Q. Recently I heard read at Mass these words from St. Mark’s Gospel: “Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” This puzzled me. How does one blaspheme against the Holy Spirit? (Dublin, Ohio)
A. The quote you reference is from Mark 3:28-29. On the surface, it would seem to clash with what we grew up learning: that God can forgive anything if we’re sorry. And so, not surprisingly, this passage has sparked considerable commentary.
The first thing I should say is that God, indeed, can forgive anything; that’s the very reason Jesus came. Early in the Gospel, the angel of the Lord tells Joseph in a dream: “You are to name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21).
What then does the Marcan passage mean? It means that the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit is one who refuses to accept God’s forgiveness.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “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” (No. 1864).
As St. John Paul II explained in his 1986 encyclical letter Dominum et Vivificantem: “‘Blasphemy’ does not properly consist in offending against the Holy Spirit in words; it consists rather in the refusal to accept the salvation which God offers to man through the Holy Spirit, working through the power of the cross” (No. 46).
So “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” — I believe and would hope — is rather unusual; it would mean rejecting God’s offer of forgiveness all the way to the end of one’s life.
Q. I love children, and I know that babies will cry at inopportune times. That said, I am puzzled at the young parents in our parish who allow their children to cry loudly in church for extended periods of time.
I tend to believe that it might be part of our American culture of “freedom.” But freedom comes with responsibility; in our church of 700 congregants, those three or four babies are ruining the Mass experience for all the rest of us. (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
A. St. John Chrysostom, more than 1500 years ago, wrote this: “Nothing so becomes a church as silence and good order. Noise belongs to theaters, and baths, and public processions, and marketplaces; but where doctrines ‚Ä¶ are the subject of teaching, there should be stillness and quiet and calm reflection and a haven of much repose” (Homily 30 on the Acts of the Apostles).
On the other hand, Pope Francis, celebrating Mass in 2014 at a parish in Rome, said this: “Children cry, they are noisy, they don’t stop moving. But it really irritates me when I see a child crying in church and someone says they must go out. God’s voice is in a child’s tears.”
As in many things, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Congregations do have a special responsibility to welcome children, and parishioners need to be patient with small children’s occasional outbursts. (As one adage has it, “Your parish is dying if no baby is crying.”)
But crying that is constant and loud can hold a congregation hostage and, as the letter writer says, “ruin the Mass experience for the rest of us.” The answer lies in balance and discretion; parents need to be sensible and take their child for a “walk” when they recognize behavior that is seriously distracting.
Certainly no celebrant should go suddenly silent, focusing attention on a disruptive child and the offending family; but perhaps an occasional bulletin announcement, prudently stated and in a kindly fashion, can remind parents that the Mass should be, as far as possible, a positive experience of prayer.
Questions may be sent to Father Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org.