The Difference Between Saints & Sinners

The last couple of days—All Saints Day on November 1st and All Souls Day on the 2nd—have been a great chance to reflect a little on a popular question: “What is the meaning of life?” (Yes, I can already hear the laughter…) But really, I think the lives of the saints and those who may not be saints really provide a lot of clarity in this area.

It’s a scary thing to admit, but according to the Catholic faith we are all called to be saints; I know I’ve mentioned this before, perhaps quite often, but it’s been a reoccurring thought in my mind and one I think is worth posting. When you say it out loud—“I am called to be a saint”—and think about it seriously, it almost sounds silly. We all know our sins and weaknesses, particularly those sins that are glaring and seem insurmountable, which we think are directly hindering our growth in holiness. The fact is that… well, we are right: by ourselves we are hopelessly drowning in our sinfulness.

However, like anything Catholic, there is another side.

A good priest once told me that I should “learn to fall in love” with my sins, since it would be through them that God chooses to save me. It’s quite a bold statement, but after I thought about it a little, it really made sense. If there were no sin in my life—particularly if there were no sins that made me cringe every time I thought of them—would I ever find it necessary to approach the Lord? If I were perfectly behaved and well disposed, what need would I have for God? This is not to say that we should intentionally sin, or even concede to it at all; it simply means that we should acknowledge our failings as an opportunity to encounter Jesus and experience his vast mercy. The Gospel reading from Mass on the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (celebrated this year on October 28th) speaks beautifully on this topic. Jesus tells the parable:

“Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. 
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. 
I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former.”

Clearly the Pharisee, who supposed his own holiness (and perhaps was a very good man), was totally uninterested in God; it even says that he “spoke [his] prayer to himself.” On the other hand, the tax collector—probably a dishonest and sly man—admitted his guilt and simply begged to God for his mercy; he “would not even raise his eyes to heaven.” The tax collector went away justified. The tax collector “fell in love” with his sin because he realized it was there that the Father would encounter him and make him worthy of heaven. This man wanted to be a saint—and what’s more, he knew that he could be if he only let the Lord transform him.