'I Am a Sinner'
"I am a sinner." That was Pope Francis' reply, early in his pontificate, when asked by a reporter to describe himself. During the season of Lent, and in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, it is necessary for all missioners, priests, brothers and laity to remember that we are all sinners.
As a sinner, I am in need of Jesus Christ and his saving grace. As a sinner, Jesus redeems me and sets me free. For some it may seem strange to think of the pope, a bishop, or a Glenmary mission pastor like me as a sinner. Oftentimes we might think: These are the men who lead us in prayer, forgive our sins, and offer us the Eucharist. How can they be sinners? But this line of reasoning is dangerous.
If I and other Christians forget that we are sinners, our self-righteous ways become our obvious sins. C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful little book entitled The Screwtape Letters that describes in a humorous but profound way how temptation and sin can enter into the heart of someone who serves Christ. One of the themes in this book, spoken by one of the demons, is that the devil feels even greater joy when he causes a disciple of Christ to sin than when he causes someone who is already lost to keep sinning.
St. Paul writes, "For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.... Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, I myself, with my mind, serve the law of God but, with my flesh, the law of sin." (Romans 7:19-20, 25)
Paul reminds us that sin is always a part of us, but in Christ we can rise above it. Knowing that I am a sinner keeps me humble. It reminds me that I cannot save myself and that I can be saved only by surrendering my life to God—through the love of Jesus empowered by the Holy Spirit. As St. John Paul II often said, we are sinners becoming saints. That includes me and my brother missioners as well.
Therefore, during this Lent, I too must examine my faults, my sinful habits and my weaknesses. I need to engage in practices of charity, fasting and prayer to better allow the Holy Spirit to fill my life. I need to look in the mirror and honestly admit where my pride gets in the way of doing only God's will and not my own.
Jesus is harsh with the self-righteous, but merciful to the sinners. If I am going to be a good confessor, I need to be a good penitent. If I am going to invite people into new life in Jesus, I must enter into the life of Jesus more deeply.
Therefore, join with me in this simple prayer: "Have mercy on me, Lord, a sinner." And be assured that, through the mercy of Christ, we are saved.