Here’s a link to a new article Grandin Media recently published in my “Life in 3rd Place” column:
There’s a story of St. Philip Neri that describes the saint watching a criminal being led to his execution. As the criminal passed, Neri apparently exclaimed: “But for the grace of God, there go I,” an admission that he recognized that he, a priest, was as capable of serious sin as any other man.
This is almost the complete opposite reaction to that described in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee, seeing a tax collector – one of the worst sinners imaginable during biblical times – prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector…” (Luke 18:11).
When it comes down to it, this statement of the Pharisee is both his own judgment of others – particularly the tax collector – but also a moment of pride, believing that as a religious man, he would never be capable of such things.
You don’t go from being a priest (like Neri) to condemned criminal overnight. Neither serious crimes nor serious sins occur spontaneously. They are usually the result of a series of small moral compromises which ultimately lead to the more serious ones.
The Catechism reminds us that this is how sin works: “Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin” (CCC 1863). One of the best examples of this can be found in 2 Samuel 11, when a moment of laziness becomes the starting point for King David to orchestrate the murder of one of his most honourable soldiers.