has as its purpose not merely the accusation of the world and still less its condemnation. Jesus Christ did not come into the world to judge it and condemn it but to save it (cf. Jn 3:17; 12:47). This is emphasized in this first discourse when Peter exclaims: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). And then when those present ask Peter and the Apostles: ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ this is Peter’s answer: ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'”

“The Holy Spirit, who in the words of Jesus convinces concerning sin, is the love of the Father and the Son, and as such is the Trinitarian gift, and at the same time the eternal source of every divine giving of gifts to creatures. Precisely in him we can picture as personified and actualized in a transcendent way that mercy which the patristic and theological tradition following the line of the Old and New Testaments attributes to God. In man, mercy includes sorrow and compassion for the misfortunes of one’s neighbor. In God, the Spirit-Love expresses the consideration of human sin in a fresh outpouring of salvific love. From God, in the unity of the Father with the Son, the economy of salvation is born, the economy which fills the history of man with the gifts of the Redemption . . . The Holy Spirit will enter into human and cosmic suffering with a new outpouring of love, which will redeem the world. And on the lips of Jesus the Redeemer, in whose humanity the suffering of God is concretized, there will be heard a word which manifests the eternal love full of mercy: ‘Miserere’ (cf. Mt 15:32; Mk 8:2). Thus on the part of the Holy Spirit, convincing of sin becomes a manifestation before creation which is subjected to futility, and above all in the depth of human consciences, that sin is conquered through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who has become even unto death the obedient servant who, by making up for man’s disobedience, accomplishes the redemption of the world. In this way the spirit of truth, the Paraclete, convinces concerning sin” (Dominum et vivificantem).

So the work of the Holy Spirit brings us into the truth, laying out before us the disorder of our sin and its consequences, to mention first the very pain of God derived from His deep pity. John Paul II described this pain as follows: “But more often the Sacred Book speaks to us of a Father who feels compassion for man as though sharing his pain. In a word, this inscrutable and indescribable fatherly pain will bring about, above all, the wonderful economy of redemptive love in Jesus Christ, so that through the mysterium pietatis, love can reveal itself in the history of man as stronger than sin, so that the gift may prevail” (ibid.).