Editorial: ‘I Am a Sinner’

Man walking on a beach

I am a sinner.

As a 7-year-old, I remember eyeing a miniature Cincinnati Reds baseball bat at my friend Mike’s house. And I wanted it. I don’t have one, I clearly remember reasoning, and he has so many toys that he won’t notice. So I took it. (With a considerable amount of glee.)

Until this Christmas before last, it was still in my possession. Every time I saw the bat, I would wrestle with guilt. It was a moral stumble decades ago, but the psychological bruises from the fall lingered, despite having been absolved of the sin. I’ve committed many other sins in my life, but few have bothered me like this one. The bat was a tangible reminder that I had wronged—that I caved to a selfish whim. Sinning is easy. And though we may be forgiven, the psychological damage from our sins can hinder us from peace.

Pope Francis understands the uneven path of the human journey. Anybody who’s worked as a bouncer—as he did—has seen the best and worst in people. And he has sound advice for us weary travelers who can’t forgive ourselves.

Can’t Hide from God

I am human.

Sinning isn’t only easy, but let’s be honest: it can be fun. We’re told by our parents to be decent. As we get older, however, we must govern ourselves, which makes sinning even more attainable. But after we sin, regret usually finds us. Then shame. It’s easy to fall back on rationalizations—as I did. But self-realization is a healthy step toward self-forgiveness.

“Facing the truth about ourselves is not easy,” the pope has said. And he’s right. Before we seek forgiveness, we must first shine an unflattering light on ourselves. Why did I stumble? What was my motivation? Can I avoid the near occasion of sin tomorrow? Asking ourselves the tough questions is a crucial step in the process. Knowledge is power, but first we must know ourselves.

We read in Proverbs 28:13: “He who conceals his sins prospers not, but he who confesses and forsakes them obtains mercy.” It might be easy to turn a blind eye to our sins, but we can’t shield them from God.

Feeling Free

I am forgiven.

Sin might be easy, but the aftermath can be hard. And what of the emotional baggage we haul around after the infraction? Pope Francis made a bold statement a few years ago when he said that post-sin shame can be a good thing. “We are all sinners,” he said. “The problem isn’t the sinner. The problem is not repenting our sins, not being ashamed of what we have done.”

I have the regret part down. Self-reflection? Exhausting, but essential. Sinners like me should take comfort in knowing that we have a forgiving creator and that we can experience the blessing of forgiveness in the sacraments. Regardless, no sin can keep us from grace if we are truly sorry and granted forgiveness. If we are made in God’s image, then there is far more room in our souls for salvation than for sin.

Two Christmases ago, I could no longer stand the sight of the bat, nor could I carry the weight of that sin on my back. So I donated it to a toy drive. It was just a piece of wood, but the guilt of having stolen it was too much to carry around anymore. I gave it away and traded my guilt for grace.

God knows our flaws and loves us in spite of them. We are not irredeemable. To believe otherwise is the real sin.

Clifford Hennings, OFM, reminds us that the Sacrament of Reconciliation adds the physical human element to God’s action of forgiving our sins.


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