Following is the prepared text from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s homily for the Mass for Apostolates.
November 8, 2018
“There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who have no need of repentance.” Luke 15:7
In Chapter 15 of his account of the Gospel of Jesus, St. Luke records three parables that illustrate how God rejoices, not in punishing his sons and daughters when they get lost, but in finding and bringing them home. In all three parables, there is a similar pattern. First, there is something lost: a sheep, a coin, a son. Second, what is lost is searched for, with great effort, until found. Third, there is a celebration of finding what was lost. In today’s Gospel passage, the first two of these parables were proclaimed. Let’s look at these.
In the first parable, a shepherd goes in search of the one of his 100 sheep that was lost. Notice that the shepherd rejoices not just once but two times: first, when he finds the sheep out in the desert, and again when he arrives home.
To rejoice the first time is remarkable because, both the shepherd and the lost sheep at the time he is found, are worn out—the sheep unable to help itself and needing to be cared for in every way, and the weary shepherd who still must carry the lost sheep all the way back to the village. Nonetheless, the shepherd does not complain or beat the sheep. Rather, “with great joy,” he picks up the sheep, sets it on his shoulders, and carries it home. Then, once home, he rejoices again. He embraces gladly the hard work of rescue and restoration.
Our God is like this. Jesus does not refuse to pay the price of “welcoming sinners and eating with them.” In fact, He insists that this is precisely His mission from the Father. He came to seek and to save the lost. St. Paul writes to Timothy: “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost.”
The price of carrying the lost back to the fold is Jesus’ suffering and death upon the Cross. By His wounds we are healed. By His Holy Cross, He redeemed the world. And He did this gladly. St. Catherine of Siena said: “Jesus is so madly in love with us sinners that He ran to embrace the Cross.” He willingly gave Himself over to suffering to rescue the lost.
In the second parable, a woman loses one of ten silver coins. Upon discovering that it is lost, she lights a lamp and sweeps the house, diligently searching for the coin. She does not stop until she finds it. Then, she calls in her friends and neighbors and says: “Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that was lost.” Once again, we see the great joy of finding what was lost. But one detail of this parable is noticeably different from the parable of the lost sheep, namely, the place where she finds what was lost: in her own home—not out in the desert, not far away, but in her own home.
Jesus compares Himself to this woman. Why? First, because He too searches until He finds what is lost and then invites others to rejoice with Him in finding it.
Secondly, within the Household of God, members get lost, even bishops can get lost. We get so lost we cannot rescue ourselves. Whenever the baptized fall into sin, we remain within God’s House, but we are separated from God: that is, we are lost, even if we are too proud to admit we need to be found. Whenever we sin gravely, we need again to be reconciled with the Father and with other members of the Church. This work Christ continues in the Church, especially through solid teaching of the Gospel and through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
This parable helps us to understand the Sacrament of Confession, the primary way that God forgives our sins after Baptism.
To make a good confession requires considerable effort on our part, just as it took real effort for the woman to search and find the lost coin. We examine our conscience, searching our mind and heart like the woman searched within her own home. Then, with a contrite heart we confess our sins to God through the priest.
Both these parables, and the third about the Prodigal Son, help us understand why the priest says at the beginning of Mass: “Brethren, let us acknowledge our sins and so prepare ourselves to celebrate these Sacred Mysteries.” The Eucharist is a celebration for sinners who were lost but have been found. It is “where Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
All who gather at the Eucharist can say in all honesty: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” At the Eucharist, we taste and see the goodness of the Lord. We find a joy that the world cannot give.
No one brought more joy to the world than Jesus. At His birth in Bethlehem, the shepherds rejoiced, the Magi were filled with gladness, and the angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth.”
Changing water into wine at the Wedding Feast of Cana, Jesus brought even greater joy to the newly married couple and their friends.
To Mary Magdalen, to Matthew and Zacchaeus the tax collectors, to Saint Peter and Saint Paul, and many more, He rescued the lost and restored the dignity of the children of God.
The joy that Jesus gave to all these is like what I find in you who work in the many apostolates of our diocese. Your joy is the key to witnessing to Christ. Joy is what Jesus restores to others through your kindness, healing, and prayer. Joy is our destiny. Joy is why God made us; He wants us to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.
Such joy cannot be purchased with money; it cannot be grasped through power. It eludes the clutches of the proud. Joy comes through the love of Christ our Savior. It is given to the humble of heart. And that is why Jesus says:
“There is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over 99 who have no need to repent.”