Sunday, September 11, 2016

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time: The Lost Sheep

Today's readings once again touch on mercy.  Mercy is very important especially on this day where we remember the souls lost on September 11, 2001.  This is significant due to the fact that we are in the Jubiliee Holy Year of Mercy.

In the first reading, we read of Moses "going down."  This is where the famous Negro spiritual hymn "Go down Moses" derives from. God tells Moses to go down to the people of Israel.  While God is giving the Commandments to Moses, the people whom He rescued via Moses are "living the vida loca," so to speak. They are doing all kinds of wild and crazy things including creating a molten calf and worshiping it (Jeremiah 7:26).  This, of course, is due to the influence they received while in Egypt.  We know how Egyptians used animals to depict their many gods (  The Hebrews got accustomed to this.  This is why in the first commandment, God says not to make any image of anything above the heavens, on the earth or under the earth (Exodus 20:4).  Some of our Protestant friends, especially Evangelicals, use this to attack Catholic images or statues.

What God is referring to here are the idols of Egypt (birds, alligators, cats etc). He is not referring to images or statues of Jesus, Mary, Angels, Saints etc.  We see five chapters later in Exodus 25 that God actually commands the construction of statues depicting cherubs.  Anyhow, the Hebrews are going wild and God is not too happy.  He describes them as stubborn and stiff-necked (Jeremiah 7:26).  We too can describe ourselves as that when we do the opposite of what God asks of us! However, God is merciful. We see this in the first reading.  Moses pleads with God asking Him to turn away from His wrath against His own people.  Abraham did something similar (Genesis 18:16-33). We are reminded that God is a father to His people.  This is why in today's responsorial Psalm we say, "I will rise and go to my father."  God is merciful and good.  He will wipe out our offenses in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Smaller sins or Venial sins, get wiped out with a simple act of Contrition.  After this cleansing, we are free from guilt (Psalm 51:7).  Our sins are gone.  However, we can sin again if we are not careful. This is why we must ask God to create a clean heart in us.  A heart that loves and does not hate.  A heart that celebrates and does not tear down.  A heart that is merciful and not bitter.  A real heart, not one of stone (Ezekiel 36:26).  This can only be done when we invite the Holy Spirit into our bodies which are His temple (1 Corinthians 6:19). We must allow the Holy Spirit to fix His temple like a sacristan or altar guild society fixes up the parish church getting it ready for Mass or some other Liturgical happening.

The Holy Spirit leads us to prayer (Exodus 31:3, Romans 8:26). He gets us to open our lips and pronounce God's praises. This is the invitatory verse for Office of Readings and Morning prayer (Lauds) in the Liturgy of the Hours.  I recommend that all should pray this prayer of the Church.  God will strengthen you with this and all forms of prayer.  In the second reading, we are reminded by St. Paul that Christ strengthens (Philippians 4:13).  Christ trusted St. Paul with the ministry and trusts us as well.  Whatever position or role you have in the Church is because God trusted you with it, so do not disappoint!  St. Paul, as we know, was a blasphemer and persecutor.  He was in effect an atheist! This passage reminds me of myself years ago as an atheist.  I found religion silly. God, Churches, Holy Books, miracles etc, were to me just superstitious cultural elements people adopted to give themselves meaning. Ironically, I was not totally wrong on that assessment.  What was missing was that religion is the "real McCoy," so to speak. I thought science and some philosophy was enough for the human to be a "good" human, I was wrong. We need religion, especially faith.  Science, philosophy and other forms of learning remind us that "maybe we can."  However, faith reminds us as Obama would say, "Yes! We Can!"  Faith allows us to look beyond.  It forces the senses and brain to move forward into what it cannot totally perceive nor understand at the moment.

This is why the Church tells us in the Catechism and Vatican II that faith is superior to or above reason (Gaudium Spes 36.1, CCC 159).  However, this does not mean that we should push reason aside as some fundamentalist Christians do when they reject evolution and science altogether. St. Pope John Paul II in his encyclical letter, "Fides Et Ratio" writes, "Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of the truth.." We must not be like Saul or atheist me "pre-Sacerdotus" who acted out of ignorance and unbelief.  Rather, we must rely on the grace of Christ Jesus in faith and put that faith into action via works that channel love and mercy. God is merciful, St. Paul reminds us.  Christ came for sinners (Luke 5:32).  This means all of us. This is why we must not judge others because we too have our logs wandering in our eyes that we must worry about (Matthew 7:3).  We must allow ourselves to be an example for others.  God does not bombard us with His wrath, though we deserve it.  We are examples of His patience and Divine Mercy. This same patience and mercy we must show to others who may not be at the spiritual level they should be on (Ephesians 4:2).  Jesus came to save, not to delete. We see this in the Gospel today.

