I offer you a thought for the Month of October, the month of the Holy Rosary dedicated to Our Blessed Mother.

I sin not because of what I do or don’t do, but because of what I am – a sinner, a deep down sinner. And left to myself there is nothing I can do about it. It sounds awful, doesn’t it, especially coming from the mouth of a bishop. But it is a fact – a sinner was I conceived in the womb and a sinner I will die. It is something we seem not to like to admit these days, that we are less than perfect, morally damaged. Or perhaps we have rather gone the other way and, admitting that we are all flawed, we have decided to accept sin as a way of life?

Yes, we are sinners by our very nature, born in sin and doomed to die in sin. However, that isn’t the complete story. We know that in Jesus, God intervened into our human situation and through his life, death and resurrection has given us the means to overcome sin and to be forgiven. Sinners we are, but we can also be forgiven sinners if we cooperate with the free gift of salvation given to us through Jesus.

I am talking about sin here very casually, as if it were just an intellectual concept. But it is also a reality in our lives, in our world. It affects us, it wears us down, it enslaves us. It can either weigh us down so much that we think we are beyond redemption, not worth bothering with; or it can so sap our strength and energy that we become enslaved to it and succumb to its powerful web unable to escape and we accept it as the only possible way to live out our lives.

Either way, we need help. Most of us do not need lecturing when we are in this position, we need rescuing and encouraging; we need someone to come and lift us up out of the mire, or someone to come and tell us that it is possible to be forgiven, to be saved. I can remember a painting in the college where I was trained for the priesthood. It showed Our Blessed Lady reaching down rescuing sinners from the fires of hell and scooping them out of Purgatory. Mary has always been seen as the Refuge of sinners, our refuge, our rescuer, the one who lifts us up and encourages us.

Recognising our weakness, our sinfulness, our need to be encouraged and rescued, we turn to Mary and say:

Virgin most pure, star of the sea, pray for the sinner, pray for me!