14th Friday in Ordinary Time
Gn 46:1-7, 28-30; Mt 10:16-23
“At last I can die, now that I have seen for myself that Joseph is still alive.” These concluding words of our first reading this morning reveal to us the intense emotion Jacob had felt from losing one of his children. When his sons brought to him the bloody tunic, Jacob had rent his garments, put on sackcloth, and mourned his son many days. Though his sons and daughter tried to console him, he had refused all consolation, saying, “No, I will go down mourning to my son in the nether world” (Gn 37:35). It had been quite a traumatic experience for him, and it left its shadow over the ensuing years. It was as if the eleven sons and one daughter that he still had could not outweigh the one he had lost.
I have noticed sort of a pattern that when a young person in a family dies, it leaves its mark on the others. Years ago, when our medical skills were not as developed, a higher percentage of children died, and it was sort of “par for the course.” But nowadays it is much more tragic. A healthy family can survive it and move on, but a dysfunctional one can become even more messed up. I’m thinking of one where the son, Tom, when he was 10 or 12, was hit by a car while delivering papers on his bike and killed. In all the years that followed, his family never talked about it – it was a forbidden subject. I think it was a strong contributor to some very strange dynamics in that family. In some odd way, the five children who were still alive couldn’t make up for the one who had died.
A similar thing can be seen in a family where one of the children has gone astray and is seriously misbehaving. The grief that the parents feel cannot be outweighed by all the other children who are doing what they’re supposed to.
The God that has been revealed to us over the centuries is very much a parent. We see it in the parable of the Prodigal Son. The father grieved the son who had taken his inheritance and left. Every day he went out to the roadside and looked. The son who had stayed home and was behaving himself could not outweigh what the father was feeling for the straying one. Only when he got him back could he rejoice.
Jesus told us in the parable of the 100 sheep that the shepherd would leave the 99 unattended and vulnerable in order to search out the one that had strayed. And if he finds it, “He rejoices more over it than the ninety-nine that did not stray” (Mt 18:13). And Jesus goes on to draw the parallel: “In just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance” (Lk 15:7).
These passages from Scripture give us an insight into what God feels when he looks down on the world and sees so many of his children going astray and heading to perdition. His anguish for the souls on the road to hell is not outweighed by the souls on the road to heaven. And our Blessed Mother is strongly affected by this also. She is very much our parent too. Some of her statues these days are weeping, for instance, the one in Akita, Japan, where her apparition has been approved by the Church.
I think it would be fair to say that the salvation of straying souls is a preoccupation of God and the citizens of heaven. God cannot get away from being a parent. It hurts him terribly to see any of his children lost. If it is a preoccupation for him, it should also be one for us. We should daily offer little prayers and sacrifices for the salvation of souls. A favorite of mine is the little prayer, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph I love you; save souls,” which can be repeated over and over.
Probably the best currency to buy souls with is offering up the sufferings that come our way: the aches and pains, the mishaps, the things that try our patience. Freely accepted and united to Christ’s sufferings they can do way more than we realize. Christ wills to include us in his work of redemption. And I think our joy in heaven someday will be that much greater when we look around and see souls which we played a role in getting there.