Sunday, June 10, 2018

What is ‘the sin against the Holy Spirit’?

(Tenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on June 10, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Genesis 3:9-15; Psalm 130:1-8; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Tenth Sunday 2018]

On Friday, June 1, I was part of a “Grill the Priest” event at SS. John and Paul Church in Coventry.  Perhaps some of you have been to one of these before; they’ve become quite common in recent years.  At this particular event, there were about a hundred people present.  It began with a dinner and some social time—after which “the grilling” occurred!  Five of us priests took our seats at a table in the front part of the hall, and people proceeded to “grill” us with questions for the next two hours.  They were allowed to ask us about anything concerning the Faith and our personal lives, and we had to answer on the spot—which was sometimes easy, and sometimes not-so-easy, depending on the question.

Well, one of the subjects we were asked about that night is found in the gospel reading we just heard.  A middle-aged woman came to the microphone at one point and said, “Fathers, what is the sin against the Holy Spirit?  Jesus says in the Bible that this is a sin that can’t be forgiven.  But what exactly is it?  I want to know, so that I can make sure I never commit it!”

It was a good question, and the five of us did our best to answer it—which is also what I want to do today in this homily, since the question is a really common one.  It was not the first time that I had heard it, and I’m sure it wasn’t the first time the other priests had heard it.

To understand what the “blasphemy (or sin) against the Holy Spirit” refers to, we need to understand the context in which Jesus used the expression in Mark, chapter 3.  He was addressing a comment made by the scribes, who saw him expelling demons and working miracles, and who called that the work of Satan: “By the prince of devils he casts out devils.”

They saw something which was good (healings and exorcisms), and they called it “evil”.  Earlier in this same chapter 3 of Mark, the Pharisees and the Herodians made the decision that Jesus needed to die after our Lord healed a man with a withered hand.  These men thought that killing the Son of God (something incredibly evil) would actually be a good thing.

The bottom line here is that the enemies of Jesus (the scribes, the Pharisees and the Herodians) called what’s good “evil” and what’s evil “good.”

That idea is at the root of the sin against the Holy Spirit.

Now this is something that should really scare us, because this idea that what’s good is evil and that what’s evil is good is an idea that’s rampant in our culture right now.  It’s literally everywhere!  For example, there are many people today who believe that the evil of abortion is a good thing and should be upheld in our civil laws.  There are people today who believe that fornication is a good thing; that’s why they see no problem with living together before marriage.  There are people who think that pornography is a good thing, that physician-assisted suicide is a good thing, that gay marriage is a good thing.

And on and on the list goes.

Now here’s the problem.  We human beings almost always pursue what we think is good for us—even if it’s not.  Well, if we make the mistake of thinking that committing a certain serious (mortal) sin is good for us—and then we commit that sin—and then we persist in the belief that the sin is good for us and hence never repent of it, we will have that sin on our soul when we go before the Lord at the end of our life. 

Which is not a good idea if you want to go to heaven.

This is the sin, the blasphemy, against the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit wants to bring us God’s forgiveness for what we’ve done—for the serious sin that we’ve committed—but we say to him, “Forget it.  I don’t want it, and I don’t need it!”

This is also called “final impenitence”.

So the sin against the Holy Spirit is not unforgiveable because of God; it’s unforgiveable because of us!  It’s unforgiveable because, by our hardness of heart, we have made it unforgiveable!  God can—and God will—forgive any sin and every sin that we commit in our lives.  That’s the good news.  But he will not do that without our cooperation—and that cooperation is called “repentance”.

St. John Paul II said it perfectly in one of his encyclicals (“Dominum et vivificantem,” 46) when he wrote:
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, then, is the sin committed by the person who claims to have a “right” to persist in evil—in any sin at all—and who thus rejects Redemption.  One closes oneself up in sin, thus making impossible one’s conversion, and consequently the remission of sins, which one considers not essential or not important for one’s life.
This is one reason why making a good, honest, daily examination of conscience and going to confession regularly are so important for us in our lives as Catholic Christians.  If we do those things faithfully, with the right disposition of mind and heart, then the sin against the Holy Spirit (this “unforgiveable sin”) is one sin that we will never, ever be in danger of committing.