The Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
I Kgs 17:10-16 + Heb 9:24-28 + Mk 12:38-44
November 11, 2018
Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by hands….
The French Catholic writer Léon Bloy once said that “there is only one tragedy in life: not to be a saint.” There is a profound difference between being a saint and not being a saint. This distinction might sound obvious. But it’s not as obvious as it seems.
If you were asked, “What is the opposite of hot?”, you would likely answer, “cold”. If asked, “What is the opposite of darkness?”, you would probably answer, “light”. So then, if you were asked, “What is the opposite of a saint?”, you might answer, “a sinner”; but if so, you would be wrong.
The opposite of “a saint” is not “a sinner”. In fact, being a sinner is part of the definition of being a saint (for all the saints except Mary, at least). The definition of a “saint” is: “a sinner who perseveres in spite of his sins.” On the other hand, a soul who is in Hell is: “a sinner who has despaired in the face of his sins”. So both saints and the damned are sinners: the difference is what choice they make in the light of their sins.
Think of the contrast in Sunday’s Gospel passage between the scribes and the poor widow. What is the difference between them? Think of Jesus’ parable of the Last Judgment. We hear of the sheep and the goats being divided. We might think that the sheep—pure and white—represent sinless saints who are escorted to Heaven. On the other hand, we might think that the goats are sinners, darkened by sin, who are dragged down to Hell. But one part of such a picture is false.
The sheep are saints, and they are escorted to Heaven. But they are not saints because they never sinned. They are saints because they persevered in spite of their sins. They are saints because, in the face of their sins, they looked up, and handed over their lives to God.
In other words: the sheep are sinners who turn towards the Shepherd, who washes them clean. The goats are sinners who turn away from the Shepherd. Instead, they turn into themselves. Both the sheep and the goats are sinners. The difference is in whom they turn towards: either outwards and upwards to God, or inwards to themselves.
If we turn inwards—into ourselves—we are not elevated: in fact we are dragged down, and become less than human. The human being is the only earthly creature who can rise above his God-given nature. But he is also the only earthly creature who can sink below his God-given nature.
In pondering all this, we might remember a saying attributed to Saint Augustine of Hippo. Whether or not this saying actually comes from him, it reflects his own experiences of deep sinfulness in his fallen self, and profound sanctity in Christ: “There is no saint without a past. There is no sinner without a future.”