Mercy on fire

During this extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, it’s easy to focus on the mercy of God the Father. After all, the motto of this jubilee is “Merciful like the Father” and perhaps the greatest illustration of God’s mercy — besides Calvary — is the love of the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son. 

Jesus’ mercy is likewise conspicuous. The Church invokes Him daily as the “Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world,” venerates Him as “Mercy Incarnate” through the revelations given to St. Faustina, and ponders constantly how His heart, “moved with pity,” responded by teaching, feeding, healing, forgiving and sending out others to imitate His Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. 

The Holy Spirit’s mission of mercy, however, is far less noticed. Like with many of the first Christians in Ephesus who told St. Paul, “We have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” (Acts 19:2), the Holy Spirit generally remains in the Church “the great Unknown,” as St. Josémaria called Him, and the “most neglected Person of the Blessed Trinity,” as Pope Benedict quipped. This is unquestionably the case with regard to the Holy Spirit’s role in Divine Mercy. 

The celebration of Pentecost, however, is a time to remedy that oversight and underutilization. 

During the Last Supper Jesus taught us something extraordinary: “I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you” (Jn 16:7). Jesus was affirming that it was better for us that He go and the Holy Spirit come than that Jesus stay and the Holy Spirit not come. The great joy is that as Christians we don’t have to choose between the Second and Third Persons of the Holy Trinity: when we remain in loving communion with God, we can and do have Both indwelling within us together with God the Father. But by these words, Jesus was indicating to us the extraordinary importance of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life to complete His merciful mission in us and through us in the world. 

A summary of the role of the Holy Spirit in Salvation is given at the beginning of the most consoling words priests can say and anyone can hear: “God the Father of Mercies, 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.” The Holy Spirit has been sent for the forgiveness of sins. 

Jesus Himself stressed this point on Easter Sunday evening in words and action when He told the Apostles, “Just as the Father sent Me” — as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world — “so I send you,” breathed on them saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and instructed them, “Whose sins you are forgiven them, whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:21-23). The Holy Spirit is the One Who makes possible our receiving the Mercy God the Father sent God the Son to accomplish for us by His death and Resurrection. 

And the Holy Spirit does this not merely through the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation but through all His works. 

The Holy Spirit came down as tongues of fire on the members of the Church precisely to help them and us “preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins — to all the nations” (Lk 24:47). 

The Holy Spirit teaches us to pray for forgiveness, coming “to the aid of our weakness for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us” (Rom 8:26). He helps us in all our prayer, including in the prayer of contrition. He does this by helping us to cry out, “Abba, Father!” (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6), since all sin can be summarized as treating the relationship with God the Father as lifeless: Jesus describes this as the root of sin in the parable of the Prodigal Son, when the younger son anticipates his father’s death by asking immediately for the inheritance that would pass to him at the father’s demise (Lk 15:12). The Holy Spirit helps our relationship with the Father to come alive and to trust in His love and forgiveness. 

The Holy Spirit helps us to examine our conscience in the light of God by reminding us of all that Jesus taught us (Jn 14:26) and leading us into all the truth (Jn 16:13), opening us up to the various ways we need God’s mercy. 

And He helps us to live consistently with God’s mercy as a true “Temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:19). He strengthens us to put to death “life according to the flesh” so that we might live to the full the Christian “life according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:4-12; Gal 5:16-25).

In the beautiful Veni, Sancte Spiritus Sequence the Church chants before the Gospel on Pentecost, we praise and implore the Holy Spirit for mercy. “Without Your mercy,” we sing, “there’s nothing good in man, nothing not toxic,” before we beg, “Cleanse in us what is dirty, drench what is dry, heal what is wounded, bend what is rigid, ignite what is frigid, and correct what is misguided.” After those six preparatory acts of mercy, we finish by asking Him to fill us with His seven-fold Gift of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, prudence, reverence, awe and courage (Is 11:1) so that we might obtain mercy’s reward of virtue, Salvation, and unending Heavenly joy. 

To say, “Come, Holy Spirit,” is to ask for mercy! 

The Holy Spirit has indeed been sent by the Father and the Son to complete God’s mission of mercy, to help us to seek it, receive it and share it. Pentecost is a great time for us to celebrate it as we thank the Holy Spirit for this work and give Him permission to complete it in us and through us. 

Anchor columnist Father Landry can be contacted at

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