8th Sunday of Easter, May 20 , 2018
"He breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them...'”
The early Christians probably understood these words to refer only to receiving people into the Church by Baptism, because when some "left" the Church by apostasy and returned, many assumed the only way to restore them to grace was by baptizing them again. This was condemned by the Church as false, but led to eventual recognition of the Church's power to forgive sins after Baptism in the sacrament of Reconciliation.
The sacramental words of "absolution" ("release": from ab- ‘from’ + solvere ‘loosen’) begin: "God… through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins..." What special part does the Holy Spirit have in forgiveness?
By his death, Jesus reconciled the world – the whole human race—to himself. And to one another. The Holy Spirit is the bond of unity that establishes unity and peace on earth through mutual forgiveness: "as we forgive those who sin against us."
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost revealed this. People gathered in Jerusalem from many nations were "astounded" when all who were "filled with the Holy Spirit" began to speak: “How does each of us hear them in his native language?"
It was the reversal of Babel, when sin caused division and inability to communicate (Genesis 11:1). The Spirit brings forgiveness, dialogue, and mutual understanding. If we "live in the Spirit," so will we.