Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 11, 2016
Last Sunday, September 4, on the 19th anniversary of her death, Pope Francis canonized Mother Teresa a saint of the Catholic Church. Although such things as “sainthood” would typically escape the notice of the secular press, her international notoriety made the criticism of this holy woman and her work especially newsworthy. NBC World News, for example, posted the headline: Mother Teresa’s Canonization Marred by Controversy. The article then gave voice to all who found fault with our newest saint. Actually this isn’t “new” news. After her death, some of her writings were published. Her critics used her personal reflections and spiritual pondering to fashion arguments that Mother Teresa’s faith and trust in God were not as solid as her public image portrayed. Although I never had the honor of meeting her, I assume that she was her own harshest critic, followed closely by our Church, which thoroughly scrutinized her entire life before declaring her sainthood.
But our Readings this week do not deal with saints, but rather, with sinners.
As we move into the next season of the calendar year, we enter as well into the final phase of the liturgical year. We’ve already given consideration to the cost of discipleship. It’s pricey! It demands a total and unconditional commitment to and complete trust in God. Many (even on occasion people like St. Mother Teresa) if not most of us fall short…way short. So, for the next few weeks, we are called to reflect on what happens when we miss the mark, fall short, or wander from the path to which God, through Jesus Christ, directs us.
In 1987, National Catholic Register (a Catholic publication that does not shy away from transparency and constructive criticism of our Church) published an article by philosopher and author Peter Kreeft, entitled: What is a Saint? As he goes about listing the seemingly contradictory qualities and characteristics of saints, whom he refers to as “little Christs,” Kreeft opines that “saints are not the opposite of sinners.” He writes: There are no opposites of sinners in this world. There are only sinners and unsaved sinners. Thus, “holy” does not mean “sinless” but “set apart,” called out of the world to the destiny of eternal ecstasy with God.
So, I guess I was wrong!
If it’s true that: There are no opposites of sinners in this world. There are only sinners and unsaved sinners…then, in a way, this week’s Readings are about saints and holiness. The last of three parables that Jesus uses to explain the difference between saints and sinners is the story of the Prodigal Son. This selfish, inconsiderate, disrespectful, self-indulgent, blasphemous, immoral, and careless young man was saved because he was able to say those three little words: I was wrong!
When the Pharisees and scribes heard this little story of redemption, like those who “marred Mother Teresa’s canonization with criticism,” they probably scoffed, “The kid hit rock bottom! Why wouldn’t he come running home? The father was a sucker.”
The first two shorter and simpler parables are the perfect response.
Jesus tells us that God is the kind of parent Who doesn’t simply wait at home, hoping that the sinful son will come to his senses. God goes out searching. God doesn’t rest until we speak those three powerful little words: I was wrong! And when we do, God rejoices.
I was wrong!
The three little words that saves a sinner…and makes a saint!