saint or sinner?

Aug 13, 2010

I am always saddened when well-known people are pushed into the headlines for inappropriate behaviour. Fifty years ago no one would have known. But today every word and action, every text and email is open to public scrutiny.

One of the tragic elements is that it is clear that the person is usually being scape-goated. Unhealthy people are seeking revenge or personal gain by publicizing someone in a bad light.

As one such victim commented today: “I am not a saint. I make mistakes”. There is a humility here that is attractive. Such honesty is refreshing in a world where denial of imperfection is the norm.

However this comment does reveal an unfortunate misunderstanding of what it is to be a saint. Saints do make mistakes. Others might comment ‘I’m a sinner not a saint’. The same misunderstanding is also revealed in this comment.

Saints are sinners.

In fact it is the saints (as defined by the Church) who speak most deeply and painfully about their struggle with sin.

When St. Theresa of Avila (to choose one example among so many) writes of her sin, do we think that she is making this up? Perhaps we imagine that she is over – emphasizing and unkind thought she once had?

No. Saints really are sinners.

Most of us are happy to live life by the glow of a divine candle. Yes, we have allowed some of the light of God into our lives, but not enough to make us feel too uncomfortable. God is offering to flood us with divine light and life, but we prefer some darkness and a few shadows to hide in. To the extent that we resist the full light of God, to that extent we are unhappy and unhealthy.

I think of the analogy of washing the windows. It is late afternoon and I get out the meths and some old newspapers. As I wash I can see the dirt fill the newspapers. The windows look great and I sit back and admire my work.

The next morning the sun shines directly through the windows highlighting the mess I have made. The windows are streaked and smudged and smeared. They look worse than they did yesterday morning.

God is offering to enter our lives with the full light of the sun. Such divine floodlight highlights every smear and smudge. Every speck of dust is revealed. All sin is revealed. And I see my sin for the horror that it is: resistance to the full and free love of God overwhelming me. This does not feel good. Momentarily I long for the shadow and the candle, but something draws me on. This is God. This is the one by whom and for whom I am created. God is calling me. God is loving me. God knows me for the sinner that I am and loves me even more.

And now, because of my sin, I am on my knees. I am shameful and embarrassed. Like Adam and Eve in the garden I hide and make excuses. But this love will not let me go. I know that it is God I seek and so, as a sinner, I look up and reach out to Him.

And God reaches down and raises me up. Now I am living the life of the saint. Yes there is sin, but because I now see myself as the sinner I am and turn to God for everything, God lifts me up. This total dependance before God is the posture of the saint.

To live as a saint is to stay in this relationship of dependance on God and openness to God. I am now a realist. I realise that I need God for everything, indeed for every breath that I breathe.

So saints are sinners. And it is most often our human struggle and humiliation that turns us to God in a way that invites and allows God to be God for us.

May those who are so eager to highlight the imperfections and struggles of others wake up to their own sin. God give them the opportunity to clear the log from their own eyes before they hurl stones at their brothers and sisters in the human family.

(click first line for youtube link)

I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.


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