In today's Gospel, a Pharisee invites Jesus to eat at his house. "And behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner,... brought an alabaster box of ointment." Weeping profusely, she washed His feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, then kissed and anointed them. It should be pointed out that such ointment was quite costly and was customarily set aside as a precious commodity reserved by a woman to be used to anoint the head of her bridegroom on the day of her wedding. In the case of this woman, however, it was doubtful that any respectable man would be willing to marry her.
For she was, you see, a sinner.... Interesting, is it not, that we know at once that this woman's sins were primarily sexual in nature--if she was not actually a prostitute, then she was at least an adulterer--or at the very least, a fornicator. (Back then, apparently, the only sins a woman was capable of committing were sexual). For all we know, she might otherwise have been a kind and compassionate woman, meek and humble, but she had (for whatever reason) fallen into sins of the flesh. She was, indeed, a "fallen woman" (though one cannot help but wonder why one never hears of a "fallen man?"
Still.... She was, no doubt, a sinner, but nevertheless... God had opened unto her the gates of repentance. Her heart having been filled to overflowing with the fire of God's love, she yearned fervently to be forgiven and set free from the bondage of her passions. So it is that Jesus says to the Pharisee, "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much...."
Likewise did St. Mary of Egypt--though she was indeed a flagrant prostitute--repent from the depths of her heart when she was forbidden to enter the church in order to venerate the Life Giving Cross of our Savior. Though she had in the beginning joined this pilgrimage for the purpose of seduction, she was made worthy by the grace of God to complete the remainder of her life repenting in the wilderness, denying herself even the most basic of human comforts.
St. Irene, Empress of Byzantium, ordered her own son to be blinded as part of a political intrigue. I was told this in seminary, and one of my fellow students was dumbfounded: how could a hard hearted woman who committed such an atrocity be worthy of sainthood? The simple answer given by the professor was: she spent the rest of her life repenting in a monastery, and to doubt this possibility is to doubt the power of repentance--and thus to doubt the power of God Himself. Sainthood is not, in fact, an honor conferred upon a person in consideration of their lifelong achievements and merits--it is, rather, the recognition that this person has, in the end, received the fullness of grace from the Holy Spirit, and therefore has been granted eternal life in God's heavenly Kingdom. There are numerous examples in the history of the Church of those who have committed grave sins, and have nevertheless achieved sanctity. Indeed, we shall on that dreadful day of judgement that awaits us all be condemned not according to the multitude of our sins... but rather by our failure to repent.