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09/15/19 24th Sunday In Ordinary Time - Fr. Reggie

These parables teach us more about the heart of God than a whole library full of theological treatises. They show us vividly that God cares about each one of us: he will not rest if only one sheep is missing, or one coin is lost. They show us that he cares deeply enough to go out of his way to save us when we are lost: it was certainly an inconvenience to go bushwhacking after the foolish stray sheep, and to light the lamp and sweep the dirt-floored house trying to find the lost coin. They show that God rejoices when we return to him, as the shepherd rejoices upon retrieving his sheep, and as the woman rejoices upon recovering her coin - every sinner who returns to God causes a joyful celebration to break out in the halls of heaven and the heart of the Father.

This portrait of goodness is set in high relief by the contrary attitude of the Pharisees, whose self-righteous and judgmental comments provided the occasion for these parables. If the Pharisees had possessed Christ's power and authority, they would have destroyed all "sinners." But Christ uses all his power and authority to bring sinners back into communion with God. The Pharisees' idea of God is off base. They see God as harsh and judgmental, when the truth is that God is a dedicated shepherd. God feels anxiousness in regards to sinners, not anger. He wants them back. He doesn't want to condemn them.

The Pharisees can't understand this, because they have painted their image of God in their own likeness. They enjoy condemning others for being less perfect than themselves, because it feeds their vanity, making them feel superior. But the Lord has no vanity, only love.

It's easy for us to forget how privileged we are to know life's true meaning

Any Catholic who has received the gift of faith and studied the Catechism knows where we came fromwhy we are here, why life is at times so difficult, where we are going, and how to get there.

Christ has given us the answers to these questions through his revelation and through the teaching of the Church.

Those who have no faith, or those who have abandoned their faith in Christ, have no solid answers to these questions.  That is not a happy position to be in. For example, H. G. Wells, famous historian and philosopher, said at age 61: "I have no peace. All life is at the end of the tether." The great nineteenth-century poet, adored and emulated by generations of scholars and artists, Byron said, "My days are in yellow leaf, the flowers and fruits of life are gone, the worm and the canker, and the grief are mine alone." The American literary genius Thoreau pointed out, "Most men live lives of quiet desperation." Ralph Barton, one of the top cartoonists of the nation, left this note pinned to his pillow before taking his own life: "I have had few difficulties, many friends, great successes; I have gone from wife to wife, from house to house, visited great countries of the world, but I am fed up with inventing devices to fill up twenty-four hours of the day."

Christ came to earth precisely to make sure that we don't have to "kill time" in life.  Precisely to make sure that we never have to fall into the confusion, frustration, and despair of those who don't know what life is all about.

This message of God's attitude towards sinners gives us the secret to the sacrament of confession.

Our fallen human nature, egged on by the devil's temptations, tends to see confession as something unpleasant. We tend to avoid it, or not to look forward to it. But think about that for a minute. Have you ever gone to confession and felt worse afterwards than you did before? Of course not.

God didn't invent the sacrament of confession in order to torture us.  He invented it because he loves us.

It is not meant to be drudgery.  Nor is it God being manipulative or coercive. Rather, confession is God's way of making it as simple and direct as possible for us to come back into the flock after we have wandered off. It is the perfect way for us to let him take us back into his arms, back into his home after we have turned away from him, just as the father in the parable took back his prodigal son, and just as the woman searching for the coin rejoiced when she had it back in her possession.

God knows the devil will keep sowing doubts in our hearts about whether or not God really can forgive our sins, especially the particularly bad ones that we are most ashamed of.

God loves us too much to leave any room for that kind of nagging doubt.  So he gives us the sacrament of confession to cut right through the devil's deceptions.

If we aren't using this great gift regularly, every month, for example, we probably need to examine our idea of God.  Do we see him as our loving Father whose mercy and care are limitless? That's how he wants to be seen - because that's how he is.

 

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