This passage from this morning’s gospel especially struck me :
22 When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost.
23 Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.
It wasn’t so much that Father emphasized it, but he did discuss the passage briefly in as a foundation for the practice of frequent reception of the sacraments, especially reconciliation. Linking the operation of the Holy Spirit to the ability to forgive sins given to the Apostles indicates that the sacrament of reconciliation is vital to ensuring we are receptive to the Holy Spirit and live according to God’s will.
While he was discussing the importance of regular reception of the sacraments, it hit me that this is the idea behind the Year of Mercy. Reconciliation is where we clear away obstacles to receiving God’s grace, and are therefore more inclined towards virtue and more receptive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. God, in His mercy, has given us multiple ways to clean up our act and draw closer to Him. We have, now, the Advocate sent by the Son. This Advocate will give us the gifts we need to live fully Christian lives, if only we are in the state of grace to receive them. Since we are not perfect, we have been given the sacraments to put us back on track; and that’s what this Year of Mercy is about. What we deserve is God’s judgement and perfect justice. Instead, we get many manifestations of his perfect mercy and the ability to try again. That isn’t to say that justice and mercy are in opposition, on the contrary, justice and mercy perfectly coexist in God, and we are the beneficiaries. The Year of Mercy is a chance to experience the many manifestations of God’s mercy, which, in turn, will make us more receptive to the Gifts of the Spirit and put us on the positive cycle of the Fruits of the Spirit, which come from the practice of virtue and make good actions come more naturally to us. If we can take part in the Year of Mercy and train ourselves to make use of the instruments of God’s mercy (such as the sacraments and the spiritual and corporal works of mercy), then, once the jubilee year finishes, these practices will be easier, and keep us open to God’s grace.
Really, I hadn’t thought before about the role of the Spirit in giving us access to God’s mercy, but it is there. I thought He was called the “Advocate” because, as St. Irenaeus points out in Against Heresies (from today’s Office of Readings), we have our accuser, we therefore need and advocate to argue on our behalf. I had thought it was the direct opposite, when really, the Spirit is advocating on our behalf for so much more; he opens the way to God’s mercy for us, making it possible for us to love and serve God in this life, so we can be happy with Him in the next, and that’s really what it’s all about.