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Hound of Heaven
Thursday of the Thirty-First Week in Ordinary Time
The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus addressed this parable to them. “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? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’ In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Opening Prayer: Dear Lord, I thank you for the grace to be able to spend time with you. Strengthen my faith and inflame my love. Help me to listen attentively to your word, and to be open in both mind and heart. May I continue to seek you out more each day, and may I allow myself to be found by you, the Good Shepherd.
- Lost Sheep: It is easy to imagine a single sheep becoming distracted, disoriented, and lost. Once separated from the flock, it is in danger of not finding its way back, or worse, being attacked by wolves. While such a situation is troublesome, a shepherd really couldn’t be angry at an irrational animal for its actions. However, when man strays from God, he does so by his own free choice. He is responsible; he does not accidentally stray from God due to innocent ignorance. That makes the patience of Christ all the greater than that of a shepherd; he is not pursuing an ignorant animal, but rather a willful and errant soul. That is why St. Paul marveled, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Francis Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven” expresses the errant soul’s perspective well: “I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways… But with unhurrying chase, And unperturbed pace… They beat-and a Voice beat… “All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’’
- “No Need of Repentance”: The shepherd left the ninety-nine sheep to seek the lost one. These are those who “have no need of repentance.” Here Our Lord is speaking with a sense of irony since we are all in need of conversion. While we may be “in the fold” of the church and practicing our faith, our conversion remains an ongoing process. However, it is a real danger to begin to think of oneself as “fully” converted, or as having arrived at moral “perfection.” This seems to be Christ’s point in another passage where the Pharisee prayed “‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity–greedy, dishonest, adulterous–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner’” (Luke 18:11-13). It was the tax collector who went home justified (see Luke 18:14).
- “Rejoice with Me”: “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.” It is wonderful to hear from Jesus about the joy found in heaven with the recovery of the lost sheep. The church also celebrates such good news. However, the once lost and now recovered sheep may be tempted not to rejoice. He or she will be grateful for Our Lord’s help, but often that individual struggles with letting go of the guilt associated with his or her past. In extreme cases, the person may even question if he or she was truly forgiven. “But I was so bad—how could I be forgiven?” This is why Our Lord affirms that his mercy is precisely for sinners—like Peter who denied him, like the woman caught in adultery, and like the good thief on the cross. The greater the sins, the greater the conversion, and, therefore, the greater the gratitude. “Rejoice with me!”
Conversing with Christ: Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner. As such, I am so grateful to you for patiently and continuously offering your mercy to me. May I neither despair of, nor presume of, your mercy. Increase my reliance upon your grace to strengthen me in the face of temptation and difficulties. Also, help me to be your instrument to communicate your goodness to souls in need of your mercy.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will offer one small prayer and one small sacrifice for someone struggling with returning to confession and the church.
For Further Reflection: Read Francis Thompson’s poem “The Hound of Heaven”.
Written by Fr. John Bullock, LC.