Articles of the Month
Saint and Sinner
Despite their sins, every man and woman has been chosen to be a saint. This message of comfort and hope was offered by Pope Francis on Tuesday morning during Mass at Santa Marta. His homily was inspired by passages from the Book of Samuel regarding the events in the life of King David, the “holy King David”, the central character of the day’s liturgy.
In the First Reading, after seeing that the Lord had “rejected Saul because he had a closed heart”, and had considered another king because of the people’s failure to obey him, the First Book of Samuel (16:1-13) presents the account of how King David “was chosen”. God says to Samuel: “How long will you grieve over Saul, seeing I have rejected him? Let us go and seek another. Fill your horn with oil, and go”. The Prophet tries to resist his fear of Saul’s vengeance, but the Lord encourages him to be “astute” and to feign a simple act of worship, a sacrifice. The Lord says to him: “take a heifer and go”.
Here begins the story, the Pontiff explained, of the “first step in the life of King David: his selection”. Scripture then tells of Jesse who “presents his sons” and of Samuel who, looking on the first says: “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him”. Indeed, he saw before him, Francis underlined, “a capable man”. But the Lord says to Samuel: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart”. Here then is the first lesson: “We are so often slaves to appearances, slaves to the appearance of things, and we allow ourselves to be led by these things: ‘This seems...’. But the Lord knows the truth”.
The narrative continues: “Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and the Lord chose none of them”. Then, Samuel asks Jesse if he has presented all his sons. Jesse reveals that, in reality, “there is one, the youngest, who hasn’t been counted, who is now tending the flock”. Again the contrast between truth and appearance, the Pontiff noted: “in the man’s eyes, this boy didn’t count”. Then, after Samuel sends for the boy, the Lord says to Samuel: “Arise, anoint him”. Even though he was “the youngest, the one who didn’t count in his father’s eyes”, it was “not because the father didn’t love him”, but because he thought: “Why would God choose this boy?”. He did not consider that “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart”. Thus, “Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward”. David’s whole life “was the life of a man anointed by the Lord, chosen by the Lord”.
One could ask: “So, did the Lord make him a saint?”. Francis responded sharply, “No. King David is the holy King David, this is true, but holy after a long life”. In fact he reaches a venerable age, but his life was “marked by many sins”. David was “a saint and a sinner”. He was “a man who was able to unite the kingdom, to bring forward the people of Israel” but was also a man who “had his temptations” and who committed sins. Actually, David “was also an assassin” who, “in order to cover up his lust, the sin of adultery”, ordered a man killed. David himself did this. So one would ask: “The holy King David killed?”. It’s true, but it’s also true that when God sent the prophet Nathan to “show this reality” to David who “was unaware of the violence he had ordered”, David “acknowledged, ‘I have sinned’, and asked forgiveness”.
This is how King David’s life “played out”, full of light and shadows. He suffered “his son’s betrayal in the flesh, but he never used God to win his own cause”.
As he outlined the figure of the saint and sinner, Francis recalled that in the “very difficult time of war”, when he had to “flee Jerusalem”, David had the strength to send the ark back: “No, Lord, let it stay there; I shall not use the Lord in my defense”. And again, when David encountered the man who called him a “man of blood” he stopped one of his own men who wanted to kill the man who insulted him, saying: “If he curses me it is because the Lord bid him to curse me”. In fact, “in his heart David felt: ‘I deserve it’, because he ordered it. ‘Let him alone. It may be that the Lord will look compassion upon my humiliation and will forgive me of more”. In his life David then knew “victory” and the great “magnanimity” that led him not to kill Saul even though he could. In sum, the Pontiff said, “is this the holy King David? Yes, the saint, chosen by the Lord, chosen by the People of God” was also a “great sinner, but a penitent sinner”. Francis then commented: “This man’s life moves me and makes me think about our own”. In fact, “we were all chosen by the Lord in Baptism, to be among his people, to be saints”. All of us “have been consecrated by the Lord, in this journey of holiness”, yet, the Pope concluded, reading the history of this man — a “journey that he began as a boy and continued until he was an old man” — who did many good things and other things not so good. “I have come to think that in the Christian journey”, in the journey that the Lord calls us to make, “there are no saints without a past, nor sinners without a future”.
© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
This article was taken from the Meditations of Pope Francis at the Vatican.
There is no humility without humiliation
There can be neither humility nor holiness without walking the path of humiliation. Francis spoke of this truth as he recalled the story of David during Mass at Santa Marta on Monday morning.
