On the weekend my daughter and I went for a motorbike ride down to Frankston and Mt Eliza. We toured some of the back streets of Mt Eliza and looked at the huge mansions there. We also passed the Mt Eliza Country Club.
Which reminded me of the old saying “The Church is not a Country Club for Saints; it is a Hospital for Sinners.”
We Christians must never forget that, especially with regard to those in the Church whom we love and respect. No matter how saintly one of our fellow Christians may be, no matter how much we have been blessed by their presence and ministry, we would be doing them a disservice if our love and respect for them were based upon a false presumption of their perfection. All members of the Church have committed sin at some time or other. Some have been guilty of great and shameful sins. Ourselves included. Even St Paul (whose year we are celebrating) called himself the “Chief of Sinners”.
The point is that the Church is a place where sinners are healed through the grace of forgiveness. That grace gives us the real hope that there might be some improvement in the sanctity of our lives – even if sometimes that healing process takes a long time and often has setbacks. Knowing this should mean that our love and respect for our fellow Christians does not depend upon their perfection.
Of course, the world tends to think of the Church as a “country club for saints” – an exclusive place where only the superior in virtue can hang out. Sometimes we in the Church have encouraged that perception, but usually this mistake is made simply because the Church holds spiritual health up as an ideal to be attained and offers a path for its attainment. But we don’t think this way about hospitals, do we? Consider what would happen if we started to think of hospitals as places to which only healthy people would be admitted, or where only healthy people could be doctors and nurses, or if hospitals abandoned the ideal of health so as not to make unhealthy people feel inadequate!
In the Church, we must never forget that that the person sitting next to us in the pew and (possibly, even!) the person up the front preaching to you and giving you the sacraments, is very likely a terrible sinner. That is why at the beginning of the mass, we ask our brothers and sisters to offer prayers for us on our behalf. Remember too that of all the terrible sinners in the room, “I am the Chief of Sinners”.
I write this, because in the last few weeks, I have found myself tested by Satan to withdraw my respect from some fellow Christians whom I have greatly admired and through whom I have seen God’s Spirit working with great power. Let us never look down on anyone just because we discover they may be or have been sinners. Remembering our common need for grace, forgiveness and healing will help us not to abandon our love and our respect for them, or our thanks to God for the good gifts they bring to us or to our world. Thank God that he can work through cracked earthen vessels like you.
And me, of course!