How do we respond when someone we know is caught in a public sin?
A neighbor or a prominent person is suddenly embroiled in a public scandal because of a personal sin. How should we respond? Be horrified? Be judgmental? Or simply shrug our shoulders, shake our heads in disbelief and move on. What would Jesus do?
In the first few weeks of his papacy, Pope Francis confessed to the whole world that he is a sinner. Hearers everywhere appeared shocked at this admission. What Pope Francis self-confessed, all of us can easily stand at his side and agree.
We are all born marked with the stain of our first parents’ disobedient act. This sin has weakened us to the point that, like St. Paul, we echo: “We do the things we don’t want to do, [and] we don’t do the things we ought to do!”
This may be because, while we are made in God’s image and likeness, we lose sight of the fact that everyone carries an inheritance from our first parents’ sin. We forget that it is a common weakness in us called sinfulness. This is why we feel horror at another’s sin, while at the same time a deep remorse, because we know the sinner can be us – “but for the grace of God go I.”
These mixed feelings of disgust and compassion flow from the scars of our own broken and wounded lives. Compassion results because we fully understand the struggle sin gives us. We face it every day of our lives. We know how sin suffocates us. We know how it mires our heart in darkness weakening our will’s ability to remain strong.
Sinning also reminds us that our life on earth is not a contest where we compete against one another or need to be better than our neighbors. Our faith teaches us that life is really a pilgrimage where we all journey together with as much of Christ’s grace as we can carry. For with Christ’s grace comes mercy – freely and abundantly given.
Understanding our universal struggle from which no one is excused, helps us to understand why we dislike the sin, but not the sinner. Like Pope Francis, and all those we love, we all share this common struggle. And as Christ heals us when we stumble, we pray that Jesus’ mercy heals and lifts all who fall into sin on their way. And that our faith is robust enough to respond much the same way as Jesus always does.
Pope Francis writes:
It is not easy to entrust oneself to God's mercy, because it is an abyss beyond our comprehension. But we must! ... "Oh, I am a great sinner!" All the better! Go to Jesus: He likes you to tell him these things! He forgets, He has a very special capacity for forgetting. He forgets, He kisses you, He embraces you and He simply says to you: "Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more" (Jn 8:11).
(Artwork: "Hug" by Chris Hopkins)
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