One of the biggest internal obstacles to people sharing the Gospel is their own personal sense of sinfulness. “How can I tell others to live more Christ-like when I don’t live the way I should?” This is the question that plagues so many of us. We all know that we are sinners. And yet we lament that the truths of the faith are not more easily shared in our society. We are shy about speaking up because of our shortcomings. It is similar to the feeling that parents feel when they try to enforce the rules on their children that they themselves flouted growing up.
But it goes deeper than that. Some people simply dismiss out of hand the idea that they could be called to a higher service to the Gospel. Perhaps there is an announcement after mass that they need volunteers for RCIA and you think, “I barely know my faith as it is, how do I help another?” Or perhaps there is a call for Eucharistic Ministers and you say to yourself, “I barely make it to Church on weekends as it is, they wouldn’t want me.” Or you might be in a conversation with a drinking buddy and he mentions that he doesn’t believe in God anymore. You want to say something but think, “He’s seen me at my worst and knows I shouldn’t be a hypocrite with any God talk.”
All of this points to the fact that we have generally accepted a great cultural lie that only the saints should do the preaching. But the opposite is actually true:
You don’t have to be a saint to save someone.
Do not misunderstand: all of us are called to be saints. We must make it our life’s work to live a life free of sin. Not all sin is deadly, but all sin is bad and destructive and it must be excised from our lives. The above statement is not meant as a bland acceptance of our fallen state, a shoulder-shrug to our sins as we go forward ignoring them. That is not at all what this means. The moment you simply accept any sin as a part of your life without working hard to eradicate it, then the soul is on its way to death.
However, this spiritual paralysis that I described at the beginning is also a real problem. One of the things I have learned in my time teaching religion is that so many of our young people reject the Catholic faith because no one has really shared it with them. This is more than a few words at PSR classes or the like. Many have not really experienced the explicit witness of Christ in their lives. Young people, whether they know it or not, are hungry for the Good News.
But if we all waited to be perfect, then the Gospel would never be proclaimed.
There are so many wonderful lessons to learn from the Scriptures. One of the things I always emphasize to my students is that most of the people God calls are not that good when He calls them.
Abraham is a coward who does not stand up for his wife, he almost loses the Promised Land, gives in to Sarai’s pestering about Hagar, and so on. Jacob lies and steals his way into inheriting the Promised Land. Moses was a murderer. Samson was an angry drunk.
One of the greatest pieces of evidence that the Gospel was not an invention of the Apostles is that they look pretty terrible throughout the story. Jesus constantly rebukes them for their lack of faith. Peter in particular is a great screw up who Christ at one point calls “Satan.”
And yet all of these men were called and did great things in sharing God’s Word. They gave their all to God and He made them into His saints.
But what if you don’t see yourself on the path to sainthood? You’ve been struggling with your faith, struggling with your sins for years now and it doesn’t seem to be getting much better. Should you pack it in.
Spiritual progress is a difficult thing to gauge, so we must be cautious in our own self-assessments, for good or ill. A good spiritual director can be very helpful here. Regardless, God can still use you to build up His kingdom.
There is a man who is currently living in a same-sex “marriage” and has rejected the Catholic faith. And yet, many years ago, this man inspired me to discern the priesthood when he entered the seminary. This discernment helped put me on the path to where I am now. My own father is not the most religious man in the world. But growing up he sacrificed to make sure I had a Catholic education because he knew the importance of growing in the faith. I know someone for whom Fr. John Corapi was instrumental in his conversion experience. As far as I know, this person’s faith is still strong despite Fr. Corapi’s fall from grace.
There is a man who was once living a life far away from God. Now, he is working as a self-funded minister to evangelize the Catholic faith on college campuses. He gives a great deal of credit to the fact that I was his teacher and introduced him to Christ. I bring this up not as an unsubtle humble-brag, but to point out that I always feel very spiritually small in comparison to him. His faith is alive and has a stronger fire than mine has ever had. I know my own sinfulness and am shocked that I could be used to help someone rise out of theirs. I am reminded of a line I once heard from Doctor Who: “Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame.”
And that is what all of us can do. No matter who we are, no matter how sinful we are, we can light the flame in others. The reason why is that we are not doing any of the saving:
Only God can save.
I don’t have to be a saint to save someone because I won’t be doing any of the saving. God alone is the Savior. We are merely his instruments. But we have to choose it.
Obviously, the more we repent of our sins and bring His grace into our lives, the more effective His grace will be as we proclaim Him. But even in our own sinful state, God can still use us. Hypocrisy and public sin can always cause scandal and should be avoided. Once you put yourself out there and preach the Gospel, you have an even greater responsibility to climb the road to righteousness. It is not an easy road at all. It is a road that leads up a hill to a cross.
But as sinful as we are, if we lay down our lives and say “yes” to His call, He can use that to save others.
And hopefully save us too.
Copyright 2019, WL Grayson
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