Bringing Home the Lost Sheep

Reflection from Sr. Rosemary Finnegan, O.P.
Readings from:

Perhaps you noticed bales of hay outside the Family Life Center last week.  They are for the Live Nativity we’ll be having in just a couple of weeks. The thing I most love to observe as we watch this solemn scene unfold are the little children. They are so captivated with the precious baby goats and lambs there…and even the donkey!

When you see these precious animals, Jesus’ gospel message today about losing just one of them takes on new meaning:

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray,
will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills
and go in search of the stray?”
Who of us wouldn’t want to chase down a little sheep on Park Avenue if he escaped from our courtyard!  And, when we caught him, we’d be out of breath but very happy.

However, it’s the message that follows those gospel lines that should be of imminent importance to us:

‘In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father
that one of these little ones be lost."

Sadly, who of us doesn’t know someone who has left the Catholic Church, or doesn’t believe in God, or has who become indifferent to the spiritual life?

In the 2018 Pew Research Survey about Catholicism, this glaring statistic stands out: ‘Catholicism has experienced a greater net loss due to religious switching than has any other religious tradition in the U.S. Overall, 13% of all U.S. adults are former Catholics.

If we wouldn’t hesitate to chase a little lamb down Park Avenue, why do we hesitate when it comes to inviting someone back to Church?  Do we even have the courage to engage them in conversation, or listen to their reasons for leaving? And at Christmas, when we see people returning to Mass, are we hospitable, or are we judgmental? It’s all a process, but it has to start with our welcoming spirit.

Today we celebrate a true shepherd bishop, St. Nicholas, who shared and cared for all. Born of wealthy parents in the third century near Turkey, Nicholas was raised to be a devout Christian.  Sadly, his parents died in an epidemic while Nicholas, their only child, was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.  Many stories of his kindness, generosity and gift giving have been handed down to us and, because of these qualities, the tradition of Santa Claus, whose name is a derivation of St. Nicholas, is associated with him.

Perhaps this Advent, and in imitation of St. Nicholas, we can give the gift of personally reaching out to someone we know who has strayed from the faith. As a community, may we make that extra effort to be welcoming to all.