Pope Francis (pictured here) is a sinner.
He said so himself.
In the recent interview with Jesuit priest Antonio Spardaro the pope was asked:
“'Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?' He stares at me in silence. I ask him if I may ask him this question. He nods and replies: 'I do not know what might be the most fitting description.... I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.'”
This answer was published near the beginning of the now-famous interview, and I applauded the pontiff not just for his modesty and honesty but also for his willingness to describe essential Christian theology.
Perhaps the most quoted passage from the New Testament that describes the reality that all humans are sinners is found in verse 23 of chapter 3 of St. Paul's letter to the Romans. There he says, simply, "All have sinned and fall short of God's glory," as translated by the Common English Bible.
But the idea that no human is fully righteous, save Jesus Christ, is deeply embedded in traditional Christian theology, though it gets different emphasis from tradition to tradition. In some the idea of sinfulness gets so much play that it's hard for people to feel redeemed, while in others it gets so little play that people are likely to forget that they require redemption.
After acknowledging himself a sinner, the pope added this:
“Yes, perhaps I can say that I am a bit astute, that I can adapt to circumstances, but it is also true that I am a bit naïve. Yes, but the best summary, the one that comes more from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”
In a time, especially in American culture, when we are encouraged to look out for No. 1, embellish our resumes and seek our 15 minutes of fame, it's refreshing to see a world leader begin with the foundational truth that somehow we are broken people with a propensity for committing acts that break other people.
But notice that the pope doesn't leave it there. He acknowledges that he's "a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon." Another way Christians often describe themselves is as "a sinner of Christ's own redeeming."
When this way of acknowledging our sinfulness while balancing that with the faith in our redemption is maintained, the result is someone who can afford to be humble but also confident. And is there a better description of Pope Francis than that?
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MORE PRIESTS ON THE WAY?
I doubt that it's directly related to Pope Francis' brief ponticate, but the pipeline that produces Catholic priests for American churches is filling up for the first time in a long time, this Religion News Service report by Cathy Lynn Grossman says.