Today we celebrate the memorial of St. Augustine. But it strikes me as I write this that there are those both outside and, worse yet, inside the Church would would rob us of the saints.
The Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution of the Church dedicates its fifth chapter to "The Universal Call to Holiness". It begins,
The Church, whose mystery is being set forth by this Sacred Synod, is believed to be indefectibly holy.
But how can that be? The Church is made up of people. People sin.
The central question it seems to me is: how much do we really believe in forgiveness? The truth is that if you scratch the surface of most of us and we don't.
Look at St. Thomas. When someone says his name do we immediately think of the great missionary work he did as far east as what we now call India? No, we only remember his moment of doubt. 2000 years later we still stupidly refer to him as "doubting Thomas." How many priests today will focus on St. Augustine's debaucherous early life,instead of the great contribution he made to theology?
The Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation has officially has four parts:
Contrition- sorrow for sin
Confession- oral and complete listing of grave sins
Penance- the priest gives the penitent a penance to complete
Absolution- the words through which we are forgiven.
But there is a fifth and final part that is perhaps the most difficult. The moment when we must walk out of the confessional and leave it all behind. Both in the sense of our intention not to repeat the sin, and in the sense of truly accepting that we are forgiven.
As Psalm 103 tells us,
as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Or as we are told in Isaiah
Come now, let us settle the matter," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
Do we believe any of this— really? Can we let ourselves feel that peace of Christ that comes from having been forgiven? We say that the Church is "indefectibly holy" because for us as Cathoics, grace is real, forgiveness is real. And therefore it is realistic for the Church to call us all to holiness, to call us all to be saints.
Does it mean we believe that after St. Paul's conversion he never sinned again? Of course not. Do we believe that after St. Augustine's conversion he never sinned again? Of course not.
There will always be those who prefer to tear down rather than build up. There will always be those people who rather than deal with their own sinfulness will occupy themselves with reminding other of their past sins. But if we are Christians, we look forward we do not look back. We know what happened to Lot's wife when she did.
When we continue to ruminate over past sins, either our own or someone else's, we are really saying, "I don't really believe in forgiveness. I do not believe in one HOLY catholic and apostolic Church. There are no saints." What were are really saying is that Christ died for nothing.
The Church is simultaneously the people of God and indefectibly holy, because no matter how many times we sin and how gravely we sin, as long as there is true contrition and firm purpose of amendment, true forgiveness is available. God will make us white as snow or wool. God will make us holy. God will make us saints.
Until we reach the fullness of the kingdom it is true that we can never be just saints. In this life, we Christians live in a constant cycle between saint and sinner. But that doesn't mean we should give up.
St. Augustine has been called the "Doctor of Grace". Today as we celebrate St. Augustine let us renew our on believe in the power of grace, the power of grace to bring true forgiveness, the power of grace to transform.
Personally, I would not want to live in a world without saints. They remind us constantly of what we are called to be, what we can be, if we will simply accept the gift of God's forgiveness, and respond to the universal call to holiness.