Deacon Steve Greco: the Holy Spirit and MercyJul 06, 2022
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, God is Love, but “because we are dead or at least wounded through sin, the first effect of the gift of love is the forgiveness of our sins. The communion of the Holy Spirit in the Church restores to the baptized the divine likeness lost through sin.” (733-724)
So, in baptism, we receive the mercy of God through the Holy Spirit and our sins and the punishment due to them are taken away. If we are baptized as an infant, that means the Original Sin we inherit from Adam is taken away, if we are older it means our personal or actual sins are taken away. In place we are given the gift of Sanctifying Grace, which the serious Christian seeks to increase throughout his life so that as he approaches the end of his time on earth he may possess an abundance in the life of grace and go confidently to meet his Lord.
The Catechism goes on to speak about this abundant life:
“He, then, gives us the ‘pledge’ or ‘first fruits’ of our inheritance: the very life of the Holy Trinity, which is to love as ‘God [has] loved us. This love (the ‘charity’ of 1 Cor. 13) is the source of the new life in Christ, made possible because we have received ‘power’ from the Holy Spirit.”
“By this power of the Spirit, God’s children can bear much fruit. He who has grafted us onto the true vine will make us bear ‘the fruit of the Spirit: … love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (735-736)
We “love by the Spirit” and we “walk by the Spirit.”
We see the mercy, love and power of the Holy Spirit working through the lives of the saints, transforming them in the love of Christ. Among the best examples is the life of St. Peter, the head of the apostles and who Catholics believe is the first pope.
Peter was a fisherman who lived in Galilee. He was married, although Scripture never tells us about his wife and he may have been widowed when he joined the company of Christ. Peter, then called Simon, became totally devoted to Our Lord after witnessing the miraculous catch of fish. Christ called him to His side with the words,
“Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17)
Peter had a great love for the Lord, but was impetuous and often embarrassed himself. Such a time occurred when Christ came walking on water to the apostles. Peter volunteered to walk on water, too, but in just a few steps his faith failed and he began to sink. Jesus rescued him, leading the apostles to declare,
Matthew 14:33 “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Peter also witnessed a miraculous scene at the Transfiguration, and rather than remaining in silent contemplation, he had to call out,
Luke 9:33 “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Peter initially refused to let Christ wash his feet at the Last Supper, “You shall never wash my feet.” (John 13:8). He pledged to die with Christ, (Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.” Matthew 26:35) but, when the guard came, after a brief scene of wildly swinging a sword and cutting off the ear of a servant, he soon ran away with the others:
John 18:10 “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus.”
Mark 14:40 “And they all forsook him, and fled.”
He followed Christ at a distance to the place of His passion, but famously denied Christ three times when the servants identified Him. (Matthew 26:69-74, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:55-62 and John 18:15-18)
But despite his lengthy list of failings, he had his beautiful moments in the Gospel, too. In John 6, when Christ speaks explicitly of eating His body and blood in the Eucharist, many walked away because they could not accept this teaching. Jesus looked to the apostles to see if they would leave as well, and Peter marvelously responded for himself and the others (Judas excepted),
John 6:68-69 “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Also in Matthew 16, when Jesus queries His apostles asking, “Who do men say that the Son of Man is?” it was Peter who was able to make his magnificent response,
Matthew 16:16 “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
It is then that he receives Christ’s blessing and the keys of the papacy in the Church.
Matthew 16:17-19 “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Peter was called, along with St. Paul, to be one of the first great evangelists in the early Church. Christ personally formed him for three years, and now that Christ has died, risen and ascended into heaven, it is time for the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes upon the apostles in the form of tongues of fire.
Acts 2:3 “And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them.”
And, these men who had previously been weak, fearful and inconstant, were now lions for the faith. Peter preached his first two sermons, and 5,000 joined the Church. Would that we had numbers of even a fraction of that today!
Peter still made mistakes, but it was the abundant life of the Spirit that guided Peter back to true and clear thinking and finally gave him the courage to witness to his faith with his martyrdom.
WE MUST WANT ABUNDANT LIFE
We’re not the apostles, so how do we get this abundant life that motivated Peter and the others to go out and convert the world? We must want it with all our hearts. We must ask for it as Jesus instructs us in Luke’s Gospel.
Luke 11:9-13 “And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
We must want the Holy Spirit. We must ask, seek and knock for the Holy Spirit to enter our lives in a powerful way. We will receive His mercy, His love and His power. When we do, then we are “Baptized in the Holy Spirit.”
Fire, power, purpose, love, joy and peace are the essence of a Christian’s life. When you have that, you can expect and experience miracles.
MIGHTY WORKS OF GOD
The Catechism concludes,
“Because the Holy Spirit is the anointing of Christ, it is Christ who, as the head of the Body, pours out the Spirit among his members to nourish, heal, and organize them in their mutual functions, to give them life, send them to bear witness and associate them to his self-offering to the Father and to his intercession for the whole world … these ‘mighty works of God,’ offered to believers in the sacraments of the Church, bear their fruit in the new life in Christ according to the Spirit.” (739-740)
So, we are to bear fruit in the new life of Christ according to the Spirit. We have the sacraments to help us, particularly the two we can receive frequently, Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist. In Reconciliation we experience the mercy of God, and in the Eucharist He gives us spiritual food for our journey through life.
So, let us be grateful to God for the gift of our baptism and the start of the life of the Spirit within us. If we have lost this gift by serious sin, let us make a good confession and start anew. Let us also be like Peter, letting the Holy Spirit gradually transform us in the love of Christ. And finally, let us make regular use of the sacraments as a way to increase the Holy Spirit’s presence and influence in our lives.
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