Today’s Gospel is one of the most well-known Gospel stories we have. We are told that, in order to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven we must become like a child.
Children are not jaded, cynical, or critical of themselves or others. They do not hold grudges. They reserve judgment because their only experience of the world is their own. Children wave and smile at complete strangers because to them, everyone is a friend. Children trust and do not worry.
Is it any wonder that Christ wants us to be like children? They have utter purity of heart. “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”
I desire deeply to see God in everything, but the cloud of “adulthood” makes that difficult. I am slow to trust others. I have unintended prejudices towards other cultures, races, disabilities. I worry almost all the time. With adulthood comes more freedom; but that freedom is a double-edged sword that brings along with it negativity, stress, and apathy. It causes me to be critical in my thoughts and actions toward others without first approaching their shortcomings with compassion.
We slowly let go of the purity of our hearts along the road to adulthood, causing us to lose our ability to see God in all things.
For all intents and purposes, I am one of the ninety-nine—a safe, comfortable sheep following the Shepherd, nourished within the sheepfold of the Church. I have not gone “astray” from the Church, but I catch myself judging the one that has. Like the brother of the Prodigal Son, I wonder why I am not the one being commended for staying faithful. Yet where does this false piety and need for justification leave me? It causes me to forget the times when I have been the 1 who needed rescuing. It depletes my ability to feel empathy towards the painful experiences of my fellow brothers and sisters. It creates an even deeper divide between them and me that was never supposed to be there in the first place.
You see, the shepherd who goes after the 1 does not abandon the 99. He is not saying that they don’t matter, that they aren’t as important to him, that their lives don’t bring value. He is intimately in-tune with the immediate needs of his flock. Right now, the 99 are okay. They don’t need him as urgently.
It is the same in our world today. As Christians, we too are called to go out and seek the lost. With our baptism comes the commission to comfort the afflicted and respond in humility and kindness to the needs of others. The word compassion comes from the combination of two Latin words. Com = with. Passion = suffer. Com-passion. To suffer together with.
Right now, our discriminated brothers and sisters need us to fight for their rights in human solidarity. Our immunocompromised and elderly brothers and sisters need us to protect them by wearing a mask and staying home when asked to. Our poor children caught in sex-trafficking need us to recognize their cries for help and do something. This Christian call to arms is by no means comfortable or easy, but it is absolutely necessary and utterly vital to our Christian mission.
As I contemplate the Good Shepherd’s heart, I am filled with awe, gratitude, and relief that He would do the same for me as He does for that one missing sheep. He will never forget me or give up on me. When I find myself lost, He never stops ardently pursuing me, and rejoices to welcome me home. Until then, I’ll do my part to keep the 100 sheep united.
Sarah Rose hails from Long Island and graduated from Franciscan University in 2016 with a Bachelor’s in Theology & Catechetics. She is happily married to her college sweetheart John Paul. They welcomed their first child, Judah Zion, in 2019. She is passionate about her big V-vocation: motherhood, and her little v-vocation: bringing people to encounter Christ through the true, the good, and the beautiful. She loves fictional novels, true crime podcasts/documentaries, the saints (especially Blessed Chiara Luce Badano), & sharing conversation over a good cup of coffee. She is currently the Coordinator of Young Adult Ministry at St. Cecilia Church in Oakley, Cincinnati. You can find out more about her ministry here: https://eastsidefaith.org/young-adult OR at https://www.facebook.com/stceciliayam.