the beautiful beggar

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.

An Invitation

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.

18 Responses to "the beautiful beggar"
  1. How true this is. In the third century one of the Desert Fathers described our condition this way: “We are part angel and part animal.” I like that description. Life experience is all about the tension between those opposite states. I can thank God that I am a sinner, because if I were perfect, I would have no room for growth.

  2. Thank you. I am part of L’Arche and the pain is immense.
    My image like yours. We have painted Jean white, now there is this huge black stain. Let us not get out our paintbrushes and cover the white with the black.

  3. Thank you for this concrete beautiful reality put in words, fr. John. A reminder that Christianity is not a moralism and formalism, which many in this “progressive” time seem to unconsciously equate and slide to. In connection with that, I have time and again find solace in reading the article “What is Christianity?” Here is a portion, when words and ideas have been poured in order to answer that question, Giussani cut short an intervention: “No, sorry. Perhaps the question is ambiguous. We are asking ourselves what Christianity is! So, we have to find an answer that would be valid for me even if I were an atheist. Do you get it? Even though I wouldn’t accept it, the answer has to be valid for me. Do you see? What is Christianity? What is it?”

  4. Thanks Father John for your beautiful reflections, Just home from Friday Mass and a video talk by Bishop Barron. all so inspirational, Well remember your time with us in Timaru many years ago, God Bless in your new position at the seminary,

  5. The way to go – a journey of self realisation , acknowledgment , sorrowful and desire to make that choice – choose life . Thank you Fr John .

  6. Father John, you summed up the human condition perfectly and helps me to accept that Saints do fall from grace and for me, to still treasure their good works, fine writing and leave to God, like my many failings, for Him to be the judge and accept His Divine Mercy which is in abundance. Bless you for all that you do, and fir the many lives you touch through your teachings.

  7. Remembering you in prayer starting the new job.They are fortunate young people and I am so pleased you have found time to continue our ‘teaching’ too

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