Jesus said: “I tell you this: no sin, no slander, is beyond forgiveness for men; but whoever slanders the Holy Spirit can never be forgiven; he is guilty of eternal sin.” (Mark 3:28-29)
So just what is this sin against the Holy Spirit? Many who are unknowing about the meaning of these words from Jesus in the context of Him being accused of being possessed by an unclean spirit, might fret and worry that at some point in their lives they had committed this sin. And the idea of the sin against the Holy Spirit being unforgiveable might lead one to somehow believe that they are damned even though they are striving to love and serve the Lord as a Christian. Not so.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in 1864:
“There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.”
Notice the word ‘can’ in the last sentence. The Church is making it clear that there is the possibility that if one persists in their refusal of God’s forgiveness they would be, by personal choice, separating themselves from God. One can always refuse God’s love but come to their senses, as the Prodigal Son did, and return to the love that God holds out for them. This would not leave the person in a state of refusal because they have repented. Jesus makes it clear that is precisely those who refuse Jesus’ mercy and remain in that refusal who would come under Jesus’ statement about sinning against the Holy Spirit.
Let’s back this up a bit. What the Holy Spirit does, among many things, is that it makes us know we are sinners, thereby leading us to the possibility of repentance as in going to confession. In knowing fully that Christ awaits with his mercy the one who has refused His mercy and therefore His forgiveness, should they die in that state of knowing refusal, they are sinning against the Holy Spirit’s work and gifts that would save that person. Like a drowning man who is thrown a life preserver, should he refuse it, death by drowning would result.
Our God does not delight in somehow making the salvation He offers us complicated – it isn’t. It’s quite simple, straight-forward and profound. The sin against the Holy Spirit is simply going to ones grave refusing to accept the love and forgiveness of God. That refusal ties God’s hands, God who is a perfect gentleman who has given us full freedom to choose Him or reject Him. God will not save us against our own will. Yet, no one can say that so and so is in hell because of what they have done. The Church herself has never pronounced that an individual is in hell for all eternity because she does not know. God alone is the judge of all and knows the human heart.
St. Thomas Aquinas used the analogy of a sick man refusing to accept all or any means to get back to health which would thereby render him incurable through his own fault and refusal.
Perhaps we all know people who seem to refuse God in their lives but this is, I believe, mainly because they haven’t so much refused God as they have crowded Him out by their preoccupation with other far lesser things, which is still a most serious state to be in. What Jesus was doing in the quote from Mark’s Gospel was issuing a warning to the Pharisees that if they persisted in their state of sin and blasphemy they would not be forgiven. Pray for those who do not follow the Lord that they will not forever persist in their refusal. Fr. Charles