"A church is not a museum for saints—it’s a hospital for sinners."—Abby Van Buren, "Dear Abby... Sinners and Saints!"
Original piece by Kingdom Compass on Unsplash.
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The church in the photo is Saint Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Austria. It fits well with the quote because, when I shot this, the renovated western wall (right side in the picture) contrasted the dirtier northern wall (left side), darkened by city pollution and dirt.
The Church isn’t full of perfect people. It’s full of broken individuals like myself. Despite the brokenness of its members, it doesn’t change the moral truth the Church stands for. If any Christian claims they don’t sin or need forgiveness, that is the sin of pride, and they deceive themselves and others.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.—1 John 1:8-10 (RSVCE)
I always used to think that saints led consistently holy lives. The fact is that many holy people and saints had intense conversions from lives of sin. For example:
- Moses was a murderer
- Saint Paul used to blaspheme and persecute the Church and its followers
- Saint Christopher worshiped Satan
- Saint Augustine of Hippo was a heretic
- Saint Alypius gave in to enjoying gladiator blood sports
- Saint Fabiola married a second husband before her first husband’s death
- Saint Mary of Egypt was sexually immoral
- Saint Olga vengefully had assassins scalded to death
- Blessed Angela of Foligno idolized wealth and worldly power
Mark Hart mentions these and others in his talk Contemporary Sainthood. If we need help overcoming the same sins that a particular saint has shared and overcame, we can pray for their intercession.
There’s a saint for every sin, because every saint is a sinner. The difference is that the saints unleashed the power of God within them.—Mark Hart, Contemporary Sainthood
While Baptism forgives us of all sins (CCC 1263), we can enter into sin and harbor them after Baptism. It is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation that we are cleansed of these.
Note that in biblical terms “confession” (Gk. homologeō) is something you do with your lips and not simply in the silence of your heart (Mk 1:5; Rom 10:10; Jas 5:16) (CCC 2631). The Church encourages the private confession of sins to God. Ordinarily, however, this should lead us to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus implies as much in Jn 20:23, where he gives the apostles his own authority to remit or retain sins according to their discretion. This discretion could not be exercised apart from knowledge of specific sins acquired by the verbal confession of sinners (CCC 1461, 2839). Priestly confession is not a Christian innovation but an extension and sacramental elevation of a practice long observed in Israel (Lev 5:5-6; Num 5:510).—Curtis Mitch & Scott Hahn, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament
I like to think of Baptism as a full bath, while Reconciliation is like washing your feet after you’ve stepped into sin. This distinction seems to be suggested by Christ himself in the Gospel of John:
Then [Jesus] poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over.—John 13:5-10 (RSVCE)
Just as a medical hospital treats physical ailments, the Church treats spiritual ailments. Even if there were corrupt doctors at a hospital, I wouldn’t lose my faith in what the hospital stands for. We would just need to work to reform those doctors or remove them. Similarly, despite some corrupt priests and bishops, I don’t lose my faith in what the Church stands for. Those leaders need to be reformed or defrocked. Satan bombards the Church, and the corruption of some of its leaders is a deliberate, cunning attack on his part. By doing this, he knows he can cast off followers who place too much faith on the leaders and not enough faith on Christ.
I won’t abandon Christ because of unfaithful Christians. I’m here to stay.