“The world’s worst sinner”
Nobody but God can know at any time who is the world’s worst sinner, but it is possible for a saint to regard himself as such, while a really great sinner, who has the seeds of repentance within him, might with more reason lay claim to be so entitled. There are some Catholics who because of long lives of multiplied and grievous sins are tempted to think, like the unhappy Judas, that they are beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness.
Beyond the point of redemption?
They are sunk in such iniquity that they have no inclination to seek absolution in the Sacrament of Penance [to be freed from their chains through sacramental confession. A Sacrament is, among other things, a “vast, supernatural boost of grace”]. Their faith has been so weakened that they are on the point almost of losing it altogether. The difficulties against religion loom larger in their minds than the proofs to sustain it. Yet if they will only bring themselves to think about the matter, they will see that even such faith as remains to them will suffice as a foundation on which to begin to build a reformed life. If they will but turn to the all-merciful and loving God in simple words of prayer they will find that gradually their faith will increase and that spiritual and supernatural truths will stand out in clearer and stronger light. This at least they must do, for, as St Augustine reminds us, “the God who created us cannot save us without ourselves.” This only means that they must co-operate with God’s grace, begging it from Him, and with that grace at once do what a sincere and enlightened conscience bids them to do.
“The God who created us cannot save us without ourselves”
They must first get rid of the erroneous idea that they are beyond redemption and that it is not worth the effort to try to reform. Such an idea is instilled by the devil, “a liar and the father of lies”, as Christ called him (John 8:44), who would make them sharers in his own punishment, the eternal punishment of hell. It is he who would darken their vision of the next life and strive to persuade them that only in this world they can find their happiness by living for such uncertain, ephemeral, and sinful satisfaction as they can find it.
A systematic darkening out of the next life by the father of lies
It might be said to any one of these poor deluded and almost despairing souls: “Let us grant that you are a sinner and have hitherto led such a life that you have outdone in your iniquities – as you may think – all the worst sinners of whom the world holds record.”
Have I outdone all the worst sinners of whom the world holds record?
That is saying a great deal, for in the history of the Church we may read of the most glaring and terrible scandals, caused by infamous men and women of every degree, in every class and condition of life, alas even by bad popes, bad cardinals, bad bishops, and bad priests. Horrifying as this may sound in the ears of a good and pious Catholic, yet they are sad facts which, without exaggerating their number, no one with any knowledge of history can deny, any more that many of these flagrant and notorious sinners repented of their sins and died reconciled and in favour with God, and indeed probably very many more than we know of.
The more and the greater the sins, the more is God’s mercy exalted if the sinner has chosen to avail himself of it
But the point is that however bad a man may be, even if he thinks that he himself is “the world’s worst sinner”, he can, if he wills, repent and by repenting secure his eternal salvation. The solid foundation for this statement is simply that God’s mercy is infinite. No accumulation of sins can exhaust such mercy. The only thing that can prevent its exercise is the sinner’s unwillingness to repent and to receive it. Indeed, the more and the greater the sins, the more is God’s mercy exalted and the more it becomes a subject of praise and of thanksgiving, once “the world’s worst sinner” has chosen to avail himself of it.
God’s mercy is infinite
“The world’s worst sinner” must be persuaded to look upon the crucified Christ who being God as well as Man merited His Passion and Death to be the redemption of all men without any exception, one drop of whose blood was sufficient in itself to wipe out the sins, not of one sinning man or woman, but of an entire sinful world. “The world’s worst sinner”, if repentant, can repeat with absolutely confidence the words of St Thomas in his hymn Adoro Te devote:
Pie Pelicane, Jesu Domine,
Me immundum munda tuo sanguine:
Cujus una stilla salvum facere
Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.*
What will add to the sinner’s confidence is the reflection that he by his repentance will add to Christ’s triumph. The victory of Calvary will be enhanced precisely because among its trophies is included the redemption of his soul, the soul of “the world’s worst sinner”.
“Join the club”
To anyone who believes in God it must be plain that to doubt His mercy is in the nature of an insult to Him, since it would put a limit upon what is necessarily infinite. Let him bear in mind the words of Christ, “I am not come to call the just but sinners” (Mt 9:13), and then join up with that long possession of sinners, who, remembering those and other words and deeds of the compassionate Saviour, having mounted the hill of Calvary and, prostrate in sorrow at the foot of the Cross, have at once been washed clean of their sins – no matter how many and grievous – by the generous outpouring of the Precious Blood which was shed for them.
Sinners who have mounted the hill of Calvary…
By that Cross they will find Mary, Christ’s Mother and theirs, who as the “Refuge of Sinners” is ever pleading with her Son for them, so anxious is she that His Death of such inestimable price and efficacy should not prove futile in their regard.
There, too, is Magdalen, once a sinner but now in her repentance the courageous and devoted follower of her Saviour and God. Close at hand on his own cross is the good thief who by one act of contrition merited the promise to be that very day with Christ in Paradise.
No accumulation of sins can exhaust God’s mercy
Our Blessed Lord said: “There shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance” (Lk 15:7). “The world’s worst sinner” (as he may choose to call himself) can add considerably to this joy.
All the considerations that have been put forward should fill every sin-laden man or woman with confidence, courage and comfort. If they have many sins for which to make reparation, the difficulties, hardships and sufferings which life in this stricken world of to-day so plentifully supplies will give them opportunities for penance, by bearing them with patience and resignation. In doing this, as they can with God’s grace, they may be assured that they are thus preparing for themselves a certain and speedy entrance to heaven, when at last death comes and they leave a world which never perhaps at any time could more truly be called a “vale of tears”.
*In English: ” O loving Pelican, Jesus Lord, cleanse me, unclean, in thy Blood, one drop of which hath power to save the whole world from all its sin.” The Pelican is a symbol of Christ and of His love for us. There is a legend that when food fails, the pelican feeds her young with her own blood. (The Hymns of the Breviary and Missal, edited by Rev. Matthew Britt, O.S.B. Published by Benziger Brothers, New York 1936.)
– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Christopher J. Wilmot, Catholic Book Club, London, 1949