Our readings this week speak of the merciful love God has for each one of us. No matter how sinful we have been, no matter how far we have strayed from the flock, God searches for us to bring us home. Within this message is a call to each of us to be evangelizers, that is to share our love for Christ with others so that they will come to experience the living Christ and become themselves true disciples and followers of Jesus.
Before exploring this further, St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in New York has a cemetery. During the summer they borrow three sheep to feed on the grass and thus maintain the lawn. This year they named the sheep faith, hope and charity. Six parishioners have been trained as volunteer shepherds to care for the sheep. Their main responsibility is to gather the sheep into a shed at night. To help protect the sheep from intruders the shed is secured with an alarm. The cemetery grounds are under 24/7 video surveillance and the pastor and shepherds can monitor the sheep with their smart phones, tablets or computers. I am happy to say as of this time there are no reports of lost sheep. Faith, Hope and Charity are alive and well at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral. If you would like to help care for the sheep you can visit the iphone app Soho sheep to make a donation.
In the Gospel reading we read of the parable of the lost sheep. The parable opens with a question: What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? Does this really make sense? Doesn’t this arouse doubt about the action of the shepherd? Is it wise to abandon the ninety-nine for one single sheep. And at that to abandon the ninety-nine in the desert which according to biblical tradition is known as a place of death where it is hard to find food and water and where one is at the mercy of wild beasts and thieves. Let us do the math, shouldn’t I protect the ninety-nine and say losing one sheep is no great loss.
The lesson that Jesus wants us to learn is that He cannot accept the fact that a single person can be lost. Everyone is important to Christ, He searches for those who are most in need, most abandoned and most discarded. God loves everyone and looks for everyone: One by one! While Jesus searches for the lost sheep he challenges the ninety-nine to participate in re-uniting the flock.
In the Christian community there is always someone who is missing and when that person is gone/is lost a place is left empty. Sometimes that leads us to believe that a loss is inevitable. We cannot think that way, we need to go forth to encounter the lost and help bring them back to the fold/to the Church. For in Jesus’ vision there are no sheep that are definitively lost but only sheep that must be found again. To the last moment God is searching for us. No distance can keep the shepherd away but also no flock can renounce a brother or a sister. To find the one who is lost is the joy of the shepherd (of God) and it is also the joy of the flock. We are all sheep who have been lost, retrieved and brought back by the Mercy of our Lord, and we are all called to help gather the whole flock (all of God’s sheep) together for the Lord.
That is our calling as baptized Catholics but how do we help bring lost sheep back to the flock, how do we bring fallen away Catholics back to the Church? To approach this let us explore the New Evangelization which we are all called to participate in. For those of you who may not know simply put the New Evangelization is all about Jesus Christ and living out our faith in a way that draws us closer to Him. It is also about us helping others develop a relationship with Christ. An easy way to think about the New Evangelization is to break it down into three points: Know the faith, Live the faith and Share the faith. For the New Evangelization to work it is necessary for each of us as Catholics to engage in all three of these areas and to do so on a constant, unending basis. The New Evangelization is a challenge for us to continually grow in our relationship with Jesus and to help others do the same. This starts with knowing our Faith. We should spend our entire lives trying to learn as much about our Faith as possible. We can do this by reading the bible daily, studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church, by asking the Holy Spirit for wisdom.
But if we stop at just knowing the Faith without living it out then we are just talking the talk and not walking the walk. So the second aspect of the New Evangelization is living the Faith through regular reception of the Sacraments (Eucharist, Confession) and by striving to be Christ to others in this world. It is finding ways every day to put into practice the teachings of the Faith through our thoughts, words and action. For example, going to the Adoration Chapel and telling Jesus you love Him or praying for others, especially someone you have trouble getting along with.
Lastly, if we do not Share our faith with others than we are not living out our faith with the zeal of the first apostles. Ways you can share your faith are by inviting someone to the Adoration Chapel, forgiving someone who has hurt you or getting involved in parish ministries. To truly be a New Evangelizer it is necessary that we strive to grow in all of these three areas, know the faith, Live the faith and Share the faith.
The following is a story that helps illustrate what can happen in a parish, in peoples’ lives when we encounter Jesus and out of love reach out to share His living presence with others. Mary had worked at a Catholic Church in Minnesota for many years as a school teacher, Youth Minister, Director of Religious Education. She spent many hours teaching people about the faith but she was not seeing lives being converted to follow Christ and become discouraged. She reached a point where she started to search for a different religion to join. One night at 2 A.M. Mary was outside struggling with her decision, she looked up in the sky and said, God if you are real you need to show me because I can’t believe it any longer. Well that same morning at 8 A.M. she went to the mailbox and there was a letter from an old school classmate who Mary had not heard from in 15 years. The beginning of the letter said this: Mary we haven’t seen each other for a long time but the Lord asked me to write to you and tell you that yes indeed He is real, that He has been looking and waiting for you for a long time. For a second Mary’s world stopped, she stood stunned with tears pouring down her cheeks. You see Mary had run many activities in the church thinking the more she did the better chance she would have to go to Heaven, but she herself had not developed a personal loving relationship with Jesus, did not yet know the Holy Spirit.
Two weeks later she was going to play in a tennis tournament. There happened to be two gyms across the street from one another. Mary went to the wrong gym where a priest was leading a healing and Holy Spirit program. She stayed and became overwhelmed with the presence of the Holy Spirit, Mary would say how her life was changed forever. She prayed to God asking how she should share her love for Jesus and the Holy Spirit with others. Mary went to a New Evangelization training course where she became aware of the teachings of Saint John Paul II. Mary learned that conversion begins with encountering Jesus Christ who is alive and at work in our world today. She found that as people fall in love with Jesus He pours His spirit into their hearts and then the treasures of the Catholic Church make sense, then learning about our faith comes to life and people want to learn more and more and get involved in parish life.
So Mary along with her Pastor implemented changes in their ministry programs to include ideas regarding the New Evangelization. They provided a place and program for people to come and learn about Christ and invited parishioners and people in the community ( many who were fallen away Catholics) to participate. Mary came to understand that if she cooperated with Jesus and provided an environment for an encounter with Him that the Holy Spirit would do the work of converting people. And the results have been remarkable:
Mary pointed out how this can occur in any parish because it comes down to trusting in the power of the Gospel, to surrendering our lives to Jesus and then leading others to encounter the living Jesus who will then transform lives.
This call to evangelize, to bring others to Christ is directed to each of us. We may say, who am I to share my faith with other people or talk to them about Jesus Christ? Or I don’t know my faith well enough to be able to explain my beliefs or How can I have an impact on anyone else?
Pope Paul VI in his letter on Evangelization in the Modern World tells us that the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelization. We do not have to depend on our own resources when we evangelize. We are the instruments the Spirit uses to touch the hearts of those we encounter. Whenever we make an effort to evangelize, whether by word or example, we are never doing it alone. We are always being prompted and aided by the Holy Spirit. Pope Paul VI has said how it is unthinkable to think that someone who has met the Lord would not share Him with other people.
So as we get ready to receive the Eucharist let us ask for the desire and strength to know our faith, to live our faith and share our faith. For God it is not acceptable for one sheep to be lost and it should not be acceptable to us either.
So share your love for Christ with others. Let the Holy Spirit use you to help bring lost sheep back to the Lord’s flock.BACK TO LIST