I Thought You Should Know | God forgives the greatest sinners in the world
The Holy Spirit coming upon the Gentile Cornelius and his household is truly a fascinating experience both for the early Church and for us. It certainly took Peter by surprise because Jews were forbidden to enter the homes of Gentiles because it would render them unclean. Yet it is into this Gentile home that the Holy Spirit descends!
Cornelius had been told in a vision to invite Peter to come to his home, and Peter had been told in a vision to go to the home of Cornelius. These two visions confirmed each other! When Peter arrived, Cornelius said to him, "Now, therefore, we are all here in the presence of God to listen to all that you have been commanded by the Lord."
As soon as Peter proceeded to tell them the things that Jesus did and taught, and "that everyone who believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins through His name," the Holy Spirit fell upon all the Gentile listeners, interrupting Peter's homily. How remarkable this is! This surprised both Peter and Cornelius.
Later on, the early Church recalled that Jesus had told Nicodemus, "The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the spirit."
It is the surprise of the Holy Spirit who both leads us to repentance and to receiving the fullness of the Spirit. Without the help of the Holy Spirit, we cannot even ask for forgiveness. In John 16:8 Jesus tells us, "He will convince the world of sin ... ." In other words, the Holy Spirit convinces us of sin. Another way of putting it is that He takes away all our excuses and offers forgiveness. What more do we need?
Notice there is a big difference between the Holy Spirit convincing us of sin and Satan condemning us. We see this contrast in the difference between the behavior of Judas and Peter after they both sinned. Judas chose to leave the community of the apostles. Satan entered into Judas, and then Judas condemned himself and committed suicide. Peter, while he was filled with sorrow for his betrayal of Jesus, stayed with the community, and on Easter Sunday night, Jesus appeared in their midst and forgave them all!
This is such an important lesson for us today. God literally enjoys forgiving the greatest sinner in the world, if only that sinner allows the Holy Spirit to convince him that his actions are an offense against God. This is easy to do if we, as sinners, allow God's word and His teachings in the Catholic Church to measure our behavior.
No one in this world is perfect. We all stand in need of forgiveness. With the prevalence of Internet pornography, artificial contraception and sex outside of marriage, it is so easy for Satan to enter into our hearts to discourage and condemn us. Don't let it happen. Don't condemn yourself for any sin you have ever committed. Jesus does not want you to do this. It would be repeating Judas' mistake. Jesus warned us about Satan when He said, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly."
Some people make the mistake of thinking that the Church condemns them because they are living a gay lifestyle, using artificial contraception or engaging in extramarital affairs. It is not the Church that condemns them, but it is their actions that do. It is the Church's role to tell us the same things that we will hear from Jesus at the final judgment. The Church condemns their actions but invites them to receive Jesus' merciful forgiveness. The Church's relentless offer of Christ's mercy in the confessional is indeed great news! The confessional is the place where we allow God to love us.
In the Gospel Jesus commands us, "Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love." Remaining in Christ's love is so important for family living. Without receiving Christ's loving forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, how can families ever remain in God's love? If we do not remain in God's love, we cannot remain in each other's love.
Married couples who do not receive God's forgiveness for their own sins cannot forgive each other. Eventually, they rebel against each other and against God, and often one spouse hooks up with someone else who is rebelling against both God and their own spouse. These people move from purgatory on earth to hell on earth! What a tragic waste of offered grace! What a tragic waste of life in both this world and in the next!
Humility and contrition are more precious than anything we own! Humility and contrition can lead us back to God's love before it is too late to choose.
Mercy is the gift God loves to offer. "I have called you friends because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father." We experience His friendship the most when we live a repentant life. This is the kind of friendship that sinners find when they return to God in the repentance of the confessional. This is God's love box! This is where intimacy with God is restored.
Jesus goes on to say, "It was not you who chose me but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain ..." When we live a repentant life, then we will bear fruit that remains. Now you understand why Cornelius and his whole household were so overfilled with joy when the Holy Spirit came upon them! The Holy Spirit had first called them to a repentant life, and then they were overwhelmed by His consolation. The Holy Spirit rushes into the pure of heart!
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