Sometimes Great Sinners Become Great Saints

If your past comes back to haunt you and you feel remorse for sins that have already been forgiven, you aren’t alone. When one experiences a conversion and deepening of faith, it’s common to look back with regret.

“Perhaps, you like many people, experience pangs of remorse and even sadness or shame … based upon your past life. And maybe things that you’ve done in your life that really you regret deeply and you’re sad about them—you know you’ve been forgiven but you feel a kind of desire to prove to the Lord and to yourself how much you really love him. Especially when you look back and think about the things that you did when you really weren’t loving God quite so much and you were loving other things that God said ‘no’ to and you said ‘yes’ to,” said Patrick Madrid.

Fr. Donald Haggerty, priest of the Archdiocese of New York, wrote about Christian conversion and offered a beautiful reflection about those who feel regret over a past that wasn’t centered on God. He wrote the following in his book, Conversion, Spiritual Insights into an Essential Encounter with God:

“Getting trapped and mired in serious sin for an extended time is for some people never separated from a need, after a serious conversion, to give their life completely to God. … In every age, there are souls whose desire for God is intense because of their previous sins. The years they lived forsaking God accentuate the shock of his rescue.”

A life of sin can drive a person to extraordinary charity and piety. These souls, says Fr. Haggerty, find a deep prayer life. They pray in intercession for the conversion of souls like themselves who are desperately in need of someone’s prayers.

“Desires for an absolute purity and generosity awaken sometimes at the edge of what could have been a ruined life, precisely where we would not expect this form of desire. Recognition that lost periods of a life can never be returned can provoke an intense desire to give completely to God what is yet remaining in a life. The soul scarred by former sin is sometimes, after grace, the soul that will give without reserve. It is not at all an exaggeration to affirm that great sinners often do become hidden saints,” writes Fr. Haggerty.

Patrick Madrid recommends these words as a way to meditate on your past life, your sins and failings that cause you shame and distress. “You look back on the roadmap of your life and you have some regrets and you say, ‘Man, I was so stupid. Why did I do that?’ And yet, look at what God’s mercy has done for you!” said Madrid.

No matter how bad your past life was, God’s mercy can help you achieve sanctity.

“It doesn’t matter where you’ve been, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done, it doesn’t matter how long you did it or how bad it was! God’s mercy is there for you—all you have to do it accept it and then—whammo—the changes will start taking place,” said Madrid.

Listen to the full reflection:

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