A Mysterious Paradox
I remember well when Pope Francis gave his first wide-ranging interview in September of 2013. Of his many colloquial comments that made headlines, one especially endeared him to fellow Christians and people around the world. When asked, “Who is Mario Bergoglio?” the pope responded, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”
My sense is that St. Paul would say the same. Sprinkled throughout his New Testament letters is this simple and piercing reality that was at the core of his identity: “I am a sinner.” Paul had encountered Jesus, and it simultaneously gave him a capacity to reflect honestly on his true self and the assurance of being totally and endlessly loved. Evidently, Paul felt he could not instruct Timothy and other Church leaders in true doctrine or best pastoral practices (the central themes of his first letter to Timothy) before he laid his own profound truth on the table.
This truth of being a sinful human being and simultaneously being loved by the creator is a mysterious paradox. And though we may not have the ability to fully comprehend it or the words to explain it, it’s a truth that St. Paul, Pope Francis, and other prominent saints and Christian figures, past and present, have felt the need to acknowledge and speak. It’s easy to dismiss this as pessimism or even false humility. But the truth is that one part of this mystery only makes sense in relationship to the other. When we Christians say, “I am a sinner,” what we’re really saying is, “God is love.”