Christianity is not about man seeking God, but rather God seeking man. Jesus makes that clear by an action, followed by his most famous parables. He shares a meal with “sinners.” In a previous homily I tried to explain who those people are and why we would react as angrily as the scribes and Pharisees.
It would be like a pastor, who has not been in the homes of most parishioners, all of a sudden having a public lunch with a convicted pedophile. The parish members would not only feel betrayed; they would have all kinds of questions about their pastor. By breaking bread with those on the outer fringe of his society, Jesus performed that kind of outrage.
His parables explain his action – but in a paradoxical manner. It has been pointed out that a sensible shepherd would not risk ninety-nine sheep just to search out one. And the woman who spends all morning looking for a single coin is hardly practicing good time management. Moreover, inviting the neighbor to celebrate, for sure cost more than a dime. Yet to their owners, the coin, the sheep must have had what economists call added value.
That is precisely the point. Like the small coin, like the scraggly, disoriented sheep, you and I do have a certain intrinsic worth. But it is small – and we have done things to efface even that. God, however, has infused into us an “added value.” By seeking us with unimaginable desire, he has given humans a dignity beyond calculation.
In our culture, it is hard to maintain that perspective. A young lady who favors animal rights once wrote to me:
“sorry i dont agree that humans are more valuable than animals. sure we are more intelligent, etc... but on a moral level no i dont think humans are worth more… look at some of the worst humans in history like adolph hitler, ted bundy, etc.. no i think my dog is more of an asset to this world than those pieces of scum.”
I responded by telling her I agreed. However, I asked, “why stop with Ted Bundy and Hitler? On a moral level I am often worse than my dog. Could not the same be said about you?”
We often judge worth in terms of our emotional response. Last week my brother’s dog died. I felt sadder about her death than I did about Timothy McVeigh’s execution. But that does not mean she was more valuable than McVeigh. Rather my emotions do not correspond to what I know to be true.
The fact Timothy McVeigh could conceive and carry out such a horrendous crime indicates he has a capacity a dog does not possess. God sought McVeigh, desired his repentance, until his last breath. Similarly he seeks you and me.
Do not be deceived by those who say you can find God through “spirituality.” I cringe when someone tells me they are looking for (or more commonly, have found) a spirituality they are comfortable with. It quickly degenerates into the self-congratulations and the looking down on others, typical of the Pharisees. In contrast, Jesus requires humility, a realization that before God I am no better than Timothy McVeigh – or a convicted pedophile.
As the canonization process for Mother Teresa moves forward, the media have reported some surprising revelations. She apparently received an exorcism while in a hospital. She wrote letters expressing doubt and anguish: "In my soul, I can't tell you how dark it is, how painful, how terrible -- I feel like refusing God."
To learn one of the great souls of the twentieth century experienced such darkness has shocked, even scandalized. But it should not. Good works – even heroic deeds – never saved anyone, including Mother Teresa. Only grace. She, more than most, was aware of the ineffable mercy. Jesus reveals it to us as the source of our dignity, our worth. He dines with sinners - and invites them to the Eucharist.
See also Response to Terrorism
From Archives (24th Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Homilies on Prodigal Son:
Confession of Sins and New Creation
The Reproach of Egypt
Return of the Prodigal Son
Who is The Prodigal Son?
Bulletin (Reflection on terrorist attacks)
Proclaiming the Gospel (Foto by Marry-Natty)
Seattle Columnist Joel Connelly Responds to Anti-Catholic Stereotyping: "On issues from AIDS to stem cell research, Catholic teaching and 'the Vatican' get described as medieval obstacles to 21st century progress. Archbishop Alex Brunett is wondering whose agenda and what purpose is being served."
Smelt Fishing with Fr. Jim Coyne (Sept. 3, 2001)
Catholic Evangelization and Dissent by Fr. Jim Northrop (well worth reading!)
Germaine Greer on Birth Control
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
My bulletin column
St. Mary of the Valley Album
About Stephen Hawkings' Grand Design. (Note: He has been wrong in the past.)
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