The Landings* mission to welcome returning Catholics is truly a great process. Participated with commitment, it turns out to be a wonderful experience of God’s prodigal love. It helps those who are lost in faith re-discover the presence of God in their personal lives. It brings our faith life into an experiential dimension. If we have done Landings, today’s readings come alive; words in our minds live in our hearts because we experienced them in action.
Who is ‘lost’ or what is ‘lost’? Faith? Belief in God? Rarely, because in the deepest recess of our inner selves our souls will search for its Creator. We are actually dealing with the degree of ‘lost-ness’, its visibility only showing in our behaviour. A manifestation of this ‘lost-ness’ is our disappearance from Sunday mass. This is the most common visible line drawn between one who is lost and one who isn’t. But this isn’t fully correct. Appearance at Sunday mass does not suggest that we live saintly lives! We all have a degree of ‘lost-ness’ as we strive to be perfect in God.
The beauty of this mission of welcoming returning Catholics is while reaching out to “the lost sheep”, “to go after the lost one”, we uncover the ‘lost-ness’ in ourselves. Embedded in us, unconsciously and naturally, is a judgemental nature. We simply classify a person not coming for mass to be a “lapsed Catholic, the lost sheep”; unconscious to the fact that this “sheep” is struggling with some issues in life, faith or otherwise. We are called not to judge but to get out of the pew to reach out. Often we find ourselves immobile and that in itself is a manifestation of the degree of our own ‘lost-ness’.
We are called to constantly energise our faith life; to take off on a run towards where help is needed to bring comfort and love. Like the father in today’s parable of the prodigal son, he began running the moment his son appeared as a speck on the horizon. No judgement weighed him down, and being “moved with pity” lifted him. When he reached him, there was an embrace not a rebuke. Instead of squeezing out words of regret from the son, he generously shut him down by throwing a party. Can we fly out of the pews to do likewise? Do we even feel enough to “celebrate and rejoice” for “he was lost and is found”?
This mission gives us the opportunity to make real the prodigal love of God in our lives; we are unconditionally loved and are urged to be the people God can use to make real his love to others, especially the lost, lost in many other ways too, in our world. In so doing, we ourselves climb a notch up from our ‘lost-ness’ and is found. We have experience the power of this un-judgemental love when we witness in Landings one lost sheep reaching out to another lost sheep to together climb out of their ‘lost-ness’. And we too climb with them.
Faith comes into this experiential dimension in this mission. When we go into cafes or go to where they are most comfortable: we run like the father towards them. We sit down to listen to their stories often laced with guilt and unworthiness like that of the returning son. But we surprise their spirit with non-judgemental words and actions of welcome. We lift their burden of unworthiness and put in affirmations from true love. We remove their blindness by pointing out God’s presence in their personal lives, even when they had been ignoring Him. We open the door to reconciliation; they only have to accept a forgiveness already given. This is the gospel passage coming alive.
This is Christianity as it should be; not a set of doctrines but alive in daily life. We are called into mission to make this prodigal love alive to all who we encounter; to reduce the ‘lost-ness’ in each of ourselves.
We are offered a personal relationship with the shepherd; an invitation we can only start to accept when faith becomes experiential. Only with this relationship can we make real this love of God. When our behaviour expresses this relationship, we become the words and action of God’s unconditional, prodigal love. Such behaviour is a better mark, a clearer visibility between who is lost and who is found.
As we sit in the pews today, hidden in them is our ‘lost-ness’. We can choose to be like the other son ever present at Sunday mass and say, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders” or we can be like St. Paul, once lost, who says of God, “who judged me faithful enough to call me into his service even though I used to be a blasphemer and did all I could to injure and discredit the faith”.
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time