June 29, 2018

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Saints with a sinful past show families the way

Sean GallagherThe late 19th-century Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde once famously wrote that “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”

The truth of that proverb is proved in the saints celebrated today by the Church: SS. Peter and Paul.

The stories of these holy men might seem commonplace to us since they are at the heart of the history of the Church. But if we step back and consider how sinful they were in their past, it might amaze us to realize how much Christ had in store for them in their future and that of all the faithful.

Peter, as all four Gospels tell us, publicly denied knowing Christ three times on the night that our Savior was betrayed. He was so fearful for his own safety that his faith in Christ crumbled easily at the slightest suggestion of his connection to the Lord.

Yet the risen Christ did not shun Peter but instead gave him three opportunities to profess his love for him. And he continued with his plan to have Peter serve as the shepherd of the whole Church, the first in a long succession of chief pastors leading up to Pope Francis today.

And Paul, as the Acts of the Apostles and his own letters tell us, was the chief persecutor of the Church in its earliest days. He approved of the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the first believer to die for Christ, and likely was responsible for the death of many subsequent martyrs.

Nonetheless, Christ had selected Paul as his “chosen vessel to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites … ” (Acts 9:15).

Both men willingly accepted tremendous suffering for the Gospel, so great was their love for the Lord. And both died as martyrs in Rome, the capitol of the Roman Empire at the time and today the heart of the universal Church.

The sinful past and saintly future of these two foundational stones of the Church can give hope to families among believers the world over.

During its 2,000 years of history, the Church has developed a wondrous vision for the life of the family, seeing it as an embodiment of the life-giving love of the Blessed Trinity.

Spouses and parents are called to imitate Christ by giving of themselves in sacrificial love for the good of each other and their children.

For their part, children are to emulate Christ in his boyhood by being obedient to their parents and serving each other and the family as a whole.

With the help of God’s grace, we can live out this beautiful vision and share it through our witness in our own small corner of the world.

But in our broken human condition, it’s easy for us to choose to go our own way. Instead of giving of ourselves for the good of others, we first look after our own wishes.

Speaking from my own experience as a child, husband and father, giving in to such temptation happens on what seems to be a daily basis.

But, as with Peter and Paul, our heavenly Father mercifully forgives the sins of our past. Our sinfulness never mars the bright future he has planned out for us—from all eternity to be saints-in-the-making here on Earth and saints forever in his glorious family home in heaven.

Never give up hope, then, in more fully embracing the Church’s vision for family life because of any failures to live it out in the past. We’re all sinners, and God has a great future in store for us, both in this life and the next. †

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