Sunday, September 15, 2013

Holy Panic

This weekend's Gospel is a mashup of what I believe are some of Jesus' most poignant parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son.

Sure, they may be my favorite stories, but the truth is that they are also so familiar that they've almost gone stale. Most of us who grew up in the Church can probably tell these stories from memory. That familiarity can sap them of their power sometimes.

I went to Mass at my grandmother's parish today as we were going out afterward. The homily opened my eyes to the depth of these parables in a brand new way.

We already know that Jesus loves us and wants us to remain with Him. We also know that He is full of compassion for us when we do stumble or stray. But it also teaches us something else about God's heart.

You know that feeling you get when you lose your keys or your wallet? You tear the house upside down, beg St. Anthony for help, and after a few minutes with no luck a cold tendril of panic creeps its way into your bones.

You are anxious over the loss of the thing that is important or meaningful to you. You're not sure what will happen without it, because in some way you've begun to need that thing in your life. That's what we see in the first two stories, the lost sheep and the lost coin.

The addition of the prodigal son as the closing element of the reading is the clincher here. We rejoice over our lost objects or even lost animals, but how much more do we rejoice when a person we love returns to us? No found coin could ever compare to the miracle of a rekindled relationship.

And no anxiety over a lost coin could ever compare to the holy panic God feels for us, His precious children, when we are lost in our sin.

It's hard to imagine our perfect, omniscient God experiencing something like anxiety. But He is much more than just a God. He is our Father, our Lover, and our Divine Friend. He yearns for us and seeks after our wellbeing more than any human.

That knowledge on its own is a wonderful revelation. It should fill us with gratitude and peace.

And it should also motivate us to action, Monsignor said.

Think about it. Why is it that we're so passive when someone commits a grave sin or even leaves the Church? We avert our eyes, shuffle our feet and mutter meekly about it being between them and God. We're sad for them, but we don't want to cause any problems. We don't want to risk chasing them away.

Funny how all that changes if our loved one is diagnosed with cancer. We would beg, borrow and steal so they would have enough money for chemo. Our love would prompt us to make incredible sacrifices just for the chance that they may recover.

The truth is, those who are trapped in sin are afflicted with spiritual cancer. And doing nothing is essentially allowing them to die without a fight.

How far are we willing to go for the people we love to be well again? What are we willing to risk?

Holy panic, he said, would do us all so much good.

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