Third Sunday after Pentecost
Today’s Liturgy is a warm revelation to us of the divine mercy contained in the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Thus the Church, even from the beginning of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (in the Introit), has us pray: Look Thou upon me, O Lord, and have mercy on me; for I am alone and poor. See mine abjection and my labor; and forgive me all my sins, O my God. To Thee, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul: in Thee, my God, I put my trust; let me not be ashamed (Ps. 26.16-18,1,2 DRV); then in the Collect: “O God, the protector of those who trust in Thee… multiply upon us Thy mercy…,” and a little later, in the Gradual, we are exhorted: Cast thy care upon the Lord and He shall sustain thee… (Ps. 54.23). But how can we justify all this confidence in God, since we are always poor sinners? The Gospel (Lk. 15.1-10) explains the grounds for this justification by relating two parables used by Jesus Himself to teach us that we can never have too much confidence in His infinite mercy: the story of the lost sheep and the account of the missing drachma.
First, the Savior shows us the good shepherd in search of the lost sheep; it is a picture of God coming down from heaven to search for poor human beings lost in the dark caves of sin with this appeal: if your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made as white as snow: and if they be red as crimson, they shall be white as wool (Is. 1.18). And in order to find them, rescue them from the grip of Satan, and bring them back to His embrace, He does not hesitate to pay the ransom, the cost of which is by the greatest sufferings, and the full of it by His own Blood. And when He hath found it… [He lays] it upon His shoulders, rejoicing: and coming home, [He calls] together His friends and neighbors, saying to them: ‘Rejoice with Me for I have found My sheep that was lost.'” This is the story of the love of Jesus for all mankind and especially for every individual soul. We might say that the image of the Good Shepherd – which was so greatly loved in the early days of the Church – is the equivalent of that of the Sacred Heart; both are living, concrete expressions of the merciful love of Jesus, and they urge us to draw closer and closer to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus with complete confidence.
I say to you, that even so there will be joy in heaven over one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance (Lk. 15.7). Here we have the underlying idea of all three parables about God’s merciful love – the lost sheep, the missing drachma, and the prodigal son (Lk. 15.11.31) – each expressing this thought in a different way. This insistent repetition tells us how earnestly Jesus would inculcate the profound lesson of the infinite mercy flowing from His Most Sacred Heart, a mercy which is the exact opposite of the hard, scornful attitude of the Pharisees* who murmured, saying, “He receives sinners and eats with them. ” The three parables are the Master’s answer to their mean and treacherous insinuations.
* The same attitude that compelled many to reject the Catholic Church’s claim that it is holy (because it is the Mystical Body of Christ, cf., 1 Cor. 12.27) – forgetting that the Body, like her Head, is both divine and human (cf., the last part of our post “The Divine Spirit and the ‘spirit’ of Vatican II on homosexuality“) – and found their own ideal sects (Gal. 5.20; 2 Pet. 2.1, 10) of the “saved”.
It is not easy for finite creatures with a limited spiritual outlook to understand this ineffable mystery completely; not only is it difficult to understand in respect to others, but it presents a problem even in what concerns ourselves. However, the Good Shepherd said and repeated: There will be joy in heaven over one sinner who doth penance, more than over ninety-nine just thus giving us to understand what great glory a soul gives to God when, after many falls, it comes back to Him, repentant and confident. The message of this parable applies not only to great sinners, those converted from serious sin, but also to those who turn from venial sins, who humble themselves and rise again after these committed through weakness or lack of reflection. This is our everyday story: how many times we resolve to overcome our impatience, our quick temper, our sensitiveness, and how many times we fall again! But the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus “thrills with joy, when, humbly acknowledging our fault, we come to fling ourselves into His arms, imploring forgiveness; then, He loves us even more tenderly than before we fell” (St. Therese of the Infant Jesus and of the Holy Face).