John Paul II on Sin, Righteousness and Judgment

The Gospel of the day, John 16.5-11, presents one of the most complex statements by our Lord about the mission of the Holy Spirit. “And when he comes, he will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment: of sin, because they did not believe in me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

Pope John Paul II chooses these stark and enigmatic words for the focus of meditation in the central section of his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, mentioned yesterday. He explains the meaning of the terms in their juxtaposition, and he shows their meaning for the Church in the modern world. It is a very insightful and gripping account. I will attempt but a brief summary.

Why must the Spirit convince the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgment? John Paul pairs the phrases “sin and righteousness” and sets them off from judgment. He said: “Convincing about sin and righteousness has as its purpose the salvation of the world, the salvation of men. Precisely this truth seems to be emphasized by the assertion that ‘judgment’ concerns only the ‘prince of this world,’ Satan, the one who from the beginning has been exploiting the work of creation against salvation, against the covenant and the union of man with God: he is ‘already judged’ from the start. If the Spirit-Counsellor is to convince the world precisely concerning judgment, it is in order to continue in the world the salvific work of Christ.” §27 In other words, the judgment of the Prince of the World frees us from his reign; but we must be convinced about sin and righteousness, that is, about the paschal mystery of the sin of the crucifixion and the righteousness of the resurrection.

Pope John Paul II claims that this is the teaching of Gaudium et spes, in the very opening, section 2. “The Council focuses its attention on the world of men, the whole human family along with the sum of those realities in the midst of which that family lives. It gazes upon the world which is the theater of man’s history, and carries the marks of his energies, his tragedies, and his triumphs; that world which the Christian sees as created and sustained by its Maker’s love, fallen indeed into the bondage of sin, yet emancipated now by Christ. He was crucified and rose again to break the stranglehold of personified Evil, so that this world might be fashioned anew according to God’s design and reach its fulfillment.” Yes, there it is in the bold phrase — sin (they crucified the Lord), righteousness (he rose!), judgment (the Prince of this world is cast out). John Paul II said that the council Fathers (including himself) spoke frequently with the “realism of faith” to show the “situation of sin” in the modern world (Gaudium et spes §§10, 13, 27, 37, 63, 73, 79, 80).

Why then does the Spirit convince the world of sin and righteousness? John Paul said: “every sin wherever and whenever committed has a reference to the Cross of Christ–and therefore indirectly also to the sin of those who ‘have not believed in him,’ and who condemned Jesus Christ to death on the Cross.” §31 My sins, and your sins, my friend, all refer to the Cross of Christ. And our consciences should be roused and convicted. My anger, my pride, my greed, my lust — all would lead to such violence. How could I abide such truth and such purity? Away with him. I would choose Barabbas, for that conniving rebel suits my style. So do I (we) stand condemned? No exactly, not in the full mystery of Easter and Pentecost. This reference to the Paschal mystery “is a ‘convincing’ that has its purpose not merely the accusation of the world and still less its ‘condemnation’ but its salvation.” The Spirit leads us to conversion. Indeed, I grieve and repent when I see what we have done. “Conversion requires convincing of sin; it includes the interior judgment of the conscience, and this, being a proof of the action of the Spirit of truth in man’s inmost being, becomes at the same time a new beginning of the bestowal of grace and love: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ Thus in this ‘convincing concerning sin’ we discover a double gift: the gift of the truth of conscience and the gift of the certainty of redemption.” §31

It sounds complex; and perhaps it is. But there is a simple logic of liberation we see on the cross; the Paschal Mystery is an “intelligible mystery” that Pope John Paul II uncovers for us; I have never so clearly understood the between the paschal mystery and the Feast of Pentecost as I have in reading Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit. I knew — one comes after the other; Jesus said he had to return to the Father to send us this the Spirit. But why? Sin, Righteousness and Judgment.

The Spirit of Truth brings a “double gift” — the truth of conscience and certainty of redemption. The double gift should be the personal center for renewal of our life and and our work and our institutions. Truth of conscience. Certainty of redemption. Now I ask you, can a university that calls itself Catholic dispense with the gift of God and live as if it were not given? Well then. Truth of conscience should be near the center of its teaching and student life; and certainty of redemption, the bright jewel of its curriculum!

The intelligible mystery is probed more deeply and made available to the faithful by Pope John Paul II’s comparison and contrast of the “Mystery of Iniquity” and the “Mystery of Piety.” For the next day, further ruminations of a layman who loves John Paul II..

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