Every Saint has a Past, Every Sinner has a Future

One never knows where inspiration will strike.  As someone who looks for moments of the Divine outside its traditional milieu, I try to stay alert for such things, but at times even I get caught off guard.


il_570xN.419946369_as8fI was heading towards the checkout line at the local Acme when I noticed the young woman standing in front of me.  Her tank top revealed a multitude of tattoos, none of which were very good.  Yet as I was about to squinch up my nose in displeasure, I noticed the tattoo on her shoulder.  But what struck me was not its quality (it was just a poor as the others) but rather the sentiment that was permanently inscribed there.  It read “Every saint has a past.  Every sinner has a future”


I stood transfixed, completely absorbed in considering the depth and meaning of those words.  If anything their poor execution made them even more profound.  In these words I heard a plea to look beyond the surface of a person and consider not just who they might be at the moment, but instead to try and see them as a work in progress.  Who might they have been?  Who might they still become?


As I thought about it more I realized how very apt these words were for the occasion.  The young woman who first brought them to my attention was in fact covered with about a dozen tattoos of poor quality.  I confess that I am often quick to both judge and dismiss those who cover themselves in bad ink.  I am not proud of this fact but there it is.  How wonderfully and indeed grace-fully ironic that the very thing that would normally elicit my contempt was instead the catalyst that challenged it.


When I got home I hurriedly googled the phrase only to find that it was in fact a rather popular expression appearing on a multitude of tattoos and Etsy jewelry.  The quote itself, like so many other profound and witty words, comes from Oscar Wilde.  In full context it reads, “The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”  In full context it rings a bit more of Wilde’s wit and social commentary, yet still held its power to challenge me.


In thinking about those words and the young woman who first brought them to my attention I realize that I was not nearly as open-minded as I liked to think.  Truth be told I knew nothing of her past yet I was fully prepared to judge her present and indeed her future based solely on the quality of her tattoos.  Although I shall never know her name I will always be grateful to her for helping to open my eyes and see that I had a long way to go in terms of accepting that fact that regardless of whether we are saints, sinners or somewhere in between, we all have a past and that no matter how bad our past may be, that it doesn’t always have to determine our future.


One thought on “Every Saint has a Past, Every Sinner has a Future

  1. Reblogged this on So This Priest Walks Into a Bar… and commented:

    Yesterday (Nov 1) the Church celebrated All Saints Day. This feast day reminds us of the important fact that we all have the potential to be saints and are indeed called to live into that potential.
    So in honor of all the saints, great and small, known and unknown alike, I want to share this past post on saints, their nature and how our preconceptions can get in the way of recognizing them.

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