This song is the theme of the movie “The Cardinal”, the story of a priest who faced temptations and challenges of moral dilemmas, the social issues of his times and the never-ending tests to his celibacy. He was not perfect and was always on the verge of sinning. But through God’s grace and mercy, he did overcome to rise in the hierarchy, becoming a Cardinal because of his devotion to his vocation. The song captures his angst as well as his redemption as he travelled the troubled path of his priesthood.
I have been hanging out quite a lot lately with my priests-friends and our classmates in the seminary. Their calling and dedication have always been a source of inspiration for me. Being close to them, I know both their strengths and their weaknesses, their talents and accomplishments as well as their failings and frustrations. But when I see what they are able to accomplish in their ministries, I can only say in faith-filled amazement, “This has to be the work of God.”
The Church is holy. Not because it is populated by saintly people. In fact, the Church has always been the refuge of sinners, populated by outcasts, society’s rejects, the poor, the vulnerable, those in the peripheries. It is holy because it is the place where these rejects and sinners are transformed into heroes and, yes, saints. It’s got to be God at work in His priests. And wherever God is, that is a sacred and holy place. This is the reason why the Church is holy.
I know my friends who have become priests. They are talented. They excel in sports, music, and the arts. They are conversant in math and the sciences, in literature and social sciences, in addition to philosophy and theology. And I also am aware of their foibles and fumbles. They are imperfect like most of us. And then seeing what they do – inspiring people, changing lives, building character, restoring broken spirits, I go “Wow! There is something else or someone else at work here.” In the equations of science, the inputs do not quite explain nor account for the outputs. It does not compute. It does not balance out. It’s got to be God then who is at work in and through them.
They are channels of God’s grace: imperfect channels of God’s perfect grace. Wounded healers. Sainted sinners. And herein lies one big realization. God, through the Church, holds out to men the possibility of salvation and redemption. “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
In today’s divided world, people are given labels and the labels often stick. Sexual offenders are tagged as such for life. Convicts are stigmatized forever. Some people are branded for their color, language, and culture and they are what they are no matter what. There is no changing that fact. In today’s divided world, there are no second chances and there is no forgiveness.
Christ came and he forgave sins, gave people second chances, and started changing lives. The adulteress was given a new life. The tax collector was declared a son of Abraham. The thief was brought to paradise on the day that he died. With his power, he can transform sinners into saints.
This is what priests do. They continue Christ’s work of salvation and redemption. And this is what makes the Church holy. Not the saints who are in there. But the sinners who have become saints because they have found their way there.