A wonderful tale with a great lesson to be learnt as we commence the second week of our Lenten journey.
Some years ago, I shared a flat with a man called Caruthers. If ‘morals make the man, and manners make the gentleman’, then Caruthers was the finest gentleman I had ever met, or so I thought for the first few weeks. However, as the weeks went by, I began to see that his manners were no more than a thin coat of veneer that hid the chipboard man within. Casual visitors were as impressed with him as I had been to begin with. He was always ‘so terribly sorry’ for everything. He was ‘so terribly sorry’ for beating me to the bathroom, ‘so terribly sorry’ for keeping me waiting for half an hour, ‘so terribly sorry’ for failing to clean the bath. He was ‘so terribly sorry’ too for emptying the fridge when he had his friends round, for leaving the washing-up for me the following morning, and for leaving my car with an empty tank when he borrowed it without asking. The trouble was, he wasn’t sorry at all and he kept on behaving in the same old way day in, day out. It is one thing to say you are sorry; it is quite another to mean it. If you mean it, you do something about it. No act of sorrow, no promise to do better next time however heartfelt it might sound, will do us any good, if we do not resolve and seriously endeavour to do better next time round.
Finally, as we become a little more aware of the moral stumbling blocks that usually trip us up, it is time to try and forestall them. If there is a lazy streak in us, or if we have a hot temper, or are prone to making ‘smart alec’ remarks at the expense of others, it is the time to take the necessary steps to avoid falling into these same faults in the forthcoming day. St Paul was the first to realise with such clarity, that it is in fact our very weaknesses, and that even includes our sins, that can become stepping stones to sanctity, if they only convince us of our utter need for God. For God’s power can find full scope in our weakness (2 Corinth 12:9). This is good news, because the truth is, in this life we will never stop falling no matter what. Remember the words of the hermit, Peter Calvay – “When you stop falling you will be in heaven, but when you stop getting up, you will be in Hell!”
The Difference Between Saints and Sinners
The difference between us and the saints is not that they did not sin and we do – they sinned just as we do, make no mistake about it. But what distinguishes the saint from the sinner is the speed with which they get up after having fallen. The saint does not waste precious time pretending that they did not sin, or by making endless excuses, or blaming others for what they know only too well was their fault. They get up again the moment they fall to seek forgiveness and begin again, knowing that they have sinned, but trusting implicitly in the mercy of God. St Francis said that the very moment that a person sins must be the moment to turn back to God begging his forgiveness – immediately and without delay. Herein lies one of the main differences between the saints and sinners like us. Only too often people simply cannot face their guilt so they run away from God and hide as Adam did in the Garden of Eden.
When God called out “Adam, Adam, where are you?” – he knew exactly where Adam was, it was Adam who did not know where he was, for he had lost his way trying to hide his sin and the guilt that shamed him. Sometimes we can spend years on the run, because pride won’t allow us to admit what we have done and, our inability to eat humble pie, means that we can spend half a lifetime suffering from spiritual starvation. What is even worse than the pride that comes before a fall, is the pride that follows the fall, because it stops us from getting up, sometimes permanently!