When first asked by journalists:” who are you?” Pope Francis replied: “I am a sinner”; just like all of us. This was at the very beginning of his pontificate and it etched into my consciousness. Here was a man who knew he was redeemed by Jesus Christ It was not by his efforts or ambitions that he became Pope but instead it was the prompting of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the Cardinals. This becomes ever more evident as some of the Cardinals get concerned about the pastoral guidance that Pope Francis offers. I believe there is great freedom in being able to identify yourself as one in need of Jesus Christ instead of somehow thinking you have to save yourself. I see way too much effort by people to somehow justify their existence usually culminating in the statement: “well, I am a good person”; as if they can hide behind this declaration.
Most of the great saints throughout the history of the Church will identify themselves as recovering sinners. For some the sins before their redemption were quite blatant while others more quietly came to the realization that they could not find their happiness outside of their relationship with Jesus. The stories of the Apostles alone show this journey from being cowardly sinners to confident followers of Jesus Christ. Each of them had to let go of his perception of being a “good” person to finally allow the embrace of Jesus loving them just as they were. And their story from that point would start with “I am a sinner”; but I am loved by Jesus Christ.
In these first weeks after Easter we hear Peter and the other Apostles preaching to the crowds. They remind them that they were participants in the shedding of the innocent blood of Jesus Christ. When those in the crowd accept this, they cry out: “what must we do?” and the answer is come be baptized, and follow us. There is no one within the Church who isn’t a sinner, and that is the common element of our relationship with Jesus Christ. In our uniqueness, we each have our own way of messing up but we also realize that the person next to us also messes up. I love going to fiftieth wedding anniversaries because the common question always is: “How did they do it?” It is the common admittance that we understand that we are sinners. But it also the great proclamation that we are loved as sinners.
Who are you?