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Speaking to the Soul: Saints and Sinners

Speaking to the Soul: Saints and Sinners

by Linda Ryan


The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.  Oscar Wilde

We’re already one full week into Lent. By now we’ve started to miss the little things that we gave up and maybe chafing a bit at the extra that we’ve taken on, but that’s what Lent is, a time to make changes, look inside and see what needs to be pitched out and what can be dusted off and put back on the shelf.

It’s also a time for that monumental event, Lent Madness. It’s a celebration of both saints and ordinary people, all of whom have and all of whom have done marvelous, remarkable things. They’ve started schools, traveled the world preaching the gospel, may have smuggled people from a place of danger to a place of safety at risk of their own lives. They have made music, they have started organizations to take care of the less fortunate, they have risked all to help fellow human beings. Many of them may not be canonized, or officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, but Episcopalians can still consider them saints. Look at Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, Julian of Norwich, among many others. Lent Madness makes us aware of some of the lesser-known capital S Saints (canonized)  and lower case saints. It teaches us their lives were like and how they came to wear the crowns of saints and martyrs and the like.

I doubt that anyone would consider Oscar Wilde a saint. He was a wordsmith of the highest caliber, had a wicked sense of humor, and was the author of plays, poems, and novels, as well as a wry commenter on just about everything. One thing about Oscar Wilde that many would consider a barrier to his being considered any kind of saint was the fact that he was homosexual in a time when homosexuality was not only frowned upon but isolating and dangerous. That made me think about what  the quote that I used this morning about every saint having a past that every sinner having a future. Oscar Wilde definitely gave credence to that statement, whether you considered him a saint for his writing or a sinner for who he was.

We often think of saints as people who were recognized from the very beginning as saintly, even as children. Some of them spent hours in church as small children. Joan of Arc prayed and heard voices and saw visions in as a preteen. St. Bernadette, many of the medieval female saints, began early in their lives to be called to God’s service as cloistered nuns -rather than follow the  norm of getting married and having lots of children. The thing was that even though many of them were good little  girls (and boys too), they also had a little quirks and flaws that might somehow tarnish their image of being as close to perfection as a body could get on earth.

Mary Magdalene , was considered to be a harlot for many centuries, despite her closeness to Jesus and her accolade as the Disciple to the Disciples. In the fifth century an Orthodox priest proclaimed that she was a harlot and poor Mary didn’t get her reputation back until the 1960s. Is a long time to go with the tarnished reputation. There are tales in the gospel of Thomas of Jesus being somewhat naughty from time to time but yet we overlook those things if we even know about them because were accustomed to the four Gospels were Jesus never put a foot wrong. It’s like we want people to be worse then we are. If they can become saints, what’s stopping us?

Every saint had a past of some sort, but if I look at the second half of the quotation, it makes a balance that I haven’t really thought about that much before. To go with every saint has a past, Wilde put that every sinner had a future. Just because a person has a “past” does not mean that is the only option for them. They can change. They may feel a call from God that they were not expecting, pr something which involved a complete turnaround in their manner of life and thought.

I myself have a past. A lot of it is stiff that I would not be even remotely proud of; in fact, I’m shamed by a good deal of it. Being brought up with shame as something that was a part of our religious tradition, and being imprinted at such a young age with that particular theology, it was and is  kind of hard to get past it. But I have learned that I’m not stuck in that sinful past unless I choose to be. I have the ability and hopefully the desire to make changes, whether in or outside of Lent, to move from abject sinner perhaps not to saint, but at least to someone who is seen the folly of sin and decided to get past that.

So this week, I think I will be trying to be a little more of a saint than a sinner. I will feel a little more saintly once I get the house clean, and the laundry is caught up, and the yard mowed, but that’s only stuff that benefits me. I need to find something to do in my life this week that can make a difference in someone else’s life, not to put a halo on my head, but to do what Jesus said about loving my neighbor as myself and help other people who need help. It’s going to be interesting to see how I can resolve that.

So let’s all try this week to look at the bracket of Lent Madness, read the biographies of the saints proposed, and find something that we can have in common with those formerly sinful people, many who don’t have the word “saint” in front of their name. It might just be an enlightening adventure.

Go thou, play Lent Madness, and find a link to a future of sainthood. God bless.


PS. Wilde also said, “The Roman Catholic Church is for saints and sinners alone — for respectable people. the Anglican Church will do.”  (Disclaimer — he said it, but I don’t think I totally buy it… really….)



Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter.  She lives in the Diocese of Arizona and is proud to be part of the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale.


Image: Photo by Scott Gunn at St. Paul’s Chapel, NYC.


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