In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us a story about a shepherd who seeks a lost member of his flock. I had two questions when reading this parable: Why did the sheep wander off? And why did the shepherd go after just one sheep when he had 99 others to watch over? So, I did a little research. Google says sheep can stray when they feel sick because they don’t want to slow down the rest of the flock and jeopardize its safety. But sheep are helpless when they are lost, too afraid to lie down for fear that they would be attacked by a predator. They wander in circles and cry. Their only hope is that the shepherd comes to find them. I also learned that sheep have excellent hearing and they can distinguish the voice of their shepherd over everyone else. But they have to pause between their cries to listen.
I lived forty-five years of my life following my own will and my passions. Yes, I attended Mass almost every week of my life, yet I was not very attentive. I had my own sense of morality and ethics that I formed based on my upbringing and personal experiences. I also did not understand how prayer was powerful and did not sense God’s existence on earth. After a retreat at POP, I learned to manage feelings like anger, worry, fear, and anxiety, and I pushed away those voices in my head that did not speak well of me. As a result, I was able to hear that quiet, gentle, still voice deep within (1Kings 19:12), that tells us of our God’s love and power, and that offers us peace, guidance, knowledge, wisdom, gentleness, kindness, prudence, strength, humility, and more. It was like I found the password to that Divine WiFi signal; I eliminated those “characters, symbols, and digits” that impeded my receiving the Divine signal.
God always gives us a choice. He doesn't dictate our every move and gives us the freedom to make our own choices. He has, however, given us everything we need to live freely in Him through His son, Jesus. He knows our every step and the times when we will walk away from him and turn to sin, yet He waits with open arms for us to come back to Him. It's always our choice which path we walk on. In today's first reading, Paul tells us in a previous verse, "you are slaves to the one whom you obey - whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?" (Romans 6:16). The path we decide to walk on (our disobedient, sinful way or the path of God's will) determines whether we will have freedom from sin in our lives. It is a choice.
When I was eight years old the Chicago Blizzard of 1967 struck, paralyzing the city and stranding large numbers of people across the frozen cityscape. That night my father surprised us with visitors, a young African American woman with a boy around my age, victims of the storm he had brought home from the nearby grocery store. It was a simple gesture. We shared a meal and an evening together, and the next day they found their way home. I have since lived my life striving to accept and treat all people as the child of God they are. I am not perfect on this score, but I am convinced it is the right path. How are you behaving today in ways that might cause Jesus to declare “woe”? What can you do, through His grace, to act in ways that speak loudly of His love?