An enormous amount of effort, nowadays, is particularly devoted to welcoming Catholics back in the church after decades of endlessly seeking spiritual renewal/relief provided mostly by the Evangelicals. It’s the sense of belongingness and the search for meaning that are of paramount importance to them. I have read and seen testimonies of former Catholics claiming they’ve never felt as alive and welcomed except in their new found community. A vast number, not into the business of organized religion and its bureaucracy, simply opt to be out of the list, become unaffiliated and who knows what they do on Sunday. There are many factors that have led to this phenomenon: failure to sustain the rapidly growing numbers, lack of manpower, training and proper implementation at the grassroots level. Programs such as CatholicsComeHome, Catholicism Project and parish initiatives help a lot in this huge undertaking of inviting, so to speak, the fallen-away Catholics.The fifteenth chapter of Luke is often called ‘the gospel within the gospel’ as it remarkably contains stories that are essentially, at the core of Jesus’ teaching. The parable of the lost sheep is a story of a Shepherd, knowing that a sheep is missing, takes the risk of leaving the 99 behind unattended and goes out in the thicket tirelessly searching. As soon as he finds it, he drapes it around his shoulder and returns to the flock. The parable of the lost coin is a story of a woman, losing a treasured coin, refuses to give up. She, instead, lights a lamp and carefully sweeps around her house until she recovers it. And lastly, the parable of the prodigal son, the most famous the world has ever known, is a story of a Father who embraced his son unconditionally even after wasting his life and letting it sink deep. And guess what, they even partied (like crazy) all day long. It’s relatively easy to see our lives as the sheep wandering off in the wild brush, the coin falling through the cracks and living on the edge and the son, squandering his share of the family’s property and going back home bankrupt.
The text under negotiation, is actually a response to the grumbling of the Scribes and Pharisees seeing Jesus hanging around with the despicable members. He acted contrary to the popular belief of staying away from the sinner and affirming the God-fearing. He didn’t only talk about politics, religion and sports but worse, dined with them as if they were VIP’s. Not only it was scandalous for a Religious Leader to do that, he seemed to give the impression, he was condoning their sinful behaviors. As you know, a person is normally judged by the company he keeps. He didn’t care, though. Rather, he used it as an occasion to demonstrate and depict a God, outside of the box, which for a Pharisee, was unthinkable. He mirrored a compassionate God, who understands the emptiness of being lost, the pain of separation, the need to belong and the struggle to return. It was the kind of God who goes out in search mode even for one sinner. Does that mean it’s alright to lose my religion to feel so special and precious, like never before, in the eyes of God? Maybe, not. But, I can imagine Jesus spending time with folks terribly hooked in drugs, with those practicing witchcraft and magic in town and the alienated.
Finally, this reflection is an invitation addressed primarily to the faithful, righteous, obedient and well-informed Catholics, to consider taking the role of the Shepherd, the woman and the Father, join and rejoice in the delightful and successful discovery, refrain from engaging into hair-splitting when a CEO Catholic walks in and receives communion. This is how it works in the household of God. Amen.