Third Sunday after Pentecost
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. I think that we all have had moments like the woman who lost her coin. It may not have been for money, but I’m willing to be we have all had those times when we are looking for something, we can’t find it, and our mind won’t rest until we do find it. So we tear the house apart looking for our lost item. I would remind you that St. Anthony of Padua is a great resource when we have lost something.
How amazing is it that our God tells us that He is like that woman, searching for us like she searches for a lost coin?! Of course, unlike coins, we can move ourselves away. I suppose the metaphor for us would be more like searching for a small frog that likes hopping around the house. After all, it’s not like we get put somewhere and just stay there. When we’re lost, it’s because we’ve walked away from God.
But God keeps coming after us. He never gives up on us. Even if we try to run far away from Him, He is always right there behind us, beckoning us back, like a parent of a toddler whose child tries to run away, while the parent never lets the toddler out of his sight or reach. This devotion to us makes sense only with the logic of love, in the same way that a shepherd going after one lost sheep and leaves the ninety-nine. The math doesn’t add up, unless one is calculating with love.
But, as we are called to be those disciples, that is meant to be our mentality, too. As followers of Christ, God calls us to go after the lost sheep who have wandered away, or even the sheep who have not been part of Christ’s flock, but whom God desires to be one of His own. This is one way that we live out the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, and admonish the sinner.
When we do this, it must be with love. God is love, and so if we wish to draw others to Him, we will only be successful to the degree that we counsel, instruct, and admonish with love. To tell someone that it’s stupid to question the faith, or to condemn someone’s ignorance, or to yell at someone for something wrong that he or she has done does is not to seek after a lost sheep, but to hunt for one with a rifle; is to trash a house while searching for the lost coin.
I know that sounds obvious, but when we love the faith and treasure our relationship with God, as I know we do, it can seem painful to us when that is rejected. It’s like parents who are so hurt when a child rejects what they say that they discipline in anger, rather than out of love. Sometimes disciplining in anger, not is love, is not even intended, but it happens. And so, when we know we’re going to talk to someone who disagrees with us on the faith, or is questioning something near and dear to us, or maybe has left a life of virtue for a life of sin, we should pray for that gentleness of Christ, and to show our love, even when correction is necessary.
When we counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, and admonish the sinner, we also imitate God when we not only acknowledge, but respect, a person’s free will. Love never forces itself on another. It always respects the other person’s freedom. As Bonnie Rait sang, “I can’t make you love me if you don’t.” We cannot force another person to see the light. This is especially frustrating, and I know I have metaphorically banged my head on the wall when there’s someone who doesn’t see how their actions are leading them away from God, or hurting themselves, or, most often, some form of both. It’s especially hard when it’s someone who is close to us, perhaps a family member or dear friend, who doesn’t see the lies that they’re buying.
Because God desires the lost with a great passion, that should be our passion, too. As we hear about all the fallen-away Catholics, think of the great numbers our parish could swell to if we were able to bring back even a percentage of those who have strayed. Pray for those who are away, especially if you’re going to talk to them later. Pray to both your own and the other person’s guardian angel to protect the conversation from any outside diabolical influence. Pray for that love of God to be communicated in what you say and how you say it. Pray to be as convincing as possible, while also respecting the other person’s freedom. And then pray afterwards that the words you have spoken will be confirmed by the Holy Spirit and that the same Holy Spirit will open that person’s heart to the truth and love of God. In that way, we will be like our God, who desires not the death of the sinner, but that he repent and live. In that way we will be like the one who searches for us when we sin, God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.