You’ve heard the story: A man, who has spent his life trying to be a saint in some fashion or another, says to God, “I know I’m not perfect (because no one really is anyway), but I have not done so bad. I treat others fairly, I’m not divorced, got good kids, go to church every week, am part of a Bible study, pray, tithe, vote according to my faith, love sports but not too much, and overall am an upstanding member of society. Thank you God for all that you’ve done for me, and that I’m not like that guy over there — a wretch of a man, divorced, alcoholic, dirty, his family has abandoned him, he cheats others, can’t hold a job, lies, steals, fornicates, you know, that kind of guy. Thank you that I am a good Catholic.”
And that other guy? He falls on his knees before God and says, “God, my life is a mess. I have turned from you so many times, and will do so again, for I am weak. I do things I don’t want to do. I don’t do the things I should. I am a liar, a thief, a cheat. See what a miserable failure I am, what a sinner. As a young man I ran as far as I could from the faith of my childhood. I do not have faith anymore. I have driven away all who have loved me. I do not trust anyone. I do not even trust You, but I want to. If only I could. I deserve nothing good from You or any one else. I do not deserve forgiveness, so I am afraid to ask, but if… but if only You might have any mercy at all for me, here I am.”
The first man is at Mass every week. You probably stand next to him or behind him. He might greet you at the door, or read from the scripture. He might even offer you the Body and Blood of Christ when you come forward. He might even be you. And he might be me. That likelihood is higher than we want to admit.
And yet we are told by Christ (see Luke 18:9-14) that it is the second man who is closer to God than the first. It just might be that that guy is the true Catholic — perhaps not sacramentally but of the heart. A Catholic is a sinner who knows he is a sinner. And the first man? He is a sinner as well, and when his heart is softened he too will say, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.”
So the answer is yes. You and I are bad enough to be Catholic. Pray that we have eyes to see as well. Praise God for His great and inestimable love for us!
There are saints indeed in my religion: but a saint only means a man who really knows he is a sinner. ~ G. K. Chesterton