Lesson from a Failed Banker and Ex-Jailbird

Today is the feast of St Callistus — failed banker, ex-jailbird, ex-slave, probably something of an invalid — oh, and pope. And not only pope, but the man who, despite much opposition from such luminaries as Tertullian and Hippolytus (who did not think him strict enough and spread what most historians consider false rumours about him), grasped the importance of reconciling sinners to the Church. He argued that the power of binding and loosing was given not just to Peter himself but to every successor of Peter and that mercy should be shown to the repentant. In the days of the Donatist schism that was a matter of great urgency. I think it is still a matter of great urgency for us today. We are so often inclined not to show mercy, being rather more rigorous than God who seems to tolerate those we disagree with or believe to be seriously wrong about anything or everything (usually the latter).

I am certainly not arguing that nothing matters, that all beliefs are equally valid and that we can endorse anything we please, expecting God to follow suit. Of course not! But today’s feast and Callistus’s decree remind us powerfully of the importance of charity and mercy in our interactions with one another and the way in which they echo God’s own mercy towards us. We are often tempted to assume that we know what others think or mean and judge accordingly, and that can make us unduly harsh or self-confident when a little more reflection and a little more willingness to listen might transform the situation and our understanding of it.

It isn’t just the successor of Peter who has the power of binding and loosing. In a non-sacramental sense, all of us do. We can set others free from the chains of hatred and unforgiveness, if we choose. In so doing, we unbind ourselves. How that works out in particular situations, I can’t say; but I have a hunch that trying to be more forgiving, charitable and merciful will make the world a bit friendlier, a bit more peaceful and, dare I say it, more godly, too. Isn’t that worth trying? And in case you think that we can keep all this delightfully abstract, may I suggest we all examine our consciences. Is there someone against whom we hold a grudge or who we think has done us harm or behaved badly whom we need to forgive? To whom, in short, we must show mercy, as a brother or sister equally flawed, equally living by the mercy of God?

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5 thoughts on “Lesson from a Failed Banker and Ex-Jailbird”

  1. Amen. None of us is perfect, but God loves every one of us. Kindness and forgiveness toward everyone bring us closer to the Lord and are His rewards for us – grace, peace and love in abundance.
    May the Lord bless and care for you, dear Sister Catherine. Peace and love be with you xx

  2. Yes Faith, I believe is called for in these instances. A faith that we are loved by god in all our/others shortcomings. Forgiveness starts with forgiving and loving ourselves. Not easy to do, when we see sometimes, how quick we judged others. Prayer I find, helps settle these emotions, even better when praying with others in both prayer or in person.
    Thank-you soo much esister for sharing this!

  3. Oh, I like that Ruth – ESister!!! wonderful!

    Thank you Sr Catherine (again)… one of my favourite quotes is “NOT forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”….

    I try to keep on top of forgiving/letting go. However, when, as part of a course, I recently asked the holy spirit to reveal to me anyone I still had to forgive, I was ashamed at how long the list was…. people I had not thought of in decades! Onwards…..!!

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