In the Gospel, Jesus is with the tax collectors and sinners.  He is speaking to them. The Pharisees and scribes approach complaining to Christ saying that "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."  These teachers of the law thought they were better than everyone else. We must not be like them. Pope Francis himself has been the target of today's Pharisees both in the Catholic and Protestant faith who were upset when He reached out to the LGBT community, Protestants, Muslims, immigrants and so on. Our Holy Father is simply imitating His Lord and Master, our Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus is loving and merciful.  We see this in the response He gave to His critics.  He tells them about the man or shepherd who leaves the hundred sheep he is tending to go after the one that got lost.  Christ picks us up and takes upon our burdens.  As Pope St. Gregory the Great tells us, "Jesus is the shepherd who recovers the lost sheep of mankind. Hoisting it upon his shoulders signifies how he takes upon himself both the nature of man and the heavy burden of man’s sins. (Curtis Mitch and Scott Hahn, The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: The New Testament (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 136.)"

This is the parable of the Good Shepherd. Pope Francis has this image on his pectoral cross. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who goes after the lost sheep.  As St. Pope John Paul II tells us, "God loves the creature formed in his image and likeness and, like the caring shepherd in the parable we have just heard, he never tires of searching for him, even when he appears indifferent or even hostile to the divine life, like the sheep which wanders from the flock and is lost in inaccessible and dangerous places. Pursued by God, man already senses his presence, already basks in the light on his shoulders and already hearkens to the voice calling him from afar. And so he himself begins to search for the God who is searching for him: sought out, he begins to seek; loved, he begins to love. (Audiences of Pope John Paul II (English) (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2014). July 5, 2000)"  Jesus tells us that heaven rejoices when even one sinner repents.  This says a lot.

Picture in your mind, the cloud of witnesses or the saints cheering us on from heaven like Yankee fans at Yankees Stadium (Hebrews 12:1).  When we repent and seek God, this is like a home run that makes the crowd go wild.  My own work as "Sacerdotus" tries to imitate the Good Shepherd.  I try my best to go out into the deep in order to evangelize and hopefully win some souls for Christ (Luke 5:4).  You reading this should do the same based on your state in life. This can be best done by being a reflection of Christ to others. We must try our best to evangelize, not only each other, but those lost out there in the world.  When the pro-abortion feminist throws at you attacks against life, demonstrate the importance of all life by how you treat her. When the gay person throws a rainbow at you, use the colors to paint the image of God to them.  When the Muslim or Protestant throws Holy Books at you, show them the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ reflected in your person.  When the atheist throws science at you, show how nature glorifies her Lord in her beauty and design.  This is how we get that lost sheep back.  Do not argue your faith, share it. Do not impose your faith, invite others to it.  If we do this, we shall see how God will bring that one lost sheep home.

We will feel the joy of that woman who lost a coin and finally found it.  St. Ambrose tells us, "Faith is the lost coin that the woman in the Gospel seeks diligently. We read that she lit a candle and swept her house. After finding it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, inviting them to rejoice with her because she has found the coin that she had lost. The damage to the soul is great if one has lost the faith or the grace that he has gained for himself at the price of faith. Light your lamp. “Your lamp is your eye” (Mt 6:22), that is, the interior eye of the soul. Light the lamp that feeds on the oil of the spirit and shines throughout your whole house. Search for the coin, the redemption of your soul. If a person loses this, he is troubled, and if he finds it, he rejoices. (Quoted in Arthur A. Just, ed., Luke, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 245.)." It all starts with humility, mercy, love and compassion.  Our newly canonized saint, Mother Teresa is an excellent model in modern times to imitate.  On the 15th anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001, let us remember to be loving to all, merciful to all and go with compassion to get the lost sheep found in Islam and other ideologies in the world which are twisted by wicked men to do evil in God's name.  May Jesus Christ be praised!      


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