Last Sunday Pope Francis canonized Mother Teresa. He spoke of how God loved her, and how she in turn gave His tender loving kindness to others. We see saints from the outside (the love they give to others), but we don’t usually see their interior lives (the love they have first received from God). Mother Teresa gave extraordinary love because she perceived to an extraordinary degree God’s thirsting love for her. Saints are those astonishing people who see what we don’t see. God’s infinite thirst, his tender care at every moment, became visible to her over time, and so she became capable of total surrender to Him in loving trust. “There is a sort of miracle every day, some sign of God’s love and care.” Mother Teresa wrote. “Once we ran out of food because of the rains and the flood. Just that time the schools closed in Calcutta and all the bread was given to us… for two days, our poor had bread and bread, until they could eat no more. The greatest miracle is that God can work through nothings, small things like us.” Mother Teresa accomplished remarkable works for the poor in her 87 years on earth, but all of it was only the exterior fruit of her interior love for God. “It is God’s work, not ours,” she insisted. “I am only a pencil in His hand. Pray that we do not spoil God’s work.”
Three parables of mercy
Our readings today speak of God’s mercy, what Mother called “God’s tender love for me.” First, Moses appeals to Yahweh’s mercy. Although justice demands that he wipe out the faithless Israelites, God’s heart relents. “I will not destroy them, for I am God, not man.” St. Paul writes in the second reading : “I have been mercifully treated … I have found mercy.” And today’s Gospel gives us three parables: a woman who loses a coin, a shepherd who loses a sheep, a father who loses a son. In each of these parables, God searches for us as a person driven crazy by desirous love. The shepherd puts 99 good sheep at risk to chase after one who was dumb enough to wander off. The woman tears her house apart to find one small coin, and then spends ten times its worth to celebrate.
Forgiving your son
And the “Prodigal Father” spends his days scanning the horizon for the return of his “prodigal son.” This boy was no good; he had demanded his father’s money because he couldn’t wait for him to die. He wastes the family resources and wastes himself. Most of us would write a loser like that out of our lives. But the father spends his days scanning the horizon, hoping for his return. When he sees him, “a long way off,” the Father runs out to him, clasps him to his heart, and restores his humanity, no questions asked.
A few years ago a young man I knew returned from Los Angeles. He had enjoyed a happy childhood and been a beloved part of our parish growing up. But at around 16 he began to resent his parents, and pierce himself, and practice senseless violence. After high school he went to LA to live the party scene for a few years. Recently he came back home. And what did he find waiting for him? Did his father run out to meet him and wrap him around with affectionate forgiveness? I won’t tell you what happened, but you can only imagine how hard—impossible, even—it would be for his father to completely forgive his son. I’m sure I could not forgive him completely, because I don’t know God’s infinite love for me yet. But I’m working on it.
Do you know Jesus?
In her famous last letter to her sisters, Mother Teresa wrote these words: "My dearest Children, Jesus wants me to tell you again, how much is the love He has for each one of you—beyond all that you can imagine. I worry some of you still have not really met Jesus—one to one—you and Jesus alone. We may spend time in chapel—but have you seen with the eyes of your soul how He looks at you with love? Do you really know the living Jesus—not from books, but from being with Him in your heart? Have you heard the loving words He speaks to you? Ask for this grace, He is longing to give it. Never give up this daily intimate contact with Jesus as a real living Person—not just an idea.”
I and the rest of our parish are largely unconverted. You and I, we do not know Jesus very personally. We do not trust Him very much because we scarcely know Him. That is why we have so much trouble loving others. We do not know the love God has for us. So we must take the trouble to pray. We must set aside time every day for silence, especially before the Blessed Sacrament. The church is open to us; Jesus is thirsting for us. Our Lady will help us, and so will St. Teresa of Calcutta. It is up to us to make that time for Jesus in prayer, so we may begin to know him face to face, and so become capable of giving that love.