Typically, when we reflect on our shortcomings, regrets, and tendencies toward certain sins, we find solace in the mercy God extends to us, particularly in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but also in a general sense. We are all aware of the brokenness of ourselves, our loved ones, and humanity as a whole. We recognize that without God’s infinite mercy, there would be no hope for any of us, and our life on earth would be an exercise in futility. Trust in God’s mercy is the very power by which we find the strength to stand up after every fall and keep moving forward, trying to improve with every step. However, one sin has been declared in all three synoptic gospels by Jesus himself as “unforgivable” – blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Today, we will unpack the unforgivable sin and how to avoid it.
First, let us read Jesus’ words:
- Whoever says a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Mat 12:31-32)
- All sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin. (Mk 3:28-29)
- Every one who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. (Lk 12:10)
These ominous words of warning point to the unforgivable sin as being directed toward one person, the person of the Holy Spirit. We must first begin by understanding who the Holy Spirit is and his mission in our lives. To be clear, the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – is one God, three distinct persons with one divine nature. Their mission and activity are always united and operate with one divine will. That being said, specific attributes are associated with each person, particularly because it is the best way our finite minds can understand God until we see him face to face in heaven. For example, we were created by the entire Godhead in the Trinity because they are not separate, but we associate our creation with God the Father. Likewise, we have a particular understanding, from what has been revealed to us, of who the Holy Spirit is and how he is active in our lives.
Before his ascension into Heaven, Jesus promised to send us a helper in his absence to be our guide and help us live out God’s will. The promised helper is the Holy Spirit, and he arrived in his fullness on Pentecost, when he descended upon the disciples in the Upper Room. First and foremost, the Holy Spirit is the personification of God’s love and, as such, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us,” (Rom 5:5). This gift of love (or charity) that has been poured into our hearts is the agent of forgiveness offered to us by God (see CCC #734). In other words, through the Holy Spirit, we receive forgiveness for our sins, which finds its source in the sacrifice of Jesus (see CCC #735).
Rather than remaining dormant in our hearts, the Holy Spirit offers us help to access that forgiveness. It is from the Holy Spirit that we receive gifts and fruits that form our consciences, enabling us to know right from wrong so that we may follow his will, leading us on the path to Heaven. It is the Holy Spirit who inspires us to act rightly, but perhaps more importantly, he is also the agent of change in our hearts who inspires conversion when we act wrongly. Our response to the Holy Spirit’s urgings prompts us to be sorry for our sins and seek out God’s infinite mercy.
In the next part of our analysis, we will look at St. Thomas Aquinas’ differentiations between three types of sin. First, we have sins that come about because of our weakness. With sins of weakness, we know what we do is wrong, but our passions get the better of us. The second type are sins of ignorance. These sins come about due to our lack of formation or proper understanding. Either we did not know that it was a sin, or we were unaware of the extensive harmful effects of our choice. The third type of sin is those of malice. These are the sins we commit when we know what we are doing is wrong. We know the consequences of our actions, yet we do not care and, therefore, we outrightly reject the will of God. Now, in the context of understanding the Holy Spirit as the love within our hearts that forms our consciences and the inspiration for conversion when we act poorly, we can see that sins of weakness and sins of ignorance are ones for which we can be willingly and readily repentant, but our sins of malice create a hardness of heart that is difficult to penetrate without a lot of work.
Now, we come to the unforgivable sin. As revealed, God will extend his infinite divine mercy to us up to the very last second of our lives. Even the man who experiences a conversion of heart at the last second, on his deathbed, will be forgiven, but at the moment of death, whatever choice we have made becomes permanent and eternal. Therefore, the unforgivable sin is to remain unrepentant and reject the mercy he extends to us. It is to say, “I do not want your forgiveness.” And to that end, he will respect our free will. It is the greatest sin of malice to be aware of the mercy he offers you and to be so hard of heart and closed off to his love that you do not care about the eternal implications for your soul. In essence, this was the disposition of Satan and his demons, and we know how well that turned out for them.
In his radio message to the National Catechetical Congress of the United States of America in Boston (October 26, 1946), Pope Pius XII said, “The sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin,” resulting in the “loss of the sense of God.” As a society, we’ve lost the sense of sin, and we no longer care about God’s will or the activity of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to inspire us to repentance and conversion. We’ve collectively adopted the mottos of “no regrets” and “you do you” without concern of offense to God or others, as if any choice we make, regardless of its consequences, is not worth a change toward anything better or more holy. This week, pray for your heart and the hearts of others to soften and open to the love and promptings of the Holy Spirit to mitigate the loss of souls due to the unforgivable sin. Rest assured that so long as you avoid sins of malice, you can easily ask for and receive his divine mercy as often as possible.
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