November 02, 2011

Saints & Sinners

It's funny how a single word can throw me. Thousands of times I've recited my favorite prayer after Communion, "Soul of Christ, sanctify me / Body of Christ save me....". But this time when I got to "Passion of Christ/ Strengthen me" I thought of passion not as the crucifixion as I normally do (while focusing on self, in terms of praying that some of His strength rub off on me), but His passion in the sense of love, as in his passion for us. Afterwards I thumbed through the Jerusalem Bible and came across an incident in Luke 7, an illustration of how Jesus, Master of the Universe, wants our love. Which is a strange and humbling thing on the face of it. The account was of a sinner and a Pharisee and how the sinner loved Christ because more was forgiven her. It's a telling reminder that Jesus doesn't want our rote acts of fealty but our love, our passion. And He linked that to forgiveness. What makes God most lovable? Not His power or even His perfection - what God has is forgiveness. That is the coin of the heavenly realm. Is it a chicken and egg kind of thing, in that he who has forgiven much, loves much, or is it he who loves much is forgiven much? The gospels express it both ways. And in the end Jesus says it was the woman's faith that saved her. Faith in His forgiveness, it would seem.

Still, I'm left with a paradox, the woman had sins, "many sins", and yet great love. Aren't the two mutually exclusive? How does purport to love God and yet be a big sinner? A lack of sin doesn't necessarily make you a great lover, but the contrary seems true: being a sinner means you aren't a great lover since to sin against someone is to say, in some way, you don't love them (or God). Perhaps it's as simple as seeing her sins in the past. She *was* a sinner who didn't love much, then she became, in that moment with Christ, a lover who didn't sin much.

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I've long been fascinated by the stories of saints whose bodies remain incorruptible after death. It's strange of me to think of this as a "reward", since it hardly matters whether someone's body is molding in the grave or is in great condition because in either case they are dead and their spirit is elsewhere, concerned with bigger things. But it seems to me a touching, an imprimatur from God, a little act the Creator bestows on the created, a little sign of love that may or may not ever be discovered by the masses. This incorruptibility seems like a tangible reward, an honor God bestows on the few, the pious, the Marines of the spiritual world. But even this is not a surefire way of identifying the saintly. Many saints did become corruptible and some incorruptibles may not be holy. Too often I also superstitiously note the lack of saints who died in accidents (have there been?) and think Thomas Merton may not be one due to his unnatural end. All of this can "misunderestimate" how passionately God loves us, whether or not our bodies corrupt or what sort of death we experience. We look for little droplets of kindness unaware we live in a sea of Love.

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