We regularly hear of good and holy men and women falling from grace and we are shocked and surprised. Headlines tell of saints becoming sinners and we accept these narrow views of what is in fact a complex reality.
Our little minds too often settle for black and white thinking. We label some people as good and others as bad. As children we might have played cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians and now that we are adults we are still unable to appreciate the fact that people are not simply goodies or baddies or saints or sinners. There is good and evil in every person and only the mature person can live with this ambiguity.
We know this when we are honest about our own lives. We know that there is good in us and we also know that there is evil. Thanks be to God we don’t have to settle for the simplistic black and white labels of good OR bad, saint OR sinner.
Pope Francis helped us to understand this a few years ago when he was asked: “Jorge Bergolio, Who are you?” He replied “”I am a sinner. This the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”
A saint is not a person who never sins, and a sinner is not a person who lacks any saintly attribute. Saints ARE sinners and sinners ARE in their best moments saints since a saint is someone who desires to live in relationship with Jesus Christ, and all of us who share this desire will at times turn away from the beauty of the life that we are offered and settle for unsatisfying sin.
This is a fact that we can verify in the gospels where we see people who were named as good (the Pharisees who prided themselves on being perfectly religious) and those who were sinners. But remember that in the gospels those who thought themselves good had no capacity for the life that Jesus offered. Then there were the sinners who most often came to Jesus full of guilt and shame, heavy with humility and begging for mercy. It is this latter group who became the intimate friends of Jesus and the first saints of the church.
In our either/or world we too easily fall for the childish goodies and baddies thinking, failing to see that sanctity is not a human achievement but a divine gift given in abundance to the sinful, humble, loved and therefore beautiful beggar who calls out to Jesus for salvation.
Take a moment to pray this ancient psalm from today’s Mass. This is the humble and heart-felt prayer of the saint.
Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offence.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.
My offences truly I know them;
my sin is always before me
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done.
For in sacrifice you take no delight,
burnt offering from me you would refuse,
my sacrifice, a contrite spirit.
A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn.