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‘Sin is not the end of our story’

| Friday, September 12, 2014

In one of his first interviews upon being elected as head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis received the following question from his interviewer: “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” After a pause, he replied simply: “I am a sinner.”

The eyes of the world have turned frequently to Francis during his time as pontiff. He has opened minds and captured imaginations because, although his papal office could have threatened to remove him from the world, he has continually expressed his sincere desire to be in it.

“I am a sinner.” In a world caught in stumbles and sin, Pope Francis has shown us a different way. In a world so content to throw damaging verbal and accusatory “stones” at the church, Pope Francis has been the first to lay down his own “stones.” Where some expected closed doors, the Pope instead has opened them.

He has opened the doors to his own heart, vulnerabilities, stumbles and sensitivities. He has shown himself to be a man of the people, a man who, although endowed with priestly graces and powers, is still comfortable showing that he is no different than the rest of us. He has so consistently shared in the struggles and desires of the people he is tasked with leading.

But perhaps what is so striking about Pope Francis is that he reminds us that being pope doesn’t free or exempt him from the human condition. In a world filled with people so desperately seeking authenticity and companionship, Francis has shown us that popes need those things too. He’s acknowledged that stature or position does not change one’s consistent need for the grace of God.

Yes, Francis has witnessed that he is no different from us, but perhaps only to get us to think about a deeper question: “Are we really that different from one another?”

No. And perhaps he’s given us the answer why: we are all sinners. No matter how much we may try to hide it, we all stumble and fall.

I’ve become well acquainted with these realities recently. New responsibilities as the interim service coordinator at my school have left my plate overflowing. I’ve learned quickly that maintaining the service hours at school is a Sisyphean task. Just when I finish entering hours, checking hours, following-up on hours, e-mailing about hours, handling complaints about hours and then following up on those complaints about hours, the day is over and it’s time for bed. By the time the next day rolls around, it’s time to face the same reality.

The amount of office work and administration required to perform this task has not only filled my part-time calendar, but left me empty in other ways. It has removed me from my normal and familiar tasks, especially leaving me less time to be with the students, to hear their stories, their joys and struggles.

Away from the “life-source” that is my students, I have had less ability to maintain a joyful spirit, a spirit that would normally combat fatigue and exhaustion. I’ve found continual frustration trying to draw life and joy from my “account,” an account that’s currently sitting at zero.

Consequently, I have lost my compass and strayed too far from the patient, loving and caring self that I aspire to be. Recently, I have not been a good friend, community member or human being.

Yet I have taken comfort in words from J.R.R. Tolkien: “Not all who wander are lost.” Although I can’t see what the next week or month might look like with these responsibilities, I have hope that my “wandering” can look different if I work hard to see and invite God’s transformational love into my life.

Reading further in his interview, it becomes clear that Francis has hope too. He doesn’t end with the phrase “I am a sinner.” Rather, he continues, “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”

Sin may distort our perception of God’s love for us, but it does not change the reality that his love is still there. I have been wandering recently, and perhaps you have too. But, if we take small steps to be led by and through his love, the rest will take care of itself. We will never have to be lost.

Perhaps it’s time to abandon the hope that the struggles and sins of our past can be any different. If we made the decision to witness to the fact that sin is not the end of our story, we could perhaps more freely accept God’s desire that we have new future.

The light of God’s loving gaze invites us into this truth, a truth that says things can be different. God always believes in us. The question is — do we believe in ourselves?

Scott Boyle graduated in May of 2012 with a degree in Theology and a minor in Medieval Studies. He currently lives and works as a campus and youth minister in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis as a member of Notre Dame’s Echo Program.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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