24th Sunday Ordinary Time
Rejoice …I have found my lost sheep.
How intense the joy of a parent whose little one has wandered off, when the child has finally been recovered, safe and sound! In today's parable, Jesus depicts the joy of a spiritual shepherd who has anxiously sought out and finally rescued a strayed soul.
For a shepherd to save one erring soul is recompense enough. An American Franciscan priest, Father Sixtus O'Connor, had the privilege of saving more than one of the Nazi war criminals condemned at the Nuremberg Trials of 1946.
According to the National Catholic News Service, Fr. O'Connor, who had been a parish priest in Manhattan, served during World War II as a U.S. Army chaplain in Germany. He had studied earlier in universities there and spoke German fluently. It was doubtless because of this fluency that he was retained in service after the close of the war and assigned as chaplain to the Nazi war-criminals imprisoned in the Nuremberg jail while they awaited trial. The prisoners came to respect this man of God because of his realism, faith, serenity and compassion.
Among the prisoners were found men who had held high positions in Nazidom: Baldur von Schirach head of the Nazi youth movement; Hans Fritzsche, deputy minister of propaganda; Hans Frank, Governor of Nazi-held Poland; and Ernst Kaltenbrunner, in charge of the Austrian Gestapo. Through prayer and patient discussion, Fr Sixtus had the happiness of changing the hearts of these four major leaders. Von Schirach, a lapsed Catholic, sentenced to 20 years in prison, returned to devout Catholicism. Herr Fritzche lived to praise the priest in memoirs. Kaltenbrunner was grateful for the priest's defense when the Allied officials called him a total liar. He and Hans Frank made peace with God before they were hanged. Frank, bound for the gallows, offered his life in atonement for his sins. What must have been Fr. O'Connor's gratitude to God at that moment. And on the day that Hans Frank died contrite, how great must have been the "joy in heaven."
-Father Robert F. McNamara
Q284: I agree that our Lord came to call sinners, and that he died for our sins and redeemed me. So why do I need "Church"?
Acknowledging that you were "redeemed" by Jesus Christ is one concrete way of agreeing that you are a "sinner" in need of salvation. St. Paul eloquently expressed the great love and patience of God in dealing with him, "the foremost of sinners" in our Second Reading today (1 Tm 1:16). But the offer of love and mercy is just that: an offer. No gift is forced; it requires something from you and me.
The "seeker" of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son is a symbol of God, an unconditional lover who is constantly looking for each of us and inviting you and me to return to covenant faithfulness. All three readings today point to God's patience with his wayward children (Ex 32:14; 1 Tm 1:16) as well as God's festive joy at their return (Lk 15:6,9,24).
Jesus left a sobering reminder in today's parables that we not demonstrate arrogance by taking him for granted. In Luke 15 (verses 7 and 10), he said that the rejoicing by God is over the "sinner who repents." Often overlooked in these readings is the loving support role of a caring and ministering community - the intercession of Moses in the old covenant, and the mediation of the validly ordained priest in the new covenant. Acknowledging our sinfulness is necessary; but repentance - asking forgiveness, making amends, and changing our lives - is the next step. It is through the ministering community by means of the Sacrament of Reconciliation that one hears and knows that he is forgiven, if he first sincerely repents and takes steps to reform his behavior.
"Covenant" is impossible without "Church," the members of that covenant. Jesus empowered that Church, through his Apostles, to minister sacramental healing for our wounded bodies and souls in His name. To detach oneself from this Church and refuse the offer of healing through Christ's representatives is tantamount to spiritual death.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Repeatedly we hear of the joy in heaven over sinners who repent (CCC #545), those who respond to Jesus' invitation and way into the kingdom. God is faithful in his covenant love, and it is this constancy that gave Moses and now gives us the courage to repent and seek forgiveness, and to intercede for others (CCC #2577). Do you seek forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least monthly, or do you choose arrogance and independence instead?
Have Mercy on Me O Lord
"My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord." (Isa. 55:8) Today's readings are a vivid example of the differences. God's people break their covenant with the God who has just saved them. Such rank ingratitude calls for retribution, but God hears Moses' plea and takes his people back. St. Paul persecuted the church of God, but he is not only forgiven but is called to be an apostle. When Jesus shared meals with people who did not keep a kosher table, he was accused of moral laxity. "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." In response Jesus admits the charge and then justifies his conduct with three timeless parables. Each of them proposes a way of acting that goes against common wisdom – a way of mercy, love, inclusion. But notice, Jesus does not condone sin. He will welcome sinners and eat with them, but there are conditions for this table fellowship, this intercommunion. Faith and repentance are presumed.
Lord Jesus, let me learn that I need repentance and forgiveness. It is only because of your mercy that I am here to begin with. Help me to forgive as I am forgiven. Help me to welcome those who have been lost and are found. I can only hope to join you in the eternal banquet.