“In the First Reading, the story of King David continues”, the Pope began, referring to the Second Book of Samuel (15:13-14, 30; 16:5-13).
The story, he explained, “began when Samuel went to the house of [David’s] father, and David was anointed king”, even though he was still a boy. Then “he grew up, he had his problems, but he was always a man respectful of the king who did not like him”. In fact the king “knew that he would be his successor”. And “in the end David managed to unite the kingdom of Israel: everyone together with him”. However, “he was feeling insecure and his zeal for the house of the Lord began to weaken”.
“At that moment — we heard the other day — David was one step away from becoming corrupt”, Francis continued. Thus “the holy King David, a sinner but a saint, became corrupt”. But then “the Prophet Nathan, sent by God” helped him “understand what a bad thing he had done, an evil thing: because a corrupt person doesn’t realize it. It takes a special grace to change the heart of a corrupt person”. Thus, “David, who still had a noble heart”, recognized his sin, “he recognized his fault”. What did Nathan say to him? These were his words: “The Lord has forgiven your sin, but the corruption you have sown will grow. You killed an innocent man to hide adultery. The sword shall never depart from your house”. Thus, the Pope explained, “God forgives sin, David converts but the wounds of corruption are difficult to heal. We see this in so many parts of the world”.
This is the point in David’s story, Francis affirmed, that “we arrive at in today’s passage: David’s son battles against his father. He wants power: his son is already corrupt”. But “what does David do? With the nobility that he had won back after his sin — and also the penance he had done to save the son who had died, the child of adultery — he rejoins his own: ‘Let us flee the city lest Absalom — his son — should overtake us, then visit disaster upon us and put the city to the sword’, as was customary in those times”.
The Pontiff recalled that “God castigates David harshly: ‘The sword shall never depart from your house’”. But, Francis continued, “he defends the house and flees, he leaves”. Is he perhaps “a coward? No, he is a father”. And “he allows the ark to return”, he does not “use God to defend himself”. In other words, David “leaves in order to save his people: this is the path of holiness that David begins to follow, after the moment in which he became corrupt”.
The passage, the Pope continued, presents David weeping as he climbs the steep Mount of Olives. “His head was covered”, a sign of mourning, and he was walking barefoot. He was doing penance. “And all those who were with him also had their heads covered and they were weeping as they went: weeping and penance”. Scripture also tells us that “some, who did not like him, began to follow and curse him”. Among them was Shimei, who called him “murderer”, reminding him of “the crime he had committed against Uriah the Hittite in order to cover up his adultery”. Abishai, one of the people closest to David, “wanted to defend him” and wanted to take off Shimei’s head in order to silence him. But David goes “a step further: ‘If he is cursing it is because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David!’”. He then “says to his servants: ‘My own son, who came forth form my loins, is seeking my life’”. He is referring to his son Absalom. This is why he turns again to his servants saying: “Let this Benjaminite curse, for the Lord has told him to”.
The question, Francis explained, is that “David can see the signs: it is the moment of his humiliation, it is the moment in which he is paying for his fault”. Therefore, he says: “Perhaps the Lord will look upon my affliction and make it up to me with benefits for the curses he is uttering this day”. Basically, “he entrusts himself to the Lord’s hands: this is David’s path, from the moment of corruption to this entrustment to the hands of the Lord. This is holiness. This is humility”.
The Pope continued. “I think”, he said, “that each one of us, should someone say something bad about us”, would react by saying “No, I didn’t do it, this isn’t true, no!”. In fact, we “immediately try to say that it isn’t true”. Or else “we do as Shimei did: we say something even worse in response”. But humility, Francis stated, “can reach a heart only through humiliation: there is no humility without humiliation”. And, he said, “if you are not able to bear some humiliation in your life, you are not humble. That’s how it is: I would say it’s that mathematical, it’s that simple!”.
For this reason, the Pope continued, “the only path to humility is humiliation”. Therefore, “David’s goal, which is holiness, is reached through humiliation”. Also, “the goal of holiness that God gives to his children, gives to the Church, comes through the humiliation of his Son who lets himself be cursed, who lets himself be borne on the Cross, unjustly”. Francis clarified that “this Son of God who humbles himself, is the path of holiness: with his attitude, David prophesies the humiliation of Jesus”.
Before ending his homily Francis asked of “the Lord, for each of us, for all the Church, the grace of humility, but also the grace of understanding that it is impossible to be humble without humiliation”.