Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Such a statement, one which Saint Paul calls trustworthy and deserving full acceptance, hardly seems controversial or something upon which we need to give much thought. But a closer reading, and some deeper reflection suggests to me, anyway, that sometimes I do not always present a faith where I seem to show forth a viable witness to this truth.
That is because, there are too many times where I do not show forth the hope of the gospel and the reliability of God’s forgiveness. Too often, I want to reduce the spiritual life to something that seems too clear to me, has only my needs in mind, and is centered on me. “It’s all about me” is not that far removed from what I think about the spiritual life sometimes.
Yet on the other hand, there are too many times where I do not see myself as having much need of forgiveness. When I take this line of thought too far, it is during these moments when I become too much like the self-righteous Pharisee who in the front of the synagogue thanked God for not making him too much like those other people.
Just this week, Pope Francis discussed what quality a priest should have when hearing confessions. His words were strong. Be merciful. If priests were not merciful, they should ask their bishop for a desk job. “A priest who isn’t merciful does much damage in the confessional. He berates people.” I hope that you have never had that experience of being berated in a confessional.
For me, as a priest, it is a great and humble experience to hear confessions. And I hope, and believe, that is true for most, if not all priests. Like all sacraments it is an occasion for grace, but more importantly it seems to me that it is a special pathway back to a deeper relationship to Christ. He demonstrated this over and over again. It was not that he only associated with those who wanted to grow, or with those who appeared to have their act together.
No, he sought out those who seemed to have little in the way of holiness during the time he was here on earth. This causes me to think about what types of people I hang out with. To whom do I seek to engage in ministry? Is it the people who are well to do, or those people who are comfortable, or who do not ruffle my spirituality too much? Or, do I strive to be like Jesus? Do I find myself seeking out the lost, the stray? Do I seek out meaningful conversations with those people who might make me uncomfortable?
Saint Dominic cried at the thought of what might become of sinners. He felt a profound and powerful sense of urgency to speak the words of salvation that we hear today. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Is my example, as a priest and as a Christian, one where people see in me the hope that Jesus saves? I am a sinner. Help me, O Jesus, to know always of my need of your forgiveness, and help me to share the good news of your forgiveness with others.