“Hate the sin, love the sinner.” Christians use the phrase so often because it captures so well one of the foundational principles of our faith. Usually we think it means loving those whose actions we think are wrong, but not in gravest sense: He is sleeping around, she says nasty things about people; he doesn’t pay his employees enough, she is arrogant—but we love them despite it.
What about the most horrifying sins, though? Today it was announced that Pope Francis will celebrate the Mass for Holy Thursday not at St. Peter’s, before thousands of pilgrims, but at a juvenile prison, in keeping with his custom as archbishop of Buenos Aires. Many times we think of juvenile criminals as good kids in a bad system: If they’d grown up in a better place, with more money, with parents who loved them, they would have turned out differently. In many cases, that is, no doubt, true. But, Simcha Fisher notes, sometimes the people in juvenile prisons are rapists who thought they could get away with it. Sometimes there is no excuse good enough for their deeds.
We do not know the names of the prisoners whose feet Pope Francis will wash and kiss in a week’s time. Nor do we know why they are in prison. But, wherever they are that night, Christians will keep in mind the one who ate with tax collectors and sinners, some of whom, no doubt, did deeply wicked things. They will remember the man who washed the feet of those who would soon abandon him, and, in one case, betray him with a kiss. It used to be that those received into the pope’s presence bent down and kissed his foot. Now the pope bends down and kisses the feet of prisoners.
Hate the sin, love the sinner. Many times it means looking beyond the faults of those around us, or loving those being punished for crimes they unthinkingly committed. It is staggering, almost horrifying, to think that it might mean washing the feet of murderers and rapists as well.