Fr. Barron aptly describes God’s irrational love for us:
The Lost Drachma (James Tissot)
Jesus’ original audience must have been puzzled indeed when they heard one of the Lord’s better-known parables for the first time. “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 . . . ” Well, they probably thought, precisely no man! Sheep were a precious commodity int he ancient world, and no shepherd worth his salt would willingly risk ninety-nine in order to find one. The Lord’s follow-up story would most likely have left them equally confused. “What woman having ten coins and losing one would not . . . sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls . . . he friends and neighbors and says . . . ‘Rejoice with me.'” The coin in quetion was of very little value, less than a penny. For that minuscule amount of money, she would turn her house upside down and then, upon discovering it, would call for a party? Her friends would think her mad.
And thus we come to the point. Jesus speaks of the God who loves us lavishly, extravagantly, exuberantly, even, dare I say it, irrationally. Think of the father of the Prodigal Son, who violates every canon of justice and right order when he welcomes back (with a party!) the child who had spurned him. One way to sum up the good news of the Gospel is to say, quite simply, that the Father of Jesus Christ is crazy about us.
The Pharisee becomes the publican
One thing that can cause me discouragement is dealing with besetting sin–you know that thing you keep taking back to confession over and over. One of mine is critical thinking. A few years ago I read Sr. Ruth Burrow’s autobiography, and in it she spoke about this being one of her ongoing faults as well. However, she found what I think is a very clever way to deal with it:
Perceptive, quick to see the flaws in another, I was prone to criticism, finding a certain satisfaction in seeing another at fault as though this, in some way, raised me up. I knew that no fault would so displease our Lord or stop his grace as this harsh judgment on his children. I realized I had the mentality of a pharisee but, I thought to myself, if a pharisee had turned to our Lord and admitted his hardness of heart, his crabbed, mean spirit and asked for help, our Lord would have helped him. So I did the same. The pharisee became the publican. I came to realize that temptations to pride, the sin of the pharisee, could make one a publican. The stone which the builders rejected could become head of the corner. I tried to use these bad tendencies to grow in humility.
And the Angels danced, don’t you think?
The Gospel reading for today tells the story of Christ healing the woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. Many people were bumping up against Him, but she alone reached out to Him in faith. Dr. Mary Healy challenges each of us: “The afflicted woman in this episode is a model for approaching Jesus. While crowd of people were bumping into him as he walked along, she touched him. Her faith brought her into living contact with Jesus, and as a result she experienced a dramatic healing. The difference between the crowds and the woman prompts the question: How often do we merely bump against Jesus—for instance, when we receive Him in the Eucharist?”
Jesus does not want our sins, our weaknesses and faults, to keep us from coming to Him, to keep us from intimacy with Him. I post again this painting by James Tissot. Put yourself in this woman’s place, a great sinner. Touch His feet, kiss His feet. And see the Lord reaching out to you in His tender love.
He said to Simon the Pharisee, “You gave me no kiss . . . ” (Lk 7.45). The Lord of Love will miss your kiss if you don’t draw near to Him . . .
As some of you know, I have a little book of art pictures and quotes that I periodically use for meditation. I have been pondering the picture below of the sinful woman anointing Jesus’ feet (James Tissot). And below it is a beautiful quote from John Chrysostom describing the love of God for us, each of whom is indeed the sinful woman.
“God desired a harlot, and how does He act? He does not send to her any of His servants. He does not send any angels or archangels, cherubim or seraphim. No, He Himself draws near to the one He loves, and He does not take her to Heaven, for He could not bring a harlot to Heaven, and therefore He Himself comes down to earth, to the harlot, and is not ashamed. He comes to her secret dwelling place and beholds her in her drunkenness. And how does He come? Not in the bare essence of His original nature, but in the guise of one whom the harlot is seeking, in order that she might not be afraid when she sees Him, and will not run away, and escape Him. He comes to the harlot as a man. And how does He become this? He is conceived in the womb, He grows little by little, as we do, and has intercourse with human nature. And He finds this harlot thick with sores and oppressed by devils. How does He act? He draws nigh to her. She sees Him and flees away. He calls the wise man, saying, ‘Why are you afraid? I am not a judge, but a physician. I come not to judge the world, but to save the world.’ Straightway He calls the wise men, for are not the wise man the immediate first fruits of His coming? They come and worship Him, and then the harlot herself comes and is transformed into a maiden. The Canaanite woman comes and partakes of His love. And how does He act? He takes the sinner and espouses her to Himself, and gives her the signet ring of the Holy Spirit as a seal between them.” (John Chrysostom)
What wondrous love is this!
Awake, Mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again, God became man.
You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.
Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.
~St. Augustine, Sermon 185
I must re-post my favorite picture for this Feast of the Sacred Heart. This is by James Tissot. (And don’t miss the quote at the end. It’s just for you.)
We are all in the Heart of Jesus Christ, since He loves us all, for the way of love is for the lover to lodge the beloved in his heart. (Fr. Timothée de Raynier)
This morning I was meditating on Joseph and Mary’s Advent journey to Bethlehem. So often, I think, we would like our own Advents to be peaceful and calm and balk interiorly–if not exteriorly as well–at inconveniences and grouchy children (and husbands), at interruptions and long lines, etc. And then there are those even more serious situations that we may be facing: the death of a loved one, possible foreclosure on our house, unemployment . . . When we think about what the journey to Bethlehem realistically consisted of, we might do well to join ourselves spiritually to Mary and Joseph in their journey, begging God to give us those same graces.
Here is an excerpt from Come, Lord Jesus–Meditations on the Art of Waiting, by Mother Mary Francis, published posthumously:
We think about our Lady on the way to Bethlehem. Do we really think deeply enough about what she suffered? And about Saint Joseph’s suffering? How do we think he felt to take her off in her condition of expectancy, riding the mule to Bethlehem? Her heart must have been tempted to question, “Why is this?” And surely his heart was tempted to question. Neither was supine; these were real people.
There are struggles asked of us, as were asked of them. And the answer is faith. We will see later on, of course, in the Scriptures, that it says very plainly that she didn’t understand what Jesus said to them after those three days’ loss. And she asked him, “Why did you do that?” Those words, in a sense, sum up her whole relationship with the Son of God, who was the Son of her womb. And he gives her an answer that she doesn’t understand at all. He says to all of us, in a different place in the Scriptures, “What I am doing you cannot understand now, but later you will understand.” That is a precious thought to hold in our hearts. How many times we say, “I just don’t understand this”, and he says, “One day you will understand.”
In the inevitable struggles of life–and the struggles of these special days–we don’t need to understand. We just need to respond, and then to hear him say, “One day you will understand. One day I will explain everything to you–except when that day comes, you won’t need to ask.” (pp. 103-104)